Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lal Singh Dil - A Punjabi Revolutionary Poet

                     Lal Singh Dil  photo by Amarjit Chandan 
Here are eight poems of Lal Singh Dil (1943-2007) , translated from Punjabi by me.
I am planning to translate  a selection of Lal Singh Dil's poetry  into English. As my basic text, I am using 'Naglok' (2007),  published by Chetna Prakashan Ludhiana, its publication made possible with the efforts of Prem Prakash. It was published sometime before Dil's death on 14 August 2007. 'Naglok' seems a collection of almost all of Dil's  poetry. It certainly contains all the three collections of poetry - Setluj Di Hawa (1971), Bahut Saare Suraj (1982) and Satthar (1997) - published by Lal Singh Dil. 

Comments on the poems and my translations are welcome. I have written a small note on Lal Singh Dil in my earlier  blog post (December 2010) on him which contains  one of the most remarkable poems  Dil wrote: The Women of Kudali Village. I have nothing more to add to that note at the moment.

From SETLUJ DI HAWA (1971)
            (The Breeze from the Setluj)


You have learnt to hide the worn-out edges of your shirt sleeves
And the skill to walk in beggarly shoes
You have trained your tongue to say sweet things
Learnt to smile through eyes hiding corpses under the eyelids …

But your dress and skin are transparent like glass
And I can see your blood coursing through your body
Because we have met so often
In third class compartments
At the tea dhabas and kabaadi shops
I too have gathered together so often
My papers the babu at the employment exchange
Tossed out through the barred window.

2. NADEEN    

I have fallen in love
With this flower smelling of the earth
With the colour of this trowel
With its handle’s smoothness
That has come through a repeated clasp of the hand:
It is more beautiful than any work of art.
The hand that remained
The trowel’s friend through the rainy season
Looks like a warrior’s brow furrowed with lines.
And this warm and stale smell
Rising from the fading flowers!
I feel like bursting into song
For these fading colours.
Even though the sun has shone for them
The great rains have washed
The winds have kissed their faces
What if the trowel worked against the sun
Insulted the winds
Rebuked the soft heart of the rain!

I may be a wheat stalk
Or this flower that grows between the water channels
I would love the sharp sweep of the trowel.
And all the pain within these flowers,
Expressing which this heartless trowel too
Is crying with these weeping colours.
Don’t let its tears fall to the ground
The girl’s back will break with their weight.


My country has yet another name
I have yet another kinship
Where ever there is even one hamlet
Half hungry
Half asleep
Wherever drudgery
Counts the stars
To comfort its aching limbs
Away from my country
Wherever it is
It is my own country, my brotherhood.
Whenever I pick up my sitar
To play a tune for this fraternity
Hordes flock towards me from across the seas.
But who’s there to welcome them?
Who are they that shed rivers of blood
Across these boundaries every year?
My country has yet another name
I have yet another kinship.


What are you?
Why have you covered your face?
Why do you walk, so disguised?
Why are you hiding your claws?
But who are you?
Just watch that man
Who day and night
Pulls a heavy chariot
He is wearing Manu’s leaden rings in his ears
His body is striped with
The rulers’ whiplashes -
He will surely recognize you.
Sometimes, when during the nights,
He lets out sighs
As big as the skies
The stars drop their heads.
He says: ‘This earth is my first love.’
And casually adds: ‘It is I
Who have bejewelled the sky with these stars.’
He has travelled through Jesus lands
He has travelled through Gautam lands
Wearing Manu’s leaden rings in his ears.


The word has been spoken
Much before us
And even after us
You may cut off our tongues
If you can
But the word has been broadcast


Can't you see!
Each tree is dancing
The dust on the pathways is breathing
The water from the wells is spilling out
The waves in the canal are agitated
The peasants have come out
And the pathways are stamped
With the fighters' footprints
The moon is no longer on the wane

           (So Many Suns)


It’s Punjab everywhere
Villages besieged by trees
Dresses camouflaged
Under the bundles of grass
The dirty towel
The unkempt beard
The shirt blackened with sweat and dust
Bare legs
Cracked heels
Whether in Bengal
Or in Kerala
Herdsmen driving their cattle,
Covered in the dust they kick up
Look like Punjabis
On the way
The peepal trees
The date palms
The clouds
It’s Machchiwada on all sides.

from    SATTHAR (1997)
            ( A Harvest of Sorrow) ?


The glasses are out from their cases
Early in the morning
Two and a half dozen glasses
They drive me mad the whole day
‘No sugar…chillis in tea leaves…the milk you use?
You do not know how to run a tea shop.’
Occasionally a lawyer reels out a calculation:
‘You can make one thousand cups of tea from ten kilos of milk.’
This awakens the memories of the pub
And the eyes fill up with inebriation.
‘Adjust this against the rent.’
‘For this I have already paid.’
‘For yesterday, you owed me that much.’
Even then some one pays up
The rich guy’s counterfeit coin
Looks sweet
To an untrusting man like me.
The glasses return to their cases,
Like the pigeons to their pigeon holes
A few of them have been pinched by some for their drink
The pub…the intoxication rises in my eyes again
What is this, friends,
If one can’t earn enough
For a drink?