• From Khana for Shaheen Bagh

    The Republic Speaks

    Arundhati Ghosh

    January 21, 2020

    Photograph by Sambhav Sharma

    They roamed the streets at night brandishing knives
    They searched for the cursed tongues of women
    They did not find any in their usual places…
    In mouths
    Next to ink pots
    With the children hastily hidden under the staircase

    After the plunders were done and the villages ravaged
    After they gorged out the hearts of every woman and strewn them across the streets
    After the dead of night could not die any deeper
    They finally left, more angry and violent than they had come 
    For they had not found what they were looking for
    The cursed tongues of women

    In the eerie quiet that was settling in over the blood-washed homes and alleys
    There were soft tremors that began to grow steadily
    First a peek, and then inching forward, slithering creatures were emerging
    From dark corners in messy kitchens
    From underneath unmade beds
    From inside jars of sundried pickles
    From within folds of old saris
    From boxes of faded letters
    From beneath clamours of field tools,
    Pink, red, purple, blue, black all colours of the flesh
    Quickening their pace, rushing out into the streets –
    From behind unflowering bushes
    From the depths of quiet ponds
    From the parched paddy fields
    From the hushed cattle sheds
    Hundreds and thousands of cursed tongues of women
    Whispering, murmuring, speaking, groaning, burning
    From memories and stories and songs and chants
    Coming together, twisting and turning
    Shaping a tornado  
    Louder and louder 
    Bridging echoes

    Khana was a poet and astrologer in 12th century Bengal. Legend has it that since her predictions were more accurate than her astrologer father-in-law Varahamihir — who was one of the Nava Ratnas in Vikramaditya's court — he had her tongue cut off. Her vachanas still guide the agrarian community of Bengal.

    Arundhati Ghosh is the Executive Director of the India Foundation for the Arts.

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