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  Vol III : issue 5&6

  Godfrey Hodgson
  Achin Vanaik
  Sanjoy Hazarika
  Lucy Nusseibeh
N.S. Madhavan
  Ashok Vajpeyi
  Asghar Wajahat
  M.A. Hashhash
  Only in Print

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Ashok Vajpeyi

They are here

Without an appointment

They are here, cunning, alive,

Bearing the ledger of our deeds, done and undone,

Uninvited, they have come.

They were civil, cultured —

They made no formal charges

Just talked of the rumours in the neighbourhood

Then of the heat, of politics and rising prices

They asked for no answer, made no threats

Gentlefolk, they went away.

Now, the rustle of leaves speaks of fear.

My own breath sounds like that of another,
crouched under the window.

Someone sitting at the table looks like one of them.

The face looking at me from the window
of the fearlessly careening bus

It could be one of them.

We live in our own reality

But we sleep swaddled in their suspicions and slander

Sundering our fragile solitude

Perched there like a malevolent god

Their eyes.

They won’t be back.

Pastel on paper by MEENA CHOPRA
Mixed media by JITISH KALLAT
The past as history
(Auschwitz I)


I want to see the past as history

A yellow trace of autumn at the heart of the green

No, I was not there at that midnight celebration

When they loaded them into trucks like so many cattle

And took them to the abattoir with such scrupulous efficiency

Like of a morning, good people are taken to the temple

For a necessary ceremony.

True, I did not stand there, nonchalantly drawing on a cigarette

When that child was cast into the pit

Like an old vessel that had outlived its usefulness

Fit for the rubbish-tip.

I have never picked words like incinerated bones

From a pile of ashes

Nor have I ever concealed them like suppurating wounds:

I have never listened to uplifting music

In mellow light filtered through a lampshade of human skin —

Even so

Why do I feel as though I am responsible?

As though I had been there that midnight when they took my neighbours

I would have watched in fear from the window

As they were taken away

To God, in whom I have no faith, I would have made

A craven prayer

And I would have washed and wiped my speech

Clean of the mire, the blood and the fear

Safe indoors, I would write

Day-bright poetry of sunlight.

I wasn’t there

But if I was, I would have been silent

So I want to see the past as history

A yellow trace of autumn at the heart of the green

I want to hear the scream hidden in my prayer.

Translated from the Hindi by Pratik Kanjilal


Poet and cultural critic, Ashok Vajpeyi is former Vice-Chancellor of the Indira Gandhi
International Hindi University. He lives in Delhi