Once upon a time there were three neighbours – Katherine Kaur, Bodhi Murmu and Mohammed Tulsiraam. Kathy was a farmer; Bodhi worked at a jute mill; and Mohammed was a cowherd. None of them knew what to do with that heavy tome, the Indian Constitution that many learned people in the city were making a brouhaha about. Kathy said it was useless, Bodhi thought perhaps it was divine, and Mohammed even asked, "Will it feed our children, eh?"

The fact that a bearded king had been elected, the three neighbours couldn't care less, " Akhir itna waqt kiske paas hai?" And then the rains failed, the debts mounted, and Katherine found the bottle of pesticide whispering her name. Next the jute mill went bankrupt. The police teargassed the protesting workers and Bodhi Murmu was slapped with terrorism-charges for leading them. At last came Mohammed Tulsiraam's turn. One fine sanatani (sanctimonious) evening his cows came home, followed by sword-wielding two-legged calves. " Gau-maataa ki jai! Gau-maataa ki jai!"

Amidst the demonic chanting, somewhere a few pages rustled, a blue sun rose, a faltering whisper was heard:
"We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved...

Listen to Joshua Bodhinetra recite the haikus

A constitutional lament

Our land is sovereign ,
so is our thirst, trapped in a
cloud as red as rust.

bandish ,
why do we dream? Under the
sun our workers scream.

Mandir, masjid, church,
and a tomb — tridents lodged in
a secular womb.

O Democracy !
Just for a vote, 'Death is a
debt,' our pundits wrote.

Once a republic
swears in a king, Buddhas fall
and bayonets sing.

Under the eye-patch
justice wore, there are no eyes —
well, not anymore.

Farm-fresh liberties
sold in a mall, packed in jars
of sweet folidol.

Sacred cows and black
black steaks — that is a bread our
égalité bakes.

Fraternity harks —
shudras sigh in a field of
rye, and brahman barks.

The poet would like to thank Smita Khator for some invigorating conversations that led to the writing of this poem.

Joshua Bodhinetra

Joshua Bodhinetra has an MPhil in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He is a translator for PARI, and a poet, art-writer, art-critic and social activist.

Other stories by Joshua Bodhinetra
Illustration : Labani Jangi

Labani Jangi is a 2020 PARI Fellow, and a self-taught painter based in West Bengal's Nadia district. She is working towards a PhD on labour migrations at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Other stories by Labani Jangi