I have been writing poems a lot more than I usually do and reworking drafts of old poems. Perhaps due to my PhD work on the ghazal I tend to spend more time on structure and sound. Strict metrical scales and working with rhymes, refrains, provide me with an effective tool to have a dialogue with borders and control. Themes that I have no answer to, no solution for, but find myself deeply bothered with, amazed by our own humanity (or, often times, sadly, the lack of it).
I have also been attending these thought-provoking and insightful lectures on Politics and Literature by Prof. Diederik Oostdijk at the VU. Last class we listened to Naomi Shihab Nye (who I love very much, her poem “One Boy Told Me” I believe is a personal, intimate, love poem meant just for me) reading “Letters My Prez Never Wrote” and “Ted Kooser Is My President.” She is so incredibly talented – wise and kind.
The setting, topic, students and discussions in class are connected, entrenched, into the world we live in today. Even to say I am not into politics seems like the most politically charged sentence to utter. In our everyday choices, to choose to look or look away, to comment or not, to publish a post or avoid trouble, in every way we step into the fabric of politics.
I had an excellent teacher in school who taught us Political Science. Archana Pental at D.P.S. R.K. Puram instilled a sound foundation of understanding governing bodies and their functions. In her class she made us question democracy if it actually worked and where we could see the three arms of governance function as we stepped outside the classroom. I wanted to pursue a Bachelors in Political Science. However, St. Stephen’s College does not offer a Political Science degree. “Members of our family only attend College or else it is Salipur College in good old Orissa for you” (no offence to any Salipur students, I have never visited the campus, the warning of its existence impacted my teenage mind as a mammoth scare). So I pursued English Literature. That turned out very well.
When I heard about the course imagine my delight.
But, I am not the only one getting excited about this merger of literature and politics, Diederik was recently interviewed for this special class – “Hoogleraar VU wil drempel universiteiten verlagen voor vluchtelingen”
In the end I would like to leave you with this poem I wrote after getting to know about blockades that did not get reported, and of getting papers, embassy visits, pondering over what my lost citizenship would mean to me, and of living in a country where I can write this still.
To tell you the truth
Upon walking into an airport
My body somehow becomes a machine
Mechanical with nuts and bolts
A system I cyclically follow
My head tells me – lets get this over with
Please take out all electronic devices from your bag ma’am
Place them on the tray ma’am
Take off those shoes as well ma’am
And ma’am your jacket, and that belt
Ma’am, now slowly move through this capsule
Arms in the air, your legs apart
Indeed like that ma’am
Let the scan run over you
Step forward ma’am
To be patted down ma’am
Ma’am you may go now
Step away ma’am
Contorted into the shape of an ill-positioned seat
I curse the person who said the journey is the destination
Who was it – Buddha?
Would he travel First Class?
Sleep-deprived, dehydrated, claustrophobic, partially deaf
What is the purpose of your visit to this country ma’am?
Where will you be staying ma’am and for how long?
Do you really want to visit libraries ma’am?
Do see some of our well-known sights as well ma’am!
My bags wheel out of the hall
Backpack clinging onto to the side of my body
The awkwardness of playing dress-undress with sardines
After all calling ourselves cattle can have me debarred from several states
I did not want to be touched
I did not want to slip out of the comfort of my zone
But to enter
You must submit
Did you ever feel like my entry into your state was forced upon my body in ways that defiled my clean sheet?
Now I am stamped.
At the embassy I attested that my son could have a different card than mine
I looked at his disinterested big eyes as we stood in line
Two minutes more baby
I want to go to school after this
Yes, I will drop you there
As she sliced his picture she said she is afraid of such large shears
Her shaking hands cut a sliver into my resident card
I offered to do it for her
She hesitated looking for purpose in my eyes
And then relented
I cut his picture to fit into the allotted space
They made him sign
This is him
His y like a bird in the sky
My residency jarringly sliced
I look at my blue and their maroons
It says I belong somewhere else
A grey sky
Each crossover like a painful birthing from tired hips
My labor was three days long
It left my arms limp for days
I could hold nothing
I have decided to rebel
I do not belong to any country
I do not believe in borders
I am just going to say that this body is a state by itself
And I am sovereign
My heart the center of power
My head, brain and eyes – legislators
My legs and arms that are used to hold and walk these are the executive wings
I refuse to pay allegiance
Cancel my subscription
Here take this document
This card, the signature, take away this marker of who you tell me I should be
You do not get to decide who I am or who I will become
I belong everywhere
And to the encompassing powers of love
I will live by my heart
These lines – decrees of the blind – the misled – mean nothing
They will never mean anything
My passport from now on will be the picture of me my son drew when he was two
I declare that I will care for those my heart demands me to
I will not be held back by color, caste, creed, class or other such crap that I was taught to adhere to
I refuse to conform
I will become an amoeba
My nucleus will welcome immigrants
I will cry
I will defy
My document will have all colors of the rainbow
This earth, the soil, water, sky, trees and birds
I will tell my son to go ahead choose pink, choose green, choose any color, any one, be, be, be, who you want to be, be with who you choose to be, be a star, be the sky, become a river, flow, roar, escape, run, stay, root, grow – be you – be who you think you are meant to be
There is nothing, nothing, nothing
More powerful than to be free
Of compartments and cubicles
Confining commands that tell you don’t look, don’t see
Do not register disappointment, disagreement, dismay, disability, your disdain, keep that debate away
This is a democratic state
All dissidents will be made to obey