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Archive for November, 2010

All Hindus are bandhus*, you say

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

All Hindus are bandhus, you say,

Every drop is a Hindu, you say,

Where have the Christian, Muslim, Buddhist Moolvasis gone?

Where have all the non-Hindus gone, O Hindu brother

Could you please explain, O bandhu brother?                                                      // All Hindus..//


You say you possess merit

because you've read all the shastras

You brag you're a pandit

because you've read all the vedas

Can you catch the flying bird? O Pantulayya**!

Can you weave like the weaver? O Pantulayya!

Can you practise the smith's craft? O Pantulayya!

Can you plough dry lands? O Pantulayya!

Can you clear jambu+ from the wetlands? O Pantulayya!

Will you agree, O Pantulayya,

That the creators of all wealth on land,

the creators of all wealth from the waters

are the Dalits? O Pantulayya!                                                                              // All Hindus //


We don't practise untouchability

you falsely claim now,

Carrying water from pits

to wash animal hides clean,

it was I who sewed sandals

for your paaduuka pattabhishekam++;

cleared gutters and drains,

carried excreta and other filth,

washed unclean clothes

and shaved your moustache,

Will you make me the chief  priest

of Pandaripur's Panduranga?  O Hindu brother!                                                                       

Have I broken the pot+++? O bandhu brother!                                                      // All Hindus //


It was you who chopped off Shambuka's head

poured lead in our ears

cut off our thumbs

treacherously shot arrows from behind to kill

disrobed women

molested them

drove nails into us

cut off tongues

stuffed us into sacks

trampled us into Thunga Bhadra

Should I trust you if you say you're a brother? O Hindu brother!

Why do you call me a Hindu? O bandhu brother!                                                     // All Hindus //


Chanting Rama Rama Rama Rama

you trumpet the tall claim

that Ram Janmabhoomi is yours

You took out rathyatras

and created bloodshed

you talked of temples and gopurams

and ground our people to dust

those who believed you

their heads have gone to rot now

and when you reached the shore on the ship of votes

where did you burn the ship?

You poured bran into grain ….O Hindu brother

You started a dogfight… O bandhu brother.                                                          // All Hindus //


You won't bleed milk if you're cut

I won't bleed water if I'm cut

If you and I are cut,

you can check: we'll both spurt red blood;

In dilapidated gopurams

the cicadas are breeding

Let's go together

to a place without caste or creed

and no shortage of food, clothing

where a man can live as man

with self-respect, O Hindu brother

let's procliam our nation's glory.. O bandhu brother..                                            // All Hindus //


My translation of Guda Anjaiah's' Telugu song ' hindu..hindu bandhuwulanTawu' (from his collection of songs ' uuru manadiraa!' ). It was probably written during the early nineties, during the height of the Hindutva movement over Ram Janmabhoomi.

* bandhu: (bandhuwu in Telugu); relation or relative.

**  pantulayya: term of address for a brahmin, here.

+ jambu: or jammu. sedge, a kind of wetland plant.

++ paaduka pattabhishekam: (pronounced 'pAduuka paTTAbhishEkam')– paaduuka is Telugu (archaic) for sandals or footwear; paTTAbhishEkam means coronation. This is a reference to the episode of the coronation of Rama's sandals in the Ramayana.

+++ 'Have I broken the pot?' : an expression that signifies speaking bluntly, fearlessly.

Missing sons

Friday, November 12th, 2010

My translation of two popular Telugu songs written by Guda Anjaiah ( from his collection of songs/ballads 'uuru manadiraa!'). Both the songs were written in the 70s and focus on 'sons' who had gone missing after joining various resistance movements: mostly ultra-left Naxalite groups, anti-caste, students' and peasant-workers' agitations. The first song 'Where could he be, my son?' ( 'ekkaDunnADO koDuku?' in Telugu) was written in 1972 and the second song, a kind of response to the first one, 'Ammaa..O Ammaa..' ( 'ammaa..O ammaa..' in Telugu) was written in 1976, when Anjaiah himself was in the Musheerabad Jail in Hyderabad, during the Emergency (a period during which over 450 activists, according to civil rights' groups, were killed in fake encounters across Andhra Pradesh, from Srikakulam to Telangana).


Where could he be, my son?


Don't know where he is, my son,

Don't know where he's wandering, my son,

Don't know if any kind mother has fed him a fistful of ganji*

Don't know if any father has given him shelter                       // Don't know where //


Son, Rajanna, you're young, I said,

We can't fight with the Dora**

We're poor, we're penniless

We can't stand against big, big people, I said,

He didn't listen to my pleading

He asked me to step aside                                                      // Don't know where //


Villages and wadas might be different, he said,

But the poor are one, their sorrows are the same

The greed of the rich is limitless, he said,

To unite the poor across villages, to prepare them for battle

He's goading them, they say,

And the police are pursuing him, they say.                           // Don't know where //


A couple of days ago, he was in the Mulugu jungles, they say

Before that he was in the hills of Guntur

He's spread into the Palvancha jungles, they say,

Look, in the jungles of Srikakulam, they say,

there's not an inch he hasn't traversed.                                  // Don't know where //


He's a brother to the Harijans and Girijans, they say,

A saviour for the poor

And a crowbar driven into the heart of the rich

A scourge for exploiters, they say,

He's marching ahead for a just society.                                // Don't know where //


* ganji: watery rice gruel, mostly water in which rice is boiled.

** Dora: (pronounced 'dora'); upper caste landlord.


Ammaa.. O Ammaa..


Ammaa..O Ammaaa

don't grieve because your son

is not with you                                                                                 //  Amma..O ammaa //


In the path of battle

there are mothers like you, mother,

They watch over me

like the eyelid guards the eye                                                     //  Amma..O ammaa //


Tending to my wounds

applying pasaru* and bandages,

bringing me cold gatuka**,

feeding me with your hands,

O mother who sent me off to war !                                             //  Amma..O ammaa //


Birds with chopped off wings

are lying here like beggars,

A parrot is trapped

in the talons of vultures

The vultures have to be chased away

and the parrot rescued                                                              //  Amma..O ammaa //


When the enemy discovered my hideout

and surrounded the hut,

tightening the noose

lying in ambush,

mother village protected me

in the shade of her kongu+.                                                      // Amma..O ammaa //


Like the fish in water

I am among people,

To repay the debt to my motherland

I am in the battlefield

For tomorrow's dawn

I am pouring out my life.                                                             // Amma..O ammaa //


* pasaru: sap, or juice of certain leaves used as medicine.

** gatuka: (pronounced 'gaTuka' ); gruel made of cooked  jowar, maize or other millets.

+ kongu: free end of the sari, the pallu.

The village is ours!

Monday, November 8th, 2010

The village is ours! This wada* is ours!

The village is ours! Every job needs us!

The hammer is ours! The knife is ours,

The crowbar is ours! The hoe is ours,

The cart is ours! The bullocks are ours!

Why do we need the Dora**! Why do we need his tyranny over us,

why do we need the Dora! Why do we need his tyranny?              // The village is ours //


We yoke the plough! We plough the land,

It's us at this fence! It's us at that mance***,

It's us at the cowshed! It's us with the cattle too,

It's us cleaning the latrines! It's us shaving the beards too,

What's this plunder? What's this Dora's deceit with us,

what's this plunder! What 's this Dora's deceit?                                   // The village is ours //


It's us in the fields! It's us who perform Vetti+,

It's us at this planting! It's us at that baling well too,

It's us at the reaping! It's us at the loading too,

Why do we need this Dora? What's this Dora's zulm on us?

Why do we need this Dora? What's this Dora's zulm?                        // The village is ours //


We wield the guns! We shoulder the burdens,

It's us at the dhobi ghat! It's us unloading the saare++,

It's us at the graveyard! It's us playing the shehnai too,

Why do we need this Dora! Why do we need his authority over us?

Why do we need this Dora! Why do we need this authority…            // The village is ours //


Standing on the bund, like a big tree,

Why does the Dora curse everyone, beat them,

from mothers to wives!

What's this plunder! What's this Dora's arrogance?                            // The village is ours //


We're the labouring poor! We should live together

Under the Sangham people's banner! We should form a union,

We should break the bones of the Doras who loot us!                      // The village is ours //


My translation of Guda Anjaiah's Telugu song 'uuru manadiraa!' (from his collection of songs/ballads of the same name), first written in 1972. The Marxist poet Srirangam Srinivasa Rao ( 'Sri Sri') called 'uuru manadiraa' a 'siren call'. Gaddar describes it as the song that sounded the 'battle conch'.


* wada: (pronounced 'waaDa') locality, neighbourhood, quarter in a village/town.

** Dora: (pronounced 'dora') feudal landlord. Also a term used, traditionally, to address any member of the landowning upper caste communities; chiefly, the Velamas, Reddies and Brahmins in Telangana.

*** mance: (pronounced 'mance'), a machan-like raised platform, usually in the middle of a field, used as a kind of watch tower.

+ Vetti: (pronounced 'weTTi'), a form of bonded labour. Traditionally, labour/services rendered to a landlord (menial work in his household and fields), usually the headman, or a temple in exchange for certain 'privileges'.

++saare: 'presents from the bride's parents to the bridegroom's family and neighbours, brought by the bride when she goes to the bridegroom's house for the first time' (Gwynn's Telugu-English dictionary). 


Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

If the world asks: what's your caste,

what can I tell society, the swine

the scoundrels and the sinners?

— Dudekula Siddaiah+


This is the story of how the world's crows ostracized me

by stamping me into eekus*


Like dividing the Masjid into four domes,

this is the tale of how the Manumullahs

tore the thread of faith which united all

into unequal parts


The betrayal of  Moulvi Saabs

who threw pepper into the eyes of Allah who said everyone's equal,

and reduced me to a dwarf

chopping off the rungs of my ladder


The cunning of the Khandaani conspirators

who found impurity in my Kalma

and defects in my Duwa

and painted me as Laddaf Latif


I don't remember the prophets talking about it anywhere

I don't know how the plot was executed

but the river under my mat split


And before I could adjust the collar of my Nawabgiri

it threw me as a carpet beetle into cotton bales


The pride of my Moghlai-ness

evaporated like incense on burning coals

and as pale cotton like smoke

engulfed me

from the tongue of our faith of eeka-kulam**

I was born for the second time as the one who cleans cotton


I am now a Mussalman..

No, a sahib…

No, no…a Pinjari…

Hahaha.. a Noorbasha.. Dudekula…


My translation of the Telugu poem 'EkEkulam' by Khaja ( from the collection of poetry 'alaava: muslim sanskRti kavitvam').


* eeku/Eku and EkEkulam: J.P.L Gwynn's Telugu-English dictionary says:' eeku I. n. flock of cotton or wool cleaned and prepared for spinning. II. v.t. 1 to gin or clean cotton. 2 colloq to criticise, condemn.'  EkEkulam is a compund word conied by the poet to indicate a caste that cleans cotton, or a caste that's condemned and also a caste of the ostracised or abandoned. Because the new word sounds so very close to EkAkulam ( roughly, 'we're loners' ), it lends itself to more profound interpretations. The sub-caste of cotton cleaners, or cotton carders, in Andhra Pradesh and other regions in the south is known as 'duudEkula' (duudi- cotton, and Eku- to clean) which is also employed as a term of derision, often. 

** eeka-kulam/Eka-kulam: another phrase coined by the poet to indicate lack of caste ( 'one caste' ) in Islam.

+ Dudekula Siddaiah: probably refers to the Muslim disciple of the 17th century mystic Potuluri Veera Brahmam who spoke against caste and Brahminism. The mystic attracted a large number of Dalitbahujan and Muslim followers in Rayalaseema and other Telugu speaking regions, but is now mostly remembered for his prophecies.

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