Parul Khakhar had little thought of the storm her 14-line poem would unleash. Posted on 11 Might on social media, the Gujarati-language dirge expresses heartfelt despair and outrage over the pandemic deaths in India. Shab-vahini Ganga (“A Hearse Referred to as Ganga”, because the river Ganges is thought throughout India) is hauntingly rhythmic and charged with emotion, lamenting the tragedy that has shocked Indians.

India was spared the primary wave of Covid-19, and the Narendra Modi administration quite smugly thought the nation could be immune. Modi had hosted the then president, Donald Trump, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest metropolis, at a big rally in February 2020, weeks earlier than the World Well being Group declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic. Within the months since, apart from declaring a brutal lockdown that disrupted the lives of tens of millions of India’s inside migrant employees, the federal government carried on enterprise as normal, allowing the world’s largest religious festival and holding huge political rallies for elections earlier this yr (during which it suffered main setbacks). Modi donated vaccines to different nations, maybe fancying the Nobel Prize for himself, and in January on the digital World Financial Discussion board boasted that India had overcome the pandemic.

That was an act of hubris, because the world – and India – have found. Inside days, it was clear that the emperor certainly had no garments (Khakhar alludes to Hans Christian Andersen’s folktale in her poem). India turned from being the “world’s pharmacy” right into a recipient of charity, with huge shortages of oxygen, medicines and ambulances. Not solely did sufferers need to queue for beds in hospitals’ intensive care models (some died on the doorsteps of hospitals, ready in ambulances or vehicles), mourners needed to queue up for spots at crematoriums, which have been working out of wooden and whose furnaces have been melting, the bushes surrounding the crematoriums turning ashen.

Khakhar doesn’t title Modi, however her anguish and anger are palpable in her poem. What’s outstanding is that she wrote it in Gujarati: Modi continues to be immensely standard in his residence state, which his Bharatiya Janata celebration has dominated nearly uninterrupted since 1995. He was himself the state’s chief minister from late 2001 until 2014, when he was elected India’s prime minister. The poem has wider ramifications; it has revealed to Indians how unpopular he’s changing into in his personal state, which works to elections late subsequent yr.

The poem has set Gujarati society aside, with many cheering it quietly, and plenty of extra brazenly abusing its creator. It has emboldened Modi’s opponents throughout the state to be extra vocal. On the similar time, Modi’s supporters have doubled down. They’ve written responses, together with some verses of detached high quality, vilifying Khakhar, evaluating her with a demoness, in addition to the standard misogynistic, vulgar and crude imagery that trolls on the web usually invoke after they come throughout a spunky lady who says issues they don’t wish to hear. Certainly, she has already reportedly attracted greater than 28,000 hate-filled messages, making it maybe probably the most criticised poem of all time, no less than in India.

In the meantime, the poem has unfold throughout India with the pace of the virus itself. It has been translated into no less than seven languages – Bengali, English, Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Malayalam and Tamil, and been set to music in Gujarati and Punjabi. I translated it into English, and it appeared with a number of different translations on the unbiased publication, the Wire. Whereas many main Gujarati authors have remained silent, some have spoken up. Khakhar has needed to lock her social media profile. She responded politely to my emails however selected to not remark in public – preferring to let her phrases communicate for herself. Because the assaults towards her mounted relentlessly, final week she posted a spirited verse on her Fb web page: “Blessed and content material that Parul continues to be alive; despite the fact that many daggers have been drawn carrying her title.”

Salman Rushdie wrote in The Satanic Verses in 1988 {that a} poet’s work is “to call the unnameable, to level at frauds, to take sides, begin arguments, form the world and cease it from going to sleep”.

Khakhar’s verse is doing simply that.

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  1. Here is my British version:

    We’re born to rule, we claim impunity,
    No tears please, this is realpolitik,
    Our policy is herd immunity –
    A chance to cull the aged and the sick.

    We’ll let the masses gather in their hordes,
    To watch their sports events and drink their fill,
    And while the clueless multitude applauds,
    We’ll sacrifice the aged and the ill.

    There’s business to be done, let’s make some cash,
    Enrich our friends, the proles can pay the bill,
    Our outgoings are less if we buy trash,
    To hell with all the doctors, nurses, vulnerable and ill.

    The experts of the east showed us the way,
    To extirpate this cruel phenomenon.
    We scorned to learn from them and let it slay
    The nation’s grans and grandads one by one.

    Alun Wessler, Hong Kong-based teacher and writer.


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