Where’s the cash?
It turned to ash — at the stroke of
midnight — our lexicons added a new word:
Demonetization — synonym: dehumanization,
Brutes bare their glittering teeth,
at human misery, panic,
Spew thick, luscious platitudes,
a slippery slope of gossamer —
a contortionist’s trick.
The ATM exudes a weary, nihilistic sigh,
dead — like the long, meandering queues,
Shocked into sweaty, beady silence,
of tired limbs, and missed work days.
Of silent work sites, queues of
desolate workers boarding trains
back home — no work, no cash,
this month is going to be tough.
And the next — and the next.
A man asks for help outside a bank —
he looks ruffled,
he has never used a card,
he doesn’t read numbers or letters.
But the government says he must, and
because in a world of plenty,
the poor is fust — fall in line or
return to dust.
In the villages the harvests pile up,
the kharif crops wait
the rabi haven’t been sown yet.
Where are the workers?
They have all gone back home
to empty kitchens and empty stomachs —
no money, no food.
Where are the elderly?
They are queuing up in banks
because you see, they get preference in the
queue — because many can barely stand,
trembling hands, tottering on their walking
sticks — looking for a chair to rest their
backs, but the queue is merciless.
Where are the leaders?
Sacrifice — sustenance — serve,
there they are — hear them roar,
“Soldiers are fighting in the borders
saving your bloody ass. Staying hungry,
thirsty for days? Where’s your spine?
Why do you so whine?”
“Train your mind. A human being can stay
hungry for 21 days.
After, you die — of course, for the country.”
“Surely, you can do that much?
If you are bothered by corruption and graft?
The black money hoarders?
Remember this is all for your own good
so move it, queue up, be brave.
Meanwhile, I have a flight to catch, deals
to crack, all to serve you my compatriots.”
Where is the black money?
In the rusted tin piggy bank with the broken ear?
Or is it inside the worn pillow cover
stained with hair oil?
Or maybe in the pockets of
that much-mended blazer
bought in a 70% off sale 8 years back?
Or maybe hidden in the spice boxes in the kitchen,
or maybe in the meager savings accounts?
In the house of the vultures
merry-making is in full swing.
Clinks — clackles — loud cackles,
low conversation — spit-spewing hiccups,
crisp suits, ornate shawls,
worried about their cash tips
and whether the neighborhood ATM
will have any cash when they finish their shift.
They are used to the diamonds and solitaires,
the bottomed smiles and the play of
light and shadow on the folds of the necks
that tremble from the loud guffaws.
The money is safely parked in real estate,
in India, and Dubai and — name your
country on the map — a Swiss bank anyone?
“It’s all for the common good,” a man slaps the
cocktail waiter jocularly,
a sprig of a kid, hardly 16 or 17.
He is pleased for being noticed,
for being singled out for this piece of wisdom,
the common man is such an endearing fool —
in their world — light cuts through
the darkness only in installments,
and in everything that glitters
is always a hope that it is gold.
Who are we? What is this world?
Are we nobodies, do we stand for nothing?
What is our future? It cannot just be a jeremiad?
A long elegy — how long have we been dead?
Nilanjana Bhowmick is a poet and journalist based in New Delhi, India. Her writings – both prose and poetry – center on gender justice, social change and politics.
Image by Shalu Sharma.