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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

At the Gates of Paradise - Ranjan Nehru

Shahid stopped
at the Gates of Paradise
and found it had no post-office.

He travelled back to New York
through New Delhi and Boston,
then, from atop the Twin-Towers
the magic words of a poet.

The beloved witness saw:

The army trucks whining past the high-way,
puffing, fretting and fuming,
dodging the grenades and the IED’s
while the Valley was de-weeded 
through Kalashnikovs,
loaded with Jehad
and what they understood of the Holy Verses,
through letters
of twenty-four hour deadlines
dispatched in a country without a post-office,
through calls
from loud-speakers blaring from atop the Minarets, 
through streams of cold blood
frozen into icicles
trickling into droplets of death,
through decrees
scribbled on the inside of a cigarette box.

And, as terror mounted on stallions of fear,
the German Gestapo reincarnated
in Jehadi uniforms.

Shahid must have seen this 
(as true witnesses do):

the crackdowns,
the missing lists,
the mothers whose sons didn’t return ,
the whip of the goons
unleashed by the Occupying Forces.

Shahid must have seen it, seen it all.
in the land of his longing .

Sarvanand Premi,
the poet from Anantnag,
received the honours with bullets
for dreaming a freedom
not as good as what Shahid dreamt.

Shahid must have seen the rape of the hounded tribe
as the last of them left the Valley
fearful of those who swore by freedom.

Shahid must have seen from Earth to sky;
poets see it all.
They are no step-mothers of Truth,
they  do not seek repose in laps
which snatch the terrified from theirs.

True poets grow
on terrains of tear and torment.
Shahid must have seen it, seen it all
from atop the twin-towers:

The fate of a land
where people prayed five time a day;

Where leaders, at the slightest hint,
recalled and recited from the Holy Book 
while making houses
where bridges were meant to span
or schools were aimed to be;

Where beggars had bank accounts
and the rich died in penury;

Where land was pushed to the landless
who passed on their labours
to the labourers from Bihar;

Where young boys, donning the white caps of the faithful,
issued  receipts
to fund  the pulpits for the Muezzin’s calls,
that directed to pick Smart Bombs and Smart Guns,
to kill ingeniously
on the sly
at the call from the Land of the Pure
against the Infidels, the Mukhbirs 
and, of course, 
the Occupying Forces
raised in a land:
Where subversion of a vision of a Global Village and 
disdain of the dream of a Common Umbrella
flourish freely;

Where avarice, embezzlement and God
are worshipped in one voice;

Where men aspire immortality
and hate those of lowly birth;

Where free pens and voices of high reason
whet the appetite of enemies;

Where gun-toting accused
walk leisurely behind Court Rooms;

Where pot-bellied prisoners send their guards on errands
and jailors accommodate and associate;

Where truth measured by numbers
and a lie uttered by a multitude
becomes the voice of God;

After used ballots and bullets,
after the consecration of new idols of strife
the Avatars of avarice,
the Dons who don the dress of the Mahatma,
proclaim sacrifices in public
and pass parcels in private
heralding an army of leeches
who suck in public
from across every table of the State.

In this land of absolute merchants,
in the bazaar of competing religions,
people wallow in dust and decay
while chanting verses of eternity.

In this bizarre landscape of colossal neglect
beaten out of shape,
gods and goddesses
are shuffled across
over a crescendo of deafening pop-hits
in fierce processions, by night and day,
over river-banks and lake-shores drenched in slime,
across gutters chocked in plastics,
overseen by Sahibs and Babus
moving in cavalcades,
burning fuel and making mansions,
not all from their allocations,
while busy executives,
business goons and tycoons
and their wives,
after having sent  their sons to the US,   
drive across garbage piles
on roads of madness
to plush interiors, malls and multiplexes,
unmindful of the pot-holes
that kill everyday.

Shahid must have seen it, seen it all,
from atop the twin-towers
as he lifted the Valley of self-fulfilling tears
from the pits of decadence and dust
on the broad shoulders of his poetic fortitude
into the portals of a hallowed revolution
trampled under the boots of the Occupiers.

Shahid must have seen it,
as Lal Ded or Nund Resh would have seen it,
seen it all :

The Infidels of the Valley
fleeing across the tunnel
with broken trunks and forlorn homes.
Their shadows becoming as murky as the smoke
that lifted their hearths into heavens
while their well-meaning neighbours
showed them the hidden fortune of their flight.
While narrating the sordid stories of their own plight,
they helped them
sell their lands to them
at one-tenth the price.

The Infidels, like true infidels,
failed even to acknowledge
this act of faith.

The fodder sent from across mountains and seas
piled in orchards and paddy fields
to foster the revolution of the faithful
commanded from the fortress across the line
which separates the pure from the impure.

Shahid must have seen it, seen it all
as the deathly dance of Karbala
descended once again
at the Gates of Paradise
in the camps of the Infidels,
the Mukhbirs and the Occupying Forces.

And while History receded into the dustbin of time
Shahid, much before the Judgement Day,
got a glimpse of that what he didn’t see 
At the Gates of Paradise.


© Ranjan Nehru


  1. "Shahid must have seen it, seen it all
    from atop the twin-towers..."

    A fan of Agha Shahid Ali, Ranjan Nehru was dismayed by the way the separatists appropriated Shahid's poetic legacy... so much so that now former militants preside over events in honour of the great poet. Ranjan felt a need to convey that it is not just post-offices that are missing "in the land of his longing" but an entire community...

    However, Ranjan was reluctant to publish this poem, which he considers bitter. But after I persisted, he has allowed me to share it for the first time in public domain.

  2. Bitter and true. Somebody goota tell the other side to make history look straight