Where masked men stand in chalked circles

person inside a circle

It’s something outside you. Perhaps it’s inside you too. You don’t know. Perhaps you are infected. And can infect. Just not showing yet. You step out when you run out of bread. The neighbourhood is suddenly still. With a silence slowly scooping away. Everything you had known here. Every face is now a mask. Scared. Scary. Your local shopkeeper doesn’t smile at you today. Perhaps he doesn’t recognise you. You’re wearing a mask too. There’s this queue. Where masked men stand in chalked circles. Carefully away. From each other. Carefully clutching. What they think they own. Bags, keys, wallets. You stand too. Suddenly someone falls. On the third circle from the shop. Nobody rushes. Nobody touches. He lies still. You watch him breathe. He isn’t dead you think. Gets up slowly. Nobody speaks. Somebody leaves. And then it’s your turn to get in. You notice the price of bread. Is still the same. Just a number. But familiar. A tiny bit that hasn’t changed. — Avishek Parui

Bugs Galore

bug on the hand I don’t squash bugs. I blow them away or if they are particularly large, I make them amble on an A4 sheet and shake or flick them down from my 4th floor balcony. I like to think that they fell to their deaths and not just fly away to a different window, balcony or a tree, an act that I call these days “assisted suicide” - blame it on the TV series and movies.

While packing enough chillis at the supermarket to last a few weeks, a small bug landed on my index finger. Instinctively I blew on it, but there it was, still, round, small, impervious and unshaken, like our lockdown efforts that just blow up in our faces everyday. A realization set in slowly as I felt the settling perspiration on my lips and heard the breaths I drew - this is going to stay a while. — Shantam Raj

बहुत तकलीफ़ है मुझको अभी ज़माने में

person looking out

बहुत तकलीफ़ है मुझको अभी ज़माने में,
दीवार-ओ-दर मुझे घेरे हैं आशियाने में।

बनाने बैठता हूं जब उदासी की तस्वीर,
उतर जाती है मेरी ज़िन्दगी बनाने में।

बहाने हम नहीं कर पाते तुमसे मिलने के,
तसल्ली हम ये ख़ुद को देते हैं बहाने में।

यही हम सोचकर ले आए साथ घर अपना,
न ही सहरा न ही है दश्त इस फ़साने में।

ये कमरा और दीवारें तो आज़मा ही चुके,
तो क्या ही हर्ज़ है ख़ुद को भी आज़माने में।

कि यूं तो ख़र्च खुद को बेहिसाब करते हैं,
लगाएं वक़्त ये ख़ुद को ज़रा कमाने में।

इसी ख़ुरफ़ात में ख़ुद को सुबह जगाते हैं,
सुनेंगे आज क्या चिड़ियों के चहचहाने में।

बराए नाम ही उम्मीद है बची लेकिन,
बराए नाम होगी कारगर बचाने में।

Sujeet Saurav