Contemporary Literary Review India | Print ISSN 2250-3366 | Online ISSN 2394-6075 | Impact Factor 8.1458 | Vol. 10, No. 1: CLRI February 2023

Dr. Sonali Pattnaik


this nation that was born

into freedom and of it,

finds today that to be what it was

meant to be, indeed free,

has become a brutal weapon wielded

against its own body.

the rhetoric of hate is

the face of masochism,

freedom here held hostage

and the ransom demanded

a monolithic, cleansed identity

a whitewashing of our mixed history

a convenient and selective impunity.

but freedom is indeed

an unwieldy thing

for those who haven't been

shown the joys it can bring,

too busy obeying or subjugating,

to them everything appears

like a trade economy,

freedom a dangerous anarchy

they are the unfortunate inheritors

of authority, of disguised deprivation

and a vision binary.

not weaned off historical privilege

their blood-milk forever boiling,

they resent the levelling

of the parched ground

beneath their feet.

the nation is their mother, you see

to be treated as a nursing machine

‘freedom’ destroys the age-old

hierarchies their ancestors built

so they could oppress the pre-othered

and let the pre-chosen

oppress their creed.

so we mustn't be surprised

that they don't see the irony

in calling free speech,

the very tool and toil

of our collective struggle

to become a nation,

an act of anti-nationality.

nor wonder why

their blood boils over

love between strangers

irrespective of caste and creed

for love like that is autonomy

a lesson in the power

that elected freedom can bring.

so the oppressed aggressor,

who has only learnt to form ties

according to the will of caste and kin

and stalks, gropes or rapes in between,

hangs the beautiful lovers from trees.

as an example of punishing

the form of disobedience

that may have returned to us this country

an example taken from

the white-man’s repository

but who can explain irony

to the pre-nationalists

with their clubs and their spears

and their lynchings,

who will tell them, those who prefer

the knell of hate to the music of conversation,

if it weren't for freedom there would not

a nation be, the one they are supposedly

defending violently?

They are only doing their immoral duty

to a delusional vision

of religious domination, ‘nationalism’,

just a temporary short-hand

to defend twisted and bloody dreams

fuelled by those who fly in other lands

as awakened creatures of a new world

as they leave the henchmen to do

their dirty deed.

not me, I cannot speak

to those unable to listen.

I speak a language polyphonic

of multiplicity, a language of the people

and theirs is a monologue

of limited vocabulary

one that with its droning repetition

threatens to silence any complex speech

with three words cried out

in exhortatory, militant zeal

they speak of nation as though

it is a multiple choice type

examination and the papers,

have been cautiously leaked.

nationalism now needs passing, it seems,

as it itself passes as several things

while universities are forced

to become factories churning

skilled labour degrees for those

who can join the rows of oil pumping

completing the demand and supply chains

of the neo-nationalist game.

ultimately it is only rhetorical strategy

the neo-nationalists hope to ride

the patriotism bandwagon

till the time they can be free

from the truth of the constitution.

they know not though, what is in store

these freedom bashers of tomorrow and yore

for when ball and chain come backlashing

when lies are the only truth you are telling

it's tough to see that the tail that's whipping

the belly is connected by a single spine;

you may be next in the hate-line.

when the thought of freedom ties you up

in muscular knots so that you claw

at those who in its fertile fields grow

reaching heights much greater

than your sins had allowed

you attack urgently, not so much

to control the speed of thought

nor the possible spread of equality

but from this damned

freedom be freed.

and so, if afraid of this

beautiful, secular, democratic

free thing that is indeed nation,

as it was born and meant to be,

you burn down the constitution,

the people’s collective grit

upon which the nation is writ

riddle me this,

who indeed is the real

anti nationalist?


“if there are no spoons

use a knife” they said

she did as she was told.

even after all these years

she doesn’t know

that the thing that feeds the mouth

need not cut the tongue.

if music be

with music

you and I

we need not converse

with our laden words

or lend verse

to unbearable thoughts

of love's frightening possibilities.

just send me the song

that last touched your soul

or the one that

always fills you up with hope

and I'll play the beat that sweeps

the ground from

underneath my feet–

let the songs meet.

we don't even

need to speak

the same language.

music with its

visceral strumming

will set us on fire

without one word

to each other

having been breathed.

their melodies twining

around each other,

the song-words lean over

and sounds kiss

perched on a rhythm.

and then I will wait

for you to sing.


Dr. Sonali (PhD) is an award winning feminist poet, academic, educator and visual artist. She is the author of when the flowers begin to speak (Writers Workshop, 2021), a solo collection of poetry that marks a woman’s journey through abuse, survival and hope, for which she was recently awarded the WE ‘Intense Feminine Power’ Gifted Poet Award 2023, and the inaugural WE Illumination Award. She is the recipient of the Orange Flower Award for Poetry in English, 2022. Her poetry and art have appeared in several international and national anthologies including, The Kali Project (edited by Candice Lousia Daquin and Megha Sood 2021), Of Dry Tongues and Brave Hearts (edited by Semeen Ali and Reema Ahmad, 2022) and Through the Looking Glass (Indie Blu(e) 2021) and in The Indian Express, The Bombay Review, Setu Magazine, Café Dissensus, The Pine Cone Review, The Yugen Quest Review, Fem Asia, Sampad etc. Her book based on research on body politics in Bollywood cinema is forthcoming from Orient Black Swan. A well published academic in the area of visuality, literature and theories of the body, Dr. Sonali is both an alumnus and erstwhile professor at Delhi University and is currently Visiting Professor and External Expert, Board of Studies in in English at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad.

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