Thursday, 24 February 2011

My Hands Can Still Plough The Fields

The non-existent loud voice of Haro Jamunda of Kalinganagar, Odisha.

He was a teacher, my younger boy
He taught me to write my name
Suddenly for days he lay on the bed
Malaria in the brain, they said

We waited for a miracle
To take him to the hospital
No bicycle, no bullock cart
The primary health clinic was 10 kms afar

It was getting eerily dark.

Soups of lentil and basil and yeast
And prayer by our native priest
But you know, he died: my little prince.
Was this a punishment for my sins?

My taller boy missed his little brother
But soon Aati matured into a robust farmer
Soon the rice field was his bed of dreams
Soon he dreamt of a season of rice in heaps

He laboured, we stocked
And thus ticked the sand clock.

Boom! Bam! Boom! The steel factories howled
"Steel factories over our land!" our Ho Munda kin bawled

"What about our crops?" 
"All gone!"

"What about our livelihood?"
"All gone!"

"What about our ancestors' spirits?"
"All gone!"

Boom! We heard it again, but
Aati ran to see, for its sound was different

Gamcha on his shoulder, the gait of a deer
It was the boom of the guns that we could hear
Minutes, hours slipped through the barrel of the gun
Women, children, men wailed for those long gone

"Where is Aati, my young man?"
"They put his body into a van!"

First, there were no hospitals, no development
Then they said steel meant development
But I lost both my sons.

I am old, I am angry.
I cry. No answer to my unending 'why'.

My hands can still plough the fields.

[This poem was first published in Montreal Serai (Vol. 23 Issue 4) and was also recited at the XIII International Conference of the Indian Association for Women's Studies (IAWS) held in Wardha, Maharashtra, from January 21-24, 2011]


  1. Plough the fields... scatter
    the good seed on the land...

  2. Priyanka,

    You're a gift to all of us. Thank you for reminding me about what "progress" really means, particularly as I prepare to spent the next two years of my life helping those in Georgia. I will be sensitive not to simply exchange one problem with a different type.

  3. Lesson gained, lost son
    Power flows through barrel of gun
    Hands that once scattered seed
    Wither away with the rich man's greed
    If everyone has to do his thing
    Can I at least die fighting?