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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 49 December 2, 2023

When The Epitaph Of Our Civilisation Is Written / Homework | Sagari Chhabra

Saturday 2 December 2023, by Sagari Chhabra


When The Epitaph Of Our Civilisation Is Written

Mothers are writing
the names of their children
on their arms, legs and face;
they are writing
with permanent ink
so their tears do not erase;
giving their beloved child
one last, lingering embrace;
lest they are found
beneath the rubble;
They can then be identified
as their own,
and buried with an epitaph:

‘Here lies my beloved,
The light of my eyes,
Buried with a doll
Her own size.’


‘My son,
Aged four,
Lain in this land
Of yore.’

When the epitaph
of our civilisation
is written;
they will write:

‘You killed our children
With impunity;
Did you not think
It your duty
To save them?’

O, do you not hear
that horrible scream
all around you,
called silence;
state sponsored bland platitudes,
that neutral attitude:
we condemn the attack,
we ask for a humanitarian pause,
and the cause,
is those who took the hostages.
But are we not all hostages,
with our hands strapped,
our feet bound,
gazing at the television
like hypnotics from another space,
‘Ah, that’s Gaza’,
as they go gaga,
bombing innocents,
then walking in
with boots crunching,
declaring they’ve found a tunnel;
but is there light at the end of the tunnel?
When does the human crunching
military-industrial machine
stop its machinations;
when does humanity
utter a simple, piercing scream:
Break this manufactured silence!
Stop the violence!

Can we experiment with truth;
perhaps a freedom fighter here,
is a terrorist over there;
can we seek ways of peace,
in the path the fish travels,
the air that a bird flies,
in the manner
a flower has fragrance
to give;
for us to live
on earth’s hive,
ahimsa must be
allowed to thrive.

Sagari Chhabra
23 November ‘23
New Delhi


‘Mama, what is a ward?’
‘An extension of war,
where the injured lie,
wondering whether
they will live or die.’

‘And mama, what is a casualty?’
‘When children are killed.
mothers are killed,
fathers are killed;
we are so casual about killing
we call it a casualty.’

‘And a rubble?’
‘When a home built with
one’s life’s savings
is destroyed;
when the world order
collapses into a void.
But these are mere episodes of history,
dead people do not tell their story,
and the living are hoary,
glass-eyed, even petrified,
so terrified,
their hearts turn to stone;
but we need not to atone;
for war is our handiwork,
war is our toy,
our tool of communication:
making a debris
of a people,
a nation;
this what we call our civilization.’

‘Mama, can you help me fill in the blanks?’
‘No child, there are some blanks
no one can ever fill:
the sound of a child’s laughter,
a mother’s singing,
a father’s look of contentment
at the family table;
now everything is meat
for the stable
of the well-shod diners
at the high table.
There is a dearth
of humanity for
the children of the earth;
let’s just leave that space blank.

Sagari Chhabra
21 November ‘23
New Delhi

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