The Old Chinar Tree

There is a holy hush 
And stillness at sunrise 
On Dal lake
And at this time of the year
A sharp sting of cold at dawn.
As the sun emerges
A million shimmering leaves 
Of soft-gold, red and mauve 
Set the valley ablaze. 

Here, I have heard countless stories
Moody young men reciting their love poems
Farouche maidens nursing secrets
And old men still praying for miracles.  

They all come here, young and old
Muslim, Hindu and Sikh.
I embrace them all. 
They are part of me
And I am part of them.

Tulips and daffodils
Have given their beauty to this fragrant land
Poets have extolled its beauty
Rulers have fallen in love with it
The Mughal Emperor
“If there is paradise on earth
It is here, it is here, it is here.”

Now melancholy hangs over everything.

Something has changed. 

I hear guns and explosions
Screams in the night 
Desperate women crying
And blinded young men
Sobbing in helplessness and anger.

There is talk of total war
With total weapons.
It is a madness that has settled 
Over this land. 

Gory and bloody stories are heard 
That are not worthy 
Of the great faiths of this region.

The liberals, 
The pride of the land, 
 Look the other way
Or find it easier 
To cheer on the violent hatred. 
They are setting aside 
Millennia of wisdom, 
What is unique to them,
For what is base and ugly.

The righteous voices of 
Ahimsa and Gandhi 
Are drowned 
In the din.

The UN, the Ummah,
The champions of humanity, 
It seems no one 
Really cares for suffering
Or justice.

But here I stand.
I am the tree of life 
And life is in me.
One thing I know, 
And that is the one thing I need to know, 
I will be standing here 
Long after the intruders have gone. 

At dusk
As the world falls into a hush
I hear the call to prayer
Floating like a feather
Gently over the lake

As it fades 
In the distance I hear, 
Carried over the water,  
The liquescent voice of a maiden 
Softly singing the sad song
of a son-of-the-soil: 
Jis khaak ke zameer me hai aatish-e-chinar,
Mumkin nahi ki sard ho woh khaak-e-arjumand
This land carries in its conscience the fire of the Chinar, 
That celestial fire will never die down. 

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