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Archive for December, 2010

Both are useless (‘dhoni nyarthac’)

Sunday, December 26th, 2010


by Mina Gajbhiye 

What will you do for those

whose hunger is an ache?

Shed two tears?

Give a fourth of a slice of bread?

What will you do for those 

who don't quite live

and don't quite die?

Write a beautiful poem of life?

Or a beautiful poem on death?

Whatever you do-

it will be useless. 



Translated by Jayant Karve and Eleanor Zelliot. Source: Images of Women in Maharashtrian Literature and Religion. Mina Gajbhiye  is a Dalit poet writing in the Marathi language. 

Kabir: Ramaini 62

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

1. If thou thinkest the Maker distinguished castes:

birth is according to these penalties for deeds.

2. Born a Sudra you die a Sudra:

it is only in this world of illusion that you assume the
sacred thread.

3. If birth from a Brahman mother makes you Brahman:

why did you not come by another way ?

4. If birth from a Turk mother makes you Turk:

why were you not circumcised in the womb ?

5. If you milk black and yellow cows together:

will you be able to distinguish their milk ?

6. Sakhi :—O men, give up your pretence of great wisdom.

Says Kabir, Recite the name of the Bow-holder.


From The Bijak of Kabir, translated by the Rev. Ahmad Shah.

Kabir: Ramaini 35

Monday, December 13th, 2010


Worship, libations, six sacred rites,

this dharma's full of ritual blights.

Four ages teaching Gayatri, I ask you, who won liberty?

You wash your body if you touch another,

tell me who could be lower than you?

Proud of your merit, puffed up with your rights,

no good comes out of such great pride.

How could he whose very name

is pride-destroyer endure the same?

Drop the limits of caste and clan,

seek for freedom's space,

destroy the shoot, destroy the seed,

seek the unembodied place. 


Kabir: Ramaini 35, translation by Hess and Singh in The Bijak of Kabir 1986. 

Source:  Caste is the cruellest exclusion by Gail Omvedt.


Sunday, December 5th, 2010

by Waman Nimbalkar 


Daylight would die. Darkness would reign.
We at our hut’s door. No single light inside.
Lights burning in houses around.
Kitchen-fires too. Bhakris beaten out.
Vegetables, gruels cooked.
In our nostrils, the smell of food. In our stomachs, darkness.
From our eyes, welling up, streams of tears.
Slicing darkness, a shadow heavily draws near.
On her head, a burden. Her legs a-totter.
Thin, dark of body… mother.
All day she combs the forest for firewood.
We wait her return.
When she brings no firewood to sell we go to bed hungry.
One day something happens. How we don’t know.
Mother comes home leg bandaged, bleeding.
A large black snake bit her, say two women.
He raised his hood. He struck her. He slithered away.
Mother fell to the ground.
We try charms. We try spells. The medicine man comes.
The day ends. So does her life.
We burst into grief. Our grief melts into air.
Mother is gone. We, her brood, thrown to the winds.
Even now my eyes search for mother. My sadness grows.
When I see a thin woman with firewood on her head,
I go and buy all her firewood.

Translated by Priya Adarkar. Source: Poisoned Bread: translations from modern Marathi Dalit literature., Ed: Arjuna Dangale.  

Bhakri: flat bread made of millets, eaten in Western and Central India.

Waman Nimbalkar passed away on December 3rd, 2010, The Shared Mirror wishes him eternal peace.  

People’s song

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

In the Gummadis'* hut                                           // O Lachcha Gummadi //

the song was born and grew

Lachchumamma's womb bore fruit

and the people's song was born

In the Malas' wada

the Dalit song was born

On the Madigas' dappu

the song learnt rythm

To the tune of the coolies' anklets

it learnt to dance

With the Wadderas'** hammer

it learnt to sing together

At the dhobi ghat

it was taught to move faster

The barbers' razor

sang a refrain for the song

The Kammari's*** kiln

sang a beat for the song

The Golla Kurma's+ gongadi++

sang the chorus for the song

Flying past the farms and fields

past the factory gates

The song became one with the wind

and flew past the skies

The exploiters who heard the song

trembled in their hearts

All the songs became spears

and brought down the exploiters' fortress;

To strangle the song's throat

they started plotting:

twilight hadn't passed

the stars hadn't even appeared

but the villains attacked

and fired bullet after bullet

Struck by the rulers' bullet

the song collapsed

Struck by the killers' bullet

the song fainted

Struck by bullet after bullet

the dappu grew silent

Struck by a bullet in the abdomen

the song spurted blood

Collapsing in a pool of blood

the song bathed fully

Mother Earth became pregnant

and gave birth to the song again

Even though the big life started leaving

hanging onto the remaining life

the song stood up

and started walking

Even though it was losing breath

it rose hanging onto the remaining little

From the blood filled abyss

the song rose like the dawn

Mother moonlight smiled

because the song was reborn

Village after village smiled

as the Dalit jaatis' hearts were filled

Lathis and bullets

can't stop the people's song

Bayonets and bullets

can't stop the song's refrain

Every hour, a song will be born

and build graves for the exploiters

Every hut will give birth to a song

and bring down the exploiters' fortresses.                      // O Lachcha Gummadi //


My translation of the Telugu song 'janampaaTa' by Guda Anjaiah (from his collection od songs/ballads 'uuru manadiraa!'). This 'people's song' is most probably Anjaiah's tribute to 'praja kavi' Gaddar ('people's poet') who survived a muderorous attack by unknown assailants (most likely, policemen in civil clothes) who pumped five bullets into him, on April 6, 1997. Hundreds of songs written by Guda Anjaiah have formed a valuable part of the repertory of Dalitbahujan artistes across Andhra Pradesh, and across India (through translations). People's songs, the Dalitbahujan poets and performers believe (most times, the performers are poets themselves), belong to the peopleGaddar has consistently performed Anjaiah's songs over the years.


* Gummadi: pronounced 'gummaDi', it means pumpkin. But it is also Gaddar's surname or family name (his real name is Gummadi Vittal Rao). The original meaning (and origin) of the refrain 'O Lachcha Gummadi', which is repeated at the end of every line, is lost in time. It is taken from one of the many genres of work or chore related songs/ballads sung by Dalitbahujan women. Lachchumamma, in the song, refers to Gaddar's mother.

** Wadderas: pronounced waDDera; refers to the community of stone-workers (vaddera,  odde, oddilu, oddera, odra etc). 

*** Kammaris: refers to the community of smiths, metal-workers.

+ Golla Kurma: refers to the community of shepherds/goatherds (kuruma, kurma, kuruiba etc).

++ gongadi: pronounced 'gongaDi'; also called gongali. Refers to the coarse blanket or rug (made of wool, mostly) used by shepherds etc.

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