"Reconciliation" Contest Winners / December 2014 (Issue 26)


by Naveed Alam

Pakistan-India border crossing near Lahore

This is no ordinary border check post, my dear.
Archways, gates, soldiers in starched uniforms
fix the plumes of turbans, twirl the mustaches.
And the two of us stranded on the opposite sides.

The flags are lowered at sunset, the ceremony
attracts the throngs, the bleachers fill up
with the zealous citizens of enemy nations.
You and I stuck across an acrimonious crossing.

This is a proper show: the announcers whip up
the fervor, the rival crowds hurl slogans, outshout
the opponent's patriotism. You and I whisper
subversive verses amid a jingoistic pandemonium.

Now the soldiers must strut, salute, stamp
the military boots. The stomp of steel toed
hooves tries to strike terror in enemy hearts.
You and I bristle behind the gates clanged shut.

I don't know who you are, but I am sure
you are someone on the other side—
there must be at least the two of us
disgusted by this mustache bravado.

Naveed AlamThis is the Third Prize Winner of Cha's "Reconciliation" Poetry Contest. Naveed Alam on "Wagah-Atari": As a Pakistani attending the flag lowering ceremony at Wagah, the only civilian crossing between the 2900 kilometer long India-Pakistan borderline, I kept wondering if there were any Indians on the other side cringing with the same embarrassment I was feeling at this juvenile display of marital bravado masquerading as patriotism that attracts hordes of tourists on both sides. Then again the place has a history. It symbolizes the ossified rancor of two nations since they were partitioned in 1947. The line on the map drawn by the departing British rulers to create a predominantly Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu majority India left millions on the wrong side of the border. The subsequent mass exodus was no easy swap of populations. Muslims unleashed their wrath on the Hindus and Sikhs; and the latter didn’t spare the former; caravans raped and looted, railway tracks blocked, passengers trying to reach their newly designated “homeland” hacked to pieces or arrived with harrowing tales to tell. Since the divided province of Punjab was the epicenter of violence, this particular border post witnessed train loads of dead being transported in both directions. Our South Asian Holocaust.
How does a poem deal with the ghosts of history parading as soldiers in starched uniforms without turning into a moral rant? As this poem went through the various drafts a co-witness began to emerge, the you, the addresse of this poem. The content fell into place when the blurry addressee became a recurring anaphora (you and I) at the end of each stanza. By the end of the editing process I believe I had found someone, at least in the body of the poem, to defy the national boundary, leap over the implacable abyss of history groaning between us, and reconcile. [Read Jason Lee's commentary on "Wagah-Atari"] [Back to "Reconciliation"]
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