“Azaadi! Azaadi!” A billion filthy critters waited at some distance from the palace. He hated when those animals shook the skies in unison. “ Azaadi! Azaadi!” He hated when the beasts dared to live dignified lives. “ Azaadi! Azaadi!” He simply abhorred the fact that those pests were getting adept in the dark arts of unity. “ Azaadi! Azaadi!” How dare those vermin turn dirt and sweat into such majestic seedlings? What sorcery? What madness? “ Azaadi! Azaadi!” How dare those witless worms demand money in return for their labour?

He needed to put those raging beasts back in their cages. Thanks to the god-emperor, the smiling lord of the cloud minār , a new sickness appeared from nowhere and his coffers had begun to overflow from a brisk trade. It was thinning the herd. “ Azaadi! Azaadi !” He held the elixir, the only cure for the miasma, firmly in his hands. How ridiculous of those insects to demand this panacea for free?

Night had fallen on his kingdom and from his window he longingly looked at the dome of his new palace. “Azaadi! Azaadi!” Damned be these voices, damned be those fingers that turn mud greener than emerald. Hush! Something rustled near the window. A strange vine crept and slithered up, with nails for leaves and crimson cadavers for flowers.

Two moons rose outside his bay-window. One was the sickle of our banished Ramadān, the other a lone wheel of a tractor.

Sickle of our banished Ramadān

Sickle of our banished Ramadān

Her eyes,
her eyes,
like a guillotine sighs,
or a darvīsh drenched in a bourbon moon.


Burn like a farmer, breathe like a bee,
dance like a summer on a mulberry tree.

Burn like a farmer, breathe like a bee,
dance like a summer on a mulberry tree.


How do you spell shame,
is it with a sigh?
Is it with a bullet in a labourer's eye?

How do you spell shame,
is it with a sigh?
Is it with a bullet in a labourer's eye?


Moon is a dastak.
Moon is a pall.
Moon is a bottle of blue Folidol.

Moon is a dastak .
Moon is a pall.
Moon is a bottle of blue Folidol.


Her pain,
her pain
is a Vaisākhi rain.
Ever under the sands of a Buddha again –
unaware that her plough
is a bridge to the sea.


Just a sip of a
thirsty pin will hammer the
clouds of porcelain.

Just a sip of a
thirsty pin will hammer the
clouds of porcelain.


Death is a nargis.
Death is a shoe.
Death is a miner's caramel blue.

Death is a nargis .
Death is a shoe.
Death is a miner's caramel blue.


A heart has four chambers,
hunger has none.
One for a Lohri, three for a gun.

A heart has four chambers,
hunger has none.
One for a Lohri, three for a gun.


Shame is a songbird.
Shame is a rye.
Shame is a sickle in a chaudhvin sky

Shame is a songbird.
Shame is a rye.
Shame is a sickle in a chaudhvin sky.


Lilacs at our windowsill.
They drip, they drown,
they dream until
the children of our eventide
in driftwood shall a phoenix hide.

Lilacs at our windowsill.
They drip, they drown,
they dream until
the children of our eventide
in driftwood shall a phoenix hide.


Listen to Sudhanva Deshpande recite the poems

(Sudhanva Deshpande is an actor and director with Jana Natya Manch, and an editor with LeftWord Books.)

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Glossary

chaudhvin : the 14th day of a lunar phase, generally marked by religious fasting (mainly by women in Hindu communities)
darvīsh : a Sufi mendicant
dastak : a knock on the door
Folidol: an insecticide
Lohri : a Punjabi festival to mark the passing of winter solstice.
minār : minaret, a slender tower
nargis : the flower narcissus poeticus or poet’s daffodil
Vaisākhi ( also Baisakhi): the spring harvest festival mainly in Punjab, but also some other parts of the north

We thank Smita Khator for her significant contribution to this team effort.

Poems and Text : Joshua Bodhinetra

Joshua Bodhinetra (Shubhankar Das) 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
Paintings : 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