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Archive for July, 2010

Marks of identification

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Signs of burns on eyelids,

Marks from Jeedi* on eyebrows,

Traces of burns on temples,

A rupee coin sized brand on forehead,

A dot tika, pierced nose,

Welt on neck from being dragged;

A Jeedi line on throat,

Burn scars on stomach,

Namams** across the waist,

Circles lower down for jaundice;

Hardened calluses on sore palms,

Saraswati, moon ,

Names of loved ones,

Sisters' images on the hands;

Jeedi pits on the knees,

Toes broken on stony paths, loosened nails,

Legs pierced like sieves by thorns,

Corns on the feet,

Parched lips,

Lowered eyes,

A wrinkled face at thirty,

Tireless struggle for survival–

These are my marks of identification….


My translation of Ponnala Balaiah's Telugu poem 'AnavALLu' (from his collection of poetry 'egili vAranga').

* Jeedi: the fruit of the marking nut tree (used widely in Indian medicine).

** Namam: tilak. Here, it refers to linear branding marks again.

Warrior’s language

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010


invented a new script,

the bogeyman might see it as a shoe

but it's not a shoe:

it's a secret battle tactic,

an open white paper,

the inferno that chased him

from beyond the forests of sorrow.

Perhaps no imperialist

can now dream

of dreams immune to mockery.

He doesn't understand the language of the shoe,

that the crow that lands on the Statue of Liberty

also sounds like a shoe.

Of course…

he might be pretending not to understand.

After he told the imprisoned world

that the warrior's language

is written in a million scripts,

from Hiroshima to Iraq,

all the souls shook themselves up

and are slipping on new shoes

on their fists.

They're printing their green signatures

on the white mansions that stole

greenery from the world's gardens;

with hoarsening voices

they're sharpening the language of the shoe.

'Once upon a time, a shoe..'

they're singing the story with pride.

We're used to seeing

Bush's face in

garbage cans, spittoons,

urinals and latrines but,

Muntazar al-Zaidi

seeing him as a shoe-stand is unique.

Hats off, Arab hero!

We're searching

for our old shoes too.


My translation of Sheikh Karimullah's Telugu poem 'viirudi bhAsha' (originally published in Prajashakti, Telugu daily, in February, 2009).

Famine of 1866 -Bhima Bhoi

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

nothing to eat

nothing to wear

boundless is the anguish

who indeed can bear to see such misery

among the world’s creatures

let my soul be condemned to hell

but let the Universe be redeemed. 


The Orissa Famine of 1866 saw 1 million people die, a third of the state's population. Over the next two years the impact of the famine took another 4 million human lives. These immortal words of Bhima Bhoi record his anguish over the ravages of this famine. Food and relief aid could not reach across the flooding waters which had cut of Orissa into an island, a Noah's ark with the living creatures quickly starving and dying on it.

Source: Biswamoy Pati in Religion and social 'subversion', Re-examining colonial Orissa (EPW, July/2010)., Bidyut Mohanty in Orissa famine of 1866 Demographic and economic consequences (EPW, Jan/1993)., Siddhath Satpathy in Bhima Bhoi Prayers and Reflections.

Stuti Chintamani, Canto XXV

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010


Where will I hide my self?

How will I escape?

How long will I bear

Suffering on this earth?

How will I weather

The imminent danger?                                                 (1)


I have knowingly kept

Tidings of the future

From devotees all.

If they happen to know

About the times to come,

They will, for sure,

Die of fear.                                                                        (2)


Yavanas will come invading.

They will raze the woods to ground.

Trees will be felled;

Not a single branch or leaf

Will escape the felling.                                                (3)


Earth will be strewn with corpses.

The stench will be revolting.

Shorn of grass will be the pastures;

Fleets of elephants and horses

Will be grazing on them.                                                (4)


The kings will shy away from war.

Some of them, however.

Will put on a show of bravery,

And will command their retainers-

“resist, O, resist.”                                                            (5)


None will be able

To bear the blows of battle.

In utter confusion,

People will run

Hither and thither                                                            

To seek shelter.                                                            (6)


The firingi will continue

Their violent charge.

But will not be able

To win and advance.

They will stay

Where they are.

Gods in heaven

Will witness all.                                                            (7)


Battle cries

Will pierce the skies.

The earth will tremble

For eighteen days,

A river of blood

Will course through Jambu-dwipa                                     (8)


These evil times of Kali.

The high tide of

Injustice and mishaps,

Will come to end

So says Vima Bhoi.                                                            (20)           



Bhima Bhoi was an Adivasi Saint-poet from Orissa. His compositions include the Stuti Chintamani, Brahma Nirupan Gita, Adi Anta Gita, Astaka Behara Gita, Nirbeda Sadhana, Shruti Nisedha Gita, Chaustia Madhuchakra, Manusabha Mandala, Mahima Vinod and Bhajan Mala.

He popularized the Mahima movement of the Adivasis: this religion characterizes a formless, timeless, indescribable, eternal god. It draws elements from Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Vaishanavism and Tantra yoga. The spiritual and social movement spread a deeply felt protest against the caste system and feudal practices of western and central Orissa and it was termed as an anti-hindu religion by the Hindus.

This week, The Shared Mirror will feature a selection of cantos from the spiritual autobiography of Bhima Bhoi –Stuti Chintamani. In Canto XXV the poet captures the anxieties of the Adivasis against the British colonization, as they were experiencing the ruthless exploitation of forest resources and their marginalization in their own land. Bhima Bhoi’s verses are apocalyptic; they perform the historic and literary anchoring of the Adivasi protests against the internal oppressors, the hegemonic Brahmanical Indians as well as the external firingi colonizers.


Source: Bhima Bhoi: Prayers and Reflections. Translated by Siddharth Satpathy.


Friday, July 16th, 2010

On the banks of the Godavari

where my mother hung me

from a tamarind tree

and went to lift soil,

the calls of the crows

that gathered around my wail

are my music gurus


The hills

around Nagarjuna Sagar,

where my father died

while building the dam,

which consoled me

are the gurus who taught me courage.


The blood that spilled,

when my mother

who went into the forest

to collect firwood

was caught in thorns,

is the colour

in my eyes.

The angry sorrow

that flowed from our eyes,

when my mother and I

who had gone for harvest jobs

to East Godavari

left our bags

and my brother in the station

and returned

and saw

his decapitated body

on the tracks,

is my lesson in aesthetics.


My mother's shout,

which lifted me up


when I stepped

on the hot tar

being poured

on the trunk road,

is my heart's voice.

The scene

that I saw,

on the shore of Bhimli

when I went


after I heard

that my brother

who'd gone fishing

in the sea

was caught

in a storm,

is the form

in my eyes.


Black crow

Black hill

Black tar

Black ocean

are my signs

Black reign

is my destination.


My translation of Katti Padma Rao's Telugu poem 'avarNam' ( from the collection of Dalit poetry 'padunekkina pAta').

O My Birsa!

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Bhujang Meshram

Birsa Munda 1

Birsa, you have to arrive from anywhere

Either on a sickle that cuts grass

Or an axe that cuts wood

From here or from there

From East-West or from North-South

Turning into the breeze of the farm

Come from anywhere

O My Birsa! People wait for you


Bhujang Mesharam, a Gondi and Marathi poet.

Source: 'Tribal contemporary issues: appraisal and intervention', by Ramnika Gupta, Anup Beniwal.


Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

I said welcome to the guest
He said– I am a refugee
from a certain hunting party.
the dove that's escaped!
regarded him as only a mehmaan
I didn't understand- what do I serve him
didn't understand- what do I serve him
I asked him what he liked
'Eating with my family' he said.
Like a dried well
what did he hide inside?
Is this food?
With frightened eyes that had lost trust,
The smoke's still coming out from somewhere he said!
Pecking at a few fistfuls,
remembering his family with every morsel..
It didn't seem like he was eating- drawing
sorrow from the seas inside
he seemed he's here
but wandering elsewhere..
The brother lost..the sister taken away…
the families destroyed
The estranged watan…remembering in delirium
his lane razed
friends killed
villages disfigured
nation scattered
Because two eyes weren't enough
he seemed to grieve with his whole body!
Finally without making a sound
departing like he came, he said-
'Bloodthirst is a dangerous disease'.

– Naren Bedide's translation of the Telugu poem Mehmaan by Shahjahana (first published in Andhra Jyoti in December 2007). The Gujarat carnage in 2002 forms the backdrop of this poem.

Shahjahana is a young muslim poet who writes in Telugu, her first poetry book, Nakab addresses gender discrimination, culture and communal disharmony. 

Man, You Should Explode

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Man, you should explode
Yourself to bits to start with
Jive to a savage drum beat
Smoke hash, smoke ganja
Chew opium, bite lalpari
Guzzle country booze—if too broke,
Down a pint of the cheapest dalda
Stay tipsy day and night, stay tight round the clock
Cuss at one and all; swear by his mom’s twat, his sister’s cunt
Abuse him, slap him in the cheek, and pummel him…
Man, you should keep handy a Rampuri knife
A dagger, an axe, a sword, an iron rod, a hockey stick, a bamboo
You should carry acid bulbs and such things on you
You should be ready to carve out anybody’s innards without batting an eyelid
Commit murders and kill the sleeping ones
Turn humans into slaves; whip their arses with a lash
Cook your beans on their bleeding backsides
Rob your next-door neighbours, bust banks
Fuck the mothers of moneylenders and the stinking rich
Cut the throat of your own kith and kin by conning them; poison them, jinx them
You should hump anyone’s mother or sister anywhere you can
Engage your dick with every missy you can find, call nobody too old to be screwed
Call nobody too young, nobody too green to shag, lay them one and all
Perform gang rapes on stage in the public
Make whorehouses grow: live on a pimp’s cut: cut the women’s noses, tits
Make them ride naked on a donkey through the streets to shame them
Man, one should dig up roads, yank off bridges
One should topple down streetlights
Smash up police stations and railway stations
One should hurl grenades; one should drop hydrogen bombs to raze
Literary societies, schools, colleges, hospitals, airports
One should open the manholes of sewers and throw into them
Plato, Einstein, Archimedes, Socrates,
Marx, Ashoka, Hitler, Camus, Sartre, Kafka,
Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Ezra Pound, Hopkins, Goethe,
Dostoevsky, Mayakovsky, Maxim Gorky,
Edison, Madison, Kalidasa, Tukaram, Vyasa, Shakespeare, Jnaneshvar,
And keep them rotting there with all their words
One should hang to death the descendents of Jesus, the Paighamber, the Buddha, and Vishnu
One should crumble up temples, churches, mosques, sculptures, museums
One should blow with cannonballs all priests
And inscribe epigraphs with cloth soaked in their blood
Man, one should tear off all the pages of all the sacred books in the world
And give them to people for wiping shit off their arses when done
Remove sticks from anybody’s fence and go in there to shit and piss, and muck it up
Menstruate there, cough out phlegm, sneeze out goo
Choose what offends one’s sense of odour to wind up the show
Raise hell all over the place from up to down and in between
Man, you should drink human blood, eat spit roast human flesh, melt human fat and drink it
Smash the bones of your critics’ shanks on hard stone blocks to get their marrow
Wage class wars, caste wars, communal wars, party wars, crusades, world wars
One should become totally savage, ferocious, and primitive
One should become devil-may-care and create anarchy
Launch a campaign for not growing food, kill people all and sundry by starving them to death
Kill oneself too, let disease thrive, make all trees leafless
Take care that no bird ever sings, man, one should plan to die groaning and screaming in pain
Let all this grow into a tumour to fill the universe, balloon up
And burst at a nameless time to shrink
After this all those who survive should stop robbing anyone or making others their slaves
After this they should stop calling one another names white or black, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, or Shudra;
Stop creating political parties, stop building property, stop committing
The crime of not recognising one’s kin, not recognising one’s mother or sister
One should regard the sky as one’s grandpa, the earth as one’s grandma
And coddled by them everybody should bask in mutual love
Man, one should act so bright as to make the Sun and the Moon seem pale
One should share each morsel of food with everyone else, one should compose a hymn
To humanity itself, man, man should sing only the song of man.

Found that Marathi poem by Namdeo Dhasal (from Golpitha, 1972), translated by Dilip Chitre, at the Almost Island site.

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