Two Poems by Pankaj Singh

Pankaj Singh was born in a village called Chaita in East Champaran, Muzaffarpur, in Bihar. He had three collections of poems to his name, Aahatein Aas Paas (Whispers All Around, 1981), Jaise Pavan Paani (As Air, As Water, 2001), and Nahin (No, 2009). He identified as a Marxist-revolutionary, and others knew him as a poet. The aspiration towards the same bleeds uncontrollably through his writing, as though his sense of revolution, political change and personal will was irrevocably conjoined with his poems. Till his last, he participated in the movement towards “freedom of expression”, counterpoised against the tendency of growing communalism and fascism in India, the effects of which we still see today.

His first poem was published in the year 1966, when he was merely 18 years old, and his first poetry collection was published in 1981, which created quite a commotion in the Hindi literary scenario, with competing reviews, all vehemently defending and dismissing him. Although he was a tireless agitator, activist, column writer, editor, and teacher, the nearest to his heart was his poetry. He was not a prolific poet, and to a great extent, was a perfectionist, formally sound and faithful to his political vision to the very end. He wedded his political vision with a somewhat Nietzchean will to power, yet he possessed the unique ability to resist the totality of a materialist pragmatism, maintaining the romantic and metaphysical in his creative work just as well, which he was not known for, neither did he like people asserting the same. His untimely death on the December 26, 2015, at age 66, just three days after his birthday shocked everyone. The following are two of his poems.

सम्राज्ञी आ रही हैं

नागरिको उत्सव मनाओ कि सम्राज्ञी के दर्शन तुम्हें करने हैं
भीतभाव से प्रणाम संभालते हुए अपने दुखों के कीचड़ में
रूँधे गले से ही स्वागत गीत गाते हुए
उत्सव मनाओ

सम्राज्ञी का रथ तुम्हारी अँतड़ियों से गुज़रेगा
रथ गुज़रेगा तुम्हारी आत्मा कि कराह और शोक से
तुम्हारे स्वप्नों की हरियालियाँ रौंदता हुआ
रथ गुज़रेगा रंगीन झरनों और पताकाओं की ऊब डूब में

सँभलकर अपनी मुर्दनी और आक्रामक मुद्रा को
मीठी रहसीली स्वागत भंगिमाओं में छिपाते हुए
स्वतंत्रता की इस दोग़ली भार में
झुक जाओ भद्र भाइयो
सम्राज्ञी आ रही हैं

सम्राज्ञी तुम्हारी सामूहिक नींद पर झुकी हुई
आवाज़ों के पुल से धीरे धीरे-धीरे नीचे की और उतरती हुई
सम्राज्ञी
तुम्हारी आँखों को
कृतज्ञता और आभार के जेल से भरती हुई
सड़कों के किनारे बच्चे खड़े होने चाहिए, अधनंगे मुस्कुराते
बचपन के उदासीन खंडहरों में पड़े फटे हुए चित्रों से
हाथों में फूल लिए बच्चे…
स्त्रियाँ तुम्हारी खिड़कियों से झाँकती हाथ हिलाती
कड़ी होने चाहिए ऋतुअों के कामनाहीन सूनेपन में
खुशियों की आहटें अगोरती स्त्रियाँ…
पेड़ होने चाइये तुम्हारी ठूँठ इच्छाओं की तरह सन्नद्ध विविधवर्णी
और हर तरफ़ सदियों की मुद्रनी भरे ऊसर आँखें
बिछी होनी चाहिए आती-जाती हवाओं के रेशे-रेशे में–

कि चौकन्ने सभासद हर कहीं मौजूद होंगे
कि चौकन्ने सभासद वायदों और सपनों की गुनगुनाहट में
हर कहीं मौजूद होंगे तुम्हारे तेवर खँगालते
भविष्य और उत्सव कि फूलों के आसपास

सम्राज्ञी आ रही हैं

इस औंधे नगर में हुई हत्याओं की सूचनाएँ सभासद देंगे उन्हें
कि ख़तरनाक बन्दी मारे गये कारागार लाँघते हुए
कि कुछ असभ्य लोग मारे गये कुलीन नागरिक आवासों के आसपास
अपने अँधेरों से
संतुष्ट और शालीन अमात्यों का रिश्ता ढूँढ़ते हुए

और लज्जित भाव से तुम सब सिर हिलाओगे
कि तुमने व्यर्थ का साहस ख़र्च किया व्यर्थ का मूर्खतापूर्ण विरोध
कि राजकीय हिंसा की सारी घटनाएँ जन्म-जन्मान्तरों कि नियम हैं
दुस्साहसिक प्रजाओं कि लिए…

घोड़ों, मनुष्यों और शस्त्रास्त्रों की भीषण चकाचौंध में
तुम्हारी टाँगों की लगातार थरथराहट सम्राज्ञी को दिख न जाये
ध्यान रखना, स्नायुओं की सिहरन शांत रखना
सम्राज्ञी आने वाली हैं तुम्हारे नगर को आगामी वर्षों कि लिए
गर्म और सुखद स्मृतियों और आश्वासनों से भरने

इसके पहले कि रथ के घोड़ों की पहली टाप सुनाई दे और
धुल के पहले बादल सीमान्त पर उठते हुए नगर की ओर आयें
तुम एक पहचानहीन हलचल हो जाओ
जिसका कोई भी उपयोग सम्राज्ञी के सैनिक और सभासद करें
तैरते हैं ज़हरीले बादल तुम्हारी आकांक्षाओं के आकाश में
सभागारों में उमड़ते आते हैं झूठ के हज़ारों रंग

सम्राज्ञी की प्रजावत्सलता से गद्गद
अपने जंग लगे चेहरे माँज आओ प्रिय नगरवासियों
सम्राज्ञी आ रही हैं 

सम्राज्ञी आ रही हैं 

The Empress is Coming

Citizens, prepare, celebrate, now that The Empress
                              shall grace us, with her arrival.

Slave like, fear and trepidation
with cautious salutations
from the very muck of your private
                                            sorrows, choking your throat
and whence festive jingles
                                         spring, celebrate.

Her chariot will pass through
                                   your intestines,
run through the groans and grief
of your spirits,         within, trampling
all over the florescence of your dreams
pass through the iridescent indecision
                                      of waterfalls, of flags.

Careful, as the wheels roll over your aggression
your fatal stance, shrouded in syrupy,
                              welcoming gestures,
between waves of freedom, and all
the hypocrisies it braves, affords.

The Empress, now bowed over your collective
resting bodies,
                        descends from the bridge
of many muffled voices,
                             The Empress
fills your eyes, brimming with gratitude, devotion,
she is to arrive!

Children ought erect themselves
                                                   on every street corner
smiling, half naked, from the dungeons of their childhood
they gather bouquets, of yellowed
torn, photographs, in offering.

Women, half leaping out of their windows
wave in exasperation,
                                  ought to stand amid the emptiness
of this spring, women guarding whispers
of joy.

Trees ought to be,
                          as your desires: unfree, barren, conjoined
with myriad hues.

Alas! Everywhere, it must be, as your eyes:
pregnant with an infinite death. Asprawl
in each fiber of visiting winds.

That an alert main assembly mark its presence
omniscient
That each alert assembly is to be
omnipresent
Amid the soft hum of people’s dreams
doused in larger promises.

Present at all times, challenging your sharp, keen
noses
Surrounding the holy marigolds, flowers of festivity
and future
                 The Empress, is coming.

In this upturned neighborhood
The news of murder
yet to be delivered to them:
that ‘dangerous convicts’ were killed,
in trying to leap away from arrest.
That some ‘uncouth lumpens’ were killed
off, in the neighborhoods of aristocratic men,
from their own darkness, seeking liasons
with priests and politicians, foolish ones.

You’ll shake you heads in embarrassment,
that you spent your courage wastefully,
on mawkish revolt, given that State
violence, and all its outcomes, merely the rule
of ridicule, for those brazen, protesting
masses.

Amid the torrid surprise of horses, men
and state weaponry,
pray not that the continual shiver
of your calves is sighted
by The Empress; caution!

Keep the goose pimples in your veins
invisible,
              The Empress’ arrival
is due the arrival of these arriving years.

To fill you up with consolations of warmth
and sweetness, of memory,
prior to the first tap of a horse’s hoof,
clouds of dust, rise
limitless, toward the horizon, neighbourhoods
and you, you must metamorphose into a nameless nuisance,

one rendered a subject to any whims of The Empress,
her soldiers, and The Assembly.

As poisonous clouds swim,
in the firmament of your ambition
there are thousands of lies, in
as many shades, that flood
The Assembly gates, eternally.

Dear inhabitants, citizens, wash off the rust
from your visage, lit with the joy she must
bring upon her subjects, the love she has, for them.

The Empress is coming.
The Empress, is arriving.

वह किसान औरत नींद में क्या देखती है

वह किसान औरत नींद में क्या देखती है
वह शायद देखती है अपने तन की धरती नींद में
वह शायद देखती है पसीने से भरा एक चौड़ा सीना
इतना चौड़ा कि वह ढँक ले सारी धरती
वह शायद देखती है दुःस्वप्न में ठहरे हुए दृश्य सा
एक थाली भात

वह देखती है ख़ुद को एक गुज़री हुई लम्बी दोपहर में
पहली बार स्वाद से खाते चूल्हे की मिट्टी को
वह देखती है साड़ी सृष्टि रची जाती हुई
वह देखती है वहीं कहीं टकटकी लगाये बच्चे की आँख
हर रोज़ अनगिनत आसें लिये

वह औरत न जाने किसे एक बहुत लम्बी चिट्ठी
लिखना चाहती है लिखना न जानते हुए भी
अचानक नींद में

कि कहीं से चला आता है बी डी ओ अपनी जीप लिये
वह औरत शायद देर तक भागती है
फिर ख़ुद को नंगी पाती है
वह औरत सुनती है मुखिया कि हँसी दूर तक नींद में

और बंगाले की जूट मिल में हाड़ गलाते
मरद को
सचमुच कहीं नहीं पाती आसपास
नींद में 

What Does the Farmer See in Her Sleep?

What does the farmer see in her sleep?
     Perhaps, the earth of her body in repose,
Maybe, she sees, a wide open chest
     wearing the day’s sweat, it’s breadth
may cloak, the whole earth, in its embrace.

     Or perhaps, she dreams of a stillness
of a nightmare, a wraith: a plateful
     of rice.

She sees herself, in an ever elongating afternoon
     that has already passed, tasting the soil
of the hearth, as though for the first time
     she sees,
the underlying conspiracy behind all
     that exists, as it is created; and to see
around the same place, a child
     with eyes pinned upon hopes-
quotidian and infinite.

That woman wishes to write
     the longest letter, to someone
without knowing how

     in her sleep, and suddenly
out of nowhere, turns up
    a B.D.O*, in his jeep, she runs
for a long, long time

     and finds herself naked
the sounds of a cackling village
     Mukhiya, fall on her ears, from afar
in her sleep.

     And really, she does not find
her man, as he melts his bones
     at the jute mill, anywhere
even, in her sleep.

*B. D. O.: Block Development Officer


Read more:
Three Poems by Medha Singh
Poems by Sanjeev Sethi
Six Poems by Arjun Rajendran

The Empress is Coming is a poem written in 1974, during the Emergency.