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    Arrested Eyes – A Poem

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    Today I felt so dead

    That I could do nothing

    I thought

    I might as well

    Try

    To coax the feeling into words

    Words and words and more words

    Words like a blanket

    To seek comfort in

    To give up on the day

    To admit defeat

    At least for the present

     

    The present as defined by

    This moment

    This chained series of hours

    Until the deadness fades once again

    To unleash another round of anger

    Anger and agony

    Helpless anger, constructive anger, creative anger

    Like creative deadness?

     

    For the crack of the whip

    Is not just being heard now

    Now, this time

    The lash of the whip is being felt

    During these long, long days

    As it was intended to

    Article 370

    Its revocation, its repeal, its abrogation

    Its –

    ‘Reorganisation’

    But who even has been thinking of its merits and demerits

    Of various administrative aspects

    Let us not insult the decision-makers

    They are straightforward folk

     

    No, no, the purpose is quite clear

    Clear as those smiles of sly, unspoken triumph

    On lips which present careful ‘analysis’

    The purpose was to give pain

    To grab your heart and squeeze

    Until your hands flail, your limbs quiver, and you’re ready to beg

    Beg the world, beg them

    Beg anyone and everyone

    The purpose

    Was to stretch you taut like a kite-string

    Until you snap

    Mentally, physically

     

    A neatly executed piece of theatre

    All eyes trained to the stage

    The suspense, the curtain, the lights dimming and flickering

    The gasps, the screams, the illusion of gasps and screams

    Such a minimalist stage set

    Why set things on fire

    When you can create an illusion of flame and fire

    Flame and fire, light and shadows, sparks and sounds, and silence

    Bloodcurdling sounds, bloodcurdling silence

     

    The taste of water is the taste of fear

    The taste of bread is the taste of fear

    Long, drawn-out fear

    And then deadness

     

    We who thought to look away

    Out of civility, out of courtesy

    Out of a desire not to look like those who do not self-reflect

    “It’s a phase,” we hoped

    A painful phase that comes over nations sometimes

    But then they elected him again

    By an even bigger margin

    And we had nothing left to say

    We were embarrassed for them

    And for ourselves

    No longer could we make the polite argument that it was done because

    Of some possible hope and belief in development

    It was a vote for hate

    A vote for the promise to cause hurt

    To show someone their place

    Teach someone a lesson they will never forget

     

    This wife who dared to break away

    And make a public statement that she can live without me

    She must be taught that she is but a woman

    That it is mywill that will still prevail

    She may leave, but I have hostages

    I will make it hard for her to look away

    Even though she experiments with amnesia

    In her desire to forget and move on

     

    When the lynchings began

    We looked, we winced

    But then we wished them the best in overcoming this ‘phase’

    We are no stranger to the unreasoning frenzy of the crowds

    But it started happening absurdly often

    We tried not to fixate on it

    For the sake of our own health

    These lynched ones are mostly very poor people, we said

    Everywhere in the world, the poor bear the brunt of discrimination and violence

    May their society’s progress and development bring them tolerance and security

    We tried to look away, as much as we could

    What’s the use, we said, of staring agog?

    Are we getting pleasure from seeing how our coreligionists are suffering?

    From being ‘proven correct’?

    There is enough hysteria in this world

    Our anger can help no one, it can only make matters worse

    We must just wait it out

    We must try to look away and focus on the things we can help improve inside our own house

     

    When the films, when the television, when the news all filled with hate for us

    Sometimes outright hatred

    Other times hatred disguised as love and peace and understanding

    It was as if they were rapidly forgetting us

    Us, who had become part of their own aesthetic DNA

    Us, who many of their ancestors had understood so much better

    They were forgetting us and replacing us with a horrendous image

    And expecting us to purchase it, to not be unhappy with it

     

    We shook our head in despair and bafflement

    Wishing that they would treat us as invisible, as non-existent

    Wishing they would not prod in such uncivil ways into the affairs of another religious community

    If our thoughts and existence were so abhorrent to them

    We wished that they would erase us from their discourse, render us invisible

    Render us invisible, rather than render themselves crazed and manic over us

    We asked and explained, but to little avail

    It was difficult to even get the gifted and aware to understand what it is that they were tacitly doing

    So, we gave up and decided to try and look away

    To leave them to their own devices

    And seek pleasure in embellishing our own universe

    Because, thanks be to God, we at least had the option to do so

    But now, as if in revenge for our temerity in trying to hide

    They have ordered matters thus

    That we cannot look away

     

    The world can look away, but we cannot look away

    From this colossal drama unfolding before our arrested gaze

    This war of attrition

    Of shadowy deeds committed unconfirmed

    Water dripping on stone, drop by drop

    Eating away at our imagination, our strength, our endurance

     

    It’s all just unconfirmed rumours

    We don’t really know that they’ve done anything – new

    But they have preyed on our fears

    So. Very. Artistically

    In a way the world has never before seen

    Hats off to them

    It doesn’t matter what comes now

    Their purpose was clear

    In light of that purpose, their move has been a success

    Its purpose has been fulfilled

    Beyond their crudest imaginings

     

    It would have been nice to be able to cry

    But our tears are frozen

    Our tears are frozen

    We who had thought we had seen everything by now

    Wars, bombs, ambushes, mutilations

    Yet this

    What we are seeing here and now, shocked and disbelieving

    “It took us by surprise”, the civilised among them say

    Like an unexpected guest who had not called before arriving with flowers and a cake

    Like an underrated bowler who suddenly took six wickets

    “It should have been discussed beforehand”

    This, what we are seeing

    Tense and waiting, unable to glance away

    Is something not yet featured in our impressive portfolio of ‘resilience’

    Right now, we each have two pairs of eyes

    One that observes the roads we walk, the cities where we live

    And another that watches and waits for news

    It is odd to discover we are capable of motion

    Of dressing, of eating, of offering greetings

    Our face has two simultaneous lives

    One of stillness, one of smiles

    Our distractions are all fruitful and futile

     

    We who have mourned the dead, masses of dead

    How do we mourn the living?

     

    It would have been nice to be able to cry

    Our tears are frozen

    In rebellion against the normalcy of our outward day

    In submission to the silence of our inner night

     

    We stretch out a hand before us to gently stroke

    The misty vision of a different future for this new generation

    The vision flows through our fingers, escaping us

    Vanishing as if it had never been

     

    The globe revolves, completing the cycle of day and night
    It completes its journey around the sun, marking the change from year to year
    But certain things remain the same
    The fate of one generation cannot differ from the next, it seems
    Except to become worse
    With the anguish being recorded as never before

    Images and voices being beamed out miles away

    Bringing sharp pain to some and pleasure to others

     

    [shab raft o sahar na-shud, shab aamad]

    Night passed, and morning did not arrive; night arrived

     

    Allow me to retreat

    Into an unworld I can bear

    Kashmir just means cashmere

    A mythical land that gave name to a kind of wool

    It was never a place

    Never had people

    It was all just imagination

    It only lived in people’s minds

    People are foolish

    I know better

    I live in a world of poetry

    And unreal things

    That enclose in a haze

    Like lissom coils of smoke unfurling before my eyes

    Enfolding me inside the blanket

    – Aug 17, 2019

    Zahra Sabri is a doctoral student in Indo-Muslim history and Literatures at McGill University, Canada. She is a literary translator and has translated folk and classical poetry from various South Asian languages. She has also worked as a journalist and taught History and Literature at several universities in Karachi.

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