Wednesday, May 21, 2014


These are some of the incomplete, largely mediocre notes in the margins of my reporting notebook. Typed for your viewing pleasure.

Valtoha, Punjab

I want to ask why you build your homes of concrete and glass
stretched across this plot of land like an unfinished palace
wrought iron gates guarding what you make sure others can see
while the light bulbs flicker and the taps run dry
lean season is not limited to your fields of wheat

I want to know why you built your homes on a crumbling foundation
of promises and greed and gold that turns black
when our grandfathers knew that if one person is weaving the cotton
the other has to dye the fabric
and that a breeze cannot blow through a wall made of stone

Preet Nagar, Punjab

The days here are long and difficult. They start early with the sun rise, as farmers do, and end only when you forget about the mosquitos. In the middle there are endless stories to hear -- from the drunken Sudeep to weary women who bear the burden of this broken, broken system. 

I try before every conversation, before nib hits paper, to remind myself why I am here. Sometimes this work feels too fluid and suspended in ideology to be meaningful to these faces that sit across from me. 

Amritsar, Punjab 

I used to watch Chitti (dark and beautiful, half sari and silver bangles) race up and down the marble stairs of the Somajiguda house with trays of chai and bundles of clothes. Battered, tiny feet with a silver payal. I asked my family then, doesn’t she get tired? And they told me: No, no, usko aadat hai. She’s used to it. 

So for years I watched these people who were used to it — watched them carry buckets of water half their weight through the hot, hot sun. Cut vegetables for hours on the scorching terrace. Scrub a household’s worth of dirty clothes on a rock with a bucket of water. Lift bricks in silver bowls on their heads. And I tried to tell myself that they were used to it.

But I knew better. And so I packed my suffering and their suffering in a blue backpack and landed in a home where Chitti could have lived. I watched my family’s words fall to pieces upon the aching shoulders of a laborer, the open wounds of a farm hand, the tired feet of a mother with too many hungry children. There were pills and fake doctors and bottles of promised relief. And when those failed, there were chemicals designed for escape.

But nobody was used to it.

Khem Karan, Punjab

I am too full of fresh village air to crawl into a shell. I feel at once insignificant and powerful. 


I want my paper back
and my ink
the words I gave to you
not to mention the words you gave to me.
In your hands each letter was
heated with a soldering iron
to be twisted like your mind

This is a world of limited reams
impatient blue lines
notebook bindings that actually stay together
after days on the rough, winding road.
I didn't realize that not everyone
hands you an extra pen
when you lose yours on the bus

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