“Ammi, when will school reopen?” asks Muniyaa. Sahara continues with the last round of thinning out jute plants. These are busy days in her 10-decimal land. She has no time for Muniyaa’s questions.

“Why aren't schools reopening…!” The little girl is harping on the same question. This time Sahara pauses, turns to her and desperately trying to control the frustration in her voice, says: “ dekhish naa ki groom [don't you see the scorching heat]? It hasn't rained for eight months.”

“Then why don't they install AC?” Muniyaa is relentless with her questions.

“Sarkar [government] doesn't have money.” Sahara’s patience is thinning.

“How come the borolok English schools [English medium schools for the rich] have so many ACs then?”

Sahara sinks into hard work and silence until the evening. She had to leave her work unfinished and hurry home with Muniyaa today. It is voting day. Sahara rushes towards the primary school booth to cast hers with her eight-year-old girl tagging along.

“Why do we need to vote, Ammi?” Muniyaa is unstoppable today. Sahara is relieved that the topic has changed for now, but she is too tired to engage her daughter.

“I heard it on the TV the other day. A big leader was saying that they don't need Muslim votes! We are Muslim, Ammi. So why do we vote?”

Sahara stops in her track only to stare at the little one. Muniyaa knows what that cold and empty stare means. She shuts up.

Listen to Pratishtha Pandya reciting the poem by Moumita Alam

Indian Election

1. Freebies

Election days make our poverty bare –
Laxmi Bhandar for Muniyaa's mother
Cycle for Muniyaa's father.
Free dresses for Muniyaa in school.

What does Muniyaa need?
The manifestos never know.

The dilapidated school buildings
now shelter goats.
Rats run amok
on the scaffoldings of factory floors.
Leaders give freebies.
and gobble up our jobs.

2. Language

The leaders play scrabble on the election board.
Time runs fast.
They have a winning concoction at last:
Language sliced into little pieces,
marinated in hatred,
served on platters glazed
for television viewers
and WhatsApp chatters

3. God-crazy

Humein vote dijiye
Hum mandir banayenge
[Vote for us
We will build Temples]

I see the gods winning…
gods of a certain religion
partisan gods
gods that live in their houses
gods that don't visit our homes
or roam our streets.
Gods that don't know hunger
or inflation or what it means
to want our daughters’ education.

Don't blame me now
for being blasphemous
or an atheist.
I see all the leaders fighting
this battle over gods –
talking to priests not people.
They visit the temples
not worshiping shanties.

They fight over gods –
their gods versus our gods!
Tomorrow, it will be gods’ victory.
Oh, inflation, starvation, poverty!
Oh, democracy!

Poem and Text : Moumita Alam

Moumita Alam is a poet from West Bengal. She has two published collections of poetry – The Musings of the Dark and Poems at Daybreak – to her credit. Her works have been translated in Telugu and Tamil as well.

Other stories by Moumita Alam
Illustration : Antara Raman

Antara Raman is an illustrator and website designer with an interest in social processes and mythological imagery. A graduate of the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, she believes that the world of storytelling and illustration are symbiotic.

Other stories by Antara Raman
Editor : Pratishtha Pandya

Pratishtha Pandya is a Senior Editor at PARI where she leads PARI's creative writing section. She is also a member of the PARIBhasha team and translates and edits stories in Gujarati. Pratishtha is a published poet working in Gujarati and English.

Other stories by Pratishtha Pandya