The Republic of Verse: ‘Dis Helluva World’

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.

Credit: Mike Lewinski/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Credit: Mike Lewinski/Flickr CC BY 2.0

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.


Dis Helluva World

Pappy precious, do de guts
me cut-a-way b’come mine?
Sonny b’lovd, de gut-n-heart
ye rip-a-way is everyone’s.

Wasn’t it all good ‘oney, papa,
de juice ‘n sap me sucked up?
Son, dat ‘oney ye slurped-own
is ya blood, ya red hot blood.

Pap, where-es gone de stalky bund
we’d mudded up amid our paddy ?
It melted ‘way with de steam-hot rice
kiddo, ye just grubbed down ya gut.

De big mountains afar
ain’t ours at all, mi-son;
De backwaters ‘n shores
too ain’t no one’s, sonny.

Creeps, beasts, bugs-n-birds,
sea-lions, beings of de wild;
potent gods of many ages,
join us, dancers in de soil;

Here, where we kick alive, sonny,
in dis helluva world, on de earth.
Mi-blessed son, dis damn world,
where we fret-n-fight-n-fade.

— Anvar Ali

Translated from Malayalam by Rizio Yohannan Raj

Rizio Yohannan Raj is the author of three books of poetry, two novels, two academic volumes, and many essays and translations published in India and abroad. 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.