Jhilmil Breckenridge (Colours of Love and Barriers)

Jhilmil Breckenridge
Jhilmil Breckenridge is a poet, writer and activist. She is the founder of The Bhor Foundation, an Indian charity, which is active in mental health advocacy. She advocates Poetry as Therapy and is working on a few initiatives, both in the UK and India, taking this into prisons and hospitals. Her debut poetry collection, Reclamation Song, was published in May 2018 by Red River Press, India and in November 2019 by Verve Poetry Press, UK. An anthology she co-edited, Side Effects of Living, was published in 2020 by Women Unlimited and Speaking Tiger Books. Her anthology collecting stories of survival from disabled and otherwise marginalised people, Feast On Your Life, is slated for publication in October 2022 through Speaking Tiger Books. She lives between New Delhi and Goa with her daughter, Tara, and her dogs, Noorie and Haider and is working on her memoir, The Gilded Cage, as well as her second poetry collection, The Heart is a Mango Shaped Hollow.

The Muezzin’s Call to Prayer Floats

The Muezzin’s Call to Prayer Floats 
Over Lake Fateh in Udaipur —
Like a murmuration of small black birds, 
Reminding me of starling formations over Moor Park —
Like an endless hand spreading across
The grew shawl that is the Udaipur sky, 
Telling us to wait, 
Have faith

Hundreds of birds return to roost —
Some to trees, 
Some into white domed structures 
Which seem to float on the lake, 
Some to cornices of erstwhile palaces, 
Now guest houses and homes,
Abandoned hotels, shut for the pandemic

King Uday II built the palaces in 1559 —
White domed structures dot Udaipur, 
Some on traffic signals, some on buildings, 
Some on the edges of the water, 
And some in the water itself —
Which they lit with oil lamps 
and candles in the evening,
roses and mogra afloat on the lake,
Watching performances and nautch girls dancing,
Musicians singing odes and pleas
— to Goddesses and Gods and maybe to the king, 
Himself

Like Jesus walking on water, 
Like a solid cement boat, 
The domes have stood the test of time

The call to prayer floats over the lake again, 
Allahu Akbar… Allahu Akbar… 
Now floating and shimmering in the water, 
Through the domes, through bird formations,
Through cows chewing the cud on the edges,
Through traffic – it glimmers 
Like the hope of light from faraway cars, autos, 
a solitary diya
It sashays like the long colourful skirts
Of women carrying earthenware pots on their heads
Their dupattas floating,
Dancing to the muezzin’s call

Who says religion is only for one faith?
Who says religion is only for one faith?

Just today, P told me that in Mumbai, 
loudspeakers from mosques announcing the time to pray
As well as the sacred verses from the Quran
Have been banned

Instead, right outside mosques, another faith, 
Apparently allowed by the powers that be, 
Chant and bellow —
Jai Shri Ram
Jai Shri Ram
Jai Shri Ram

Let’s be constant —
Like the cement domes in water, 
Like the trees caressing the lake —
Lovers till death do them part,
Whispering secrets of eternity to birds 
And the faithful who still listen 

Let’s be solid —
Like the city walls of Udaipur
The kings built those 500 years ago —
Like the palaces in Udaipur, 
A jugalbandi 
Of the Rajasthani Mewar style, 
Proudly Hindu, fierce, solid like Rajput warriors
And the Mughal,
An amalgamation of Persian, Mongol and Arabian Muslim

Like the muezzin’s call, 
Like the hunger in our bellies, 
Like the constant thirst for water

Faith is for us all, 
And truth and knowledge 
Will set us all free

Faith is for us all, 
And truth and knowledge 
Will set us all free

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