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Communalism

In Ram’s Name: A Half-Built Temple and a Poem

Salil Tripathi's poem 'My Children's Questions' captures the absurdity of building a temple on the ruins of a mosque and the collective delirium over the half-built structure's consecration.

In 2009, I wrote a short book called Offence: The Hindu Case (Seagull) which documented the rise of Hindutva and Hindu intolerance. I had dedicated the book to my mother, Harsha Tripathi (1935-2004), and written a poem, which has since been filmed at the New York University and it briefly had me suspended from the social media platform then known as Twitter. That poem was a letter to my mother. 

A friend recently wrote to me, to ask how I might write to my children, now that a structure is being erected in Ayodhya, at the controversial site where a mosque had been razed illegally in 1992. Here’s the poem I wrote.

 

My Children’s Questions

And what did you do

When your mother said 

“We have just killed Gandhi again”?

I wrote. 

*

And what did you do

When she asked

“Can anyone do something like this”? 

I raged 

And wrote. 

*

And what did you do 

When they laid the stones 

And brought the bricks

And raised the cash

And carried the sticks

And dressed as gods

And prayed and sang

And to force others

They sent their gang

And went to town

Seeking adventure

And bowed and praised

A half-built structure?

*

I went to the park

Where Gandhi 

Sits still

 

And sang his hymn

Those words that heal

Ishwar Allah Tero Naam

Sab ko Sanmati de Bhagwan

And so many came 

I wasn’t alone. 

With candles aflame

Our light shone

 

On our lips – 

Not in our name;

In our hearts

A country to reclaim.

*

They scream

I write. 

They shout

I laugh. 

It gets dark –

A candle 

I light. 

I hold that candle

My fingers tight

The wax is warm

As it burns bright. 

Living in hope 

Isn’t praying for the best –

It means you carry on

Not stopping to rest

Because you know

You will survive this test

Living in hope means

Doing what is right

No matter if

The end is not in sight.

Never give up

Without a fight – 

Long it might seem,

It is only the night.

Then 

Dawn

And sunlight.

 

Salil Tripathi is an Indian-born author and editor. He is board member, PEN International, and a contributing editor to The Caravan.