Two Poems

by Ankur Betageri (November 2018)

Sati S.

The Funeral Pyre, 1948, Atul Dodiya, 2014


Silences enter the process of historical production at four crucial moments: the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance).

—Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History


Lady, how does it matter

who saves you                                                                                        

from being barbecued

on your husband’s pyre?

Sane men prevented brown women

from becoming brown kebabs

but your kebab-brain sees ‘white’ everywhere

makes Rammohun Roy turn in his grave.



You pour sacerdotal kerosene

on young minds and gaslight them—

Can the subaltern speak? you ask

and answer: No, if she does, she isn’t a subaltern.

For if she spoke

how could you treat her like an animal?

How could you tell the world

that the widow tied to the pyre

wasn’t screaming for life

but for moksha denied?



Indian subalterns are subaltern

because they are subjects of priestism.

It is this Indian logic of imperialism

which keeps them out

of the category of the human.

85 percent of Hindu widows

didn’t have to undergo sati—

though it is precisely them

that Gramsci would have called subaltern.



The point of your deconstruction

of your postcolonial affirmation

is to shield priestly power

from all criticism—

‘critique is colonial

only Bhakti is Indian’

who can miss this idiot decree

no matter how rambling your dissertation?



You have built your academy

of deliberate deafness

around a human abattoir

the screams—you will interpret

the complaints—you will code

you will edit the tapes of history

and decide what will and will not go—

you who produced the subalterns

won’t you decide how they shall be known?



Will these lines be laughed at,

will they be rubbished with sneers?

Will the discursive machine of academia

make white-noise of human speech?

The archives contain even the sati’s speech

but who makes the archive speak?






The Greenbeard Effect

The Double Secret, Rene Magritte, 1927


So nun-like your dress

yet you so unlike a nun

your smile, sun-like

lights up the earth

the horizon of your gaze

is where earth and sky meet—

why, this is not me

these are—genes singing in me.


How could chance conjure

a face so radiant and perfect?

a look so serene and determined

so fearless and irreverent?

Not the sun-poured cathedral

not the crucifix raised up with prayers

it’s the chariot of passion

blazing across your face

that make my genes lose themselves

like tears in the rain.


How should I articulate this excess

that is neither I, nor you?

A sadness shall stay in us both

for our genes—they will feel the distance.



Ankur Betageri is a poet, short fiction writer and visual artist based in New Delhi. He is the author of The Bliss and Madness of Being Human (poetry, 2013) and Bhog and Other Stories (short fiction, 2010). He teaches English at Bharati College, University of Delhi. His poetry has appeared in New English ReviewMascara Literary Review and London Review of Books.


Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New English Review Press is a priceless cultural institution.
                              — Bruce Bawer

Order here or wherever books are sold.

The perfect gift for the history lover in your life. Order on Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon, Amazon UK, or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Order on Amazon or Amazon UK or wherever books are sold

Order at Amazon, Amazon UK, or wherever books are sold. 

Order at Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Available at Amazon US, Amazon UK or wherever books are sold.

Send this to a friend