Monthly Archives: October 2010

A radical poem by Pash

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Pash was the pen name of Avtar Singh Sandhu (September 9, 1950 – March 23, 1988), an Indian poet. His strongly left-wing views were reflected in his poetry.

He was born in Talwandi Salem, Jalandhar, Punjab, growing up in the midst of Naxalite a revolutionary movement waged in punjab against the landlords, industrialists, traders, etc who control the means of production. He published his first book of revolutionary poems, Loh-Katha (Iron Tale) in 1970; his militant and provocative tone raised the ire of the establishment and a murder charge was hastily brought against him. He spent nearly two years in jail, before being finally acquitted.

On acquittal, he became involved in Punjab’s maoist front, editing a literary magazine, Siarh (The Plow Line). He became a popular political figure on the left during this period, and was awarded a fellowship at the Punjabi Academy of Letters in 1985. He toured the United Kingdom and the United States the following year; while in the U.S., he became involved with the Anti-47 Front, opposing Sikh extremist violence.

The brilliant journey of poetry was cut short in the year 1988 when Paash who was in Punjab for a holiday from the US was shot dead by a group of terrorists.

Bio note courtesy: wikipedia

image courtesy: facebook

Time is not a dog

* Avtar Singh Sandhu ‘Pash’

If not Frontier, read Tribune
If not Calcutta, talk about Dacca
Bring the clippings from
Organiser and Punjab Kesari
And tell me
Where are these eagles  flying?
Who has died?
Time is not any dog
That can be chained and driven wherever you like
You tell us
Mao says this and Mao says that
I ask you, who is Mao to say anything?
Words cannot be pawned away
Time itself can speak
Moments are not speechless.
You sit in the Ramble
Or drink a cup of tea from a side stall
Speak truth or lie –
It doesn’t matter,
You may even jump over the corpse of silence
——-
And O rulers, ask
Your police and tell me
Whether I am imprisoned behind the bars
Or this policeman standing across?
Truth is not a whore of AIR
Time is not any dog.

Translated from Punjabi by Pratyush Chandra.

Poem courtesy: Radical Notes, here

Agha Shahid Ali: Tonight

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Agha Shahid Ali’s gazal ‘Tonight’ is a superb poem. As is suitable for a ghazal it is a virtuoso. The complex weaving of history, the intertextuality, the internal echos all dazzle the reader by the sheer brilliance and control. To write a gazal in English and then to make it self-reflexive is no mean act. Hats off, Ali saab!

Amitav Ghosh’s article on Agha Shahid Ali is a must read to know this little great man. The article starts thus:

The first time that Agha Shahid Ali spoke to me about his approaching death was on 21 April 2001. The conversation began routinely. I had telephoned to remind him that we had been invited to a friend’s house for lunch and that I was going to come by his apartment to pick him up. Although he had been under treatment for cancer for some fourteen months, Shahid was still on his feet and perfectly lucid, except for occasional lapses of memory. I heard him thumbing through his engagement book and then suddenly he said: “Oh dear. I can’t see a thing.” There was a brief pause and then he added: “I hope this doesn’t mean that I’m dying …”

Read the rest of the article here.

Image from: google images

Tonight

by Agha Shahid Ali

Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar
—Laurence Hope

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?

Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful

“Trinket”—to gem—“Me to adorn—How tell”—tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—

A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—

All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;

Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities

multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.

He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed.

No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight.

God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day—

I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.

Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer

fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love—you’ve invited them all?

This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee
God sobs in my arms.  Call me Ishmael tonight.

Poem: Pentecost by Derek Walcott

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google image
Better a jungle in the head
than rootless concrete.
Better to stand bewildered
by the fireflies' crooked street;

winter lamps do not show
where the sidewalk is lost,
nor can these tongues of snow
speak for the Holy Ghost;

the self-increasing silence
of words dropped from a roof
points along iron railings,
direction, in not proof.

But best is this night surf
with slow scriptures of sand,
that sends, not quite a seraph,
but a late cormorant,

whose fading cry propels
through phosphorescent shoal
what, in my childhood gospels,
used to be called the Soul.
  

“Every country is home to one man and exile to another”

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from: google images

T S Eliot’s poem ‘To the Indians who Died in Africa’ is an interesting Eliot piece. It is not often you read a poem by Eliot which refrains from striking the grand pose. He tended to invoke the giant issues of human soul every time he penned a poem, except of course, when he wrote those cat poems. But this is a puzzlingly small-aimed poem. A bit advise not grand wisdom, I guess. That this poem in imbued in the war and empire atmosphere is obvious. What he has to say to the Indians is funnily passive, “Look, it is ok if you die absurdly in a foreign country’.  It is noteworthy how Eliot deploys rhetoric to persuade the reader that it is indeed true that there was a common purpose among the Indian and the English soldiers.

It appears to me that in the first two stanzas the speaker   evokes the image of the ‘normal scene’ so that we see how different it is for one to die in a foreign country. Then of course he goes on to assert that this need no more be seen as unusual or as tragic. He seems to suggest that the place where a man meets his destiny is his destination. He associates destiny with the inevitable culmination of one’s life as well as one’s efforts. He suggests that the divide between home and exile is illusory; that the opposition between ‘our’ and ‘your’ is not real. Every country will have such places where ‘foreigners’ are buried (whether it is the English midlands or some village in Punjab – ‘Five Rivers’). He emphasises that the common purpose really erases the differences that notions of ‘home’ and ‘exile’ foster; the divide that notions of national difference highlight. The death of an Indian soldier in Africa fighting Germany and defending England may appear absurd. But the speaker points out that the Indian and the English soldiers are united in a common purpose. As for greater meaning in such lives and deaths, he says it is to be seen only after ‘final judgment’.

 

To the Indians Who Died in Africa

* T. S. Eliot

 

A man’s destination is his own village,

His own fire, and his wife’s cooking;

To sit in front of his own door at sunset

And see his grandson, and his neighbour’s grandson

Playing in the dust together.

 

Scarred but secure, he has many memories

Which return at the hour of conversation,

(The warm or the cool hour, according to the climate)

Of foreign men, who fought in foreign places,

Foreign to each other.

 

A man’s destination is not his destiny,

Every country is home to one man

And exile to another. Where a man dies bravely

At one with his destiny, that soil is his.

Let his village remember.

 

This was not your land, or ours: but a village in the Midlands,

And one in the Five Rivers, may have the same graveyard.

Let those who go home tell the same story of you:

Of action with a common purpose, action

None the less fruitful if neither you nor we

Know, until the judgement after death,

What is the fruit of action.

 

Eliot, T. S. “To the Indians Who Died in Africa.” Collected Poems 1909-1962

 

This is what Narayan Chandran has to say about this poem:

It is intriguing that T. S. Eliot has repeatedly drawn upon Indic sources, especially the Bhagavad-Gita and its philosophy of disinterested action, while writing on war and world affairs through the 1940s.  Eliot’s Occasional Verses, particularly “To the Indians who Died in Africa,” betray the poet’s imperialist biases, unlike much of his poetry, in which they do not seem to surface visibly as in his prose writings and conversations. Couched in the language and imagery of the Gita, Eliot seems to tell the Indians that their action is its own reward; the irony hardens as we recall historical facts and situations that drove hapless Indians to support the Allied war effort in many theaters outside India. The essay also looks at two other British writers on Indian themes, Kipling and Forster, whose texts seem to cast an interesting sidelight on “action,” whose punning resonance Eliot seems to relish in writing his war poems. Eliot, evidently, had little use for the philosophy he quoted back to the distressed Indians.

* Chandran, K. Narayana – “A receipt for deceit: T. S. Eliot’s ‘To the Indians who Died in Africa”.  Journal of Modern Literature March 22, 2007.

Githa Hariharan on Kannada Vachanas

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Vachana means, simply, “what is said”. They are intensely personal, even intimate conversations, between the poet and the beloved — some form of Siva the vachana composer is deeply enamoured of. I fell in love with the four major Virashaiva “saints”, Basava, Dasimayya, Allama, and Mahadevi.

I think I was attracted most by Mahadevi’s work at first. For a girl whose literary intimacies were confined to Jane Austen, at best George Eliot, how heady it was to read lines such as “Take these husbands who die, decay, and feed them to your kitchen fires!” and “How can I bear it when He is here in my hands, right here in my heart, and will not take me?”

But as I read on, the need to “identify” with the writer — so major a guiding force in adolescent literary judgement — loosened its hold. The intellectual puzzles in Allama Prabhu’s vachanas teased me with their complexities. His poems are called “bedagina vachanas”: “fancy” poems, apparently obscure and riddle-like, written in “twilight” or “topsy-turvy” language. The yield, I found, usually made up for the difficulty of cracking the hard little nut open with persistence. (“Light devoured darkness. I was alone inside. Shedding the visible dark, I was your target, O Lord of Caves.”)

But perhaps it was Basava’s poetry which summed up best everything I learnt from Ramanujan’s vachana translations: that it’s possible to find a contemporary voice in the past. That the tussle between tradition and modernity is a continuous one; that the gap between the powerful and the powerless is as wide (if not wider) within a temple as it is without. “The rich will make temples for Siva. What shall I, a poor man, do? My legs are pillars, the body the shrine, the head a cupola of gold. Listen, O lord of the meeting rivers, things standing shall fall, but the moving ever shall stay.”

Read full here.

Image courtesy: githahariharan.com