The Right Word | A Poem by Imtiaz Dharker


Outside the door,
lurking in the shadows,
is a terrorist.

Is that the wrong description?
Outside that door,
taking shelter in the shadows,
is a freedom fighter.

I haven't got this right.
Outside, waiting in the shadows,
is a hostile militant.

Are words no more
than waving, wavering flats?
Outside your door,
watchful in the shadows,
is a guerrilla warrior.

God help me.
Outside, defying every shadow,
stands a martyr.
I saw his face.

No words can help me now.
Just outside the door,
lost in shadows,
is a child who looks like mine.

One word for you.
Outside my door,
his hand too steady,
his eyes too hard
is a boy who looks like your son, too.

I open the door.
Come in, I say.
Come in and eat with us.

The child steps in
and carefully, at my door,
takes off his shoes.

— Imtiaz Dharker


Imitiaz Dharker’s The Right Word shows the multifaceted aspect of language as conditioned by our world view, experience, and humanity.

The poet persona sees things different from what the world portrays. The one tagged a terrorist seems to him/her someone with a worthy cause; a child with the same flow of human blood and drop of humanity as everyone else.

The Right Word shows how language can be manipulated to promote a propaganda. And that what someone calls the other may not be totally true in that the name-calling might have been influenced by sentiments or enshrouded in one’s world view.


The poet persona tries to make us see another aspect of the people supposedly called “terrorist” and “hostile militant”. Some of these are just “freedom fighter” and “guerrilla warrior”. Not necessarily the bad names they are called. Children, martyrs enshrouded in cloaks of humanity — not monsters as they are often portrayed by the press.

The poem offers a new perspective on the personality of these society rejects. And that the poet persona gives one of them, a child-soldier, shelter and food shows acceptance.

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