There was a country we could have been and Other Poems

    by Annie Zaidi

    It isn’t easy to make a person

    It isn’t easy to make a person
    non-person. It takes guts
    (wrenched out of bellies they worked
    so hard to fill). It takes balls
    (quietly sat on when they come for the neighbours)
    It takes a head full of ideas and a phone
    full of contacts who will fetch (petrol, guns,
    rope, match boxes, lists of their addresses)
    It takes a heart that does not fail
    when it sees (that the girl is so young
    and the child so trusting, he would stop
    crying now if only you would stop).


    There was a country we could have been

    There was a country we could have been
    together – utterly shapeless
    and well past reform

    A laughing country with as many sides
    as a well-cut diamond – tumbling valleys
    of rusty lakes, rivers above,
    seas to the right and left

    The world would look and lust
    for this land glistening emerald and sapphire
    sitting in the sun rocking
    on its heels with night’s cool laughter –
    How they’d hate us and how they’d long
    for our warmth, our knowing, our winking
    and getting by

    If the mist came down real thick
    some morning with the blinding rain
    with the mountains plush and forest thick
    and the bears standing guard
    while everyone was busy fighting –
    could we be our country yet?

    You understand, in the end

    You understand women are broken 
    in cars and in bungalows where they are taken blindfold
    and in camps where they put themselves together 
    with too little water and too much sewage

    You do not understand men who pause 
    only to measure consequence: 
    Break this one? Take her womb, 
    her tender reassurances
    to her own man?

    You understand though
    that some men must be enabled to halt
    other men and women and demand to see identity papers
    As for the rest, you call it senseless
    crime although every sense is on high alert
    every move considered

    They begin with hitting and already know 
    what they’re going  to do and already hate her for it
    They expose her to the mob so they may strip 
    away her right to be who she is 
    As an expanse of skin and womanly parts 
    she is no longer who she thought she was
    She is hateable now and hate is hardly a crime 
    Crime is that which is punished
    after all

    They take turns so they are bound 
    tighter by what they do
    Brotherhood is the glue that binds 
    a community

    They do it more than once 
    and urge other men in other places 
    to break other women until all are bound 
    by the thread of what they have done
    No one can point fingers or raise brows 

    When they are old men 
    they will chortle with glee 
    at having lived a full life 
    free of consequence but for now
    they are equipped with cars ropes blindfolds 
    They stroke their guns and talk 
    of what comes next
    They will marry up or buy cheap houses
    with gardens still intact, a few flowers still blooming
    in pots that were bought by these women

    When they get bailed out, you will understand
    for men must be free to earn drive feed protect 
    You do not understand why women hold their tongues 
    why they disappear as witnesses when trials drag 
    for years and men petition the courts for leave 
    not to appear on grounds of old age and inconvenience

    When they are released before time
    and welcomed with open arms and flowers
    you will say you do not understand the fuss
    although you do understand that men can only be blamed
    for what they do alone. What they do as men, 
    you blame it on war.


    Author’s Bio:

    Annie Zaidi is the author of Gulab, Love Stories # 1–14, and Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales which was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Prize (non-fiction). She is the editor of Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing. She won The Hindu Playwright Award in 2018 for her play Untitled 1 and the Nine Dots prize in 2019 for her essay ‘Bread, Cement, Cactus’. Her novel Prelude to a Riot won the TATA Literature Live! Book of the Year Award—Fiction in 2020.

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