India 2019: A Song From the Ruins
August 31, 2018
Is this the India we want?
A country in which citizens are murdered or attacked for being rational; for being critical, for raising a voice of dissent; for just being themselves, Muslim or Dalit or women. Intimidation, threats. Hatred. Lynching. Sickening violence. Students and teachers given the choice between being leashed in thought and word, or being hounded as seditious. Institutions built over the years weakened. The economy and development turned into exercises that mock the needs and aspirations of most people. The secularism, the scientific temper and the rights promised in our Constitution subverted every day. Our democracy, our India, frayed.
But this is our country. It belongs to us, and we belong to it. We have each other for support. We have our poems and songs and films and essays and fiction and art. Our diverse voices.
What is the India we want?
Listen to our fellow citizens speak of the country they don’t want and the India they want on the series India 2019 on the Indian Cultural Forum and Guftugu.
A Song From the Ruins
I stand on these ruins with my weary steps
Like in Harappa or in Hampi
Once this was a nation
A continent built in salt and sweat
A flower raised by blood
A conch risen from the sea
A map of many colours drawn in tears
Extending from the Himalayas
To the Arabian Sea.
Now I see the festival of the people
Turn into a funeral procession in black
And triumphal chants into laments
One tale for each murder
One battle for each memory
One more Partition in every heart
There was a time when we treated
Even our conquerors like guests
They turned our land into a rainbow,
Left in our treasury life-styles,
Languages, arts, cultures.
But those who chose to play the coloniser,
We fought as one person.
We won freedom despite your betrayal,
We created a nation where no faith
Was alien; no tongue, foreign
Even in the darkness of the dispossessed
Flickered the fragrant moonlight of hope.
The moment you raised your
Banner of hate and greed, people’s flag
Became a rag, and their anthem an elegy.
You came with another history,
With another geography and arithmetic.
You robbed us of our woods and lands
For your masters, scared the down-trodden
Shaking your weapons. You feared
Those who tell the truth, extended
Poison vials to those on the brink of
Suicide, let loose the demons of
The netherworld on earth.
We were a nation, but now we are dust.
Even in this dust are the cries of the
Imprisoned stones, the songs of the
Survivors, bleeding memories rising
From the dead on the gravestones’ grass,
Letters blossoming on the violins ascending
The clouds, pale angels flying to the sky from the
Waste-heaps, the white horses of untamed desire,
We will come back,
From the empty barns dreaming of the sun
Even in winter, from the odours
Of piss and pollen in the alleys,
From the joy that fills breasts, oranges and poems,
From the turbid pools of remembrance,
From the days that enter the fishermen’s cottages
Like rain-drenched dogs, from the
Flying brooms, from the clothes of miners
Stained with oil and coal, from the pictures of
Wild goddesses drawn in the tribal hamlet
With the quills of quails, from the
Brave memories casketed in language,
From the unpolished words carried by
The pariah’s wounds, from the trampled
Plant of the night with its golden leaves,
From roots, from roots.
We will raise a new nation, of compassion and
Sisterhood that laughs without hate, a nation,
Without walls and borders, without
the rich and the poor, its head held high,
And its arms open to all, here,
On this soil of dried-up rivers and heirless forests
Where evening stars fall like magnolias, we lay
(Translated from Malayalam by the poet)
K Satchidanandan is a widely translated Malayalam poet and a bilingual writer, translator and editor. His most recent works available in English are While I Write and Misplaced Objects and Other Poems. For more on the author and his work see satchidanandan.com.
Poem and translation © K Satchidanandan.
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