ghafla   vini bhansali


This poem is linked to the theme of distance and belonging by way of nostalgia, memory and exile. What connects me to my home, a far distance now, is this sense of divine belonging. Indeed, losing these most vivid memories from a time of violence would be a sin. Forgetting my home, my land, and my eternal connection to it would be an act of self-exile.

Ghaflah: In Islam, the sin of forgetting one's divine origins
Elphinstone, Bombay, 1993

"How easily we killed them-- without shedding a tear, without establishing a commission of inquiry, without filling the streets with protest demonstrations. We killed them because it was not important for us not to kill them."
Ari Shavit, "How Easily We Killed Them," New York Times, May 25, 1996

squalid Elphinstone street
leaves betel nut stains on my salwar
pinches my butt in an overcrowded bus
my city of 13 million
catcalls whistles laughs at the discomfort
of bare midriffs in polyester sarees

This January morning
my street crackles with imminent unrest
hindus level a muslim shrine
pissed off because the mosque rests on top of a temple
the mosque
a last sacred place
of a minority
trivial in this mass
of overworked commuters slumdwellers
artists industrial workers
who watch me run at city pace

Some boys shoot bullets
the way they play
with cricket balls
polyester catches fire first
on elphinstone street
I no longer laugh in discomfort
as white sarees drape
the body of a boy
who cleaned our car
I watch him fall
and was he hindu
or muslim
shot in the back as he walked
out on the street

I see my neighbor's window shatter and fall
glass pours onto my balcony
like unseasonal monsoon rain
150,000 flee
100,000 in refugee camps
about 1500 dead
about 5000 injured
the only numbers I can find
on an average

slums burn
while I live in tenth floor protection
in elphinstone's middle class neighborhood
By the year 2000 bombay will have 20 million
people from village homes to city streets
and I will never know where the 150,000 fled
I will never know why rizwan was burnt alive in his family's 8 square
foot hovel
I will never know why a group of boys threw bricks at Vanessa
on her way to church
late for Sunday morning mass
Not hindu
Not muslim

I say lets clean this street
still strewn with shards
of broken windows and hopes
a brittle collage
of incomplete memories
abandoned inquiries into the riots, the deaths
the sudden skyscrapers
on refugee land
because its ugly to inquire into undesirable things

I still savor the bitterness
Every stubborn
Betel-nut stain
Takes me home to elphinstone street
As I vow
Never ever to forget again
That even
On an average
100,000 is a large number
to be out
and then

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