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Archive for April, 2010

Son! Yesoba!

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

What can I say Sir!

My son Yesobu

died in the war

my son who could conquer Neerukonda*

lies sacrificed on a slab of ice.

He left with a smile

and has returned as a corpse

smiling, he calls 'nAnna'*

he went on foot and has returned a bridegroom

a flowering plant has returned as a fallen banyan

he has returned.

What can I say? and how?

people turn up here as at a fair

in throngs and throngs,

addressing them, speaking of

my son's 'sacrifices, patriotism'

you, Sarpanch babu! Sir!

When he stopped

people washing their animals

in the tank

didn't you, with a whip

lash my son's chest

mark him with stains?

In the cinema outside our village

for buying a big ticket*

and sitting alongside you

didn't you scheme

to cut his hands legs?

Was it your daughter who looked at him

or he who looked at her

I do not know but-

to kill lionlike Yesobu

you wove the noose,

how can we forget this history!

We know all this

does the rain wash away the wounds, Sir!

On the untouchable's eyelids

these truths stand erect

like crowbars driven into our hearts.

Mothers! Sirs!

My son's death:

this isn't the first,

many times in our village

he died and lived

to live he joined the army

as a corpse, he has returned alive.


my mind's not in my mind

my mind's not in my mind

Sir! In my eyes

the pyre dances

son! Yesoba! Yesoba!

Yesoba! My father!

For you

I'll weep like Karamchedu*

for you

I'll weep like Chunduru*

for you

I'll weep like Vempenta*

I'll weep like yesterday's Gosayipalem*!

Father! As a teardrop big as the sky

I'll pour like a storm for you!

Elders! Lords!


I wish to curse you

a basketful of curses

I wish to drive a basketful of wild ants

to bite you all over,

to see my son's corpse, arriving

like armies of ants

and disappearing like swarms of locusts,

you patriots!

Wait a second

if you're made of pus and blood, shame and honour

if your liver hasn't melted yet

answer this untouchable's questions:

not my son

you've come to visit his corpse

do you agree?!

My son dead is a veera jawan

alive he's a Mala* jawan

What do you say?

Answer me!

Swear on your Manu

as a pigeon and a snake

can't be linked

your upper caste pride

can't go with patriotism.

Elders! Lords!

Listen! Listen to the untouchable word:

between the village and the wada*

there's a Kargil,

from grandfathers' forefathers' age,

burning between us

this Kargil war

hasn't stopped, it goes on.

Son! Yesoba!

On the third day

if you can't return

find the time

to return some day

and wipe my tears! Father!


-My translation of K.G.Satyamurthy's ('Sivasagar') Telugu poem kodukA! yEsobA!, written in 1999 (from his collection of poetry: 'Sivasagar Kavitvam').

*neerukonDa, kAramcheDu, chunDuuru, vEmpenTa, gOsaayipaalem are all villages where incidents of organized violence against Dalits occurred. The word 'konDa' (in Neerukonda) means 'hill'.

*nAnna: father.

*Mala: a large Dalit sub-caste in South India, mainly found in Andhra Pradesh.

*big ticket: refers to a class of seating in village cinemas where patrons sit in chairs, unlike the other major class where everyone sits on the floor.

*wADa: short for Dalitawada, or Dalit hamlet/quarter in a village.

Melt with the heart inside

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

In the Four Eternal Vedas,

In the study and reading of scripts,

In sacred ashes and in Holy Writs

And muttering of prayers

You will not find the Lord!

Melt with the Heart Inside

and proclaim the Truth.

Then you will join the Light-

Life without servitude.


By Sivavakkiyar


Sivavakkiyar the Siddha poet, belonged to the cult of Tamil Siddhas which dates back to the 8th century. The Siddha teachings are often excluded and made obscure as heresy. These poet saints were radicals.

Because Siddhas scoff at the Vedic sacrifices and rituals and all forms of worship of icons they were considered to be iconoclasts. They are constantly at war with the upholders of the caste system and violently oppose the practice of untouchability. A tamil Siddha scoffs at untouchability by raising a pertinent question whether the bones, flesh and skin of an upper caste woman (brahman) and a lower caste woman (paraiya) are distinguishable on the basis of caste. He asks: are they numbered on the basis of caste? 

The above reference is attributed to Sivavakkiyar. His heretical approach to opposing any kind of orthodoxy particularly that of the brahmanical order, caste system and idol worship, ensured the exclusion of his work from the Saiva canonical literature. Some of his poems though have survived. 

Source: a) Hindu Spirituality: Postclassical and modern. K.R. Sundarajan, Bithika Mukerji. b) The poets of the powers. Kamil Zvelebil.


Monday, April 26th, 2010

A century will end

a new year will arrive

if what's happening now is war

why shouldn't what's arriving be war?

You know the candles you're lighting

are dying

the earthen lamps in your streets

are signs of your darkness

why do you

light up all the festive pandals

while leaving the lamp in your heart unlit?

Yes, until yesterday your hut used to burn to ashes

today, used as firewood in the winter fires lit in your gudem*

you've turned into soot.

It was in Vempenta** that they were burnt alive

you can go on celebrating the festival

until those flames touch us.

With the sharpened knives those babus gave you

cut your bodies into two

to inspire the fistfuls of blood

to flow as canals in your gudems

this new year, take a manusmriti as greeting

from those babus.

To commemorate your happiness


on your children's future cut, like bread, into pieces

as a reflection of the blood

and in place of the body of


This is a happy occasion

we shouldn't think about anything

even if the ground under our feet is cutting us

like the teeth of a saw we'll shout in joy

and chase away all the street dogs

to rule the streets tonight.



Let's sweep

all our university rooms clean

Come, let's heap all those glass shards

on pages torn from our books,

Ambedkar will be born again anyway

to light lamps in our dark rooms

and burn our black lips

with hot coals

to purify them,

love us and leave.



You who ate the first fruits

are you handing over new begging bowls

to the next generation?

Yes this is a new year

so only those who died

are singing the song of war

only that song can guide us.


become lovers of war

not to walk with history

but to run history.


Tried to translate Katti Padma Rao's Telugu poem, 'Greeting' (from his collection of poetry, 'mulla kiriiTam').

*guuDem: Dalit quarter in a village.

** VEmpenTa refers to this incident.


Saturday, April 24th, 2010

Your produced regions of deception

With sharp beaks take my bites, in the surrounding intense wailing,

And beautiful crudeness you call literature 

Dazzled by ornate words you call Mahakavi

You worship dirt covered with flowers

To infinite poverty you narrate story of king and queen

You write literature, write shashtras and philosophy of convenience

But here is the dominance of some people

I will go saying it by showing, wailing

While going I won't remain dumb I will go cursing this clutter


Let the earth be shattered

The sounds of bells in ancient temples

rung to extinguish me be razed


The clothes of the assassins will torrentially tear

All tents of sins I will without hesitation burn

While going I won't remain dumb I will go cursing this clutter

I have given answers on coming while going I will carry questions.


Excerpts from Yashwant Manohar's collection of poems: Uttangumpha. Source: Dalit Literature: Nature and role.

And now

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

At noon

I'm looking at my corpse

blocking the sluice of the tank


Moving hither thither

from the wind's blows

my corpse has bloated

after slipping into the sluice


Perhaps now

I'll look

at the corpse breaking up the sluice.


My translation of the Telugu poem 'ika ippuDu' (from the 1996 collection of Dalit poetry 'padunekkina pATa')  by Jugash Vili.


Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

There is a village

which sits on my shoulders like a vulture …

despite this O my village

I uninvited relate with you

as you fly

within and outside of me

like a vulture


Excerpt from "Bayan-Bahar" the autobiographical poem of Sukhveer Singh, a Hindi Dalit Poet. Dalit Nirvachit Kavitayen (Selected Dalit Poems) from here.

Open the doors wide…

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

The rivers are solidifying

the mountains are flowing

open the doors wide…


This is not the time of the rising sun

this is the hour of the blazing sun

it's difficult to keep the eyes closed


There are only whilrwinds and storms here

and no breezes or drizzles


You won't hear the tinkle of the anklets now

or the sitar music of gentle breezes


There's only an endless roll of drums

for now, they might be diverse voices

so what? They're all defiant voices!


Now, here

the waves are crossing the shore

open the doors wide…

they'll flow into you

or they'll cross you too.


My translation of the Telugu poem 'talupulu bArlA teru…' (from the 1996 collection of Dalit poetry 'padunekkina pATa') by Jugash Vili.

This is enough

Monday, April 19th, 2010

You've the Brahmastra,

good for you.


You've the Paashupatastra,

good for you.


You've the Vishnu Chakra,

good for you.


You've Arjuna's Gandeeva,

Bhima's mace, Drona's tuft

good for you.


You've Rama's bow,

Anjaneya's tail,

Parasurama's sword,

good for you.


You've power, you've glory,

good for you

You've that..this..

good for you can keep.


We've only Ekalavya's

left thumb

still left with us,

this is enough for us

to fight with you…


My translation of the Telugu poem 'ennunTEnEm?' (from the 1996 collection of Dalit poetry, 'padunekkina pATa') by Suryavamshi.

Stove (cul)

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Last night’s cooking fire
Whelped on your doorstep

Your core burned
Ceaseless in her womb
Your bed sucked
Her dry of
Upside-down fortune

Now you must burn
Illuminating dusk
Keep your nest
For her chicks

And of course you must
Bloody your hands
Seek a knife
To cut the cord

Cover yourself my girl
And don’t weep
For the cooking fire
Of yesterday birthed
On your doorstep.


Poem By Dalit poet Prathiba Pore translated by Gauri Deshpande. Source: Images of women in Maharashtrian Literature and religion.

No one’s a bigger killer than God

Friday, April 16th, 2010

You can kill a man any way you want

not only by stabbing him

or throwing a bomb,

by even embracing him with suffocating love

                        not allowing him to breathe

you can kill a man.


You can kill a man any way you want

not only by mixing poison in his water

by mixing caste too you can take his life

where religion becomes surplus value

not only the noose

the thread around your waist also becomes lethal

when God becomes the symbol of a religion or a caste

in truth,  no one's a bigger killer than God

Only someone who has lost faith in men

can trust God

Where, the sword of caste

hangs over our throats, always,

the gun of religion

remains pointed at our hearts

human relations can only thrive

as oceans of tears.


My translation of the Telugu poem 'dEvuDiki minchina hantakuDE lEDu' (from the 1996 collection of Dalit poetry, 'padunekkina pATa') by kO.pra.

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