Kids Corner

Above image: Courtesy, The British Museum. The two photos at the bottom from 1947 are by Margaret Bourke-White.


Parting of the Rivers



PUNJAB  1845-49 


A treachery drove us

Confused and betrayed,

Our general posed

With an unsheathed blade


Tej and Lal motioned forward

Did not charge, did not fight?

They set on the rivers,

They had us in sight


We fought for the Sutlej

Every man knew her breath

When the bridgehead collapsed

She gathered up death


With Kashmir extorted

And the Koh-i-noor gone

The doabs were fertile

For marching upon


Chattar Singh took the lead,

All the past would atone,

And the Ravi would rise

From the weight of the bones


Sher Singh took on Gough

And laid much of them waste

But the Chenab fell ill

From the savage taste


They have bloodied the rivers

They have bloodied all thus

With life itself purged in

A sanguine Indus


*    *    *    *    * 


PUNJAB  1947


Help us dear God

We have suffered midnight

They divided the rivers

They dissected our might


Bodies are flowing

They arrive on the trains

They snake through the doabs

We are bleeding again


The Beas and the Sutlej

Meander alone

The Punjab corrupted,

Are now without home


The Ravi flows heavy

Deceptively near

But she wanders misguided

Diverted by fear


The Chenab and Jhelum

Swell new foreign lands

Deluded, enhance

And enrich foreign hands


The rivers are filling

Millions have fled

Barred by Radcliffe

A million are dead


They have severed the rivers

They have severed all thus

With life itself purged in

A sanguine Indus


July 18, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Harji Kaur (Oxford, England), July 18, 2009, 1:41 PM.

Michele, you compressed and loaded a chapter of history in each of your verses. It's superb poetry. I've read the poem over and over again, and each time it reveals more. WHO ARE YOU? You write with the poignancy of Shah Mohammed's "Varaan", the passion of Amrita Pritam.

2: Pritam Singh (San Diego, California, U.S.A.), July 18, 2009, 2:32 PM.

Beautifully written. You've got me interested in both these events - I'm pulling out my books to learn more about them. And will then go back to the poem ... I know I'm currently missing much of the nuances. But, many thanks for leading us to the water ...

3: Gurbilas Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), July 20, 2009, 6:31 AM.

None of these above-described events were any significant part of our schooling here in India. Any reason why? Can you recommend some books which I can read to catch up? [Editor: Khushwant Singh's "Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire" - it may have been republished under a slightly different name - is an excellent place to start with, for the 1790-1850 era. His "History of the Sikhs", however, is even better; it gives you the larger context ... and it'll help you vis-a-vis the Partition as well.]

4: B.S. Bikram (Gurgaon, India), July 20, 2009, 1:24 PM.

I like the way you depict Sikh history. It gives a new perspective. Look forward to reading more from you, Michele - in poetry AND prose!

5: Lally Singh (New York, U.S.A.), July 20, 2009, 1:36 PM.

Great poetry. Great subjects. You've done wonders combining the two. Keep it up!

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