‘Scattered Voices’ on Gujarat riots resonate in scribe’s book


Ahmedabad : Almost two years after the 2002 Gujarat violence, journalist Ayesha Khan was attending a ‘mushaira’ when she found two participants being shushed for reciting verses on the riots.

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“Why did they have to be cloaked in silence?” she wondered. The incident at the poet’s meet was one of the many incidents that goaded Ayesha into compiling the verses of Gujarat Muslim poets on the violence that shook the state six years ago.

Her dream has now turned into a reality with the works of 40 poets, including hers, appearing in her book “Scattered Voices” (publisher Books for Change). Its English and Hindi versions were released here this month.

“The poetry in the book is in response to the Godhra carnage and the ensuing genocide and it serves as a discovery process of newly etched identity and references,” Ayesha, 35, who works with the Indian Express newspaper, told IANS.

“Scattered Voices”, called “Kutchh To Kaho Yaaro” in Hindi, is an anthology of poetry written by Gujarati Muslims from a varied spectrum of society, which includes renowned poets as well as daily wagers like an autorickshaw driver and a butcher.

In its primary section, it presents heart-rending, thought-provoking poems penned in the aftermath of the Godhra train fire, which triggered the riots in which over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

Another part of the book presents prose in the form of a travelogue as Ayesha visited different corners of Gujarat, met people, listened to them and saw their plight at that time.

Hailing from an educated, middle class Muslim Maharashtrian family, Ayesha’s parents made Vadodara their home place long ago. Ayesha feels proud to call herself a Gujarati.

But the 2002 riots left a bitter taste. She found that some Gujaratis had changed for the worse. “Some of my own friends started doubting her,” he said.

Expressing her agony, she writes, “Tattooed on my head is my religion, my faith saviour of my soul. And, now it makes me The New Pariah, The New Untouchable…”

However, she also made new friends and there were those who remained a part of her life.

The warmth and sincerity she found made her say, “I have no right to fear and tears now. I have to laugh and smile. Eat to my stomach’s content. And have a nightful sleep. I am still alive and unharmed. My home is yet not looted or burnt. Nor am I raped or roasted alive. My family is still around…”

Besides Ayesha, the other poets who figure in the book include Shams Qureshi, Zakaria Patel, Tanvir Aijaz, Mohammed Arif Daagia, Iqbal Patel, Abbas Dana, Girgit Ahmedabadi, Agam Palanpuri, Rehmat Amrohvi, Wasim Malik, Faruk Shah, Amin Qureshi, Shakeel Kadri, Sagar Navsarvi and many others.

At her book launch, she was lauded as a young Muslim progressive woman who was bold enough to bring out works on the sensitive and unforgettable subject of the Gujarat violence.

In her literary journey, her parents Aman Khan and Parveen Khan provided her strong support – they used to take down poems written in Urdu and Hindi for Ayesha who later translated them into English.

To bring out the book, she used all her holidays and leave. She contacted the poets and chased them through telephonic talk, personal meetings and with the help of messages from friends and acquaintances.

“I didn’t want to take any help from NGOs that get grants because in Gujarat they are not accepted,” Ayesha said.

The poetry is sad, but there is no trace of any vengeance. Instead there is hope and optimism, which make the book a worthy read.

The English version is priced at Rs. 120 while the Hindi version is for Rs.100. Publishers are seeking partners to come out with a Gujarati edition of the book.

One translated work from “Scattered Voices” by Musafir Palanpuri says:

“No bower of flower was secure this year
Even the winds had sharp nails this year.

Say at least something, friends!
Write something at least, friends!

Why shall the heart despair?
Life is another name for challenges.

Mother! Bangles broken, womb barren, my home turned to ashes broken I am!

Mother Earth! Why are you silent? You are a mother, So am I!!!”

(Rafat Quadri can be contacted at [email protected])