The Republic of Verse: ‘Tale of a City’

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.

Representative image. Credit: Sandeepa Chetan/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Representative image. Credit: Sandeepa Chetan/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 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.

Tale of a City

Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
are drowning in their shame today.
They, who wrapped themselves in Shahtoosh and Pashmina
and wore silk brocades from head to toe everyday.
A delicate thread of that vanity
slowly came apart.
The skies, too, loosened the reins, a little.
King Nimrod would’ve fled
at the sight of this spectacle.
It took one moment, just one
to wipe out the entire city.
Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
were stupefied.
No pillar, no mud wall to hold on to,
No one lending their arms across the window sill for rescue,
No one at the doorway to quench their thirst.
They were flooded over their heads,
The entire city was a river—
impossible to find a shore.
They, with empty hands and empty pockets,
had no coins to pay the ferryman
to take them across.
Nor any murmurs to console each other.
Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
used to be rich until yesterday.
Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
lived in palaces until yesterday.

–Naseem Shafaie

Translated from the Kashmiri by Niyati Bhat

Niyati Bhat is a Kashmiri writer and translator, currently a scholar of Cinema Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. 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.

Join The Discussion