EPDP.

It rhymes. Anything that rhymes sounds dismal to my ear. It is as if my senses cannot handle harmony. Maybe that’s why 11 years in Delhi have left me unfazed. The wounds of displacement healed in less than six months and the scars are faint.

East Pakistan Displaced Person.

I just know that a part of my family came from East Pakistan many, many years ago. I have no stories of struggle, violence, revolutions or painful familial displacement to talk of. Maybe, I was never told those tales — maybe we just did not have them.

But many decades down the line, I was the first in my family to be ‘displaced’ — by choice. And that’s a story I do have, 11 years and counting.

For a person who has never lived in Delhi, and has neither encountered it on stray vacations nor stop overs, the city slams into your solar plexus like a calculated punch. The heat knocks you off, the dust chokes you, the crowds move in and before you know it, the winter gets to your bones.

But despite being knocked off my feet a million times over, no other city feels more like home. Home that I want to take a break from every month, but home still.

You know how it is with home and family? The hate, the love and the reluctant familiar.

As I look back at all these years, three things in Delhi shaped me. The very three things no one can escape. The school of thought, the travel and the houses I have lived in.

I call it my Delhi starter pack, my triumvirate.

I.

Alma Mater: Dust and the Storm

 

This is not the dust of brown and shards of life,

Reduced fragments of existence — letters, faded photographs;

Tears and bird feathers.

This dust shines — shines down from other worlds into the alethiometer of Pullman’s novels.

Dust that circles our footsteps, day in and day out, of so many classes and so many hours.

Fragments of existence and sand and coloured stones, sea shells and echoes of temple bells.

This dust is me. And you, and us.

It settles on my shoulders on calm quiet nights and speaks of spectres and daemons -

This dust mingles in blood and spikes tears to ashy droplets.

The red dust.

Of votes and elections and false ballots;

Of politics and sociology and Korean studies.

This dust is them. And those there were and are yet to be.

A dust of dreams, and passions, and empty words.

The dust of uncertain futures, jailed comrades, dissolved cases, lost marks and lost chances. And one lost scholar and one dead one.

The others hung their worth out to dry.

 

Then the skies darkened over our little intellectual heads and colourful umbrellas opened up.

The dust rose from our prayers and term papers and diary pages.

Circled the souls of new little puppies and left-over colour from yesterday.

It slipped out through those fingers and through our skins.

The dust settled in thought puddles.

The dust flew with emotions to every lover under every tree shadow.

 

Who knew our existence was trailing away?

 

And the lives ran unending races and sweated dust in plenitude that soiled the paper money and fuelled our banks. The notes kept changing colour, waters dried up and souls took to Parliament Street. Screaming. Demanding. Echoing.

 

The dust rose and fell like a sleeping child’s breath and the echo police sirens.

 

The storm raved the rocks, raped the trees and took the dust.

The dust and the storm of a thousand hungry years of bloody revolutions and misplaced thoughts.

 

The storm was them and the dust — us.

 

Have you ever wondered why you still feel

 

Empty?

 

Delhi_starter_pack copy

II.

Delhi-Noida-Delhi

 

The angry rising heat

Separating its weight

From the naked, violated earth

Screaming profanities at the half sickle of a faded communist moon.

 

The numerous wheels

Shouting and shuttling between lives

The human and the half-beast.

 

Smells burn,

Wipe their ash-streaked limbs across expectant, hungry faces.

 

Sometimes when the coaches hurtle over the pregnant waters

A deep desire arises for an unexpected halt

And the shrill sound of open gates and alarms

So as the muddy purity can swallow some more detritus,

Add some more relieved carcasses to its womb.

 

Amen.

 

III.

Cityscapes

 

Dingy dark corners                                           Renovated white corners

A city scarred                                                                  A city in circles

By bylanes and tiny stunted entrances             Wide streets, wider gates

Naked electric wires                                               Numerous powercuts

Lives piled up                                                       Lives stacked together

In boxes.                                                                     Like library books.

Dank, dark. sleepy, gloom                               Small, air tight, too many

The tiniest mice scale the walls                                  Too many pigeons

3 rooms 10 people                                                        6 rooms 3 people

Dirty stairs.                                                                    Cold dark stairs.

You have no space                                                      A room repainted

You can’t see the sky.                                                The skies are grey.

The noise of the street                     The noises of the street so far away

The perverted passersby                                      The crude, raw people

A scream and a shout                                                   A muffled shriek

Dreams shut out                                                            Dreams sold out

Love bludgeoned                                                    To the love we meet

Sordid, angered acceptance.                                Indifferent acceptance.

When I broke away-                                               When I break away-

You couldn’t stop me.                                             There will be more.

 

 

— Illustration courtesy Amrai Dua

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