Has It Been Love?
September 12, 2016
It came to me as a WhatsApp message. The link to Arya Dayal’s throbbing rendition of the poem “Sakhavu” (“Comrade”). I was in the middle of work; it was way past midnight. And suddenly, the raw unplugged emotion triggered my underlying juvenile impulse. It was a welcome change from adult work: I sat down and translated the poem, listening to it—without even knowing who wrote it. After writing an in-one-long-moment draft based on Arya’s recital, I browsed for the lyrics, and found out about all the noise surrounding its authorship. I still do not know what to make of it—Isn’t Sam Mathew the one who wrote it? I think of the simultaneous formulation of calculus by Isaac Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz et al in the 17th century; the 18th-century discovery of oxygen by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Joseph Priestley, Antoine Lavoisier et al; the theory of the evolution of species, independently advanced in the 19th century by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. I imagine that by some such miraculous hands can be birthed multiple independent artistic creations of the same kind, too.
The controversy notwithstanding, it was heartening to read “Sakhavu”, and listen to its various renditions online: it naturally evoked a lot of memories in someone who grew up in Kerala with all those supposedly revolutionary adolescent dreams. But it was distressing to see children getting into intrigues. So, as the controversy about copyright, authorship and ownership still rages in God's own country, I present this copyleft translation in absolute gratitude to Sam Mathew, Prateeksha Shivadas and a lot of young people in this country who are unknown to me, but who often have only their moist hearts as shields to protect their innocence, their awe, their trembling, their ardour, and their desires from the judgments of my generation…and to remind us that they are as young and revolutionary and poetic and madly in love as we were in our times…, and we, too, are as impulsive as them, still… Of course, the translation does not reach near the original, but that realisation is the only gift I can give these children, perhaps.
Soon, these yellow flowers will be shed,
and they shall turn seekers on your trail.
The exams are pretty much here, comrade;
have you been shut in all year round?
Nowadays, the sun scorches me plenty,
as it descends on my bough; those days,
with you down here, just underneath me,
I’d hardly known any summer or glare.
I am sick to death on this dreary earth
without the throbs of your rallying cries.
How long have I been here, how many
flushing seasons have passed me by?
Once, as your hand traversed my heart,
a whole springtime had risen in my roots.
My yellow blossoms are withered today,
and strewn across your lonely old haunts.
You should have drunk the scent
of my sprouts, comrade, as you lay
behind those darkling iron bars, for,
your dear drops of blood had shot
these yellow flowers on me. Weapons,
alas, were waiting to wear your blood.
Dusk has long roosted on the festoons;
the trees have rained out their blooms;
It has always been love in me, comrade;
it has been my fright, too, to say it out.
If there be a coming life, this spring tree
shall be born the woman of your heart.
Translated from the Malayalam by Rizio Yohannan Raj.
Translation Copyleft Rizio Yohannan Raj 2016.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.