Have you seen the nests they are building with everything we left behind?
Can they see our broken homes from their heights?
Do they not feel the resentment plastered on their walls?
Can they not smell your sweat flowing in their drains?
Or feel my mother’s tears wetting their streets?
Those happy faces I see through the glass windows
Seem like ghosts stuck in the peepal tree rooted in your stories
The crane came in the night
It always comes in the night
Raising its head like a snake ready to bite
This wall that lies ruined was the face of our fort
You built it yourself brick by brick
“That way our house will be just as strong as the tower next door”, you said.
It was a tiny palace behind the castle, but it was ours.
On days when you’d be too tired to tell bedtime stories
We made up stories out of the crevices in your hands
Those scars you won in a battle
Those scratches were from crawling through the trenches
Your bony fingers were hiding your superhuman strength
My father was a war hero everyday
In the mornings you’d be gone before our dreams ended
I never once wondered if you’d dreamt anything at all!
Our school was beyond the railway tracks
You would help us cross them every day
A shepherd flocking his herd
“They’re making another building, next to school” I’d say
You’d just smile and say
“That’s for you to stay in when you grow up”
I’d look up and wonder
All that hard work just to be locked up in a tower?
In the nights when our palace was silent
I’d hear your whispers through the walls
I’d touch them so your words would flow through me
Your stories of everyday valour
Some nights I even heard your laughter
It was rare but when it came
It beamed like lightening through the walls and touched my heart
The night the crane came in
You picked me up in your arms
You couldn’t see but I was staring at my books in the corner
My only friends at the time
I tried very hard to hide my tears on your chest
You thought it was the heat of the night making you sweat
I didn’t know then but my dreams that night were my best
The hum of the machine pierced through the night
As if singing a chorus to the lament of our crumbling walls
You held me tighter with each thud
You were turning yourself into my fort
Suddenly I heard nothing, not my mother’s sobs or the crumbling walls
I looked up and you were smiling down at me
“Time to build a new nest”, you said.
Sketch by Daniel David Talegaonkar