The voices of the republic include dreamers, dissenters, and rebels against borders and authorities. One poem of resistance, from a different Indian language, each day this week.
In a country that has no ‘national language,’ the presence of many languages is at once beautiful and politically charged.
For a week from Republic Day, The Wire presents poems that throw open how our languages can be oppressive, oppressed, and insurgent. The poems are curated by Poorna Swami and Janani Ganesan, from a special edition of Asymptote, an online journal for international literature in translation.
Each of these poems is a work of resistance but also of presence – asserting a future where our many languages, while different, are more accommodating of each other.
I stand in the court of the Simon Commission
let mother earth and humanity be my witness
from there I speak where
the burnt body of a woman lies
right there, on the last step of the tank at Mohenjo Daro
inside it, scattered bones of humanity
scorched corpses of women
you’ll find in Babylon
bones of humanity you’ll find scattered in Mesopotamia
over and over I think
at the estuaries of many an ancient civilization
lies the scorched corpse of a woman and
scattered bones of humanity
from the spurs of Syria to the plains of Bengal
this story travels
and spans the jungles at Kanha
and the woodlands of the Savanna.
who could have been a mother
I tell you, go away from me
my blood boils,
my heart smolders,
my body, a fiery ember
it is my mother, it is my wife,
it is my sister, it is my daughter they have killed, they have burnt
their souls resound in the heavens above
and on that scorched corpse of the woman I would have banged my head
until I died if I didn’t have a daughter of my own!
yet this daughter of mine says—
“Papa, you worry unnecessarily about us
We girls are just firewood
to be tossed in the cooking hearth”
and these scattered bones of humans
they could have been slaves from Rome
or Julahes from Bengal
or even Vietnamese, Palestinian children
empires are empires after all, be Roman be British
or the ultramodern American empire
the destiny of all empires
to scatter bones of humanity
over mountains and plains, by river and sea
they claim their right over history
with just these three decrees
that we packed this Earth with embers
that we engulfed this Earth in flames
that we littered this Earth with human bones!
as the heir of humanity
I avow even as I live
go and tell Caesar’s slaves
we shall meet as one
and one day march on Rome!
Translated from Hindi by Rashmi Gajare and Patricio Ferrari
Rashmi Gajare is a poet, Indologist, linguist, and preservation architect. Patricio Ferrari is a poet, translator, editor and critic, with a forthcoming multilingual collection, Nomad Books. This translation first appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Asymptote, as part of its Indian Languages Special Feature. Asymptote is the winner of the 2015 London Book Fair’s International Literary Translation Initiative Award and a founding member of The Guardian’s Books Network with Translation Tuesdays.