Elegy for a Bridge

Armored army vehicle stands in the old city a day after Gaw Kadal massacre.

By: Basant Rath

You are eleven cement pillars
and thirty nine rusted iron railings.

You are a small kid who dropped
his freshly painted kangri
and ran away once the first of the one thousand
fifty six bullets were fired.

And he didn’t look back to see what happened.
Otherwise he would have celebrated
his twenty first death anniversary this winter.

You are a young man who stood
like a cross inside a pheran,
five feet nine, 16 years old, hands stretched
horizontally as a matter of reflex,
to shield ten thousand nine hundred
live targets from the barrel
of a light machine gun.

He took the holes on his legs, abdomen,
chest, neck and face.

Eleven meters away from the finger
on the trigger, he stood like the Chinar,
straight, uncomplicated, on his own.

You are a face lying close to a broken kangri
and flinching from the burning coal
and getting a bullet from point blank range.

You are an afternoon, a memory
that hangs together,
a half-eaten pear, a winter,
a chopped off arm
and a healthy stray dog
chomping off that arm.

Nobody can eat winter like a pear.
Nobody can live inside a pear like winter.
You are a dying voice drowned by a shout
“Don’t waste your bullet.
I’ve pumped enough rounds
into his body. He’ll die on his own”.

You are seven shocked policemen
who came to collect fifty eight dead bodies.
Angry but helpless, helpful but luckless,
they loaded the truck and drove
to the police control room.

You are a name not known to anyone.
You say a name not known to anyone.

Maybe because the celebrities live on the banks
of a river that doesn’t sound like the Jhelum.

Maybe because the history professor teaching
his class the nuances of state building
has kept on wearing his old glasses.

Maybe because the law of the land
orders the well-fed government employees
to destroy the old records once in every twenty years
in presence of an experienced senior officer

You are a bridge for cows to cross
the river before it gets dark.

You are a worried mother who tells her son
studying in the university hostel library:
Come back home early or don’t come today.

(Basant Rath is a 2000 batch Indian Police Service officer and is currently Deputy Inspector General of Police posted in Jammu).


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