Poetry: Snigdha Agrawal

Snigdha Agrawal
BASTI BETI (Slum Children)

Pinned against the wall
Arms outstretched
Bloodshot eyes
Meeting hers scared
What next?

Rag stuffed mouth
Screams squelched
Bile rising the esophagus
Netted like a fish 

Darkened lavatory
Where no one treads
Lifts skirt's hemline
Piercing pain!

Deep scratches on the face
Body, private parts sacred
Smelling of blood and sweat
Vampire possessed 
Defiles innocence!

Pounding, keeps at it
Muttering obscenities
Drops exhausted
Crawling up 
Lust undrained!

Daily wage earner
Carrying bricks all-day
Living in a Basti
Close to metropolis
Repeatedly raped!

Returns home blood-soaked
Not a word is said
Mother and grandmother
Met with same fate
Voiceless women!
No... they would have to listen
Summons courage
Screams and yells
at the unfairness
Confident of help!

Crew and cameras arrive
Svelte ladies with microphones
To record events
Story goes to the press
Demanding arrest!

She points him out
The demon, wresting from 
Pubescent children
labour and the right to molest
His entitlement!

Zilch happens!
Two days news readers debate
Fingers pointing, voices raised
"Child labor must be punishable"
Slogans, posters in bold print
display ‘Castrate’

Rape soon forgotten
News channels engage
reporting war casualties
Imposing sanctions
Justice swept 
Hemlines unsaved!

Blood of the girl child
Rinsed and spin-dried
Allergens released scot-free
Another girl child born of his loins
Incest committed!

Tired she is of these
Genteel pretentions
Born in a Basti
At twelve pregnant
Basti Beti sidestepped

'Bachao Beti'! (Save the Girl Child)

Beti: girl child   Bachao: save

BASTI NARI (Slum Woman)

By twenty-five mother of six 
Health workers advice
Get tubes tied
Save yourself from
early demise
'Mard' vehemently protests
Are you insane?
You will be going against
Bhairavi Goddess
Blessed with fertility
Others break heads
Rent wombs 
to become parents

Unfazed she remains
wilfully disobeys
Makes womb unavailable
For unwanted visitors again
More mouths to feed
out of already limited ration
Mard is kept in darkness
She's done with appeasing
Gods and Goddesses
Brazen to deal 
with the consequences
If that’s what's written
If that’s what fate
has ordained
So, be it!

Atychar bandh Karo (Stop the torture)
Mard = Man.
Bhairavi = Goddess of fertility


No toilet stalls
Out in the open 
along railway tracks
Lota of water in hand
suffice to wash bums
No social graces to disguise
Men, women, children 
expelling dinner 
of Vada Pau
Some enjoy 
this alone time
Each one focused 
on getting the job done
Wind caressing 
exposed parts
Stench overpowering
Never mind
Some break into a hum
Rude noises drowned
by trains 
whistling past

In the one-room shanty
Everything tightly packed
Ceiling to the floor 
with wooden racks. 
Tins standing shoulder to shoulder
Like soldiers
Labeled Tea, sugar, rice, wheat, dals
Kerosene filled jerry cans
Subsidies from ration shops
Charpai propped upright
A wooden broad platform
nailed to the wall
halfway down the ceiling
Usage- multi-purpose
Tucked in a corner
hand-pumped stove
blue flame bright
Cooking vessels 
black bottomed
Drums half-filled
Water supply killed

Poor, middle class 
even rich Mr. Shah 
the diamond merchant
here lives, for many reasons
Home for generations
Drunken brawls 
break out amidst
harmonious living 
No discrimination
Unpretentious living!

Charpai = a bedstead of woven webbing stretched on a wooden frame on four legs.
Lota = Brass or copper container for water, round in shape

KOTHIWALLAS (Apartment Owners)

They live right across 
Another side of railway lines
In high rise apartments 
with fancy names
like 'Victorian Heights'
Gated community
Owners and tenants 
Carrying swipe cards 
to gain access
locked by boom bars
From the guard room 
greeted with 'salams'.
Uniformed Housekeeping staff
Uniformed gardeners.
Dependent on Basti manpower
Life’s paradox!

with Bastis
albeit with a difference
On 'Adda' platform 
flexing intellectual muscles  
Tickets are raised
Squabbles commence
till truce is called 
with the MC 
stepping in to resolve 
conflicts on issues 
stupid, hilarious
like pet owners demanding 
a community dog park
versus non-pet owners
Daily verbal brickbats
Digital dramas
Some amused stay out
Some get involved
Some join to show off
vocabulary skills
Throwing word punches 
Shashi Tharoor style thesaurus

Basti Bais unionized 
Dictate rates. 
Basti Mards in demand
Given space in 
Basement garage
Ironing clothes 
of the nouveau rich
and their Babas
Some wash cars
Some employed 
as security guards
Some still required 
for doing odd jobs
At the asking price.

Bara Sahebs/Memsahibs
Don't mess 
with Basti gangsters.

Bara = Big as alluded to the rich
Salams = salute
Sahibs/Memsahibs = polite title for a man/woman
Babas = affectionate term for children


Life stalled.
Basti Bais lose jobs
Disallowed entry into
homes of snobs
Made do with
Robot floor mops
But nowhere compared
to the style
Bai’s on knees perform

Mards lose jobs
Imprisoned in Bastis
Indulge in smoking pot
Lives flit pumped
Old, young, infants
None spared
Bodies cremated 
in open grounds
Ashes and dried feces 
released into the air
Screams of bereaved 
pierces ghostly silence
Death descends 
with vengeance.

There’s an old Sahib
In Victorian Heights 
Flat No. H-555
Caretaker from Basti
Wonders if he’s alive
With no help to wash,
Clean, change diapers.
Hears from gatekeeper
He died
With no one beside
Breaks down
Cries like a child

Trains don’t run
Immigrants from Bihar, UP
Lose jobs 
Some attempt to walk back
With bori, bistra,
spilling tin trunks
Weighed down with luggage
Hunger in stomachs
At State Borders 
Back to Basti
Back to a life 
Gone wrong

Peering from Balconies
Ladies and Gentlemen watch
Packets of food send across
Nail varnish chipped fingers
take out belans 
roll chappatis
cook dry sabzis
A way of 
showing kindness 
to the ‘have nots’
in times hard.

Those who judge
will never understand
and those who understand
will never judge”
How the mind works 
For men, women, children
belonging to different
social castes

Bori Bistra = sack bedding
Belans = rolling pin
Chapatis = Indian bread
Mards = men
Bastis = slums

Bio: Snigdha Agrawal (nee Banerjee) is Bengali born, raised, and educated in a cosmopolitan environment, with exposure to the eastern and western cultures, imbibing the best of both worlds.  With more than two decades of experience working in the corporate sector, her outlook on life is balanced, which reflects in her writings.  A versatile writer, she writes all genres of poetry, prose, short stories, travelogues, hotel/restaurant reviews on Tripadvisor, under pen name puchka. A published author of three books, the latest titled “MINDS UNPLUGGED Lockdown Stories and Rhymes for The Six to Sixteen”, is now available worldwide on Amazon.in Amazon.com Flipkart, and other global platforms.  An intrepid traveler, her travel diaries can be accessed in word press blog: randomramblings52.  She lives in Bangalore (Karnataka) India.

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