आज़ादी विशेषांक / Freedom Special

अंक 13 / Issue 13

Freedom, we couldn’t write your name: Aruni Kashyap

Art: Sunita


Shopping : A Letter

Instead of those slippers, scattered

like dry leaves in your courtyard after a windy day


I had expected to see

Bhutiyas with colourful sweaters. Though

it was late January, it was still the season

when you wanted to stay longer in bed, under

the warmth of a quilt. The night before, I had

to push my husband away from the fire that he had lit

in an old black iron cauldron that didn’t have a handle

on one side. I told him to go sleep, because I was ready,

my hands cold, wrinkled after washing the dishes;

because we would have to start early tomorrow, catch the bus, grab a

seat before they were filled up with dirty men and women


who went to sell ducks and vegetables in the city,

who didn’t mind waking up early,

who went to bed early despite warm crackling fires.


The cold would stay on

for a few more weeks, if not a month, I had


told him. So we would have

to look out for Bhutiyas, though we were actually

making the trip to buy golden silk for

next month’s wedding.


But I didn’t see what I had expected to see

as soon as we had stepped onto the main street of the market. Instead of the children

who should have been roaming around with tiny national

flags tucked in their shirt pockets, instead of the people

going for the parade in Judge’s Field,

I only saw people running. A group of

bearded, clean-shaven young boys came sprinting, shouting,

asking people to shut shop. We ducked when stones were thrown,

and my husband said, something must have happened during

the parade. We took  shelter in a small lane, but I was

eager to move because I knew if something happened there,

no one would hear even if I screamed

at the top of my voice and he would have to see

me lose everything. But

I didn’t know


who would come for rescue,

who would take away everything that I had

though I knew it wouldn’t be the ornaments

or the money only.


Pressed against the brick wall like children playing hide and seek, I

heard the sounds of my heart replicating the sounds of

feet running around. People screamed. Shops shut down,

rattling. When we walked out, seeing policemen who

looked reassuring, I saw hundreds of slippers strewn. They should

leave our state, the officer told us. This is the den of

those parasites that suck our blood, my husband’s elder sister’s

husband told my husband, while she shook her head, agreeing. Later,


she showed me the posters she had made, staying up all night

along with her son, his friends, her husband, her husband’s friends. I

didn’t ask her where would they go,

why couldn’t our people set up business, do better

what was the need to terrorize people

who were working harder than us –


we who loved to sleep till late. Who loved to

work less, earn more, eat well.

We who were reluctant to move out

of the state in search of jobs. I was

a newlywed bride, propriety gagged me, just

the way conscience was gagged by emotions in

the subsequent years.




Freedom, we are still waiting

to paint your name on the hand looms

that weave red flowers into cream-white silk;

on the emerald meadows, sprawled

dreamily in the blue sky’s embrace.


Freedom, we are still waiting for that ship

to arrive with your name inscribed on its mast.

We still believe your name will be

painted in cheerful blue on its sails

which will flutter in the air

like the hair of a village girl

in February – when red flowers bloom

like mischievous ideas in a child’s mind.


Freedom, we couldn’t write your name


on banana-leaves with blue fountain pens,

on grains of white rice with needle-points,

on the echo of our childhoods,

on the fine surface of rice husk,

on the transparent wings of dragonflies,

on their pink-blue-green tails.


Women couldn’t melt you, shape you, stud you with gems

to hang from their soft earlobes; men

couldn’t wrap you in strips of newsprint,

like tobacco, light one end, take a drag,

reclining dreamily against tree-trunks

on summer noons. Children couldn’t

peel you like ripe mangoes. No, you couldn’t

even be the walking-stick of grey-haired ones or

a drop of water on their tongue before

the final breath.


We couldn’t usher you in.

We couldn’t make

you sit on wooden dining tables, serve you

an elaborate meal though we waited for long

with our doors ajar, clothes washed,

verandas mopped with fragrant water,

or with cow-dung blended with white soil

brought from the riverbanks.


But here, on the wide banks of the Brahmaputra,

you were defined everywhere:

on the ruddy rivers,

where instead of fishes

chopped limbs stuck in the nets of fishermen.

Where fingers with and without nails were

scooped up by a woman who went to wash dishes

in the stream that ran beside her house.


Often freedom was written

between the legs of women

left bleeding; on the penises of men

who only spewed white froth

from their mouths, not information.


Freedom: we are still waiting

for your arrival. Until then


you will be performed

and explained, because ancient stories

tell us: definitions have always

belonged to the definers.



(In response to Paul Eluard’s ‘Liberty’ and Birinchi Bhattacharya’s ‘Swadhinota’)



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  1. profound!

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