DEVASTHAN (For Asifa Bano) and Other Poems

    By Aftab Yusuf Shaikh

    DEVASTHAN (For Asifa Bano)

    When gypsy tribes move
    From camp to camp,
    What they are looking for is blessings, shelter and
    A rotten piece of bread,

    When rotten souls move around,
    They look for hungry eyes and flat stomachs of fathers
    With flat eyes, flat destinies.

    But one certain day, a week actually,
    Some people used a palm of sacred water to douse a forest fire,
    How do I say it, what they did!
    A small child for their desires!

    A flower plucked and crushed
    And turned to paste, a flower yet to
    Even gain fragrance. And first time
    Ever a flower was taken, to the temple but not for
    any god, or god-like
    Stone. But for the devil within.

    The god within, if there was one,
    Covered its eyes with its palms
    And walked out of the temple

    1947: KILL!

    Kill him! He is Muslim!
    Was the call of the crowd.
    Swords and knives in hand,
    All of them behind me, and
    My breath losing its faith,
    No time to catch breath and wait..
    I ran up the street,
    The lane was dark and discreet..
    I took a turn to my alley,
    The crowd halted
    I had no idea
    Why my blood they wanted.
    Behind the filthy wall I sat
    Quietness in the air, voices dead,
    And then, suddenly, arose another roar,
    Safe among my people, but sore,
    I saw a man running, scared and sad,
    A crowd behind him, beastly mad,
    The same song I heard, the tune was new,
    ‘Kill him,’ they said, ‘He is a Hindu!’

    Shaikh has been writing from the age of eight and teaching from eighteen. His poetry has been published in various journals and esteemed anthologies like The Dance of the Peacock and Before There is Nowhere to Stand. For his first novel The Library Girl (2017) he was adjudged Ne8x Author of the Year 2019. His children’s book Letters to Ammi (2019) was shortlisted for Neev Book Award 2020 and listed among 14 Great Children’s Books on Religious Tolerance and Interfaith Harmony. He published two volumes of poetry Tehzeeb Talkies (2019) and Mominpura (2021), with another Ansari’s Daughter (2023) forthcoming.

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