I start, with a parched nib, What do martyrs think of in those final moments when fascists push them into well-planned caskets?This is how Write a Poem by Abul Kalam Azad begins. Azad -named after the freedom fighter Maulana -calls himself “a poet of Indian origin living in Japan“. He has never met the slain journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh. But Gauri had contacted him after he wrote a poem about the deaths of children in Gorakhpur and told him that she would trans late it into Kannada and publish it in her tabloid.
“Tonight, my poem lost one of its tongues. And so did this world. This night is ours to fight now. To grieve and to resist,“ he wrote in a Facebook post at 10.55 pm on September 5, three hours after Gauri was shot dead out side her residence in Bengaluru. It took him six more days and several torn sheets, real and metaphoric, to write Write a Poem, which is about Gauri looking over his shoulder, urging him to put pen to paper. “Language knocks in vain at the doors of the departed one… I run, far from alphabets… I weep, with clasped teeth, into her stretched palms She whispers again before walk ing afar `Write a poem.’“ Amid abuse and the usual whataboutery that follows a crisis these days, social media -Facebook, Twitter, You Tube -has been awash with poetry of all kinds to mark the murder of Gauri: from micropoetry to performance poetry. Writers range from Gauri’s friends to people who did not know her personally at all.
“It is the spontaneous overflow of emotions,“ says Kannada playwright and thinker Chandrashekar Patil, better known as Champa. He read out in Kannada, Eng lish and Hindi one of his poems Question-Answer in hon our of Gauri at the protest rally. “It was a crime against humanity, so naturally everyone felt the need to express it. Whether they knew Gauri or not, everyone felt pain at such a ghastly killing. Only poetry can express it,“ he told ET Magazine.
The poetry for Gauri has come from all sections of soci ety, from the empowered as well as the disenfranchised.
“Her death is being seen as an onslaught on the freedom of expression. So protesters are finding a new form of ex pression, which is poetry,“ says poet-playwright KY Narayanaswamy, who wrote the theme song for the rally.
“Protest poetry has a long history. Time has now come for it in India. We will see a flood of such poetry every time something happens to shake this nation.“
His poem, translated from Kannada, goes: “Gauri is the song of our heart can you kill it? It is a waterfall of love Can you stop it? Can you win people’s support with hate? Can you build a nation by hunting lives?“ This thought has found echo in all parts of the country.
“Some deaths are like rituals No one even remembers the dates Some deaths are remembered forever To haunt you even in your sleep… We all know the bullets have got our names under this regime Isn’t it time we sang our kind of anarchy?“ asks Akhu Chingangbam, al ternative folk-band artist and songwriter from Imphal.
Poet Mamta Sagar, Gauri’s childhood friend and neighbour till the end, had gone to Chennai for a human rights conference on the night of September 5. She was still reeling from the news when Vasu Dixit of folk-fusion band Swarathma called her and asked: “Can you give us a poem to sing as a tribute to Gauri?“ Says Sagar: “I was in no shape to write anything. I couldn’t eat or sleep the whole night. The next morning I went to get breakfast and my friend there said, you must write. I normally take months to write a poem. That day, I pushed my breakfast aside, sat down, wrote a poem and sent it off. I still don’t know how I wrote it.“
The poem, sung by Bindumalini Narayanaswamy, has gone viral. “Like the seven swaras the bullets have sliced the heart they have become a song for this moment… Still, carrying this pain in our hearts come, bring love.“
Says Sagar: “At the protest rally, I was talking to some youngsters. One of them, a boy, who didn’t know me, said, `What poetry are you talking about? If you write, you should write like that poem tribute to Gauri that has gone viral. That is real poetry.’ It shocked me. That poem is no longer mine, it has become theirs. I just went back quietly to my seat.“
“In the end, as they pierced through her heart the bullets never knew That they were culling the voice of freedom; And once again, humanity was the loser,“ says Ajith S Pillai’s poem. And this theme runs across poems, most of which directly addresses Gauri as though she is a friend known to all of them.
“Has it rained enough for all of her blood to be washed away? Have the clouds beaten their chests enough with thunder, lightning and the floodgate of tears… Has enough wind blown to put out the candles on street corners, the rage burning within our hearts?“ asks Daniel Sukumar’s poem that has been shared across WhatsApp groups, with no one knowing who the poet is.
Sukumar told ET Magazine: “This poem was more like an outburst. I felt as though a powerful voice against atrocities was snatched away from us. To me, as a poet, that was both a warning and an invitation. Maybe I’ll get a bullet too. But if I don’t do this, I might not have any purpose as a poet.“
Writer and dancer Poorna Swami has used “Knock, knock“ jokes to chilling effect. “Knock, knock… Who’s there? Bullet Bullet who? Bullet and three more inside you.“ At another point, in a reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, she says: “A moving forest once felled a tyrant Knock, knock on the tyrant’s door Knock, knock the forest is coming It’s coming, it’s coming Like your news always came In unwavering blows.“
“Gauri’s murder specifically revealed something to me -more than ever before, people from different class, religions, castes and regions are making themselves heard. The poem is also for something beyond Gauri for the questions she would have asked of our various governments after a death like hers,“ says Swami.
Many poets made the point that a defenceless woman was killed without her being given a chance to say anything at all.“What an act of bravery To shoot a woman alone at home! What an act of utter foolishness To mute a firebrand woman,“ writes poet Meenakshi M Singh on Women’s Web, predicting the rise of women power.
Attack on freedom is another running theme in the Gauri poems, like this one by theatreperson Poile Sengupta: “They hated sharing my sky To read my dictionary of beliefs They murdered my thoughts My words, They exterminated me. Somewhere they must be laughing now At their victory Toasting my death… Do they think they have silenced forever All who like me believe In the gentle rationale of rain?“ Two micropoems, one in English by Jins Thomas and another in Kannada by Chand Pasha, better known as Kavichandra, capture the spirit several people have expressed on social media. Says Thomas: “Mourn for her no more She was never afraid to die! Mourn for her no more Grow a Gauri in you! Grow a Gauri in your children!“ Kavichandra says: “The ones who killed her didn’t know this won’t be a single column news when an inchlong bullet hit the heart of the wind the blood that flowed out didn’t know a new chapter of history would begin.“