At the Cafés of Your Memory – by Huzaifa Pandit


Faiz, what befell the fellow travelers of late last night?
Where did the morning breeze halt?
Where did morning alight?

Faiz Ahmed Faiz


At an avant-garde café in uptown Pune,
the reserved tables celebrate
a teenager’s birthday in cosmopolitan English.

My nearly dead phone flares up with a call from home:
My mother laments in frayed Kashmiri:
I am happy you aren’t home, two boys
were shot dead today.

The waiter sprinkles stale fury over my posh coffee.
He computes the rushed sum of gunned death
on the pale margins of an old novel
once read by my dead father:
Not a Penny Less, Not a Penny more.

The ghost of the balloon
that blew itself up like an old bomb blast
yesterday in the market
of my cowering poems incites me:
Stab the cricket babble,
set fire to the uncaring bids of cricketers,
bend the expensive cutlery of showy fashion
and split the pleased table of long-lived puberty.

My mother is so grateful I am safe and alive.
I am her world and her afterworld.
I must not argue about Kashmir; I must
keep safe. She suspects my poems are unsafe
and wants them shipped to her without delay.

The door of our house is blocked
by the tent set up by a timeworn hartal to celebrate
the death anniversary of The Republic of Tricolored-Death.
The stiff tent will be led to the mazaar tomorrow—
brown bamboo bones packed neatly in coffin-white canvas.
The courier will then reach me.

She drops the dead phone. I rise and pay my overdue bill,
shake the birthday boy’s surprised hand,
smile politely, and wish him a long life ahead.