Reading Time: 35 minutes
The Significant League (TSL) and Different Truths (DT) together offer an Anthology on Bonded Labour, 60 poems, one be each poet, full of pathos and pain. It’s our joint salutation to thousands of people for whom the sun never shines. We hope that Man, educated and civilised, shall put an end to unending brutality on man against his fellow beings. This anthology of TSL has been put together and edited by three eminent poets, Dr. Ampat V. Koshy, Ipshita Ganguli, all unite and ‘Bonded Labour’, in any form, shall finally end.
NAPOWRIMO or National Poetry Writing Month has been truly amazing for the members of The Significant League family, a literary group on facebook.
Each day saw us writing on different prompts or forms, resulting in learning new things and honing individual skills.
This perhaps is the ethos of The Significant League (TSL) and its founder Dr Ampat V. Koshy. Dr Koshy is the head of this family, and he, together with senior mentors like Dr Santosh Bakaya, Pramila Khadun, Reena Prasad, Michelle Baron, Vijay Nair, Gauri Dixit and a host of others, many of whom are celebrated achievers and much-published authors, inculcate a culture of living, dreaming and breathing poetry, every moment of the day.
As Napowrimo or National Poetry Writing Month came to an end on April 30, it also brought with it a new thread for May 1 under the benevolent aegis of Arindam Roy and Different Truths (DT), with which TSL has already had two collaboration on autism and limericks – a tribute on the theme ‘Bonded Labourer’ for Labour Day.
Reading all the poems written on this subject has been an honour.
The pathos and pain, palpable, who better than poets to give words to these emotions!
On another note, let me for a moment dwell on the thread, Bonded Labourer.
Bonded brings in its fold the idea of shackles or limits.
And yet these poems have come through from all corners, all countries, across all limits.
What a beautiful unlimited borderless world this is, where the only bonding is that of poetry and pathos.
Let us, then, continue to spread love and light and work across limits.
Let the labour and the bonding be of love.
Ipsita Ganguli, Co-editor
The Significant League
April 25, 2016
There are sixty poems in this collection. Most are exemplary. All are worth reading being empathetic. The editing is praiseworthy. Thanks to Arindam Roy, Anumita Chatterjee Roy and the team at Different Truths (DT) for giving us in The Significant League (TSL) one more chance to serve the world through writing poetry on a cause.
Dr Koshy AV, Co-editor
Editors: Dr Ampat V. Koshy, Ipshita Ganguli
Poem 1: Paro’s Girl
She was the sound of a pot being scrubbed
And drummed upon, a visual rooster call
Framed through a red iron grill, in the grey dawn
Was her bowed squat, the permanent sniff,
Wispy thin arms and unkempt plait
Yet she was invisible
A rag bundle among the crows
The sleeves of her frock stopped where my gaze too did
Not wanting to add five burnt fingers scarred into a claw
To the discomfiture of being clothed in privilege.
She was Paro’s girl.
Paro, dirt exterminator by day
And physiotherapist by night.
From a hidden perch, I watched in awe
As soot black feet stamped on the prone
Rickshaw puller’s flesh and bones.
Houses trembled when her tongue lashed.
Yet her absence was a natural disaster
An infant hung from her black breasts,
But the girl was a contract forgotten
A loan obtained when she had none of her own.
‘Maa’ an attempt to bond with another bonded one
Whose voice and swagger were defense mechanisms,
But who couldn’t bring herself to call the labour-sharer
A daughter, but then these were all written indelibly in stone.
I believed with all the wisdom of being eight,
An unknown bond they had somehow signed
One I couldn’t read.
Paro’s girl scrubbed on with her mesh of heirloom scars
No one remembered that she had never been named.
Poem 2: A Bleeding Rhyme
Rubbing sleep kinks from his eyes.
The tiny boy yawns;
And jumps into the maelstrom of another day.
He cannot shirk, he has to work,
To repay the loan his granddad had taken
Long, long years back.
He hammers away, chiseling brick after brick
But, ah, his neck has a crick!
“Faster, faster” growls the master blaster.
Gigantic flames gush forth from his heart
To become a bleeding rhyme.
The smoke billowing from the brick kiln
Robes him into an invisibility cloak.
And the tiny bloke, alas, is lost to the world!
When night falls, the stars creep into his eyes
Snuggle next to his dreams,
And in the shimmer of the moonbeams,
His dreams rise from the ashes
And cover his bruises, his gashes.
He is drenched, as though by the succulence of grapes
No more, shriveled like a raisin.
His dreams and he hold hands and dance
And spin and toss a melodious duet.
Notes of freedom throb in the air.
Poem 3: Life’s Unjust Tragedy
My friend who gained a Ph.D.
Sat on the steps of the University,
And told me his story.
A Pulaya was he.
While he remained unmoved,
I went home, broke down, and wept
Felt lost completely.
In love, I too have lost
We both know the pain,
Of life’s unjust tragedy
Chained by the untruth
We fight to be free
Though bonded labourers are we.
©Dr. Ampat Koshy
Poem 4: The Glass Doors
Imagine! Selling your soul,
And your spouse and all those.
Who come after you and all
Those who come after them
To eternal slavery.
With an impression of your thumb.
And after that is done, there are
Only opaque glass doors between
The deathless feudal master,
And the bonded laborer
Who slips through them and then
Slips right back through the myth.
Of voicelessness, in nightmares,
Sweating on serrated soil,
He can never call his own
And though the subaltern now,
Can speak, he prays that all
Glass doors would turn transparent once.
Poem 5: Eyes Lose Focus
Eyes lose focus
Body goes on
With all its might.
Day is for
Night is spent in
Nothing is ever
The hands always
At the end of the day
The half sigh
In the baby’s cry.
The Sun shines bright,
For the bonded laborer
Of Day and Night.
Poem 6: Grave me in Your Dreams
Miss me not,
If I show up not on dinner daily,
I am busy in saving education and health for you.
I am adding colors to your dreams,
I am checking your tears,
That may well up in your eyes,
For having not something out of reach,
Miss me not.
I pawn my breaths,
To buy oxygen of freedom for you.
I balm not my scars red on palms,
Because there your tiny eyes shine with longings and faith.
My worn out clothes,
I want those rags to be sewn up together,
My days are deserted dreams,
I crave for your touch in tyrant nights,
Those nights which ignite fire and thirst in me.
I feel blisters all full of pus,
And my feet can’t tread more in soil
Bonded labour ME!
Grave me in your dreams where I can fly.
©Neहा (Neha Kumari)
Poem 7: The Clank
Existence had played on us
For which, every day we woke up
To the clank,
Of our shackles, which pained
The wrist and flank.
From the night of insomnia
Till the hard work’s morn,
We had time to breathe
But not to mourn,
For the master’s command
Could see no scorn.
The thirst so fierce
Dried even our semen;
The sun burnt our skin
As if we were its heathen,
Boys were born to work,
Because dead were the men.
The master served us saltwater,
Not milk of breast,
Became our chest
And inflated became our belly
In the debt’s jest.
To the clank of shackles,
We woke up one morning,
It was our payday
As the master was promising:
All we got was a piece of bread,
With fungi growing.
©Niladri Ranjit Chakraborty
Poem 8: Do not Fear
There are so many like you
Life is a garden of roses
Draw deeply the scent…
Thorns a bleeding
A Bucketful of love,
On a simmering hot day…
Cool water washes
The sweat of
Poem 9: Who am I?
-I am not a labourer
He was offended.
-I am an educated woman
She was hurt.
-We cannot be labourers,
We never got a holiday
On any 1st May
They put up a slogan…
I didn’t know what to say
I remained silent and listened
Who am I?
Each day I wake up,
Each day I eat,
Each day I travel,
Each day I spend eight
hours in office,
Each day I return home,
Each day I sleep,
Each day I dream…
Some days I am happy,
Some days I am sad,
Some days I meet friends
Some days I take my
Most days I am tired,
Most days I am angry,
Most days I desire,
Most days I panic…
(Who am I)
(What am I)
(Why am I)
I whispered to myself
-am I bonded or free?
Freedom is either a
Belief or a concept
Or a truth that we have
Not yet achieved…
Poem 10: A Pair of Arms Cuffed…
A pair of arms cuffed already,
Ankles shackled kicking unsteady
USG reports will never reveal
How a bonded labourer is born.
A prince who
knew the entry tricks,
But never quite the exit basics
From the circle of venom
He was thrown into…
Abhimanyu – the fate
Of every diamond
Sired of the loins
Of a labourer in bond.
Poem 11: Doorless Walls
Entombed, behind doorless walls,
Like a fluttering bird,
Which has wings but not the sky,
Mourns the death of humaneness.
Poem 12: Wedding Vows
When he promised to love and respect
And not to forsake,
She did not know those
Words fettered themselves in a chain
Around her neck in solemn silence
And the silken saree was bondage
Bandaging an unknown fear;
The dazed tassels had swayed hand in hand
To the tune of an ancient chime.
When she let her dreams whirl down
Like the soapy bubbles in her sink
And labour their children
For his name
She was bonded with something more
For her, love was not to live like her,
And the ceremonial pendant
That hung close to her heart
Always resonated with the rhythm
“Till death do us part”
Poem 13: Bonded Girl
Enthusiastic I was to meet my friend,
After a long break of over ten years.
To meet at one’s home, to view their habits,
Cherished were the moments we had spent there,
Then behold a new sight I did observe.
A little angel assigned as caretaker,
For the babes of the owner’s cherished home.
Should we call them privileged angels?
To bring their light to our own homes?
How dare we snatch a child from his home?
To adorn ours without any reservations?
Is this how far we have descended?
When children no longer are carefree innocents?
Have we lost our so valued humanity?
Poem 14: Bottled Souls
Swarm in as fresh air.
To buy oxygen
From blue skies.
The charm of deserts,
Of Ferraris and limousines;
Hope pulls them in
Through glass doors.
For Olympic bid.
And heroin in corpses.
Grass was greener
My apathetic body
Seeks the soul,
To escape the cork.
Poem 15: A Little Say
The livelong day
Our little hands play,
The brute melody.
The river giggles
Tears tickle, coins jingle,
The brute melody
Measure for measure
Our day nailed together,
In brute melody.
Long legged insects race
As we chase life to live
In brute melody
Dreams are felony.
Yet to strike!
Poem 16: Squashed Dreams
Oh! Is this true? We will be paid double salary!
Yes, it is true, believe me, my friend affirms it.
Free air tickets, Free Air conditioned accommodation,
Free conveyance to & fro to work,
This was too good to be true offer.
Wide eyes full of dreams we accepted
Who wouldn’t for a dear promise?
To have a beautiful house back home,
For our parents, wife & kids
For a life fun filled with laughter.
We left our dear ones teary eyed
One day to return with loads of happiness.
Ah! Our impossible dream came true
There! We are sitting in a plane
Our first ever solo flight to the land of hopes
Three hours of cool bliss ended!
Our Dreams Squashed so soon!
Herded at the airport of our destination
Passport confiscated there & then
To be stamped for the working Visa.
Pushed in a bus, taken to camps,
A non-AC room shared by us seven.
A toilet shared by us thirty dirty filthy,
Thoroughly checked our belongings,
Stripped naked physically.
Hurt, Humiliation, Atrocities unending
Sad realisation of being cheated.
Shockingly landed to a place of no return,
Informed that passports will be returned,
But only after two years of bonded Labour!
© Princess Lubna
Poem 17: The Labour Bonded to Life
An eternal slave,
The labour bonded to life;
For daily bread,
A habitat to shelter head;
Slogging for wages,
To hide self under threads.
The forbidden fruit baited Man,
An apple everyday is;
For malnourished minds;
Condition gets applied,
And love be no more blind;
It has eyes with ears which,
Tongues a heart to find;
Yes, Cupid is auctioned,
Ooh! Wish God was kind.
Mind is a Proprietor,
Sprouts debatable queries;
Generates submissive answers to abide,
The body is enslaved to a mental cancer;
Trailing to chase comparable peers,
Once this flux ceases;
The chain bond gets loose and loses,
The bottle doesn’t break;
Still out is the goose,
Man becomes to be;
And gets free again to choose.
(Aakash Sagar Chouhan)
Poem 18: So What?
So what if I’m dusky?
I have my beautiful dreams.
So what a bonded labourer,
My fancies soar unbridled and high.
So what if I wasn’t brought up with care and love
So what, I grew up on my own
Like some weeds did…
In my father’s rented farm.
I grew up nevertheless.
So what if I was unlucky enough
To have my mother close her lids in death.
The moment I was born.
So what, if my heart hungers still for maternal love.
I dream of becoming a mother someday.
So what if I’m tied to a stake of bare necessities…
I don’t have to spend much
To dream of a world tour.
So what if life has been unfair to me so far.
I will get my share of happiness and love
I’m sure, I would!
Poem 19: Selfish Bargains
The agarbattis in my house smell
Of jasmine and sandalwood, and
The wisps of smoke they give off
Underline the prayers that are
Prayed for the ones we know, and
The ones we don’t – vast, encompassing
Demands of peace, love, and joy
In return for the thirty minutes we
Spend taking in the sugary scent
The incense sticks give off – but often,
When I sit a little while longer, I can
Smell the undertones to the flashy
Promises of the floral ones, and they
Smell like grubby little hands, small
Enough to quickly twist and fold
Layers and layers of fragrances, and
I can nearly taste the hunger that
Created them, when I get up to put
The box back, I can almost touch the
Hopelessness that swells through the
Rotten core of what signifies peace,
And hope, so I get up, and brush myself
Off, shake off the misery brought
About by knowing the truth behind
Such painful things, and offer a prayer
Again, for my own selfish bargains.
Poem 20: Killed!
Killed! Dream, desire, destiny
Oh! What a bloody mutiny
Silent cries, dried streams of tears
They can’t complain, have no peers
Why then is it murky?
Is it even a debate worthy?
The chains belong to them
And them to clink-clank
Why the questions raised?
Why the order changed?
It’s been in practice for so long
To own and to be owned
Do you really see any wrong?
It’s a bond lifelong.
Not all humans are equal
Let’s then try a role reversal
If you see no wrong
Try it, it’s only for so long
The idea isn’t entertaining, is it?
Let’s ban the practice, quit it.
For life is precious
Both mine & ours
A chance to life; everyone deserves
Liberty, equality, justice.
Poem 21: Breasts Flowed with Nectar Once
For breasts that flowed with nectar once
Shriveled, hanging from torso lifelessly
The heart that hummed enchanting songs
Now bleeds its tears silently.
The bonds of love that once stood strong
The head that was once held high
The days of freedom flew away
All that is left is a wide oblong.
The fields she one day tilled with pride
Nestled with sweat and blood and hide,
They are still lush the way they were always
Nothing has changed except the bondage.
Her loved ones played under the neem she once planted
Now it’s no longer her’s to claim
The little ones toil with her all day
For now days and nights mean the same.
The glee in her eyes, the dreams of her heart
The bliss of her soul, the innocence of her youth
All stolen. Forsaken. Her privacy invaded..
She no longer sings loving lullabies
She might have had a past,
She has no future
World for her has nothing to offer
She is a bonded labourer!
Poem 22: Walking on Toes
Walking on toes,
Missing a step
She bends over to gain balance
By her mother’s sari flap.
Take care child, stop.
You are thin and lean
Soon you will be a lady
Embracing her teens
There was no money,
Nor enough food to eat,
But a bright glow radiated her cheeks.
She sat cuddled at her mother’s feet.
She traced her mother’s steps
At home, at the bazaar,
Also to her work place,
Where her mother toiled hard.
Beautiful daughter you have
Said the lady of the house…
She watched with admiration
At the young child’s crown.
I like your daughter
I will give you a handsome price,
She will work in the city
And make you proud.
Poverty is the curse
Like the story is told…
As bonded laborer, by her mother,
She was sold.
Poem 23: Bonded Labourer
An ancestral debt and we were sold,
Even before we were conceived.
And we have toiled for generations-
Me, my father, his father, his father…
But the debt is never to be repaid,
Despite generations of blood and sweat.
It is like an inherited curse-
There is nothing to be done about it,
Except to carry on and carry on.
Even the Fates know of our misery,
They weave no tapestry for us,
We can’t afford it, they think
So they weave a rope for us.
A rope that binds us to the labyrinth
Of our everyday lives.
A labyrinth whose every inch
We have laboured on,
But have found no exit.
Perhaps it has no exit!
©Shabir Ahmad Mir
Poem 24: Bonded Labour
I see her everyday,
Since last fifteen days,
With her mate.
Tall sky touching residences,
Carrying towers, offices,
Carrying five star hotels,
On her head.
With her baby in her arms
Sometimes on the back
Sometimes tied to breast,
She along with many
Builds homes for all.
The black beauty,
Queens one of the raw apartments,
With no doors and windows,
Painted with the dusty cement,
And her sweat
For a short period
Of a year or few more,
As she is bonded labourer.
The irony of life,
At daytime she is bonded
To work for money, her master,
At night for the pleasure of her mate or spouse
What is she?
Who is she?
A labourer who builds homes for all
But not herself.
A woman as a labourer,
Bonded by society.
I wonder what dreams she has in her eyes
For her future?
What future she sees for herself & her family
A bonded labourer.
Poem 25: Poor Tina
Tina is a bonded labourer,
Taking care of a lady old ager,
Suffering illness lady is my neighbour,
But I am in Tina’s favour.
She has to do all the work,
For which she is not so worth.
Cooking, dusting, cleaning and moping
Sitting in a corner she is sobbing,
Giving the lady medicine, nursing her well,
Unwillingly over there she has to dwell.
She doesn’t want to do all things.
Changes in her life she wants to bring
Physically unhealthy and so weak,
Something new she has to seek.
What to do, she is helpless,
Forced by her master for his happiness.
Man of the lady was a principal,
This is the real face of educated people.
Teaching his students life’s principles,
Himself doesn’t know meaning of principles.
She is doing so even for her father’s happiness,
He comes in the beginning of every month
Taking all her payment is not a fun.
Next to my door, she is suffering more
As a human being, how could I endure?
Poem 26: Bonded Labourer
He was a man with dignity,
Within him lies infinite prosperity,
But destiny has played a game
Of which he was not aware
Which is far beyond any cruelty.
He was misled by two men,
Praising his superiority.
They poisoned his deals
Drove him away from his land
This is the start of a crude destiny.
At the moment he woke up
He found himself in the jail,
He sacrificed himself as a slave.
With his eyes he couldn’t believe
Behind bars it is unbelievable to perceive.
A man with dignity
Became bonded labourer.
Unaware of the crucial tomorrow,
He was moving,
His future was not in his favour.
He fought and became free,
As he believed
Wherever lies his destiny
His faith is his with his family.
His objective a prime responsibility.
At home he kissed his Mrs.
With his children he had bliss.
He can’t forget the years of slavery
But strives hard for the welfare of his family,
Shares love happiness celebrated each day.
©Sha Azam Siddiqui
Poem 27: Bonded Labour
Laws have been formed,
To abolish labours of bond,
But still the weaker section are deprived,
And they have to fight for their rights!
Whether in some roasting red brick kilns,
Or in some black deadly quarries and mines,
Or in some faraway plantations green,
Or in some dry fields of cotton white,
Or in some lands of yellowing sugarcane reeds,
Or in some dingy factories of coloured bangles,
Or in some wealthy households of urban man…
The hands get tired doing dishes or washing linen,
Domestic fairer sex being further domesticated by roving eyes,
Strong limbed men being slaved till their strength and spirits break!
Modes of exploitation do differ,
But resultant aim and intention remaining same,
‘Just make them toil and toil,
And give them no hope of return,
Silence their voice with few whips,
And let their Needs be manifold!’
I have many faces and shapes,
My circumstances differ in different places,
But my story is never old,
Every now and then its gets retold,
In various ways.
Pain, Need, Lust, Poverty,
Corruption, Greed, Apathy, Tragedy.
Are reasons few and many!
I am a worker who labours a lot,
From dawn to dusk I toil and am distraught,
In debt… I pawn myself, my family and my bloodline,
And give them a lifetime of ‘Bonded Labourer’ tag!
©Mou Majumdar Sarkar
Poem 28: Chained Forever
The crumbling walls crash
Around, as I falter on the stone steps.
This edifice made of trash
Of centuries of bondage,
Refuses to let go as I wail aloud.
It sees me as an animal
To be caged
Chained without chains,
Before I was born,
For some unknown reason,
I struggle to catch a glimpse
Of the sun, of the sky
Although I slave away
In the fields of wheat and ragi
I know only hunger
I have been whipped
A hundred lashes, humped
Torn into pieces
Yet the lords are never
They wait eagerly
For the next generation
Of bonded labour
I dream of a sky
An azure one
Where I can fly
An earth green, plentiful
Where I can walk unafraid
Where my children can be
Seen as brethren
Note: Ragi: A type of millet
Poem 29: Pushpa
The moon found its place in the milky whites,
Of her eyes that twinkled in the early dawn lights,
Where darkness and rosy peach painted a mélange,
Flushing with her baby cheeks soft as sponge,
Her little feet ran with her brother’s across the brown earth,
Thorns, stones, sand now her sole’s numb mirth,
She didn’t question why or how this came to be,
But all she knew was that jasmine flowers were her destiny!
Like pearls studded in the bushes did they brightly glow,
The morning wee light to her keen eyes did show,
Her little fingers made to pluck the delicate flowers with care,
Not one could she own for herself to stick in her hair,
Soon the Sun would be up and the tyrant will tower,
Asking her if she’s done or should he show her his power?
She fought the tears, beckoned by the silent bushes,
Sob she will this ten year old in muted hushes!
Her nostrils filled with the heady fragrance she just gathered them,
Ten baskets filled up and her skirt muddy at its helm,
Her brother another victim of dire circumstances,
Even if he wanted to, fate gave them no chances,
Off to school they would have to run for what it is worth,
The money stuffed in her tote, running with her brother oh what a birth!
But somehow the day would be done, the sun to set,
Earth will sprout more flowers, her learning to beget!
Today the old tyrant was somehow the man of her life,
What do you do when you are choice less, orphaned, in a strife,
All the jasmine she gathered travelled far and wide,
And gnarled hands strangled her with a jasmine garland, her fate to decide!
In resignation she bent her head for she was bonded by labour,
Blame it on the jasmine, when she bloomed Pushpa was a flower crushed, the tyrant already had
Poem 30: Bonded Laborer
My sobbing eyes entail subsistence with fright,
Optimism fading utterly, sprouting apparent plight.
Amid apiece daybreak, I sense the pang of veracity
Owing to plunge in twilight, I seal the fate with acuity.
I crave for ephemeral instant to cherish an iota of bliss,
Appetite strives incessantly, ensuring apiece wish to cease
I introduce to the orb as an awfully repressed drudge
Nix prospect for fondness amid entire hoard of grudge.
Ignorance is conferred as reward for the unremitting toil,
Blood blended in sweat reckon sudden repulse for recoil.
I blaze to endow humanity with beam to pave the mode of splendor
I am the youth of nation seeking to subsist with grandeur.
Boon for livelihood or curse for civilization is the premise to muse,
Untold tale of oppression is a requisite for all to clasp and infuse.
In picky strife for futile subsistence, brooding ahead in prospect
Contemplation sought to be tacit afar of possessed intellect.
I crave to be liberated in wits and sweat
Freedom is a requisite for spirit in abate
I glimpse the slit in the wrapper of bleak
Vowing to be untied amid unsullied streak.
Poem 31: Bleeding Horizons
Where the sky meets the earth
And horizons bleed to death
Do you see that land of no return
Where Dreams are strangled to death?
No lark soars up to the heavens
No peacock dances in the rain
Smokes billow in this land
Hunger gnaws at intestines
Crestfallen heads that never look up
Backs broken with the weight of debt.
Farms strewn with lifeless zombies
In the lands of bountiful plenty
Tender fingers exposed to blazing furnaces and harsh chemicals,
In factories of pretty glass bangles!
Carpets that adorn halls of luxury
Woven with fingers that will
never hold a book,
Eyes that will never read pa’s letter,
No school bell beckons these kids,
Only the horrific bell waking them for more work at break of dawn,
Huddled like chickens trussed up for slaughter,
Humans living in inhuman degradation,
Shylocks extracting their pound of flesh
Coerced into debt bondage
With violence and threats.
Africa ,Caribbean, South East Asia
Quarries of Punjab, brick kilns, mills, factories
littered with faces of abject poverty
Untouchables in the world of the heartless
Coming from realms of God.
No man has the right to reduce another
To this life of miserable indignity.
Don’t let this happen dear Lord
This mortification, this abasement
This humiliation, this shame!
Don’t let my horizons bleed!
Poem 32: Dark Black Sky
Weary Eyes and Teary Sigh,
She was staring at the dark black sky,
Asking to herself, “Me, Why?
She was standing lost and Still,
Reflecting at her Ancestors’ Will,
“We are to serve them, that’s Our Role,
Serve them with Whole of Your Body, Mind and Soul”
They went and Now it’s Me to Serve,
Is this all what we Deserve?
When and Why did this Began?
Suffering Posed on all my Clan,
With the Past Searched and Scanned,
All her Thoughts came to an End,
When He Shouted with Firm Command,
She Stood Frightened of His Next Demand,
With a Vicious Laugh He Said,
“Finish Your Work and Make My Bed,
Please Me Now and Make me Glad!”
She was Scared and Full of Fear,
Her Screams Grew Roaring that One could Hear,
Filled with Anger, She Hit his Head,
Came Out Running and Hurriedly Fled,
Tired, She Laid Awake on the River Bed,
With Tragic Events Circling her Head,
Demon with the Title ‘Sir’
With all His Might went Hunting for Her,
Rowing a Boat there Appeared a Man,
Who Fought for Her with a Full Proof Plan,
He was Gentle and Well Behaved,
The One Chosen for Her to be Saved!
Poem 33: When will the Sun Rise?
Handcuffed dreams, fettered destiny,
Wishes scorched inside the kiln,
Heaps of bricks produced through sweat,
Childhood stories calcined into ashes,
Whipped skin reflects bleeding poems,
Denuded dignity and broken history
Molested and raped agreements
Dried crumbs of pay, massive debts,
Dipped in desires to be forced down the throat
When will the sun rise upon the dark fields?
Poem 34: Bonded
I did labour,
I did tie the bond,
My body to my soul first.
Binding fewer words to heart,
They bind the untold.
You see things love to remain
In the circle of bondage,
It’s like a holding believe
“Rescuing the rescued.”
Little does it matter if
Some wish to walk out,
You can never break the chain.
the bond of the machine with the money,
Dreams with burnt wings,
Sugar with words,
Sourness with swords.
It will remain driving the rat race.
On the sidelines where things seem saner,
Heart can breathe painted blaze,
I look after the bonded labourers.
Some young minds,
Some young thoughts,
Look up to my stride.
Soon enough they too shall tie the bond,
When to decide bondage no more?
I leave it to decide while I paint a free man’s world.
© Sufia Khatoon
Poem 35: The Blue Bird
A midday sun hangs up on the sky
Roughen ground pricking my empty buttock.
Look at the shadow the blue migratory bird projects
On the sandy surface. A black blurry hue
Upon where I am sitting with the blue bird,
Upon where I have just peed.
My clothes were torn before this sun was born.
My hands make a porch
On my forehead. The sun looks like a demon.
Thirsty me. Where is my father?
There up. Going up and up.
O father, please grip the bamboo stairs well
The demon sun,
The cement bowl on your head,
And your naked feet ring a knell.
Is this a new home?
Or perhaps, a new home, as they say,
Is a bonded way
For the loan that my Dadaji couldn’t repay.
As they say, a labour on bond
My homeless father cannot abscond.
As they say, a labour on bond,
For a homeless. Cloth less. Food less vagabond.
And I am thirsty.
O blue migratory bird, up for your next flight?
Can my sand stained hands touch your wings?
Yellow wings. Blue bird.
My cry is my thirst. Vision blurred.
O blue migratory bird, do you know some chhu-mantar?
To turn my little hands to wings.
Blue body. Yellow hands.
Am I a bird now? Where are you father?
Can you give me some water?
Poem 36: Your Fist
I remember the day
My third grade teacher said
That our hearts are only as big as our fists.
At the chaiwala’s,
As i watched a customer fling his fist at you
I clenched my hands and wondered
How a person could occupy so little space.
I saw you that day,
Silver in your sweat.
Now as you melt your lungs
Into tar and slowly tie your veins closed, passive smoking on
A hundred cigarettes held weightlessly, disastrously,
In the smooth hands of concrete cities,
I wonder if you cry sometimes.
If you curse the wombs that birthed you,
And continue to birth your suffering.
If you hate the revolutions that you kissed red with a starving mouth
For kicking you into dust at their wake.
I saw you yesterday
Black in the smoke.
If you tear yourself open and hurl your hurt shut
When your children run to you,
Arms outstretched like a prayer,
And you stand, a gray god,
Bruised heart outstretched for alms of love.
It was never love that your hands built into cities,
It was a rusted will, still alive at the core.
It was never love that we gave you
As the cheap liquor whiff of your daily wage.
It was a deaf mind.
It was never, never,
Compassion that we threw at your burning feet,
Those were only coins of pity and ignorance.
I saw you today.
Pale in the sun.
You are bonded by sweat and blood
To the world we made you erect.
And now, looking at my clenched fists,
How many words of that bond
Did i write?
How many silent signatures
And closes eyes
Did i pledge to your plight?
When i see you tomorrow,
And catch your eye,
And look away,
I will know exactly how many.
Like my numb heart, brother,
A cursed fist.
Poem 37: Ultimate Bond of Love
Gets up with the first ray of sun
First to take a bath so soon
Drapes a saree with proper pleats
She complaints never and completes the household chores
All the days are the same
On Sunday it is a holiday any way
She does not have a medical leave
When unwell swallows a capsule to conceal
Makes a refined budget for the month ending
Shops for the members
Compromises and sacrifices
her smallest desires and whims
Keeps her wishes at bay
Steals joy seeing their glee all day
Weaves and knits the family strongly in a thread
Where different colors made of love are widely spread
Allows dust to settle on her dreams
She is an angelic soul and an undying backbone
The house brims with her magnetic light
Spreading towards the crystal shores
Her each pore is purely a significant cornerstone!!
©Megha Sumant Sharma
Poem 38: This Too a Bonded Labour
They ask me – Oh how I can
Not revolt – revel passively
As my Owner cracks his whip
Furrowing more than flesh
Am I not my mother’s born
Or my father’s royal blood
So as to succumb to servitude
Be a slave till end of days?
They know only singularities
Of lingua, parole, definitions
Slave trade, bonded labour, et al
To them are just abominations
My Master bought me at my birth
His Love his lust my cradle song
With awl I pierced my ears by him
In Love I labour in Eternal bond!
Poem 39: Noa
Iron sharpens iron,
And from her father
She was passed on
And he took her left hand,
And slipped on her wrist,
They were gold coated,
The handcuffs that were put,
On her wrists,
And just where her hair parted,
It was split, with a conch shell pious,
Just enough for a vermillioned scar,
And she was thus
Go through labour,
Labour through life,
Never be termed a labourer,
Never paid, be his wife.
She rotates the handcuff
Slowly now, as the gold
Glitters in the sunlight
Some bonds are inescapable
The ones, strong as iron.
“A noa will keep you safe”
She was told since her girlhood days
It’s iron and safes are made of iron
And you’re precious…
She rotates the handcuff
Slowly now, as the gold
Glitters in the sunlight
And daydreams of a danger
Glittering unsafe, lusciously on an abandoned island…
Freedom is indeed a dangerous thing,
A no, in the realms of Noa…
Note: Noa is an iron bangle; a married Hindu Bengali woman is expected to wear on her left hand.
Poem 40: Yoked for Many Centuries
Yoked for many a century
Ploughing a legacy of slavery
Shame ran down his spine
Making it difficult to lift his chin up
Even in invoking the divine
For a retribution of sorts
What fault was mine?
To be born a labourer bonded
Quit asking questions he
To deaf ears, that sounded
Much like talking to the self
Insults and a half filled belly
Were his only wages, daily
Laboured he, like a stone
To somehow free his son
And sent him to Dubai
Trusting an angelic patron
Erecting lofty towers of dream
To labour freely with shame none
Soon there was sand and just sand
Of a dream left in his hand
His savings taken, passport gone
Sleeping in a sleeper box
Once again he was a slave in a fairyland!
Meanwhile, people were celebrating May Day
And schemes and poetry and sympathy
We are a free society they say!
©Swati Chandra Shivki
Poem No 41: Bonded Labour
he will bring home money
he bought wounds all over
should he gift tears?
Hiding the cement and dust
how adventurous it was!
after his first term of bonded labour
there is no other way
she too made up a smile
to ease his burned heart
© Shalini Samuel
Poem 42: Buildings
The bed outside my window had lives,
same as my mattress
I saw your bruised lip,
It was same as those in that bed,
now rustling into buildings.
You just built one too
You now see hopes same as those
but not for those.
I kissed the lip.
I killed a labour
You killed a labour
They killed a labour
The shovel remained a shovel
It only gave.
Poem 43: Saga of a Slave: The Tired Hands
Tired, the hands of this victim of race
A slave of barren land, Such a disgrace!
His hands never stopped cracking the rocks,
Of his Master’s land, at the deserted docks.
When outside the climate hit the climax.
Batting 50, burning feet, dripping body’s wax,
The sun sucked down all the energy,
Usually we opt to ease out of lethargy.
The slave shackled to labour the whole day
For some food and water at the end of this day,
His sunburnt body burnt then in fever,
Eyes searching shade, some rest in a bower.
The deep red scars of his Master’s whip
Trembled and ached, a job he couldn’t skip.
Looking at the Sky, he begged for mercy
Fainting on the ground like a horse in pursy.
He dreamt of a land as he slept, so green!
The animals wildly prancing, never seen!
The lasses reaping gold in happiness unspoken,
A music touched the ears, harmony unbroken.
Unhindered in this magical dream of peace,
He, beneath a tree, played a mouthpiece
Enchanted in its tune, he himself fell asleep
On her cosy lap, But why does Mother weep?
Away from the rebukes, leaving behind the haste
Sweating Blood at last, he was put to rest.
The first cool showers washed his soggy body.
This nap freed him from distressed slavery.
Poem 44: Free me
So she winked again,
in the shadows of towering grass blades,
her pink peeping petals,
along pebbles that carried my feet.
And they chirped again,
the slow trill of a heavenly flute,
her song born free.
Along windows of dust,
letting out smoke of my kitchen blast.
Papery twigs carrying the wings of a damsel fly,
they hopped and skipped,
whispering to the clattering jewels
that bound me hard.
So they swept past,
rumbling soft with the lightning births
carrying my tear drops floating
through the rude roars
scathing past my bedroom door.
Can’t I wink?
Those sleeping buds ask me to.
Can’t I sing?
Those trilling birds wish me to
cry aloud, carrying my songs to Neverlands.
Can’t I fly?
Those damsel flies hop for free
through the windswept moss,
shedding the captive chains
of homeward bound.
Can’t I speed?
Like the lightning shot
that carries my soul
to Freedom Land.
Poem 45: Bonded Labour
Bonded labour is the modern form of slavery
The laborers can’t speak their plight with bravery.
Unconstitutional yet present in many nations
They suffer silently in desperate situations.
Mostly children and women working in places like rice mill brick kiln and quarry
Sweat running blood boiling and the employers are never sorry.
Children are beaten up and denied education
They know not what is holiday or vacation.
Laborers have debts subjected to physical bondage
Tied with invisible ropes and held as hostage.
Forced labor demanding compulsory service
Making them weak, hungry, sick and nervous.
Poor wages long working hours
No protection from sun, wind and showers.
Families are paid together
Around them is such a strong tether.
Women forced to deliver in the work place
Bloody arrogant act of employers race.
Delivered women made to resume work within five days
Their future tracing the path of shadowy ways.
The silence of the society approves this abuse
The laborers live in a hell they didn’t choose.
There’s an urgent need to stop this exploitation
Pull out the laborers from this sadistic suffocation.
For bonded laborers are not fate’s toys
They are entitled to dream and enjoy the joys!
Poem 46: The boy at the Kebab Shop
Two plates for you Sir!
Here’s your order Sir..!
Salim is my name; the sound of it is majestic and grand,
To me it seems all but bland.
Swarthy and diminutive, I push Kebab filled plates.
Families break bread and connoisseurs swear by its taste.
I amble through smoked spaces, I call my workplace.
As I pass through them, in the cacophony I hear voices of demand and command,
Laugh and jeer, a cuss word or two!
Nimble hands work to clear, stained glasses and leftovers.
In the shimmer of cleanse, I see the other me,
Sending in my tattered soul awe and despair.
Black is the night and coal is the day.
Black is the swirling smoke and black am I.
Black was day, I recount, I became motherless.
Fathered by an alcoholic, his utterances all vitriolic.
I cried and sobbed, prayed and yearned,
But the perennial wounds bled and burned.
Sequestered in my musings, I behold through my beady eyes,
Cherubs, all dressed in glee,
With parted hairs, glistening shoes off to school.
As the rutilant flames of the Tandoor scorch and shine,
I weed splintered dreams of mine.
Generous souls sometimes spare an avuncular smile,
Rich are days when I hear the clanging or tossing of a coin,
While I brood over the evanescence of caressing love in my life,
The day has grown old and its sweltering summer time,
Every pore of my weakened soul writhes in pain, as I lay supine under a starlit night.
Slumber overtakes me and I slip into a surreal world.
Your prodigality meeting my penury, welcome to the Kebab shop..!
©Kamaal Siddiqui Shaharyaar
Poem 47: Be the Bonded Labourers
The green rice-field lay stretched, by the shore of the cerulean sky
A gurgling narrow stream snaked through the green, to kiss the sky
Paauum … Paauum … I opened the eyes
Where is the rice-field? The blue sky? The stream?
Staring at the stanchion of concrete walls
I remembered “the days of milk and honey” of a bygone age
The labour of love of our sanguine ancestors,
Slaves of their own love of the soil
Their days of derring-do, fighting all odds of their time
Yet, they preserved a plethora of wealth
Which would have given us peace and health.
They guarded the green and filled fresh air in the lungs
I had heard the Travancore Raja brought many rare trees
With fragrant blooms from Europe, to embellish this capital
But what we did? Oh! What we did? We burned our own home!
We littered our waste and asked our kids to walk on it
Do I hear the sabre rattling of Tartarus?
We made air-conditioned pepper-upper caves
Which spit heat into our kids’ green world, burning it
Our great 4-line/8- line roads gulped all centuries-old trees
The concrete smothered the soil around tree roots and killed them.
Nothing was serendipity. Utter ignoramuses,
We forgot our ancestors, who augured penury,
The consequence of disrespecting the soil
They were bonded to the soil: they cried and laughed with it.
We must offer ourselves as the bonded labourers,
As they were once, to enjoy the sweetness of the labour of love
The clamorous bunkum from high rostrums are not enough
It is time to be awake and astir, for, the granary is empty
Let us be the labourers, bonded to the soil.
Pepper-upper: that which gives fleeting pleasure
Tartarus: a sunless abyss, darkest corner of heaven, in which Zeus imprisoned the Titans
Bunkum: insincere speech making by politicians intended merely to please
Rostrum: any platform, stage, or the like, for public speaking
©Sarala Ram Kamal
Poem 48: Bonded Labourer
I have no life to live,
I have no one to love,
I am here to work,
I am here to strive.
May the seasons change,
May the flowers bloom,
My life is a doom,
Even before i am born.
Whom should I plead?
Whom should I please?
To see my plight.
To show some might.
I have no strength to fight,
I have a voice of mute.
I am bought for a price,
Even a goat fetches thrice.
In the markets we are sold,
Bidders high, take us in,
Dawn to dusk made to work,
Heat and cold made us immune
I curse no one but fate
I struggle to survive and breath
Whether it’s a day or night
I see no help coming in sight
Does anyone listens, these
Cries from our heart, and
Wails from our souls, or
Hand in glove, all of them
Bonded are, they
Blinded to truth
©Raj Babu Gandham
Poem 49: Bonded
I don’t remember if they said goodbye,
Happier infancy of days,
Before the overwhelming pervasive, persuasive weight
Of some few sufficed
To alter forever the circumstances
Of life deemed disposable, delivered as collateral
For debts unfounded, unproven, unchosen, and unconnected
With, and unprotected by
Fault lines drawn,
Seismic shifts, between the enslavement of
The poor, the uneducated, the humbly-born,
Continuing merrily as a carnival for the shepherds of vast profits—
And the new enslavement so selective,
Regardless of education, invasive and invisible,
Unseen brand sold,
With no hope of extraction…
And what salvation might there be, what faith uplifting,
Against unseen shackles forged by and for convenience of power
Seemingly as limitless as time itself—
Since all of the only time I have
Seems chattel for their disposal?
My father was a blacksmith, once, a young man, straight and strong
— forging links and ornate pieces wrought of iron,
Flames and hammer blending
To bend metal for his using…
My father may have forged, fleeting passage of his days not long,
— leaving links, wrought of steel and sorrows,
To face flame and hammer unbending,
To end, mettle somehow fusing,
Standing, straight, in hope of grace
Of a Greater choosing
Poem 50: Labour Day Poem
Sound of fan,
Clacking of looms,
In different hues.
Drapes of desire
Tales of yore.
Inlaid so dearly,
Love and grit
For a passage
a sheer delight.
A regal wear
Any plain Jane
To a queen,
And partly silenced
Bid a tearful
Adieu to this
Labour of love.
A dying art.
Poem 51: A Slave
In the time of the slaves,
A slave escaped,
And dived in the timeless sea.
The sharks dismembered him.
Each part of him,
Got a different destiny.
One part in agreement
And became a girmitya.
One part rose from the sea
And got bonded
In Saudi Arabia.
Another got washed up
And got trapped in
The bog of North Korea.
And another is here –
Class of men in India.
©Amit Shankar Saha
Poem 52: O Sojourner
Sojourner, O Sojourner
you have known the truth
In a dull day of 1851
how your lips have moved
and your voice mounting on rights
wrapped in zeal and belief
held its stormy cause
and turned the tables on the faux
and all the arranged feast.
Of the superior men and god
and Eve’s original sin.
Ohio held Akron in consternation
and heard how delicate women breed.
The Eve suffrage lost its voice
and you came howling without the fear of defeatt.
They didn’t help you get into the carriages
They didn’t lift you over the bridge
Nor did they give you the best place ever
Nor were you lifted over mud puddles anywhere
Yet they enslaved your rights into that delicate dainty creature
and thrust you with that sword of god that never accorded equality
to men, to women or to slaves
Instead they turned a blind eye
when you planted and ploughed the barns
ignored the fact you could eat like a man if ever allowed
You birthed your 13 children all were sold to be slaves
You embraced grief and silence of a woman, when your body’s work triumphed over those of
“And ain’t I a woman? Look at me!”
They didn’t allow you to be a woman then
they bonded you to labours and pain.
From god and a woman came a man
And the man enjoyed his cup to quart
and denied your want of half measure full.
O Sojourner, O Sojourner they all ignored the truth
of the bonded, of the braided and of all that suffocated walls.
©Poulome Mitra Shaw
Poem 53: She Opens her Eyes
She opens her eyes
And looks at her children.
One, in her arms and other, hugging her feet.
Unaware of the unshed tears in mother’s eyes.
There was a time when she had smiled,
But it now seems like another life.
Now all she can remember is
In her children’s bellies and in the eyes of the world.
She looks at her sunburnt arms,
And they seem fine in the moonlight.
She wishes them to burn more,
So that no one would try to touch her,
While she works in the paddy fields.
Once, she wanted to look lovely
Once, she was loved
But then the hands of destiny
Stole away the thin, red sindoor line from her head,
And green bangles from her wrists.
Land sold and money borrowed
Yet, the life ebbed away…
She had wanted to cry
But she didn’t,
Her tears were chained.
Bonded to the muddy fields,
And her kids’,
After the last breath
Leaves her lungs.
Poem 54: Bonded Labour
With their tiny-tiny…little hands,
Gleefully…playfully… patting sand,
Making dream houses, “Sand Castles,” with joy.
Then jumping, thumping, destroying, all in the game;
Tiny hands…their patting, clapping, innocent laughter,
Understand not, the making, or breaking of it.
Merrily rolling in sand, these growing kids
Their shelter remains, but a Roadside!
They are children of this world, no doubt
Their shelter remains, but a roadside…
Coz’ mother has squatted them here.
Bruises on the forehead, they worry not
Soil becomes their first aid and medicine
It feels to them just a scratch,
These brave little kids!
Hail oh world, Watch and see carefully,
These little souls, akin to Rama’s squirrel
Mother playfully, skillfully involving them, in
Sieving the sand, filling deep pans,
Carrying them on her head…
Then building castles, sieving again, filling pans, boosting them…
Only a mother could efficiently guide and direct
For how could she reveal …her progeny
Were but bonded labourers by birth!
That is, Summer, Winter, Autumn, Monsoon,
Grapple with all odds, bruised, yet laughs out,
Knowingly unknowingly in every building…
Have fair share in the making of any new construction
These brave kids, born bonded workers,
Innocent looking kids…
Dabbling, playing, sieving, building sandcastles
Learning from their mother, keeping their morale high
Their shelter yet remains by the roadside!
These bonded labour kids!
Poem 55: Bonded Labour in OZ
They come to our shores on a work visa type 457
To feed their families back home.
Already unbeknown to them
They’ve lost their names, their souls,
They have become bonded labourers.
To pick up tomatoes or fruits,
In the midst of summer heat.
They dream of the comfort
They’ll bring their families back home.
They work hard, up at 4:30, in the fields by 5:30,
Squatting to pick up tomatoes all day long,
Sweating in their woolen hoodies,
Only protection against the harsh sun.
There’s a mobile dunny and a bus to have lunch.
They try to find a shady spot by the lonely gumtree,
Work continues even when the temperature
Rises to forty degrees. They are picked up
And driven back to the caravans,
Which hold eleven of them in an uneasy slumber.
Before the next day wake-up call.
They work seven days until the first pay day,
Shocked silence meets the payslip,
Net wage amount is nil
From the gross salary costs have been deducted,
Accommodation, transport and food
They almost owe the company, they can’t rebel.
They signed a binding contract
They have to return to work,
This is the new bonded labor
In the new world.
©Lucette C. Bailliet
Poem 56: Bonded Labourer
Soon to be bonded labourers, the slaves out of Africa, bound for the Americas,
Dejected and resigned to their fate, worse than death,
A spunky lawyer gave them
Their freedom, hard won by master strokes of legalese and quick repartee
Out of the clutches of the pirates who spouted maritime laws as per their convenience in their
human trafficking ventures.
Even forty years ago, young nubile Indian girls were sent to the U.S. as brides,
But ended up as twenty four hour house helps of the first wives;
People wanted to flaunt NRI son-in- laws in their social circles,
No passport, ignorance of the laws of the land, bonded labourers at the mercy of their Pati
What are we but willing bonded labourers for a ‘better life’?
Easy targets for loan sharks, land grabbers and job agents?
We end up selling our bodies or even parts of it, living cadavers, to be harvested at will!
Ready we are to do anything and everything for a bit of limelight and end up like the starlet who
lost her money, baby and hubby and her life in the bargain,
Even in death the bonds get passed on to our kith and kin,
All of us different shades of Faustus and Mephistopheles,
The soul’s word unimpeachable.
Poem 57: Like They Said
The home in the village, the lush green fields,
Nibbling fresh mangoes, sucking on the seed;
The cool, cool breeze,
the bonding of friends,
Mom’s freshly baked chapatis,
topped with white butter,
The world I’ve left behind,
I fondly remember.
Education, they said,
You absolutely need,
To get a good life,
To improve your breed.
Technical line nowadays is the best,
Look at the packages techies now get;
Slogging through college,
Salivating after jobs.
Now that I have it,
I wonder if that’s all
That life had to offer to me.
I live with two more men in a two room flat,
With barely space to spread my legs;
There’s never fresh food,
Though we have a fridge,
Pizza Pasta and noodles,
The company gives free meals.
Transport in air conditioned cars is free,
And we have just a five day week.
The weekends are for partying and booze,
And for having sex with someone on the lose.
The AC is always working full blast,
I’ve forgotten the smell of village petrichor.
I wonder and wonder where the happiness has gone,
What I used to feel in my simple home.
Every hour, every minute, is measured in dollars,
It costs so much to wear clean collars.
They said education will make life good,
But I’m not sure if for me that worked;
I struggle with multiple ropes binding me,
I see no way to set me free;
We are you know, cyber-coolies,
Today’s Bonded Labour.
Never to be free.
Poem 58: Old Eyes
Oh my dear
Why you have the eyes of a refugee?
Someone so young,
But eyes so old.
Like a rusted tap…
In an old haunted house.
Kneeling and falling
Its all the same…
You end up in dirt
Its all the same
The little soul in the womb
Its useless for anything else.
But stepping stones,
To be stepped upon…
There’s no difference my dear,
If we don’t get up
Poem 59: Bonded Labourer Am I?
I trusted you,
I became your slave.
First, by your promise
Then, by the vow I took
Chained to your every mood,
Morning, Day and Night,
This would be all right,
If you too
Were bonded to me.
But amidst Us,
With your commands,
And I toil
To give in to your demands.
Cook, clean, bear, rear
Children, look after family,
That’s all that’s got to be!
Oh then, what about me?
I am dying a slow death,
But you don’t care if I die,
Your Bonded Labourer, am I?
Poem 60: Drunk in Love
My heart is a tavern,
Where lives a bonded labourer,
Who keeps my glass full.
There, I fall in love
Every time I drink
My daily wine.
©Sana Tamreen Mohammed
Pix from Net.