Friday, February 16, 2024


Sukhdev Singh is milking a buffalo when I call him. We are speaking after a long gap. His voice carries the same cheerful energy I remember. The temporary fame that the iconic Singhu border photo from November 2020 brought his way is long forgotten (just like the promises Govt of India made to get them to vacate the borders a year later). Life and its realities remain.

Will he be joining the morcha this time? I ask.

‘Mann ta bahut hai.’ He really wants to.

His support structure, his wife, suffered a paralysis stroke while he was at Singhu border during 2020-2021 protests. She has never recovered. His daughters are married and the only son, like most of Punjabi youth, seven seas away. He sent him away to save him from ‘mahaul.’ His wife is currently in the care of one daughter. He is alone at home taking care of his cattle and the few acres of land.

Who will manage home and work?

‘Dekheya jayoo.’ We will see.

I joke that maybe he should wait a few days and let some other bodies take the load this time.

Bodies. Isn’t that what the protestors are to the system? The system which is busy doing bandobast to ensure the farmers can’t reach the capital? Bodies to be stopped. If required bodies to be tear-gassed. Bodies to be target practice of water cannons. Bodies to be lathi charged. Some bodies, if not all, to be picked and thrown into the police buses and taken to the stadiums being converted to temporary jails. Bodies to be subdued. Bodies which should comply with diktats. Bodies without life and spark of their own. And in some cases, a dead body or two. Last time it was 730. 730 dead bodies.

A concerned lawyer has filed a petition before the Punjab and Haryana High Court “challenging the ‘obstructive actions’ of the Central and State governments, including sealing of border between Haryana and Punjab in order to ‘prevent the farmers from exercising their constitutional right to assembly and protest peacefully’."

Just below the news of this petition on page I see this headline - 'Animals Have Right To Dignity, Bodily Integrity': Punjab & Haryana High Court Refuses To Quash FIR For Killing Buffaloes By Rash Driving. The court says, "All the animals have honour and dignity. Every specy has an inherent right to live and is required to be protected by law. The rights and privacy of animals are to be respected and protected from unlawful attacks..."

The high court now has a chance to balance two animal species, the farmer and his buffalo, on the scales of justice.

The farmer union Sukhdev Singh is part of has not joined the Delhi Chalo march yet. For now, they have other protests planned in coming days. Depending upon how the events unfold in next day or two – decisions will be taken.

But he is upbeat about the march and is eager to join. To be that body. Once again.

In the meantime, the system is ready.

The bodies are coming.

Many cameras await that moment when the batons of the system will meet the bodies. Once again.  

Sunday, October 29, 2023


 This early on a North Indian winter morning, only the brave venture out. Or those who must.

He starts from his village at 3 am, just as the priest of the gurdwara wakes up. He reaches the city outskirts as the priest, after completing his morning ablutions, switches on the loudspeaker of the gurudwara and starts reciting gurbani.  The village wakes up to gurbani.

The tempo he has hired to bring the produce to the city mandi, marketplace, has threatened to break down multiple times. On the empty city roads, this early in the morning, it is a wake-up alarm to the sleeping city.

He pays the vehicle entry fee at the gate of the mandi. The driver helps him unload the sacks of produce. He moves the sacks to the auction area. The driver will wait for him. He waits for the traders.

He looks at the sacks like a proud father. Five months of sweat and toil. Five months of caring for the seed and the soil. Weather gods were kind, and the yield is plentiful. The extra cost of high yield seeds and expensive pesticides was a good decision, he thinks, even though the interest the moneylender would charge is a big worry. Plus, the balance of his earlier loans, costs of the failed summer crop and this year’s rent on his own land, which is pledged with the moneylender. All his hopes are on this crop.

One by one more farmers and their tempos and trolleys arrive. The auction yard fills up and is soon overflowing with the produce. It has been a good season all around. His face suddenly has a worried look. Will he get a good price?

As the village priest winds up morning prayers and as his wife, after putting feed to the cattle and having made tea, goes inside their only pucca room to wake their children, three daughters and a boy, the traders start arriving. The munshis serve their masters steaming hot tea and report the quantity of produce arrived. A good season means a buyers’ market, their market.

By the time the first trader and his munshi reach his pile of sacks, he already knows the prices have crashed. The munshi carries a curved knife, to make a small cut in some sacks for checking the produce quality. He rips the heart of a few sacks and pulls out few samples. ‘Daagi hai.’ Blotted. ‘Keeda hai.’ Worms. ‘Daana kamjor hai.’ Poor Quality. The trader rips his heart. Today the traders can be as picky as they want to. He listens with bent head and folded hands. The trader makes his bid. He gasps. It’s so low, he can’t even pay the due of the seeds and the pesticides. One by one other traders give their verdict at his pile. One by one the munshis and the traders rip apart his sacks and his heart.

He does what he has come to do. He sells.

He walks back to the tempo, light without sacks, heavy with burdens.

The driver has been a witness to mandi’s ways for long and knows that a mandi can make or break. Mostly the traders make. Mostly the farmers break. They drive back in silence. The stray dogs chase their tempo and them out of the city, out of their city.

He closes his eyes and leans back. Outstanding loan of the moneylender, rent of the mortgaged land, his wife’s medicine, the daughters are of age, the boy wants a mobile and a motorcycle, the tubewell needs repairs, dues of the kirana shop, money he borrowed from his neighbour, his cycle needs a new tyre, the roof needs repair before the coming rains, seeds and fertiliser for the next crop. His hand grips the pocket and keeps his money safe from his expenses.

The tempo driver drops him at the village square. He pays him his fare.

The village kirana shop is open. The seth is at his seat.

“Come Mohan Singh. You had a good crop. Please clear my dues now.”

He pays him. Hesitantly.

There is one currency note left with him. He looks around the shop and at all the things his wife has asked him to bring.

He steps out of the shop. His feet refuse to turn homewards. Across the road a small group is warming themselves around a fire. His neighbour greets him from the group and seems to be asking him something. He stands there, glued to the ground.

The gurdwara loudspeaker croaks to life and the priest makes an announcement. ‘Officers from town are visiting today for enrolments to Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Bima Yojana.’ The sarpanch had taken his thumb impression on these papers last time the officers were here.

His feet move. He enters the shop and asks for a length of strong nylon rope. He hands the last note to seth and hurriedly walks toward his field.

His grandfather had him plant the tree next to their tubewell when he was ten. He watered it regularly, protected it from the goats, and grew up with it. The little stem with few tiny leaves turned to a tall trunk and many wide branches, green and laden with fruit. The tree had been his companion.  It is old and withered now, like him, but he knows that one branch, where he put swings for his children, is still strong enough to carry his weight. One last time.


Thursday, December 29, 2022


Temperature dropped suddenly. Fog rushed in. All the buildings surrounding the office, despite all the fancy high voltage lights, disappeared in the haze. As I head home at midnight, with hazard lights of my car on, the RJ makes a special request, “All societies in Delhi NCR, please ask your security guards not to burn wood at night. Please provide them electrical heaters to stay warm. Let’s reduce pollution together.”

Having snoozed away multiple alarms, with great difficulty I get out from under the blankets to open the door for Rebika. She walks to the kitchen sink. “Didi aaj to geyser chala hi lena.” I have asked her to use warm water to do the dishes a few times in past weeks. Every time she says will do it in few days. Tap water has been cold for weeks now. Today it is freezing.

I light the gas chulha and keep water for tea.

‘Bhaya, wo 1001 wali aunty ka geyser ka switch jal gaya. Wo mere ko bole tune jala diya.”

“Koi na didi, nabbey saal ki umar mein koi kuch bhi bolta hai.”

She is quiet for few moments. Her hands are busy with the dishes. Isn’t this water cold? I feel the chills a few meters away.

‘Ye 2001 wali didi, Bengal wali. Wo mere ko boli agar bijli ka bil jyada aaya to salary se katoongi.”

I begin to understand her hesitancy of using warm water. There is another type of cold she is more afraid of.

I pour my cup of tea, head to my warm blanket and open the news app. It’s the fourth headline “Watch: Domestic help beaten by a women in Noida Housing Society.”

RJ rushes to his studio for an emergency broadcast, “Security guards, please hold on to your wood.”   

#HWR #FDC10 #Prompt14

Latifpura Christmas

It has never been about chimneys in this part of the world. So, I come and go using whatever means available; as long as it’s a quick stop (much distance and many wishes to cover in one night!).

It had been a very productive night so far. My next stop – Latifpura, Jalandhar - a colony of 50 homes. Only three little girls waiting for me here. They have been good this year. Good to others. In school. In home. In their hearts. In their prayers. And they didn’t ask for much. A doll, a sweater, a storybook. This will be a quick stop.

I am where the first home is supposed to be. I only see torn down walls, broken doors and windows, damaged household items. The other houses in neighbourhood seem to be similar condition. I didn’t hear of any earthquake in this region. And the houses on other side of the road seem to be in good shape. Only this colony looks like a storm brought it down and that too in a hurry.

Where will I find the girls?

I see few tents. A group is gathered around the fire. My tiptoe generally goes unnoticed.

“Beta, we survived the bloody riots, left our homes, land and villages and settled here after partition. And to suffer this at the hands of our own govt.”

“Bhaji, 75 years this has been home. And in one day they made us homeless.”

“Baba ji, Veere, they don’t care. When you all settled here, this was a wasteland. Now this is prime property. 1.5acre worth 150crores. That is very valuable to them.”

“Beta, was there no value of our homes? And what about the value of our dignity? Our little children witnessing the demolition of their homes, our women pleading, begging with police, and to live in tents. Tents you volunteers have setup for us. For us homeless people. In this freezing winter.”

I am not made to know such cruelty. That is for my more real and more relevant friend - death. I know cheer. I know joy. I walk away.

I find their tents. I leave their gifts. A doll, a sweater, a storybook. They had been good this year.

#HWR #FDC10 #prompt12

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Autumn is here

Autumn is here - in the garden where we walked,

The rotating gates’ welcoming embrace,

A painful, cruel, piercing squeak now.


Autumn is here - under our tree,

The space that completed me, completed us, our ephemeral bliss,

A hollow, empty, existence of sorrow.


Autumn is here - in the gathering of these birds,

Their chirruping, our music. Soulless.

Their fluttering wings, our heartbeats. Flightless.


Autumn is here - in its sounds, sounds without your laugh.

Autumn is here - in its silence, silence without your rhythms.


Autumn is here – in the garden where we walked and in my heart.

#HWR #FDC10 #prompt7

Memory Lanes

The girls place the lit candles on the marble floor of the Gurudwara. “We celebrate sixth guru’s release from Jahangir’s prison as Bandichor Diwas,” the girls answer his ‘why’ together. They exit towards Chandni Chowk memorial. “Ninth Guru was executed by Aurangzeb here. We remember him as Hind-di-Chadar.”

Behind the Gurudwara he shows them the shop where his grandfather worked after partition - “He lost his family in Lahore during riots.”

Through the narrow lanes, teeming with festival crowd, they reach Jama Masjid. The girls race up the stairs.

“Simran, Shoa, careful.”

“Come Shagufta,” he takes his wife’s hand and follows.

#HWR #FDC #prompt7

Happy New Year

Another day of waiting at labour chowk. Another day without work. He spends the last coins in his pocket on poori-sabji at the corner cart before walking few miles to his spot.

The damned dog is still here. He repents offering him that biscuit the first day. He repents giving him a name.

He shoo the dog away.

It is a chilly night. His footpath bed behind the nightclub barely keeps him warm.

Three. Two. One. Happy New Year.

Loud cheers wake him up.

He feels the freezing breath. He feels the shivering body.

He pulls Sheru inside the blanket.

#HWR #FDC #prompt7


Sukhdev Singh is milking a buffalo when I call him. We are speaking after a long gap. His voice carries the same cheerful energy I remember....