Once, in time of the deadly virus,
humans disappeared from Mumbai,
animals appeared out of nowhere!

The puffed-up peacock danced,
the la-di-da hornbill claimed his kingdom,
flamingos spread like cherry blossoms…

reminding of those days
when Mumbai was Bombay,
and we played on the streets.

While the present stifles, the past delights.
Now past is becoming present
and I pray for it to become our future.

Source: Hibiscus: poems that heal and empower
Edited by Kiriti Sengupta | Anu Majumdar | Dustin Pickering
Hawakal May 2020

Professor Chris Fitzpatrick, a consultant obstetrician and gynecologist, writes in The Irish Times, “In time, we will need poets and writers of the imagination to look through the looking glass—and tell us the stories of this strange, upside-down world. We will need more than a vaccine and a rebooted economy to heal us.”

So, in Hibiscus, we have an award-winning translator, writer, and poet who is a proficient raconteur as well. In “A COVID TALE,” Makhija opens with a hint of suspense, “Once, in time of the deadly virus,” and warns us, “animals appeared out of nowhere!” But, does the poet address us all? I mean, all age-groups? I can tell you from her chord, she is treating the youngsters, especially kids and teens. For, she recollects the olden days when Mumbai was called Bombay—when the business capital of India allowed them to play gully cricket (also called backyard cricket or corridor cricket).

Makhija clears the air when she names a few birds: peacock, hornbill, and flamingo. She could have written, birds “appear out of nowhere,” but she opts for animals instead, as the humans vanished. Note the word-play in Makhija’s lines. Did she want to convey that as human beings lost their animal instinct, they allowed the innocent (and friendly too) creatures to surface again? The deadly threat of COVID-19 proves to be useful, did she mean that? Did Makhija propose conversion of the city-life to the sluggish days of the yesteryear when mothers coaxed their scions to wash hands before eating? When parents encouraged their children to read literature?

Makhija’s free verse ends with her humble prayer. It holds a bunch of promises: a unique poem that helps the youth dream. — Kiriti Sengupta