Fiction & Poetry

India (for Safdar Hashmi)

By Amitava Kumar

14 February 2017

Mimicking Allen Ginsberg’s ‘America’, a poet’s scathing critique of the Indian nationalist project
Safdar Hashmi (1954 - 1989)

Safdar Hashmi (1954 – 1989)

(Published in Himal Southasian, January 1999 and January 2013)

America, when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
– Allen Ginsberg, ‘America’

India I have given you all and now I’m a memory.
I’m a name for a playwright killed and a movement born on
January 1, 1989.
I can’t stand my own countrymen’s minds.
India when will we end the daily war?
Go fuck yourself with your nuclear bomb.
India, I’m not Sanjay Gandhi
I don’t give a damn about
making Marutis.
I will write poems about tyrants spilling blood in the streets.
India when will you be a playground for your children?
When will you celebrate Holi with red flags?
When will you remind the world of the dead in Bhopal?
When will you be worthy of a single landless peasant in Bihar?
India why are the songs of Bhikhari Thakur about lean days?
India when will you stop sending your engineers to America?
I’m sick of the world’s insane demands.
When can I appear on Doordarshan and shatter H K L Bhagat’s dark
glasses with my smile?
India after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your ministers are too much for me.
You made me want to be poor.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Gaddar is in a prison even at home it’s sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this a practical joke of the Home Ministry?
I’m trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
India stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
India the gulmohar is blooming.
I haven’t read the newspaper for months, every day somebody
is accused
of wild corruption.
India I feel sentimental about Telengana.
India I became a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry.
I sing songs at town squares every chance I get.
I sit in tea-shops for days on end and talk to strangers about bringing change.
When I go to a basti we raise the cry “Halla Bol…”
My mind is clear that they’re going to make trouble.
You should join me in reading Marx and Premchand.
The priests say the old order was perfectly alright.
I will not repeat the old half-truths and outright falsehoods.
I have revolutionary dreams and songs about a new world.
India I still haven’t told you what you did to Manto when he did not
leave for Pakistan in ‘47.
I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let your emotional life be run
by television?
I’m obsessed by television.
I watch it every day.
Its eye watches me every evening as I step inside my home.
I watch it with friends in a room in A K Gopalan Bhavan.
It’s always telling us about the greatness of this country.
Cricketers are great.
Movie stars are great.
Everybody’s great but us.
It occurs to me that I am India.
I could not be talking to myself when I say this.
Alisha sings she is “Made in India.”
What happened to Mukesh singing “Mera joota hai Japani,
Yeh patloon Inglistani, Sir pe laal topi Rusi, phir bhi dil hai
Hindustani?”
I’d better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of ten glasses of tea
our nukkad-natak the
fire in the stomach of my unemployed friends the exhaustion
on the
faces of those productively employed who after work put in
four or
more hours in rehearsals and street-performances.
I say nothing about the factories closed down, the busted
trade unions, the millions who wake under the dying suns of
fluorescent pavement lights.
I have abolished bonded labour in Delhi, dowry deaths is the
next to go.
My ambition is to have Bertolt Brecht elected the head of each
gram-panchayat despite the fact that he doesn’t belong to any caste. India how can I write an epic poem in your television soap
opera?
I will continue like J R D Tata my plays are as patriotic as his factories more so they’re also for the working class.
India I will perform a street-play Rs 50 apiece Rs 400,550 down
on your Apna Utsav festivals.
India put behind bars Bal Thackeray.
India save the Naxalites.
India Avtar Singh Pash must not die again.
India I am Shah Bano.
India when I was young my parents had organised mehfils in
a small garden with communist artists like Bhisham Sahni and
Habib Tanvir they had performed with the Indian People’s
Theatre Association and we started with Machine because in
a factory goons fired on striking workers who had wanted a
tea-shop and a cycle-stand Comrade Mohan Lal was reminded of
the martyr Bhagat Singh and Bhishamji said that a new link had
at last been added to the freedom struggle the rhythm of people’s
heartbeats had found expression once again.
India you don’t really want to go to war.
India it’s them bad Pakistanis.
Them Pakistanis them Pakistanis and them Chinese. And them
Pakistanis. The Pakistan wants to make eunuchs of us all. The
Pakistan’s terrorist. She wants to take all our cricketers hostage.
Her wants to destroy our temples.
Her needs a Qur’an-quoting Times of India.
Her wants our HMT watch factories in Karachi. Him military
government running our corner bania-stores.
That not godly. Chi! Him convert our untouchables. Him need
the support of all Indian Muslims.
Ha! Her make us all victims of missile attacks.
Help. India this is quite serious.
India this is the message being repeated by our rulers.
India is this right?
We better get down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to train in shakhas of right-wing vigilantes
or join mobs intent on demolishing mosques, I’m a Muslim and
unwelcome anyway.
India I’m putting my unyielding shoulder to the wheel.

 

Safdar Hashmi was a communist activist, playwright, director and performer, who was murdered during the performance of Halla Bol in Delhi.

 

Amitava Kumar is a professor of English at Vassar College, USA. He is the author of A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb (2010).

 

(Published in Himal Southasian, January 1999 and January 2013)

 

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