Parul Khakhar speaks volumes with her silence. This revolutionary poet from Gujarat who captured the imagination of the world with her “Shab Vahini Ganga” has not been selective in her criticism of the “system”.
People who try to denigrate her work as a one-time outing to defame the government for its mishandling of the pandemic, clearly are trolls and hypocrites who are not acquainted with her body of work which includes her frustration and revolutionary poetic expressions over the Hathras gang rape, the Dalit lynchings, the tree felling at Aarey colony in Mumbai and many more “disturbing” events.
Gujaratis rule India. Like it or hate it, from PM Narendra Modi to Home Minister Amit Shah, billionaires Mukesh Ambani to Gautam Adani, all are Gujaratis.
But it has taken a demure housewife from a non descript town in Saurashtra who has become the collective conscience of the nation.
Parul Khakhar, a shy, reserved, and an introverted full-time house-wife and part-time poet based in Amreli town in Kathiyawad has shaken the collective conscience of India with her revolutionary
“Shab Vahini Ganga”. But this is not her first time. That she has been noticed now is a different story but her brutal poetic attacks on the system during the Hathras gang rape, the Dalit lynchings and massive tree felling in name of development have been much more acidic, Vibes of India (VoI) can reveal.
Now, Parul has again put pen to paper to write, “I have a thousand answers to your questions, but no answer will be given.” This she pens with confidence, a conviction, and assertiveness that defies her otherwise demure approach. VoI can assert that Parul Khakhar has gone silent but this is not because she has been bullied (with over now 32000 waves of abuse, gang rape, and death threats). Parul believes that she is what her poetry is. And her poetry is more important than her personal self. She has locked down her social media profiles, a wise decision to insulate from the rowdies of the troll-infected nation but it is because she does not want her creativity to be distracted by the troll armies of India.
Parul Khakhar is not clamping up. Rather, undeterred by her detractors, she is speaking up, taking on the “system”, governance and misuse of power not only in Uttar Pradesh but Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Tamilnadu, and Gujarat.
Labelled a “literary Naxal” out to ruin her country’s reputation and intensely attacked by the infamous troll army of self-acclaimed Nationalists, after her verse “Shab Vahini Ganga” reflected on the images of COVID-19 afflicted corpses floating down the river; Khakhar is not buckling down. If anything, her latest poem oozes a raw determination to pursue her Dharma of raising her voice against all that ails the society she lives in, something she’s been at since long before “Shab Vahini Ganga” found national resonance and got translated to over 14 languages.
Long before she essayed the dead abandoned to float down the Ganges by families who did not have the resources for funerals, Khakhar had picked on the numbing image of the Hathras rape victim, whose body was hastily and forcefully burnt at midnight by the police, again in Uttar Pradesh, paying no heed to her family’s sentiments. Catching the disturbing visuals and reports on television, she questioned the police, the politicians, the government and the society, in the poem she left untitled. “Some trauma are beyond all titles put together,” she declared. The poem in Gujarati went:
"જોર દેખાડી લાશ બાળી દો,કાયદા ફાડી લાશ બાળી દો ચીર ખેંચીને, દેહ ચૂંથીને,વસ્ત્ર ઓઢાડી લાશ બાળી દો જીભથી ને કરોડથી રમજો,જાવ ખેલાડી લાશ બાળી દો ગામ ભડકે બળે તે પહેલાં ઝટ સત્ય સંતાડી લાશ બાળી દો જાગશે તો જગાડશે તેથી,સૌને ઊંઘાડી લાશ બાળી દો જીવતાં જાગતાં શરીરોની વાડ ઠેકાડી લાશ બાળી દો આજથી નામ સૌ મનિષાનું નિર્ભયા પાડી લાશ બાળી દો" In English, it reads: (Mis)use your power, abuse the law Burn the corpse, tear the clothes Mutilate the body, then cover the body Burn the corpse Misguide (the nation) with your speech and promise a crore Oh foxy player, burn the corpse Before the village begins to burn furiously hide the truth Burn the corpse If some people become ‘woke’ and realise the truth Many more will manipulate and ‘make’ the people sleep Burn the corpse Those who are awake and woke, jump over their fences Burn the corpse From today name all Manishas as Nirbhaya Burn the corpse But with “Shab Vahini Ganga” Khakhar’s poetry became unbearable for some. Some of her patrons turned foes, trying to dismiss her poem as a “nonsensical piece of garbage”. Within hours of the verse going viral, Khakhar was forced to lock up her social media profiles, after a deluge of now over 32,000 nasty guttural comments from the BJP IT cell, infamous for its rape and death threats. But that does not mean Parul Khakhar has fled the scene. For the poet, the last words of her father, Rasikbhai Karia, who succumbed to cancer in 2015, telling her “Never give up writing and be yourself,” has become the guiding force. You will be one day famous because of what you write, never give it up”, was her father’s advise. Even then, she broke conventional and was a pallbearer of her father’s body. She led the funeral procession and lit the pyre with her brother. Women in her community do not go to crematoriums, as per the norm. But breaking norms, Parul may seem like a typical Gujarati housewife schooled by domesticity, but between the pressure cooker whistles and phulkas being rolled out, poetry takes over. “I cannot describe what poetry is to me. It is my silent support, my solace. It is the only medium through which I can express my feelings, my trauma, my everything.” People who try to denigrate her work as a one-time outing to defame the government for its mishandling of the pandemic, clearly are not acquainted with her body of work. Besides the Hathras rape victim’s plight, she was moved to pen her angst when the earlier Maharashtra government run by BJP, proposed merciless hacking of trees in the verdant Aarey Colony – a Mumbai suburb adjoining the Sanjay Gandhi National Park – for its metro-rail project. એક રાતમાં જંગલ આખું થઈ ગ્યું ઉજ્જડ સીમ.. કે બાયું ગાવ મરસિયાં, રાજા, તારા સિપાઈડાએ ઢાળ્યું એનું ઢીમ, કે બાયું ગાવ મરસિયાં – she wrote, roughly translating as: One night and the forests turned into barren land lets sing elegiac poems Oh King, your soldiers murdered it lets sing elegiac poems…..
When a Dalit couple died by suicide at Guna in Madhya Pradesh, Khakhar reacted to their wailing children, with a verse, critical of the police, the government and the contractor involved. Then again, in the first phase of the lockdown, during reverse migration of labourers, she wrote on the poignant plight of an infant trying to wake its mother who lay dead on the platform of Muzzafarpur railway station in Bihar.
Likewise, it was her habitual read of the morning papers that drew her attention to the news of corpses spied floating in the Ganges, before the real-time images on television shattered the devout Vaishnavite in Khakhar, bursting forth as a poem.
As a fallout, the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi, which had not so long ago heralded Khakhar as the next biggest poet of the state, overnight branded her as a literary naxal. Their official journal went on to malign her vigorously. On the other hand, Gujarati Lekhak Mandal, a collective of thousand writers, has chosen to stand by Khakhar, underscoring that it is in a democratic tradition that one is at liberty to express oneself. “That is what democracy is all about”, asserts Manishi Jani, president of the Lekhak Mandal and a revolutionary of his era. Manishi had headed the Nav Nirman Andolan, a revolutionary movement to weed out the corruption that preceded the emergency, and saw the ouster of then Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel. Jai Prakash Narayan was so impressed by this Andolan jivis’ that he too had extended unconditional support and had guided the agitation. Unlike several youth leaders who then got full-time active in politics, Manishi made the conscious decision to pursue his creativity as a writer and a documentary maker with an exclusive focus on social justice.
However, times have changed. In New India, criticism proves to be dangerous and sometimes fatal also. Any criticism of the government can be managed to be perceived as an act of sedition. A BJP leader actually finds the Gujarat government too weak for having failed to jail Khakhar for her words. “She is an anti-national”, he asserted to VoI. Thankfully, the Vijay Rupani led BJP government does not feel so.
Khakhar, meanwhile continues to relish in the freedom of expression she gets. “Ïf this would have been UP, Bihar or Rajasthan”, she would have been lynched by now, a BJP MLA claims. In fact, Vibes of India can assert that Parul Khakhar has felt down with all the orchestrated abuses lashed at her but is glad that she is safe. “Because it is Gujarat”.
Her recent composition continues to dwell on the authoritarian approach prevalent in most of India. Titled “You will not speak”, it reflects on the frustrating times we are coursing through. The verse has been translated by the noted multilingual author and poet Salil Tripathi for the Indian cultural forum and it goes:
You Will Not Speak The pain will get unbearable, but you will not speak; Even if your heart will scream, you will not speak They’ll force you to slash your tongue and keep it out of sight Many more will cheer you, but you will not speak Open those thick volumes of history and do reflect: Those who speak out have been shot, so you will not speak Maybe you will sell cherries by speaking out more often But it is wiser not to talk, so you will not speak The old rules of your lineage say: silence is so golden Torch-bearers have made that call, and you will not speak Not one, nor few, but millions more will stand along your side Remember their condition, though; that you will not speak If citizens who can’t listen host a feast for the truth And implore you to repeat; still you will not speak But Parul will continue to write. Look at this:
The foundations of the bungalow have given way. How long will you keep plastering it? Sarkaar, the good-looking bungalow needs repairing.
stop hiding its’cracks, stop covering its crumbling edifice.. accept the fact, the bungalow needs repairing" “(translated from Gujarati) I have not accepted defeat but I will not answer you Will not nurse these wounds, will let them blossom, i will hang on but i will not answer anyone. Not answering is itself an answer i have a thousand answers to your questions but no answer will be given. Time will answer your questions. If we kill one, there will be 10 more Ravanas lurking after us, I have the sword but i will not not answer anyone.
But yes, Parul Khakhar will continue to write.