Monday, October 31, 2016

Balbir Madhopur'si poems in translation

Here are four poems of  Balbir Madhopuri, a Punjabi poet translated by me. The poems have been accessed from his collection 'Meri Chaunvi Kavta' (My Selected Poems) (2011).The poems are posted here with permission from the poet.

Balbir Madhopuri
(Born: 1955)

BalbirMadhopuri, Punjabi writer, poet and translator, was born in 1955 in a Dalit family in Madhopur, a small village in district Jalandhar, Punjab. His trials began at a tender age when he began working as a child labourer and an agricultural worker. Despite his humble origins he managed to acquire a post graduate degree in Punjabi literature. His writings are primarily focused on the issues related with the oppressed and depressed classes, especially the Dalits. Madhopuri has published three collections of poetry. His autobiography 'ChhangiyaRukh' (The Lopped-off Tree) was first published in 2002 and has gone through seven editions. Its translation in English by Tripti Jain, 'ChhangiyaRukh: Against the Night' An Autobiography was published by Oxford University Press in 2010. It has also been published in some Indian languages including Hindi and Shahmukhi (in Pakistan in 2010). It has been serialized by eight Punjabi, Hindi, Shahmukhi magazines and certain chapters have been published in some English magazines and newspapers. Madhopuri is one of the pioneering Dalit writers in Punjabi literature.  
(Image and bio details are from the poet's Website)

1. My Caste

My caste is always with me
like my complexion
like my shadow.
We are so rolled into one
I’m nothing
except my caste,
wherever I am
in the city or in the village
here or across the seas.

I try very hard to hide,
wear a hundred masks
but it shows itself
again and again
like the white hair
after the dye has worn off
or like the body showing
through tattered clothes

I wish to be rid of it
like someone wanting a divorce
but they tell me,
this bond  stays on
birth after birth...
nothing to think about.

the bow is strung
with arrows of contention,
which pierce both past and present.
Blood boils within, like an earthquake
and then
divisions  come in the open
up-down, right-left.

My caste is always with me
like my complexion
like my shadow.
We are so rolled into one
I’m nothing
except my caste,
wherever I am
in the city or in the village
here or across the seas.

2. Tsunami Waves

The tsunami waves
washed away many things;
rocky shores,
living creatures
fishes and tortoises
trees and humans
beautiful natural landscape

The waves
wrecked the houses
where God was segregated,
where people
would step in or pass by
 shivering, in fear

And in no time
the land became water
and death ruled all over.
One recalled:
‘Death is a great leveller.’
Yet the survivors sang a different tune.
The living labelled the dead
as high or low
touchable or untouchable .

In this way
on the sea shore
the ‘not humans’ were left
hungry, thirsty,
and without hope
by the demonic laughter
of the ‘humans’.
The tsunami waves
that altogether demolished
the rocky shores
could not knock down
the high walls of hatred
that stood in the human hearts.

In the aftermath
let someone,
on the now calm sea’s wide shore,
reflect, and say:
Let us push our boat
into the sea of humaneness
embrace each other like the waves
merge into each other
destroy the poisonous fish.
Come let us play this game.

3. Come, My Friend

Come, my friend,
let’s meet again
just as two pathways meet,
merge into each other
like a river in the sea.

Come, my friend,
let’s sing, in the marketplace,
the death song
for the Sanatani culture
that has divided mankind again and again,
that has no reason to be.

Come, my friend,
Let’s bury deep
the ’living words’
that stink,
that don’t let you forget
‘the dead mother’
and lacerate  so many hearts.

Come, my friend,
Let’s give up the kissa tradition
give up the culture of ‘culture’
let’s load with stones and sink the boat
in which life is a living death

Come, my friend,
let’s fight another Mahabharat
write another  sixteenth chapter
dam  the river of fire
drive the black spotted pigeon
across the dividing lines

Come, my friend,
let’s bring under the shade
the life that is a desert,
 plant flowers in barren lives
and fulfill the duty of words

Come, my friend,
let’s find words
that bring sunshine, air and the sea
that are charged with the energy of a warrior
that make the whole sky fragrant

Come, my friend,
let’s meet again
just as two pathways meet,
merge into each other
like a river in the sea.

4. My Culture

even the deserts
have become green.
The barren lands too
are blooming
The natural landscape too
has changed
Yet my culture
drenched in caste
still remains unchanged.

even the unbounded space
has shrunk
The seven continents too
have become one
like the colours of the rainbow
in the sunlight
The Berlin wall
has come down like a house of glass
and is a heap of sand now
Yet no key can unlock
the stony doors of my culture
that refuses to open up

even the glaciers 
are melting
The waters in the oceans
are warming up
And hot winds too
are blowing at places
Yet my culture
like the consumer culture
still sticks different labels
on human beings
5 The Sunshine’s Journey
                 (ਧੁੱਪ ਦਾ ਸਫ਼ਰ)

The break of day
is like a siren for her
As soon as she wakes  
she begins to water the plants
and the flowers big and small
bloom and spread their fragrance

And I
while slurping  my tea 
turn over the pages of the newspaper
in search of state-of-the-nation news ⎼
how one faction 
has battered the other
and I am reminded
of some slokas of Tulsi and Manu

That’s how 
her morning turns into noon
and she spreads the shade of her being
on the blooming flowers
and the difference 
between the tall mulberry tree
and her 
seems to disappear

That’s how her noon 
That’s how her noon 
has mellowed 

Whenever I return home
riding my mare
through dark and narrow lanes
she standing at the door 
catches the mare’s rein
and the tidal wave 
surging through her heart
A light shines in her eyes
and the earth 
seems peaceful to her

That’s how 
her morning begins
That’s how 
her noon descends 
That’s how
her noon mellows
That’s how  
her high noon has mellowed