Featured image courtesy DNAIndia

On the wooden bench, deep in the land of the warriors,
Your Jaipur prosthetic leg takes on a new posture;
A docile pet, sitting snugly next to you, watchfully spying.

That stump of yours, just below the knee dancing – a puppet on a string.
The rustle of the Margosa leaves straining the song of its freedom.
But all freedoms are short of a leg; we’ve learned from history’s wisdom!

Soon you’ll seize that stump, encase it and strap it tight and secure
Ensuring its incarceration, at least for another good hour
Much wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth you’ll hear
But you got to do, what you got to do brave warrior;
For your life must hobble on from one dying day to another.

Do you remember that foot? The row of toes and the arch of your heel?
Do you remember its colour and size? Were you an 8 or a 10?
Were you awake or asleep at that final severance?
The moment you let go that foot for ever; on which,
For two and a half decades, your youthful life remained perched.

Then suddenly you were among the war-heroes in a pantheon.
The thing is, you forget your foot had a ‘civilian life’ of its own
Before they found the right fit in a soldier’s boot with a soft patriotic in-sole.

How often do you reminisce the adventures you made on that foot?
Through thickets and thistle and barbs; wading rivers and bogs
Standing at ease, standing in attention; long treks and grandiose
Parades to the patriotic marshal beat rolling off the war drums

Shooting fleeing targets, foot firmly planted on the ground;
Carrying bullet riddled mates, jumping puddles of blood;
Avoiding bodies strewn around like overripe palmyrah fruits;
Most of all, on that foot, you carried the bloody weight of the killing fields.

But today, it’s a different story; behind your back they keep whispering.
No peace inside your wattle-and-daub hero’s sanctum;
They say you scream at night when the moon is maturing;
Somebody slaughtering the poor rabbit in the silver cage in heaven

You see gaping gashes appear on blood-ripe mangoes.
And the thud of falling jack fruits remind you of corpses
Flung one after another into unknown distant mass-graves.
And then you realize patriotism is not a therapeutic balm;
Memory, an over-obese maggot, chewing up your brain.

Come May, you’ll remember the patriarchs of that war machine.
The führers, who emptied the venom of patriotism
Into your youthful veins; but don’t forget, they too are sick and insane.
While every day in invisible tricklets your life-sap drains,
Their power-oozing political carcasses bloat into Michelin Men

Did anybody tell you how many times the city was on lock-down mode?
A führer’s son’s private time to flirt with the harlot of speed.
While you the hero, the half-man shuffled and hobbled
From one wretched chore to another in your hell-dark hovel,
His darling was whoring with speed in a Lamborghini’s bowel.

But the truth is, they don’t care your life is in permanent lock-down mode.
And the word speed has been bombed out of your lexicon;
Reducing the prime of your youth to a terrible living revenant.

You must be wondering why I’ve come to say all these things
From nowhere, suddenly, like a dark angel in dreams.
But, first let me make it clear that I’m no devotee of war-heroes!

I come not with a platter of gifts, but a tiny sliver of memory
Triggered by your name and address hurriedly scribbled
On my dog-eared journo’s notebook inside a dank bunker.

Inside that bunker, we had a born-again moment, remember?
Your captain intoning prayerfully a hope for a land dismembered;
He said, “War corrodes like acid, but peace flows like golden honey”

And you stood there clasping my hand in earnest hope
And we all wished for peace in our different tongues!
But, since then and now, peace has been wrung out of the dead!

You know, my mind refuses to believe you were among them,
Who treasured summary executions as war memorabilia.
But then, I can’t forget it was the grand finale of necrophilia!

When I met, you were sensitive; your ‘civilian’ heart still beating.
Remember, you showed me the mortar tube; deeply lamenting
Over the price of a mortar and the fate of your salary slip;
Cut and slashed to a pittance, bloody and unbearable to look
Fighting back tears, you talked of the unwinnable war at home

And then you spied that mosquito probing my blood vein on the neck:
“Malaria, I wouldn’t even wish upon my enemy,” you swatted it to a speck.
I was carrying a Tamil name at the end, but you did not suspect.
Even if you did, I’m sure you would’ve served that death sentence on the insect
Because, by then, the ‘patriotic heart’ transplant had not taken full effect!

So, Mr Soldier, today when I think of that crumpled salary slip
And the black hole of penury that your life has been hurled into,
I keep wondering whether you should have kept that foot!