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Archive for May, 2010

The sound that I make

Sunday, May 30th, 2010


                                                   (in the wake of Ambedkar)

The sound that I make

ears do not hear –

it breaks out

like hidden music.

Knocking, it doesn't strike

chords on the heart –

like a volcano

it streams flame,

kindling forest fires.


The sound that I make

does not ferment

like milk

and become butter –

as if smashing rocks

it beats,

cracked walls

tumble down harshly.


The sound that I make

does not deceive politely

or bury itself in the mouth –

it's a dazzling sword

brandished and

swung at earth.


The sound that I make

doesn't cool the eyes like sheet lightning –

like thunderbolts

it flashes


all inhuman


and conditions.


By Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy, translated by Prof Rowena Hill. 

He says:

 I had my own grammar, but experience was the main ingredient. That was why my poetry evaded imitation

To a rag-and-bone boy

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

In someone's shed

in someone else's arms

the boy has slept;

he gets up at dawn, kicks the laggard beside him,

hangs a bag over his shoulder,

and out he goes into lanes and filthy alleys.


He comes to a corporation dump,

stands with clasped hands as if discovering a treasure,

turns on himself and wades in;

his hands sift

as if removing a tiny piece of severed intestine

with a doctor's eye.


Among the broken glass there,

the plastic bottles,

the torn rubber condoms,

the old papers he lifts

where some housewife has wrapped a sickening red tampon –

below all that, something brings a smile:

a torn and patched two-rupee note.


Here and there, once pretty broken dolls

may kindle a light in his mind,

finding marbles can push him

into playfulness.


Like this broken eggshells may cut his feet,

he may thrust his hand into the pocket of old shorts

and touch a blunt blade

and the gush of spurting blood

will further squeeze his sapless frame.


Without parents, he has company,

though an orphan he is well satisfied!

What remains in cans emptied by rich men's children

or bottles thrown away by their fathers becomes holy water.

Leftovers sticking to leaf plates become prasad.

Opening his mouth for a bidi stub,

he leaves for the next lane.


Standing where he should not stand,

sitting where he should not sit,

scratching his sores

when flies and insects swarm round him,

shuffling and searching his precious collection

piece by piece again and again,

surrendering it for a few coins to the broker,

at last he throws himself down in someone else's shed,

someone else's child.


This week, The Shared Mirror is featuring poems by the Kannada Poet Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy. 'To a rag-and-bone boy' is one of the 41 poems translated by the British born Spanish poet, Rowena Hill. The Spanish versions have been published by the Venezuelan Govt. In her foreword she describes the poet's sensibilities thus:

A poet such as Chinnaswamy, whose mind is a constant source of images of all kinds and who has an unusual facility for playing with the sounds of his resonant language, will never allow himself to become a poet of pure lyricism and personal feeling. So that the subjects of his poems, which may sometimes seem even too crude, are the poverty of the untouchable peasants and the discriminations practiced against them in the villages, or their exploitation, often literally criminal, by “caste” people, or the suffering of mothers watching their children go hungry. Shit, rags, filth, are often centre stage in the poems.

If I was a tree

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

If I was a tree

The bird wouldn’t ask me

Before it built its nest

What caste I am.


When sunlight embraced me

My shadow wouldn’t feel defiled.

My friendship with the cool breeze and the leaves

Would be sweet.


Raindrops wouldn’t turn back

Take me for a dog-eater.

When I branch out further from my roots

Mother Earth wouldn’t flee shouting for a bath.


The sacred cow would scrape her body on my bark,

Scratching wherever it itched

And the three thousand Gods sheltering inside her

Would touch me.


Who knows,

At the end,

Hacked into pieces of dry wood,

Burning in the holy fire,

I might be made pure, or becoming the bier for a sinless body

Be borne on the shoulders of four good men.


If  I was a tree  is a poem by Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy. He is a Kannada poet, writer and playwright. His first poetry book “Kondigalu mattu mullubeligalu” (Links and Barbed wire) published in 1989 was attributed with reviving Kannada Dalitha-Bandaya poetry. His writings forces caste into the literary landscape, infusing it with the often-missing truth about Indian society. 

M. Chinnaswamy’s day job is that of Chief Accounts Officer cum Financial Advisor at Bengalaru Metropolitan Transport Corporation. He has published several books, writes and directs plays, and conducts workshops on poetry. His past poetry reading venues include; Los Angles, Granada, Merida, Caracus, Tel Aviv etc. His translated poetry has appeared in English and Spanish journals, including the literary journal Arquitrave and a selection of his poems has been published by the Cultural dept of Venezuela Govt in ‘World Poetry Series’. His poetry has been translated into several Indian languages, including Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Malayalam and Urdu. Several of his poems are prescribed reading in high school, colleges as well as in University courses by Govt of Karnataka.

Starting today, The Shared Mirror will feature a selection of his poems; their translation has been rendered by Prof Rowena Hill.


Monday, May 24th, 2010

Before the garbage heap in the street
A hungry woman waits.
Turning her back 
On the parting day’s sullen face,
Clutching at her sinking wages,
A bundle of fodder
Wrenched out of the earth
Balanced on her head,
She waits.
Late into the night
In her pitch black hut
Guarding a cold meal
She waits.

The stones her hands broke up,
The furrows of tears
She cast her seeds into,
The team that groaned
As hand-to-mouth carts lurched,
Generations that staggered and fell,
Sons who never came back,
Clans that vanished in the wild,
Treacherous pathways that turned into quicksand,
Full barns,
Empty hovels,
A goddess shrunken into an old crone.

On the hedge
The child was nursed with tears.
Hopes went to rot in the ditches like coconut husk
And returned beaten and baked by the sun.
Rushing feet crushed the handful of rice
Spilt from the beggar’s cupped hands.
The parched throat cracked up
Before the battle for water was won.

This battered woman,
My flesh and blood,
My mother.
She waits for the light that went out to return,
For a handful of rice untainted with blood,
For a piece of land untainted with greed. 

By Raghavan Atholi, sculptor and poet. Translated by K M Sheriff.

It was I who was ruined

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Your man

when he turned me

into a chicken shorn of feathers

do you remember what you said?

In your home

in your hands

do you know how many times I was treated cheaply?

The moment I wake up

such great distances emerge between us!

You called my husband

a dunce

but when your boy

grabbed my child's hand

did you open your mouth?

You might protest

but I'm low born

you're high born

you never did anything for me

my husband never considered me human

and your man never cared for you

but it was I who was ruined finally.

I'm the one who should fold my arms

until then

because a squint isn't a curse for the blind

speak for me too

if it was about purely a man or a woman

there would have been no quarrel,

crossing these boundaries

will you climb down a step?

Shall we walk on the same bank?


My translation of the Telugu poem 'ninDaa ceDindaanni nEnE' (from the collection of Dalit poetry 'padunekkina pAta') by Darise Shashinirmala

Wrap me in a raindrop flowered sari

Thursday, May 13th, 2010



Where did you go, dark clouded rainwallah?

Haven’t heard from you in so many days

Didn’t know whether you had died

Or were alive

When we drove the wind

To bring news of you, it crossed the seven seven seas and

Returned after winnowing the deserts,

May thieves rob you! May someone die in your home!

So many years! Where did you eat?

Where did you sleep? Where did you stay?

It seemed like all tales had been burnt

Even when we pierced our eyes no sliver of a cloud turned dark,

Had you become a tree among trees, a hill among hills:

We had no idea; from saplings to grown trees, everyone among us has been crying in bushels

Life had become purposeless like we were meant for carrying wood to the ghat

Pearly lake chains*, golden crop beads and

Armlet streams were all pawned somewhere;

Springs from my eye mountains splintered in the sun and

Dried in streaks all over my body,

My leafy torso had turned into withered straw;

Come from the east like a Thumma** grove

Come from the west with beaming milky smiles

Come from the north with thunders

Come from the south in great showers;

Won’t you come and paste on me a blouse dotted with glistening pond mirrors?

Wrap me in a raindrop flowered sari?


Naren Bedide‘s translation of Jupaka Subhadra‘s Telugu poem ‘ sinuku puula siire suTTawaa’ (from her collection of poetry ‘ayyayyO dammakka’).

* the lake chain refers to a series, chain, of uniquely designed large irrigation tanks built by the Kakatiyas (11th to early 14th century) in Warangal and other districts in Telangana, which would fill up sequentially during the monsoon rains.

** Thumma: Babul, acacia arabica.

I guess this one, like all other poems I've posted here, will always need reworking.

Goddess of Kollangottu

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

For the family
to gain religious merit
in the next life,
they fed the poor full of rice.
Then, when the girl from Kollathi
began to wash the dishes
in the back lot,
she was forced into intercourse.
After feeding on her
the Brahmin promised to come
in his next life, too.
She killed herself and
now comes
as the goddess of Kollangottu,
screaming for human sacrifice.
Lusting after women and gold,
he married the dancer with lies of love
then stoned her to death
amid the thorns
of the cactus fields.
You are my witnesses, she cried
to the cacti as she died.
The dark-blue goddess of the cactus fields
demands blood-filled rice,
transmogrifies into the midnight
goddess Isaki. 


Anushiya Sivanarayanan's translation of the poem by the Tamil Dalit poet N. D. Rajkumar (the poem does not carry a title in her essay: Translating Tamil Dalit Poetry). 

She writes of her interview with the poet:


Dalit women, who have all died violently, have been made into deities. "Our gods are jungle gods," Rajkumar argues.

   Their stories and even their statues are now being tamed to
   make them fit mainstream Hinduism, especially now, with
   the Hindutva movement aggressively taking over our local
   temples. These men find the statues of our gods too wild, in
   some elemental fashion, as if their very mode of address
   goes against the patriarchal bent of the Hindu scriptures. So
   our goddess statues, with their Kali-like, dark-stone images
   have been covered in sandalwood paste--as if by turning
   the black stone into yellow, the narratives could also be
   changed. The Hindu fundamentalists went so far as to even
   break off the tusklike teeth of one of the mother goddesses.
   There is nothing gentle or passive about our gods. Make no
   mistake, they are all ghosts.

To be or Not to be born

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Mother, you used to tell me

when I was born

your labour was very long.

The reason for your long labour;

I, still in your womb, was wondering

Do I want to be born-

Do I want to be born at all

in this land?

Where all paths raced horizonwards

but to me barred

All of you lay, eyes fixed on the sky

then shut them, saying

calmly, yes,

the sky has a prop, a prop!

Your body covered

with generations of dire poverty

your head pillowed

on constant need

you slept at night

and in the day you writhed

with empty fists tied to your breast!

Here you are not supposed to say

that every human being comes

from the union of man and woman

Here, nobody dare

broaden the beaten track.

You ran round and round yourself

exclaiming YES, of course

the earth is round, is round.

Mother, this is your land

flowing with water

Rivers break their banks

Lakes brim over

And you, one of the human race

must shed blood

struggle and strike

for a palmful of water

I spit on this great civilization

Is this land yours, mother,

because you were born here?

Is it mine

because I was born to you?

Must I call this great land mine

love it

sing its glory?

Sorry, mother, truth be tell

I must confess I wondered

Should I be born

Should I be born into this land.


By L.S. Rokade, translated by Shanta Gokhale. Source: Poisoned Bread -Marathi Dalit Literature.

Awwal Kalima

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Kavi Yakoob

You won't believe us

but no one's talking about our problems

now, again, it's the tenth or eleventh generation scions

of those who lost glories

who are speaking for all of us.


Is this what they call the  loot of experience?!


In reality, Nawab, Muslim, Saaheb, Turk-

whoever's called by those names belongs to those classes-

those who lost power, jagirs, nawabi and patel splendours

they have retained, at least, traces of those honours

while our lives have always been caged between our limbs and our bellies.

We never had anything to save.

What would we have to recount….?

We who called our mothers 'amma'

never knew she was to be called 'Ammijaan'.

Abba, Abbajaan, Papa- that's how fathers are to be called, we're told

How would we know- our ayyas never taught us that.

Haveli, chardiwar, khilwat, purdah-

how could we of the thatched palaces know about them?

To perform Namaaz is to bow and rise, my grandfather said!

The language of Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem, Allahu Akbar, Roza-

we never learnt all that.


A festival meant rice and pickle for us

Biryanis, fried meats, pilaus and sheer khormas for you

You in Sherwanis, Rumi topis, Salim Shahi shoes

and dresses soaked in itr

We, resplendent in our old rags.


You won't believe us if we tell you

and we might end up only embarrassing ourselves.


Scentusaabu, Uddandu, Dastagiri, Naagulu, China Adaam,

Laaloo, Pedamaula, Chinamaula, Sheik Srinivasu,

Bethamcharla Moinu, Paatikatta Malsooru- aren't these our names.


Sheikh, Syed, Pathan- flaunting the glories of your khandaans

did you ever let us come closer to you!

Laddaf, Dudekula, Kasab, Pinjari…

we remained relics of the time when our work bit us as caste.

We became 'Binishtis' carrying water to your homes

and 'Dhobis' and 'Dhobans' who washed your clothes,

'Hajaams' when we cut your hair

and 'Mehtars, Mehtaranis' when we cleaned your toilets

as relics of the age when our work bit us as caste

we remained.


As you say, we're all 'Mussalmans'!

We don't disagree- but what about this discrimination?


We like it too- if these excavations will unearth those accounts

which had remained buried for long, why would we object!

What more do we need to know about the common enemy,

we need to discover the secret of this common friendship now!

We agree: all those who are oppressed are Dalits,

but we need to define what's oppression now!


Surprise- the language we know isn't ours, we're told!

We don't know the language you call ours

We've ended up as a people without a mother tongue.

Cast out for speaking Telugu.

'You speak good Telugu despite being a Mussalman'

Should I laugh or cry!


All our dreams are Telugu, our tears are Telugu too

when we cry out in hunger, or in pain

all our expression is Telugu!


We stood clueless when asked to perform Namaaz

jumped up in surprise when we heard the Azaans.

We searched for only ragas in the Suras.

When told to worship in a language we didn't know

we lost the right to the bliss of worship.


You won't believe us,

no one's talking about our problems.


Self respect is a 'dastarkhan' spread before everyone.

It isn't a privilege that belongs only to the high born.

No matter who belittles a fellow man's honour, betrayal's betrayal


the loot of experience is a bigger betrayal.


Naren Bedide: My translation of the Telugu poem 'Awwal Kalima' by Yakoob (from his 2002 book of poetry 'sarihaddu rEkha')


Monday, May 3rd, 2010

They may burn

They can burn

Each other……

A single ignition sufficient

Here to make blasts

Every where

Illiterate becomes learned

By putting theories in his favour only. 


By Madhao Dahale, Translated by Rajendra Ankushe. Source: Dalit Poetry Today. 

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