VERSE | FALLEN ANGELS

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre, also known as the Amritsar massacre, took place on 13 April 1919. A large peaceful crowd had gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab, to protest against the Rowlatt Act and arrest of pro-independence activists. In response to the public gathering, the temporary Brigadier general, R. E. H. Dyer, surrounded the protesters with his troops. The Jallianwala Bagh could only be exited on one side, as its other three sides were enclosed by buildings. After blocking the exit, he ordered them to shoot at the crowd, continuing to fire until their ammunition was exhausted. Estimates of those killed vary between 379 and 1500+ people.

I’m wearing my yellow chunri today
I look at my reflection in the mirror
And I see a girl in front of me
Her face is shining, her smile wide
I look into her eyes and laugh
I’m the happy lass today. That’s me!
It was going to be a lovely week
Of friends and melas and cream sodas
Baljeet and I were going to fly
Up, up into the sky
On rose-festooned jhoolas*

I waited at the bagh* with bhai Jan*
His friend was organizing something
They were busy but I was busier still
Absorbing everything
From the smells in the air to the sights and sounds
I bought a set of bangles
Red, gold and brown
For myself and some for Baljeet
Emerald green with silver trim
They would play on our wrists, tinkling

Mohammad Bashir bought me some moongphalli*
He was bhaijan’s friend
Organizing something at the bagh
The sugary pinkness melted in my mouth
I got kissed by a little breeze blowing in from the south
I turned the other cheek
Laughingly and waited for Baljeet
For kulfa falooda* and gajar ka halwa*
For nimboo mirch wali garam, garam challi*
My heart soared at the thought
I looked at the kites gliding above
I closed my eyes imagining I was
One of those magical things
Floating, flitting on currents of air
I felt the breeze play with my hair

Baljeet didn’t come that day
Bhai Jan forever went away
In front of me, while in my arms
Bleeding, gasping for air
There were screams and sobs
There were gun shots
I’d lost my voice; but inside me
something broke piece by piece
There was no comforting, caressing breeze
To sweep the stabbing bits away

Silently I looked around
My bangles were broken, there was no sound
From there either
There was a wildness of colour on the ground
The red of blood spilling fountain-like
The wet brown earth where life
And breath congealed in the grass
There in the April sun’s golden glare
I saw fallen angels everywhere
At the Jhallianwala bagh.
* Chunri: fabric pattern with little white specks on colourful backgrounds 

* Jhoola: Swing in Urdu

* Bagh: Park in Urdu

* Bhai Jan: affectionate term for Brother in Urdu

* Buria ke baal: Literally meaning “old woman’s hair”. Colloquialism used for cotton candy/ candy floss in Urdu.

* Kulfa falooda: A rich summer dessert very much like ice cream.

* Mongphalli: Peanuts in Urdu

* Gajar ka halwa: A traditional sweet made from carrots

* Nimboo mirch wali garam, garam challi: salt and chilli powder doused hot roasted corn on the cob

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