Delhi’s Bandaged Heart – Anna Akhmatova, Tihar Jail
Poetry in the city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Delhi Walla arranged to meet poet Anna Akhmatova outside the highly-secured boundary wall of Tihar Jail in West Delhi. In her late 20s, Ms Akhmatova is wearing a white shawl. A woman of somewhat severe features, she is looking immensely sad. Gesturing towards the prison wall, she says, “They hanged him today.”
Ms Akhmatova is referring to Mohammed Afzal, prime accused in the 2001 Parliament Attack. This morning he was secretly executed by our government. Mr Afzal was sentenced to death by a lower court in Delhi in 2002. Later, the Supreme Court verdict that upheld the sentence did confess of finding “no direct evidence amounting to criminal conspiracy”, but it nevertheless stated, “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties had shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”
Speaking softly, Ms Akhmatova says, “He was from Kashmir, a land as cold and tragic as my Leningrad. But they buried him inside the prison itself. Do you know his son is named after a Delhi poet?”
“Yes, Ghalib,” I say. “And they did not even inform his wife in Kashmir.”
“That’s not the point,” the poet says.
Walking slowly, Ms Akhmatova shares one of her poems with us.
And the stone word fell
On my still-living breast.
Never mind, I was ready.
I will manage somehow.
Today I have much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone,
I must learn to live again—
Unless… Summer’s ardent rustling
Is like a festival outside my window.
For a long time I’ve foreseen this
Brilliant day, deserted house.
As part of the series Delhi’s Bandaged Moments, The Delhi Walla is searching for poets in the city. If you are one, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Poet Anna Akhmatova