Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pash, the Punjabi Revolutionary Poet :Six Poems

                                        Remembering Pash 

                                         (8 September 1950 - 23 March 1988)




Here are six poems of Pash the revolutionary Punjabi poet, out of my translations of his poetry, Pash: A Poet of Impossible Dreams. These poems show a somewhat different Pash, not the fiery, boiling Pash, but no less passionate and intense. For some of his other revolutionary poems the reader may go to my two earlier blog posts (under Punjabi Poetry) on Pash.

        1.   A THORN PRICK  
     (To a man whose birth no calendar commemorates)

He lived long
Hoping his name would shine

The earth was very big
And his village so small
All his life he slept in the same hut
All his life he defecated in the same field
And kept on hoping
His name would shine

All his life he heard only three sounds:
The crowing of the rooster
The huffing and puffing of his cattle
And the chomp of his own jaws while he ate.
He never heard the sound of the sun  
Setting on the silky sand dunes
He never heard the sound of flower buds
Opening in spring
The stars never sang a song for him
All his lifetime he knew only three colours:
One the colour of the earth
Which he never knew how to name
Other the colour of the sky
Which had so many names
None of which he could remember
And the third of his wife’s cheeks
Which he never named out of shyness

He could compete against anyone in eating moolis
He won many a bet on eating the corn on cobs
But he himself was eaten away without any wager.
His years, like ripe melons, were swallowed whole
And his fresh milk temper
Was drunk with great relish
He never came to know how
Health-giving he was!

And the desire that his name should shine
Chased him like a bee.
He mutated into his own statue
But no one ever celebrated this.

The pathway from his home to the well
Is frequented even today
But in his footmarks
Buried under innumerable footprints
There yet smiles a wound
A wound inflicted by a thorn
Yet smiles there.

      2.      I TAKE LEAVE NOW 

I take leave of you now
My friend, I take leave of you now
I had wished to write a poem
That you could read on for a lifetime

In that poem
I would have talked of the fragrance of coriander leaves
Of the sugar cane fields rustling in the wind
Of the blazing splendour of the mustard stalks
In that poem
I would have talked of mists melting on trees
Of the white foam singing on milk
Fresh from the buffalo’s teats.
And everything else I saw in your body
Would have been there too!

In that poem
My horny palms would have smiled
My thigh muscles rippled like fish in water
And flames of warmth risen
From the soft hair on my chest
That poem, my friend, would have held many things
For you
For me
For all the relationships in life, my friend,
But it is so unpleasant
To deal with life’s perplexities!
And even if I had been able to write
That auspicious poem
It would have died its own death
Leaving both of us in tears.
Poetry, my friend, has become powerless
While the weapons of warfare have grown
Very long claws, and before writing any poem
We must wage a war against them.
In war
Everything can be very simple
Like writing one’s own name, or the enemy’s
And in this state,
To compare my lips, rounded for kissing,
With the shape of the earth
Or to compare the movement of your waist
With the heaving of the sea
Would have been a poor joke.
So I did nothing of the kind
It was not possible for me to put together
Your wish to play with our children in my courtyard
And the reality of war
So I take leave of you

My friend, we shall remember
How the village sand dunes,
Burning during the day like the blacksmith’s furnace,
Became, at night, fragrant like flowers.
And to lie down on a haystack suffused with moonlight
And belittle Paradise was truly musical.
Yes, we shall have to remember all this
Because when the heart’s pockets are empty
Reliving the past is very heart-warming.

In this hour of farewell
I wish to thank all the lovely things
That stood above us like a canopy
And those nondescript places
That became beautiful because we met there.
I thank the wind, soft and musical like your voice,
That stood by me and brightened the moments I spent
Waiting for you
I thank the silky soft grass,
Growing along the water channels,
That unrolled itself under your feet as you walked
And the cotton puffs that came out
Of their bolls and willingly spread themselves
To become a bed for us to lie on
And the piddas that sat on the sugarcane stalks
To keep a watchful eye on passers-by
And the full-grown wheat stalks
That hid us while we lay down
I thank the tiny mustard flowers
That gave me the chance to pluck
The yellow pollen from your hair
I am a human being,
Have become one by assembling things bit by bit
And thank all the things
That saved me from disintegrating -
I have a lot to thank them for.

To love is very simple
Like readying oneself for a fight
In the face of tyranny
Or like imagining, while in hiding,
The day on which the bullet wound would heal.
To love
And to be able to fight
That’s how you honour life, my friend!

To fill the earth like sunshine 
Then to take someone in your embrace
To explode like dynamite
And resound in all directions -
This is the way to live
Those who have become traders
Can never know how to live and love.

To understand how bodies relate –
To draw no line between happiness and hatred
To overwhelm with love the vastness of life 
To meet after piercing the line of fear
And then to say goodbye
Is an act of great heroism, my friend
So I take leave of you now.

You should forget
How I nurtured your youth
Carrying you within my eyelids
How my eyes did everything
To chisel your features into this shape
How my kisses made your face so beautiful
And how my embraces cast into this mould
Your waxen body.

You should forget all this, my friend
That I had an infinite longing to live
That I wished to drown myself in life up to the neck.
My friend, live all that I missed
Live all that I missed.


We have heard
Your eyes too cannot stand the touch of collyrium
And the comb is scared to caress your hair.
We have also heard that my murder has been plotted
In the pages of history

But perhaps
Now the events may not follow the same course.
It is possible, before I abduct you,
Bread may carry me away
And I may be cut down, not under the jhand tree,
But under a chair, wide awake.
It is possible nothing like the old may happen this time

I have heard the plot to murder me
Had been hatched in the capital
Long before I was born
And Pilu the poet
Commissioned by the university.
He may call my murder a something insignificant
And keep churning out for centuries
Verses made-to-order
And nothing like the old may happen this time.
Now I have only paper arrows
And I can shoot only one in five years
And those who are hit
Call not for a drink of water but my blood.
My forefathers laboured
Only to fill the bellies of rulers,
Who, you know, are tigers,
Not Bakki, who could have carried us to Danabad.
Times are such: this time you won’t betray me
And I shall be done to death
Even in the presence of my brothers.
That’s why I say,
Nothing like the old may happen this time.
Although, we have heard
Your eyes too cannot stand the touch of collyrium
And the comb is scared to touch your hair.
Collyrium: Sahiban was said to have been extremely beautiful. This is how Pilu the poet who composed the story describes her beauty at one place: ‘As she stepped out with a lungi tied round her waist, the nine angels died on seeing her beauty and God started counting his last breath.’ In this poem the poet talks of his own beloved as if she were Sahiban, and he himself Mirza, and imagines how the legendary tragic love story would be reenacted in their case but differently.
Danabad: The village near the present day Faisalabad in Pakistan where Mirza lived.


These days I am scared of newspapers
They must have published somewhere the news
That nothing happened today.
You may not know, or you may
How terrifying it is for nothing to happen
For the eyes to become breathless
And for things to stay still, like a frigid woman.

These days, even the conversation at the village gatherings
Looks as if a tree, longing to rock and swing,
Were caught in the coils of a python gone to sleep.
I wonder how this world,
Seeming forlorn like empty chairs, views us?
Centuries have gone past, and even today
Bread, toil and crematoriums might still think
We live only for them.

I’m at a loss – how should I convince
These shy mornings
These nights and beautiful twilights
We haven’t come here to be saluted by them!
Where is that someone, like us,
Whom we can take into our embrace
With open arms? 

These days the events, when they happen,
Are like the old man gone breathless
Climbing the stairs to a brothel.
Why something like the first meeting of lovers
Does not happen here?
How long shall this country
Founded by Mahatmas
Let itself be chased by a one-horned grave!  
After all, when shall we, exiled from the din of living,
Return to our homes that are alive
With things that happen
And when shall we sit around the fire
And listen to her overweening tales?

One day surely we shall imprint our kisses
On the cheeks of a season
And the whole earth
Shall turn into a wondrous newspaper
That will publish news after news
Of things happening.

      5.      IT IS SO STRANGE  

Had you not married
You would still be labouring under the illusion
That flowers alone signify life’s colours
And not the smell of ash from burnt out fires.
Love for you would have been the name of a season.

You might have thought
The words embroidered with your crochet
Would speak out one day
Or the wings of the duck you had crafted
By sewing buttons together
Would not sully in turbid waters.
You would never have known that consummation
Is nothing more than a quietly burning pyre
Of your anklets gone dumb
In the noise of pots and pans given in dowry
Or, it is the dissolution of colours
In the heat of relationships.
The now married Surinder Kaur cannot recall
The once maidenly Chhindo,
Waiting for things to happen
Such is the wall erected by time’s mishaps.

In truth consummation is a never attained understanding -
How a village slowly changes into Danabad
It is in truth your longings
Melting into cots, chairs, brooms…

It is strange one should let henna’s transient colours mock
The dreams long nurtured on one’s palms
Or weave into one’s breath
The deafening silence of the desolate fairground
After the crowds have dispersed
Or think of the repeatedly frequented footpaths
Long buried under the ploughed fields.
And now that the duck crafted by her is drowned on this end
Chhindo still waits for something to happen
Across the insurmountable wall of shadows
Cast by time.

It is strange that I who am nothing to you
On this or that side of the wall
Still carry the ducks that are dead and dying.

      6.      THE MOST DANGEROUS   

To be robbed of one’s labour is not most dangerous
Body-bashing by the police is not most dangerous
Betrayal born of greed is not most dangerous

To be caught napping is bad
To be framed in silence out of fear is bad
But not most dangerous

To be over-awed in the din of deceit
Even when one is right is bad
To read in the light of a glowworm is bad
But not most dangerous

Most dangerous it is
To be full with dead peace
To be empty of passion,
To stomach everything
To go out to work daily
And come back
Most dangerous it is
For our dreams to die
Most dangerous is the watch
Ticking on your wrist
But stock still in your eyes

Most dangerous is the eye
That sees all and yet is icy cold
That forgets to kiss the world with love
That falls for the blinding steam rising out of things  
That, enamoured of the commonplace,
Is lost in the meaningless routine of life

Most dangerous is the moon
That rises, after each massacre,
In dumbstruck courtyards
But does not burn your eyes
Like chilli powder

Most dangerous is the song
That refuses to grieve 
Over the unploughed fields of the terrorized
That sounds like the scoundrel’s sly cough

Most dangerous is the night
That envelops the skies above the living souls
Wherein owls hoot and jackals howl
Where darkness clings for ever to the closed doors

Most dangerous is the direction
In which the sun of your inner self sets
And a splinter from that dead sunshine
Enters the east of your body

To be robbed of one’s labour is not most dangerous
Body-bashing by the police is not most dangerous
Betrayal born of greed is not most dangerous.