Monday, 30th October 2017

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A poem springs back and leads to a pleasant discovery

Medical graduate’s lines gain more relevance in CAA season and pack a surprise

By Nefertiti Biswas in Calcutta
  • Published 19.02.20, 2:21 AM
  • Updated 3.03.20, 5:56 PM
  • 3 mins read
Filmmaker Kamal (Wikipedia)

Before you leave for Pakistan,
Keep in store a fistful of earth
Scooped up from the heart of Rajghat
Where non-violence reposes

From beneath the scented roots
Of the rose plant that
Discovered India

From the villages where lives
The Soul of India, with unwavering mind

From the banks of the Yamuna,
Where Shah Jahan’s love flows serene….

With the infinite sadness that weighs heavy on almost every farewell, the poem titled Before Leaving for Pakistan goes on chronicling several events and places that make India a cherished home.

Hasna Sherin, an MBBS graduate now interning in Kerala, wrote the poem in 2017, not in 2019 or 2020 by when it would acquire a prophetic edge for many Indians plunged into uncertainty by the new citizenship matrix.

Kamal, a celebrated Malayalam filmmaker, has been reciting lines from the poem at meetings in Kerala to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the proposed countrywide National Register of Citizens. Kerala has hosted not only some of the biggest protests in the country but also some of the most incisive and well-informed debates on the citizenship regime.

What Kamal did not know until this newspaper called him was that Sherin had penned the poem three years ago as a tribute to the filmmaker himself when a BJP leader had sprung on him what has now become familiar advice: “Go to Pakistan.”

“I was unaware that the poem was based on this incident. I didn’t notice when the poem was written in 2017. Later, one of my friends sent it to me. I used to speak about this poem and recite the lines in several of the CAA-NRC protest meetings,” Kamal told The Telegraph.

“I am happy and excited to know it was that incident that motivated Sherin to write the poem,” added the national award-winning director known for his sensitive portrayal of romantic themes as well as complex plots rooted in real-life incidents, including a biopic of poet Kamala Das that was partly filmed in Calcutta.

Kamal hails from Thrissur and Sherin from Palakkad, neighbouring districts in Kerala.

Sherin had uploaded the poem afresh on Facebook with an arresting Malayalam note that caught the eye of a Malayali journalist in Calcutta. The note said: “A poem that was written three years ago, along with many apprehensions to which there are no answers even now.”

Almost every incident and place mentioned in Sherin’s poem has assumed added significance since the Narendra Modi government test-fired the citizenship matrix.

It is difficult to believe that the poem was not written in the winter of 2019 when the CAA was pushed through — but for a clue in the very last stanza.

After listing the places from where to collect the earth of India before leaving for Pakistan, the poem implores the stateless traveller to “Slow walk down the rural paths, trodden by the bereaved man/ Bearing the corpse of his spouse on his shoulder/ Wrapped in a patchy mat.

The reference was to the long walk by Dana Majhi, with his weeping daughter by his side, carrying his wife’s body in Odisha in 2016.

Contacted by this newspaper, Sherin recounted how Kamal was told by the BJP leader he was free to leave India after the filmmaker protested the arrest of some people for not standing up when the national anthem was played before movie screenings at an international film festival in Kerala.

“The incident actually inspired me to write this poem and that’s how the title of the poem Before Leaving for Pakistan was born,” Sherin said. “I am happy that Kamal Sir now knows what prompted me to write the poem.”

“I wanted to express the idea of Indian culture and secularism. India is a democratic country but what is happening now is appalling and foreboding,” said the MBBS graduate who got the poem translated into English with footnotes for this correspondent by Ahmed Anwar, an ophthalmologist at MES Medical College, Perinthalmanna, where she is finishing her internship now.

The poem was published in multiple publications, the reason it found its way to the director’s friend who sent it to him.

“The poem was written three years ago but when I re-read it now, I feel that those lines are more emotional now,” said Sherin.

Director Kamal, who participates in protests against the CAA and the NRC as a social activist, more than a filmmaker, continues to face threats from those who would like him to go to Pakistan. The campaign has been so vile that some Sangh parivar supporters have started calling him “Kamaluddin” to ensure that attention stays focused on his religion.

“In protest against me, they came to my house and sang the national anthem at my gate and asked me to go to Pakistan. They used my Muslim identity on several occasions after this. They began addressing me as Kamaluddin, my original name, instead of Kamal, as actor Vijay is addressed as Joseph Vijay,” he said.

“I don’t pay much heed to it and I don’t intend to go to Pakistan. My country is India and I love the secular, democratic and sovereign nature of the Constitution,” Kamal added.

“I support Shaheen Bagh and all other similar protests against the CAA-NRC-NPR,” he said.

Sherin, too, has taken part in anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protests in her college. She believes “protests are always good, it’s like challenging our leaders to perform better”.

“Any form of protest should be encouraged unless and until it causes any harm to our world,” she said.

At a time Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge and Varun Grover’s Hum Kagaz Nahin Dikhayenge are inspiring many Indians, Sherin thinks “poetry is an efficient and peaceful form of protest”.

“I am still hopeful about my country and countrymen,” Sherin said.