You are an outdated speaker
You speak such an oppositional tongue
As if you are fighting kings
Of a time when Parliament was unborn still
Do you think the Parliament has allowed
The language and traps of hostility the same
As it used to be during the times of the kings?
This man, on the other side of the table, listening to you so intently
Patiently, with full concentration
He is not a king
He is the district magistrate.
He is the district magistrate
More educated, adept, impersonal
Than the king.
This man is not from that distant fort—brought up in cold pomposity.
He was born in these back-alleys
He’s brought up amid our failures and mistakes
Aware of our courage, greed
He is way more indulgent and canny than the kings.
He can conjure up more confusion
And keep us away more clinically from freedom
The government must keep close vigil on his superlative mind.
Sometimes we must even learn from him.
Lights, Projection, Your First Film
The night the bund gave way
And the river flowed in
You didn’t even care to inquire
The way you grew up without this town
Where stood your first train
Lights, projection, your first film.
The riches of those women have remained with me
The ones who had trained me to cross the chowk
From my mohalla they turned up
Every morning to their work they went
My school on their way
Ma would lend me to them. In their safeguard.
And I would await them after school-break.
Yes, those women taught me waiting.
And then the local quasbah school loomed
On my own now, I made other friends.
There were other roads to the school, other keys
We found out soon.
Decades gone, those days
Come back to me.
In some big city
Seeking to go across some odd, imposing chowk
I think of those women
I extend my right hand to them
And with my left, I clutch the slate
The way I had left them
At the broadsheet-backs of my twenty twenty years.
Who Saved my Soul?
Who saved my soul?
A flicker of a light from the little candle
A few boiled potatoes saved it.
Flames in dry leaves
And earthen utensils saved it.
That jungle yellow cot
And that yellow coloured moon
Those street-play lumpen jokers
With voices like the glory of truth
Tussling, exchanging blows
In street corners
Driving away rioters
From these fearless blithe Hindustanis have I learnt the craft of the stage
Drama seemed like some thoroughly drenched outfit.
Carrying tongs for grandma’s rotis
From the Idgaah mela, little Hamid returns
And after December 6
As February was sneaking in
Yes, these things have saved my soul.
Now you even get paid for forgetting
This is what greedy, untroubled folks do.
Ah, Junction. Where the train stops for some time. Tarries.
Refuels itself for the rest of the journey
I look for my old sweetheart there.
Aim, Shoot, Poster
Is it April 20, 1972
Or the right arm of a professional killer or the leathery mittens
Of some spy or some stain on the binoculars of a marauder?
Whatever it might be, I can’t call it a day.
It is an ancient place where I am writing now
Where till this day, tobacco sells more than words
The sky here is pig high
Nobody uses tongue here
Nobody uses eyes here
Nobody uses ears here
Nobody uses nose here
Here: only teeth and stomach
Arms scraped in soil
Save a blue khokhal
Relentless, that seeks grain
From one torrential rain to another…
Here, is this woman my ma
Or an iron girder 5 feet tall
In which hangs a couple of dry rotis.
Like long dead birds
There is no gulf between my daughter and my strike
As constitution, true to its promise
Keeps on breaking my daughter and my strike.
After one flash election
Am I supposed to stop thinking about explosives?
On this April 20, 1972, can I live with my children like a father ought to live?
Like an inkpot filled with ink
Like a ball
Like a heath full of grass
Can I live with my children?
Those people ferry me to my poems
They use and blindfold me, let me rot across the border
Never letting me reach the capital, distant
I get hounded, detained even before I reach the Zila-town.
No, not the government
The cheapest cigarette brand in this country has stood by my side.
My childhood, that germinated near my sister’s feet
Like yellow rend shrubs
Has been flattened by the daroga’s buffalo
If the daroga has the right to shoot so that he can save what remains human
Why not me?
In this soil that I am writing now
In this soil that I walk
In this soil that I plough
In this soil that I sow the seeds
And this soil from which, extracting grains
I carry to the godowns and storehouses
Should I have the right to shoot for this soil
Or this rat of a zamindar who wants to make this country
A moneylender’s dog?
This is not a poem.
It is the realization of shooting bullets
Which are now meeting every single pen-pusher.
Every single tiller.
Girls on Rooftops
Still the girls come on to the rooftops
Their shadows fall on my life
The girls are here for the boys
Downstairs, amidst bullets, the boys play cards
Sitting, on the stairs above the drain
Lazing on benches outside the footpath tea-stall
Around a boy who plays the mouth-organ sweet
Timeless tunes of Awara, Sree 420.
A newspaperwallah spreads his wares
And some young men read the early edition
Not all are students
Some unemployed yet, small timers some
But in their veins, bloodstreams
They await a girl
A hope—that from these houses and rooftops
One day, some day—love will arrive.
Translation by HUG