Paris of the East
By: Ram Govardhan
Oh! My Dear Beirut,
my heartfelt commiserations.
The last time we met,
about five summers ago,
it was at the very seaport
that is in shambles now.
Even the majestic naval base,
has endured a generous jolt.
I love your iron heart, dear.
Yeah, right from the Roman rule,
right through the Ottoman days,
through the French Mandate,
right through the Civil War,
you always resurrected yourself,
never wilted down in the dumps.
You are now the phoenix
from ashes of the most powerful
non-nuclear explosion in history.
As the ravage dared your wisdom,
the famed Lebanese spirit stood up,
even as the pound plunged chop-chop,
mired deep in the economic doldrums,
as poverty rate touched the skies,
while the Wuhan virus unnerves
your jammed, dazed hospitals.
In the stark aftermath,
while the stunned ears bleed,
as Beirut River ululates,
under the dark, ominous skies,
darkened by the blackout,
gun-metal grey smoke billows high,
as creaking buildings pulverise,
while panic grips petrified masses,
as they grope, armed with candles,
in search of water, baby-food,
as their phones, mobiles are
dead, buried and gained immobility,
just days before the verdict over
the killing of Rafik Hariri.
barefoot, dog-tired, dumbstruck,
men, women, children,
the poor, the rich and the elite,
cheek and jowl for the first time,
plod through the glass flecks,
soot, wires, dross and debris,
cursing the clueless regime,
swearing the ill-fated custom-house,
furiously, stridently clamouring
for a French takeover.
Hundreds of maimed still
writhe in the ruined streets,
crying for red-crossed ambulances,
as scores breathe dirt, dust and gases
underneath the massive mounds
of mutilated, shuddering concrete hills.
Scores of blood-soaked bodies
lie out in the open, waiting for
the undertakers to haul them
to cemeteries of respective religions.
And scores of mashed bodies,
like sandwiches, are baffled between
the huge stony slabs, waiting
to be unearthed, identified and numbered,
as firemen rummage, tear, dig deeper,
while their loved ones say prayers,
not knowing they are dead.
In the far-flung streets,
the pyramidal dunes of ruins
too are orphans, like the babies,
miraculously perched on them,
while waiting for their dead mothers,
patiently crying for milk.
The mangled skeletons
of warehouses, like the flesh-less
bones, have suddenly acquired
creative, prize-worthy contours.
The strategic reserve of wheat,
the tall, fair, handsome grain silos,
are flaunting their warped, shallow dents,
still standing, lanky and haughty,
like the Leaning Tower of Pisa,
overlooking the blast crater-lake.
As the ambulances screech,
the prisons metamorphose into
makeshift hospitals, overcrowding
the already overwhelmed wards.
Shortage of blood and oxygen stares,
as the chunks of the clotted blood
choke the already clogged gutters,
as the free-flying malodorous fumes
choke the already choked oxygen
in the defiled, ambient air.
A stupefied mother wails,
gripping a severed hand of her kid,
a dazzling toy still in its grasp,
not knowing where the body is,
not knowing where her husband is,
whether the other two kids are alive.
A horror-struck youngster
is scurrying here, there, everywhere
carrying his dearest stepsister,
not knowing she is already dead,
unaware that the hospitals too
are already mounds of rubble now,
in-patients already buried inside,
twisted along with the steel beds.
Is it the usual suspects,
the Jews, who ignited it?
Was it a Hezbollah storehouse?
an arms depot? or a missile depot?
Didn’t the Hezbollah always sought
ammonium nitrate to annihilate Jews?
Isn’t Nasrallah now spitefully vowing
to wipe out Israel with his improved,
improvised alchemical weapons?
Don’t, darling, don’t
assume that the Jews are
in a daze of pure satisfaction.
They are not fully drowned in
the grief of a state mourning either.
I know it’s utterly inconceivable,
yet, the best thing, my dear darling,
is to mend matters with Tel Aviv
or with Trump’s pet, Jerusalem.
The Egyptians, the Saudis,
and the Emiratis have done it.
Even one of my bosom friends,
the stone-sober, Islamic Pakistan,
even while steadily imploding,
is solemnly, deeply pondering over
diplomatic ties with the Jews.
If you cannot, or,
if Hezbollah refrains you,
my dear darling, simply
take the French aid now,
and be barefaced for more.
Caught in the tumultuous
throes of the deadly pandemic,
in the crossfires of trade wars,
mired in the mercurial lock-downs,
no one would step forward,
except your colonial masters,
the benign, greathearted Parisians,
to reconstruct our beloved
Paris of the East.
Ram Govardhan’s poems and short stories have appeared in Asian Cha, Open Road Review, The Literary Yard, The Bangalore Review, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Indian Ruminations, The Spark, Muse India, Nether, The Bombay Review and other Asian and African literary journals. His novel, Rough with the Smooth, was longlisted for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize, The Economist-Crossword 2011 Award and published by Leadstart Publishing, Mumbai. He lives in Chennai. Email: email@example.com