Devi Prasad Mishra
[This is a selection from the poetry series Nizamuddin that first appeared in the Hindi language blog Tadbhav–तद्भव early this year. Translated by HUG]
Mean lane and a cow a woman almost touching go past each other and both have babies in their womb and both are tired and both have no hurry at all to reach home and a man makes his way through them about whom it is said that he is a police informer and keeps tabs on people around and a kite-laden boy whizzes right through all three of them and a woman in burkha is walking straight from the other side who reserves enough convenience to cry as she will or laugh out loud with available rotten vulgarity. Bahadur Shah Zafar’s arrest is still fresh news in the lane as fresh as the news of the arrest of a young man arrested for implanting bombs and explosives. In the far corner of that restaurant sits a man with his elbows on the table whose omelette is getting cold and stale waiting right there for hours. He may be in the know that a tunnel has been secretly constructed from Gujarat to Nizamuddin and people are freely using it. This tunnel has been there always—now here now gone. Quite a few rumours about Nizamuddin usually waft around.
As I made my way out of the lane
A tree welcomed me and I counted
And as I looked more carefully 17 more
Little ones I found hidden
And then 21 more trees
This road I could call wild, untamed, still unmanicured like the Hindi literary landscape
And when I spot that girl who was from the third or fourth tradition, I realized she is lanky and blithe.
She is Zeenat, that’s her name
Who, after having gotten a BA degree from Meerut University
Wanted to do her MA in English
From the Indira Gandhi Open University
I mean the same girl who had conspired to send packing the Brits from India in 1857.
Rahim could just be around the corner walking around Rahim’s tomb I felt so. But that accident is averted—that of one poet’s meeting another. Pigeons make that unerring sound with their wings—whirrrrrr—and keep that sound in your mind intact brother. I keep walking around the tomb. Is someone going to appear or am I loitering in the clatter of the departed? The wildness of my language in tombs lying around—shadowy, decrepit. And an incoming phone call—may be the apocalyptic call that will decimate Hindi poetry altogether and it has by now reached Sarai Kale Khan…
Now what can one do if goats loiter often at my poet’s grave it is now Nazeer now Ghalib. When Asad Zaidi chuckled in his usual boisterous way and told me this truth I didn’t reply that this could easily become a neat slice of some utterly poetic line. Have I ever tried to impress upon you that Nazeer Akbarbadi must be included in the Hindi poetic canon and a carbon copy of this plea always lie with me somewhere and after my death you will retrieve that and then whether you bury, burn or turn me to vultures I have no business. I mean if you bury me goats will inevitably arrive. If you decide to burn me I will disappear into the hydrants leading up to the Ganga. But how did this rumour get to your ears that vultures mean those commentators in Hindi who hover around the corpses of control and command. Suppose I get a breather from the vultures?
I have no clue whether this is apocryphal that once Mirza sahab had narrated a tale about a man who was turning out to be a power-hungry hireling and the loss was this that his yield and turnover was never getting diminished.
As I keep thinking what Mirza sahab may have verbalized and what he might have given a pass I wander into a particularly momentous bylane and chance upon this shoe. This was the lost shoe of one Zaidi. Yes sir, that same Zaidi who had pelted the other one of the pair at Bush. This one got saved and so I chanced upon it at Nizamuddin. Now you have put me in a quandary by reminding me that this one might be Zain-ul-Abideen’s who was Mohammad’s great-grandson and was called Zaid. But this shoe can be anybody’s as the tilism says and it could be Mirza sahab’s too as you know he would often appear donning a single piece of footwear. Or may be the shoe had been one Nizamuddin’s, who, Khuda grant him happiness, was no less of a maverick. It is also said that he had once assailed a hakim with a shoe or was it Allaudin Khilji with whom he got engaged in this kind of a scrap? But today I have found the shoe and I am going to return from Nizamuddin’s hearth with this one undamaged. And now I have this in my mind that all sensitive, wise people always have and will put on but one shoe. The other is always hurled at the powerful.
Look at the results of writing for all
How my work swells and takes its toll
How voluble, such loudness that it turns out
So measly and they say I am on a roll!
Sitting right in the middle of the marketplace
I quote my price and my earnings praise
All those matter don’t miss such bargain such ways
The morning that you fancied now dazzles in twilight
Daze now argue Marx or that shitty mall carry on the
Lalgarh craze and my beloved country see how the
Masjid sways and stillness gone now infamy stays
In Nizamuddin, such is its daily overwhelming maze.
The mushaira session went on till the early hours. People seemed to return from some kind of a funeral service. A language which experts had given at most four-score years had so much spunk left in it so much still the gift of rabble-rousing. I mean even if the language dies out the spunk will stay on. This was the general opinion. As the session concluded it began to pour and what a groan of Allah-hu-Akbar erupted that broke open doors, tore off clothes and through the pulsating rosaries made its way past the alleyways only to reach up to the rooftops at the waiting wings of those scared chickens and disappeared feeling the dangling dupatta lingering there for the last seven days—of a girl a girl. The dupatta girl is ailing for the past five days and could not come up to the roof and didn’t want to even come up there and was inconsolably sobbing the whole day and wanted to get rid of her life and has been dismissed from the bangle factory at Ferozabad and has come back from her Taai’s and did not want to visit her Mamu’s at Moradabad and she won’t even tell why. And what is it? And why so? And she keeps on saying that just let me die. That no good has happened to me so far no good ever will ever come to pass. A few policemen were the last to disappear and they abused the poets as to why the poems and couplets cannot be way shorter. Things remain manageable that way. One policeman stood by a man lying on the footpath trying to gauge whether he was sleeping or was already dead.
As I make my way back home
As I pass by the dargah
I open the lid of my wish-box—and
And let longing free….
That my political isolation change into a movement
My misery into Ambani’s hassle
And Muntazar-al-Zaidi gets back his lost shoe
The rooftop of Bush’s ranch is razed in the tornedo
My finance minister, recollecting the story
Of a needy, broke man breaks down himself
That my son discovers earthen-ware anew
And a poet’s loneliness turns into Hindi’s shame
I open my wish-box
And like a rabid dog trembling at a Brahmin kitchen
Every tiny trail of my language, my yearning
Changes itself into one mighty story
And one crushing poem
That beneath that fantastic poverty-line every man, woman, insect
Down down down
Striding striding striding
May reach Nizamuddin
Where gaons are not renamed Gurgaon
And Azamgarh be renamed Lalgarh
And something called a city
We may see again
Let us think
Let us think
Let us think
And let us think like Fanon
And live like a farmer
And resound like wilderness
Now let us return home. Along with Nizamuddin.
Along with Baba Farid. And sleep.
With harmonium sounds in the jungle-city
Echoing, rippling across.
Let us return home. And quit home.
That it becomes an always home, a fair in my land.
A miracle where my son may lose himself.