Poetry: Amita Sarjit Ahluwalia


What is radical in today’s India?

Unfortunately, nothing very different 
From what was radical in yesterday’s India:
Poverty that afflicts the fair face of the nation
Like pockmarks of a smallpox 
declared long since eradicated:
Hunger that gnaws at our innards
Like an insatiable monster 
Shrinking the skins 
And misshaping the bellies 
Of starving children: 
Casteism, Communalism, 
Gender Discrimination 
The Ogres that prey upon us 
Despite all our collective efforts 
And all our protective laws
And institutions meant to safeguard 
The rights of the downtrodden 
The basic rights of Man.

Amita Sarjit Ahluwalia

Our only new radicalism 
Is that we have learnt to denigrate
The very Man the world honours the most: 
The Father of Our Nation, 
Mahatma Gandhi.


Standing outside the Post Office 
I hailed an autorickshaw 
The young driver stopped by me 
In a trice. 
I hopped in and said, “Gulmohar Colony.”
He nodded and set off 
With no more ado.

Glancing in the rear-view mirror, 
I noticed his eyes were bloodshot. 
Taking advantage of my advanced age, 
I said, “Son, it seems you didn’t sleep last night.”
He did not take offence, 
But shrugged tiredly and said, 
“That’s true, Maaji. 
I could not get any sleep last night.”
“What happened?” I probed 
“My wife gave birth at 3 am today. 
It was a third daughter.”
His shoulders sagged defeatedly.

“I see,” I said. 
“Who is with them right now?”
“Nobody. She is in the Government Hospital.
The two girls are also sitting by her bed.
There is no one to take care of them at home.”
“Could you not have taken a day off to look after them,
And get some rest?” I asked.

“If I did, what would we eat tonight?
How would I pay for my wife’s discharge tomorrow?” he said, matter-of-factly. 

“Turn right,” I said 
“It’s House Number 153.”
He pulled up at the gate. 
We checked the meter. I paid him the due amount.
Then I pulled out a five hundred rupee note 
And gave it to him. 
He demurred.

“A gift for blessing your new baby,” I said.
A tear glinted in his eye.
He bent down to touch my feet.
I stopped him and asked,
“Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?”
“No, Maa ji. I must rush. I can do a couple of trips
Before I go to the hospital with food for the family.”
I waved goodbye and rang the doorbell.

My six year-old granddaughter ran out to embrace me. 
I thought of a little baby girl, 
Waiting to be held by her father,
Perhaps for the first time.


Reading Nirala 
I wondered whether the stone - breaker 
On the path of Allahabad 
Had changed in all the years
Since the poet wrote about her. 
Sadly, the answer 
Was, “No.”

I was taught by my mother 
To recite this progressive poem 
When I was five years old
I am now sixty-five 
My mother is no more. 

The woman on the construction site 
Opposite my apartment building 
Whose child sits in the dust
On the roadside verge among bricks 
Forces me to ask myself, 
“What have I done with my life?
What have we done as a nation?”

Bio: Amita Sarjit Ahluwalia is one of the various pen names used by Punjab-born, Patna-based retired Indian bureaucrat Amita Paul , for her original writings in different genres, in English, Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi, featured in various anthologies, journals, and online poetry writing forums. She was awarded the NISSIM International Poetry Award for 2019 for her contribution to English Poetry, and the Reuel International Prize for 2020 for Non-Fiction for her Experimental Prose plus Multi-Media Anthology, ‘The Saaqi Chronicles’. Destiny Poets, Wakefield, UK declared her Poet of the Year 2020, and also Critic of the Year 2020, an unprecedented coincidence. Her more recent work can be seen in ‘Impressions and Expressions’, a 2021 anthology of international poetry edited by Oman-based poet, Amita J.Singhvi, on Spillwords, in GloMag August 2021 and in the Yugen Quest Review, April and August 2021.


  1. Thank you, Setu Magazine, for giving space to my poetry.

  2. Thank you,Setu Magazine, for giving space to my poems .

  3. Thank you, Setu Magazine, for giving this new platform to my poetry.


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