Punjab’s Gift by Sitara Khan

Punj  aab, they say you’re generous with your bounty;
open-handed, revealing all five, you advance
your curvaceous contours and succulent flesh.

The novices drink the look in your eyes, then,
tentative at first, touch your luscious skin;
tracing their finger tips up your spine,

run their hands over your shapely arms and
down your legendary legs. You yield to their caresses,
promising to bear them fruit. In that clinch
they take your word and mistake it for fidelity.

But you boast a long line of admirers: Harappa,
the Golden Temple, the Shalimar and the Koh-e-Noor
to name but a few.

In a tender moment, sipping from Hardinge’s cup
you drank the dream
of your sons’ brown hands in white gloves,
epaulets dripping with honours won in foreign parts;
so gave your best: one point five million.

Hardinge’s gloved white hands
paraded only Khundadad Khan’s Victoria Cross:
but, what of the rest?
Don’t look away now!

Seventy-four thousand faded from your sight,
blotting out those who turned to ice,
in their khaki uniforms, on duty overnight.

Your ears locked out the distant screams
of the drowning in the green gas sea
as their fingers fumbled with masks;
cans of provision strapped to their backs;

and the thud thudding of bodies into the trench
they were digging; the flung spades
from their surrendered hands hitting their heads.

But on the returning apparitions of the young
gubroos you’d sent, you wept; pace quickening,
heart racing, your hand opening like the rose
for the next.

 

Notes:

punj- five
aab- water (Farsi)
gubroos – good-looking young men
Harding- the Viceroy of India
Harrapa- ancient Indus Valley Civilisation
Golden Temple-Sikh Temple in Amritsar
Shalimar- famous Mogul gardens in Lahore
Koh-e-Noor – Indian diamond in the Windsor crown