The poet expressing the tragedy of Covid in India

03. Jul

July 03, 2021

With translations into Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, Assamese, English and now even German, a poem describing the horrors of the second wave of Covid-19 in India is celebrated as a shrewd socio-political commentary.

Line 114 poem, entitled Shabvahini Ganga and written by Parul Khakkar, a Gujarati housewife in the western region of India, was originally shared on the author’s Facebook page. It has since spread around the world, winning fans and breaking hearts for its poetic portrayal of the Ganges as a “hearse of corpses”.

Like crematoriums fight coping with rising deaths and poor families unable to afford increasingly expensive firewood, pictures the living dead wrapped in burial clothes and floating on the Ganges, or Ganga, appeared continuously on social networks.

For many Indians, these scenes summed up the government’s botched response to the pandemic. Now even the dead were suffering at the hands of ill-prepared bureaucrats, who months earlier declared India had beaten Covid, held political rallies with thousands of people in attendance and enabled the the biggest religious holiday in the world take place.

Khakkar’s reference to a “naked king” who is “lame and weak” has been widely interpreted as a reference to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The prime minister’s popularity waned in the aftermath of the second wave and his administration was criticized for its poor performance. Modi appeared on television at the height of the crisis but lack take responsibility for the dire situation (hospitals were running out of oxygen and turning people away).

While Khakkar has earned the admiration of many across India and the global diaspora for voicing the tragedy and trauma experienced by almost every household in recent weeks, she has also made many enemies.

Unsurprisingly, strong supporters of BJP, India’s current ruling Hindu-nationalist party, have dragged the author for his “anti-national” and “anti-Hindu” poetry which mocks their leader, spamming his account with thousands of abusive messages. Ironically, Khakkar is known in literary circles as a staunch Hindu whose poetry has even been used by followers of certain deities for worship.

Khakkar’s poem may have been particularly triggering for BJP supporters as it is written in Gujarati and the author is also a daughter of Gujarat – the home state of Prime Minister Modi, his Minister of the Interior. Amit Shah and a traditional base of BJP.

No one expects a dissenting voice holding a mirror of government incompetence to emerge from this corner of the country; let alone a proud Hindu woman.

Image: Swarnavo Chakrabarti.

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