Four Poems on Love, War and Exile by Inshah Malik

Photo by Mostafa Ahangarha

The four ethnographic poems by Inshah Malik are an attempt to engage with presence in the politically charged location of Kashmir. 



Home is where life is not held ransom,

To whimsical maneuvers of wanderlust!

Yet, where mind takes flight and

Sits by the birds, on a tree,

Fixated in the soil of dissonance,

Picking by its beak

The scattered leaves of transcendence


Home is where life is not traded

For astute insistence of leaving!

Yet, it is from where we leave

Constantly taking brisk walks of imagination

And have our hands kissed

By the people of a dreamland

And take a seat amidst them,

Watching this epic theatre of life


Home is where life is not left unlived

For the scary flood of emotions!

Yet, where one leaves ones keys of return

And arrives briefly to wash off

Bloodied feet decorated with mud

And rubs of their scars of war


Home is where life is not lived

Against the consistent pleas of a death wish

Yet, where one takes flight away from death

And attaches ceremonial meaning to banal acts

And builds oneself a castle

From the roof of which

One looks on to paradise.


Home is where life is not paused

For recurrent thoughts of promises

Yet, where promises are made on a cold slate of life,

To keep seeing the recurring moon

And striding into space to find us homes

Made of imaginary nothingness

Where one is a prisoner of language

And promises are made only to be broken


Home is from where we are not expelled

During calm afternoon summers of peace

Yet, where we mold longing as heirloom in exile

When the massacre has left us

At the brink of mercy and keys are our only ornaments

And photographs are only proof of our presence


Home is where we have not lost any contest

Against all dangers imaginary or real

Yet, where all plots have been constructed

We have become soldiers and martyrs

Defending the indefensible

While guarding that must be dismantled



Funeral of a Graceful Woman

When I said goodbye,

I offered a pause,

To the gushing forth purge

Of your new rage!


In your tryst with life

You burnt to the butt

The only cigarette,

You were offered at the

Funeral of a graceful woman


Even today, the pause

Nestles reluctantly

Between your memories

Of agony and pain


Even now my moonlit face

Comes in your dreams

And you still find my pimples

The only cause of concern


I still valiantly claim

A bullet was fired last night

And my pimples were

Enumerating deaths

Of both our dreams and

The fascists that have held us

At the gun point of melancholy


I went away to watch

The canvas on which you painted

With your sobbing colours

I see the whole mess

Of your twisted existence

But I have no money

To buy and hang it

On my office wall


I'm still living in handful

Of water that you splash

On your ageing face

To remind you of what is life's worth!


And I'm still insistent

That I will live my best

And there is no resistance

Stronger than the act of living!



Rain and Dreams

The sky is pregnant

With a gloomy cloud

My eyes are transfixed

In anticipation

Rain is scarce in exile

But not dreams


You fed me

From churning happiness

And then I raced to get wet

Under pouring showers

That day I bid goodbye

To laughing for no reason


Hung on some expedition

I had to expose

As if, some unknown treasures

If the war didn’t break out in my country

Would you have still loved me?


I fought a different war

With no promises of freedom

But you are a war hero

And I remain only a lonely prisoner


If I didn’t question many times

Would you still have

Considered me a friend?

Yet, here I face stormy winds

Made of no coherent answers


What is this war called?

When it rages both inside

And in the street

Do you know now!

It doesn’t rain so often

In this place

Where I dream of your hands


Have you given up yet?

Did you marry?

Or have you settled down?

What is this war called?

That eats away slowly

At our longing

Where it matters little

If life progresses!


Ah! Rain has come

To undo my dreams

Of what lasts

Nothing is known

Again morning smells

Of winter spent in your arms

The tea kettle whistles

Memory is the only cup

Offered to me

In exile

Words are the only home

Offering a filial abode



On Becoming a Poet

I became a poet

When it became

Hard to say

‘I love you’

And I won't be a caged bird


I became a poet

When it became

Hard to grieve

Your loss

And remain your committed lover


I became a poet

When it became

Easy to kill

For Nation

In your land

And care very little about trampled souls


I became a poet

When it became

Hard to make known

longing for Peace

And intense urge for justice


I became a poet

When it became

A massacre in the town

And I ran out of tears

And reason


I became a poet

When it became

Known that your love

Came with conditions

And mine with slavery


I became a poet

When it became

A norm to write

Dirges at funerals

And fire bullets at weddings


I became a poet

When telephone lines were cut

And emotions were the only


I carried from home

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