Thursday, December 02, 2004

Some South Asian Poems

These are from Prof. Arun Mukherjee's Course kit from her "Post-Colonial Literature: South Asia" class (En 2372, if anyone's interested; it's a great class!) from the 2003-2004 year.

This poem is called "The Patriot" and is by Nissim Ezekiel, it is from his anthology titled: "Very Indian Poems in Indian English."
When reading this poem, read with your best Apu impersonation. The South Asians in the class might get the subtleties in this, but it's still funny by any standards!

The Patriot

I am standing for peace and non-violence.
Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding.
Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
I should say even 200% correct,
But modern generation is neglecting-
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.

Other day I'm reading newspaper
(Every day I'm reading Times of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn.
Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming -
Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
Be patiently, brothers and sisters.

You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
I'm the total teetotaller, completely total,
But I say
Wine is for the drunkards only.

What you think of prospects of world peace?
Pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
Really, most harassing me.
All men are brothers, no?
In India also
Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
All brothers -
Though some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.

You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company.

This next poem is keeping in line with the doom and gloom theme of the week, but it also ties in with what Prof. Kuin's blog "Not a Digression" is talking about. The persona is struggling to find itself, it is working through its suffering. Imtiaz Dharker's "Minority."


I was born a foreigner.
I carried on from there
to become a foreigner everywhere
I went, even in the place
planted with my relatives,
six-foot tubers sprouting roots,
their fingers and faces pushing up
new shoots of maize and sugar cane.

All kinds of places and groups
of people who have an admirable
history would, almost certainly,
distance themselves from me.

I don't fit,
like a clumsily-translated poem;

like food cooked in milk of coconut
where you expected ghee or cream,
the unexpected aftertaste
of cardamom or neem.

There's always that point where
the language flips
into an unfamiliar taste;
where words tumble over
a cunning tripwire on the tongue;
where the frame slips,
the reception of an image
not quite tuned, ghost-outlined,
that signals, in their midst,
an alien.

And so I scratch, scratch
through the night, at this
growing scab on black on white.
Everyone has the right
to infiltrate a piece of paper.
A page dosen't fight back.
And, who knows, these lines
may scratch their way
into your head
through all the chatter of community,
family, clattering spoons,
children being fed
immigrate into your bed,
squat in your home,
and in a corner, eat your bread,

until, one day, you meet
the stranger sidling down your street,
realise you know the face
simplified to bone,
look into its outcast eyes
and recognise it as your own.

Wow! The first time I read that I was blown away. It's alot like Plath's "Daddy." Powerful stuff!

The last poem I will leave you with is bit a lighter: It is by reknown professor, writer and poet, Tabish Khair. It is about the Mohenjodaro civilization that inhabited the Indus valley at about 2900BCE. Archaeologists and historians don't really know what happened to them, they can't even decipher the script and language they used; they just disappeared one day!

Mohenjoddaro: Bric-a-brac

what happened
did buildings once tall now
holes in the ground bricks bracketing
your unreadable hieroglyph on the page of time
bead shard bearded terracotta man with a chipped nose
everything that says we were here before you but look look no hands
what happened
couldn't you balance
did you overlook a pebble
something careened off the well-laid roads
it is easy to see there was a master plan somewhere
did it get mislaid or was it laid so well that it stifled what was not
brick bracketing
the unruliness of life
and daily the buildings grew taller
and nightly the women and men grew smaller
until you had your backs to one another as in a failing marriage
and drank coffee and looked at the watch and walked away with a nod
what happened
when you saw the sky disappear
your buildings swell like gods and seek false believers
who came sonner or later from north and spread like roots
of the peepul tree into your creeping cracks breaking you into bits
and pieces
and shards
idol with the nose chipped off

Hard to read without any punctuation or capitals, eh?
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed a little taste of South Asian poetry, if your interested in more, just let me know (I have a full course kit of it), or google it!


Blogger Josh C said...

Hey Sidd, really liked The Patriot. I'm finding myself reading all poems in Apu's voice now. I don't know how to make it stop...

December 4, 2004 at 7:33 PM  
Blogger Sokhena said...

Thanks for the advice on reading the patriot...It made it very comical, I even started a little head boggling a la Apu...I think the poem would be satirical if it wasn't so true. This is exactly how people think. They think that they are understanding, but we all have our prejudices and judge people by them even though we may put up a facade in front of them.

December 6, 2004 at 2:04 PM  
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