Category Archives: Poetry

K. Sharifa’s Poems

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K Sharifa : K Sharifa was born in Gulbarga in Karnataka and works as a Senior Auditor in Bangalore. A poet, a literary critic and a feminist writer, she has been a part of women’s and human rights movements. She has more than seventeen books and has received several awards for her works.

Poems of K Sharifa

 Kannada original:  K Sharifa

English translation: Kamalakar Bhat

(http://www.museindia.com/regularcontent.asp?issid=67&id=6565)

Be a Woman, Once, O Lord!

It is rancid kitchens for us.

It is slimy postnatal rooms for us.

No chance for throwing tantrums.

O Lord, shouldn’t you once visit

the sunless cells that is our lot?

 

My son

who went to the town

died in a police encounter;

My husband

who went to war

came back as bloody rags;

And my daughter,

in unbearable shame,

hanged herself after being raped;

To know the depths of my pain,

O Lord, shouldn’t you be born a woman once?

 

If I step out to earn a meager meal

unseen holy hands push me behind the curtains

training the guns on me;

I shudder at the slightest sound,

go pale, become breathless, miss a heartbeat;

I am totally lost;

How shall I live, O lord?

 

To know my indescribable pain,

to know what it is,

O Lord, shouldn’t you become a woman once?

The man who has the world’s contract in his hands

has declared a war at the borders;

How shall I describe the nature of my pain,

my anxious moments;

So, shouldn’t you become a woman once?

**

 

Behind the Veil

 On either side of the two stately minars of the darga

rows and rows of shacks.

Sackcloth curtains hanging at the door —

no colours, no frills, just the gray sackcloth —

speak of her life’s colours.

On feast days, Ma would drape the doors

with embroidered curtains, colourful and adorned

with many-hued beads at the edges.

I too had crocheted pretty curtains

with threads of many shades.

How would I know

one day the same curtains

would be the veil to keep my face hidden?

 

The first time I wore the veil

the heat irritated me till I felt dizzy

and, instinctively I had thrown it away.

My relatives prevailed upon me:

this is the sacred dress of our faith, they said;

God won’t like it otherwise.

And they pushed me behind the veil.

When the veil’s net covered my eyes

the whole world appeared dark.

Even my schoolmate Seeta

found me a stranger.

I felt all my companions falling away from me.

The veil had built a fence around me.

 

Under the protective gaze, dreams became

burnt walls blackening the universe.

In summer heat, I was drenched in sweat and felt stifled.

My face shrouded

inside the veil, I became only flesh.

**

 

Overhanging Swords of Talaak

 

The walls are like in a fort

built with massive stone slabs,

beyond the walls the free pigeon,

within the walls is my caged life

 

Life trots on rocky rough road

while I am the cool flow from the Himalayas

He is like the seething geysers

I have no firm foundation

in the dilapidated corners

 

With three wives and eyeing a fourth

If I even look out the window out of boredom

He screams at me, scared:

“Where is my hookah, Begum?

Are you nuts? Drop the curtains.”

Beware, don’t let your eyes wander

Don’t forget the overhanging sword of Talaak!

 

No milky moonlight for me

No spring ceremony

From within the prohibitive walls

Of the hopeless cage.

 

When the prisoner shakes off and asks

“Don’t’ frighten me with the sword of talaak”.

 

The stones of the walls begin to crumble

A new power in my tired hands

Breaking the fetters, my question rises up:

“It is I you are born of

Don’t frighten me with the sword of talaak

You are but an infant in my lap.

 

**

Herstory

 

Upon the civilizations

She built lovingly

Appears your cruel imprint

 

Upon the cultures

She molded

Why not let her own imprint?

Why not let her erect her own mansions?

Why not let her reveal the dawn of a new day?

 

 

No more may her images

Peep through his-tory

Let her sing a new psalm

Let her fashion herstory

 

Since ages she has been

your companion

always walking beside you

How can your history be

Complete without her?

 

Therefore,

Put an end to your

his-stories accommodating her

 

Let the hands that write be hers

The mind that thinks be hers

And the heart that feels be hers

As she creates her own story

**

 

 

 

A poem by Surjit Paatar

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Candles

Light these candles.
Rise, light these candles.
There will remain,
These quarrelsome winds,
But you should light these candles.

May darkness not think the moon scared.
May night not think the sun dead.
Light these lamps to honor life.
Rise, light these candles.

Granted, the night’s reign may be stubborn,
But rays of light still survive.
On dark pages, verses revealing life.
Rise, light these candles.

These cruel whirlwinds will remain,
The fall will shake away the leaves,
But this does not mean that new leaves will not grow.
Rise, light these candles.

Unafraid of the poison that spreads daily in the wind,
Nature continues to do its duty,
Of transforming poison into nectar.
Rise, light these candles.

Girls, do not cry, this is the time of Rahiras.
Do not linger on death, reflect upon the passage of time.
These difficulties will pass away.
Rise, light these candles.

 

Translation Courtesy: Wikipedia

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

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Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011)

 

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
bbout a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

Emmanuel Ortiz – A MOMENT OF SILENCE, BEFORE I START THIS POEM

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A MOMENT OF SILENCE, BEFORE I START THIS POEM

Image courtesy: lodearts.com

Before I start this poem,
I’d like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last September 11th.

I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the hands of U.S.-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people, mostly children, who have died of malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S. embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people, not a war – for those who know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of a secret war … ssssshhhhhhh…
Say nothing
we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented,
have piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.
An hour of silence for El Salvador …
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos …
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years.
45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas

25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains.
And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west…

100 years of silence…
For the hundreds of millions of Indigenous peoples from this half of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the refrigerator of our consciousness …

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won’t be.
Not like it always has been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written.
And if this is a 9/11 poem, then:
This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971.
This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977.
This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison, New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and Newsweek ignored.
This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost.
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the
Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton’s 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence,
Take it.
But take it all…
Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime.
But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing
For our dead.

Emmanuel Ortiz is a third-generation Chicano/Puerto Rican/Irish-American community organizer and spoken word poet residing in Minneapolis, MN. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Minnesota Spoken Word Association, and is the coordinator of Guerrilla Wordfare, a Twin Cities-based grassroots project bringing together artists of color to address socio-political issues and raise funds for progressive organizing in communities of color through art as a tool of social change.

Courtesy: Mostlywater.org

Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind

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Bob Dylan’s stirring song: Blowing in the wind

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, n how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, n how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before theyre forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before its washed to the sea?
Yes, n how many years can some people exist
Before theyre allowed to be free?
Yes, n how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesnt see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, n how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, n how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

Bangladesh’s National Anthem: Amar Shonar Bangla

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We all know that the national anthem of Bangladesh, Amar Shonar Bangla, is written by Rabindranath Tagore. Now, Tagore may be associated more with India than with Bangladesh, but, then, that is why his song becoming the national anthem of Bangladesh says something about the spirit of the Bangla nationhood. Interesting post on this story is here. An excerpt:

In early 1971, radical students chose Amar Shonar Bangla as Free Bengal’s national anthem, and when the war ended, the new republic’s leaders endorsed it. Why did they choose the song? For that matter, why did they choose the red and green flag?

From all accounts, the song was chosen because of its evocation of the rural landscape — mango groves and paddy fields, perennial features of Mother Bengal. And that’s what the green in the flag meant to the more radical students, though for others green symbolised Islam. But it was stressed that everyone was very conscious about choosing inclusive icons.

This contrasts sharply with Bangladesh’s neighbours. The Pakistan Movement adopted the crescent, unsurprisingly alienating all non-Muslims in the lands that became Pakistan. Indian nationalism claimed to be inclusive, espousing secularism as a fundamental value. But Gandhi’s Ram Rajya did not appeal to Muslims, nor did the spinning wheel, which everyone thought symbolised eternal — that is, pre-Islamic — India (quite ironic, really, as according to Irfan Habib, the earliest known reference to the spinning wheel in South Asia is a 1350 polemic urging Raziya Sultana to give up Delhi’s masnad and take up spinning, the ‘inescapable inference’ being the device having a Muslim provenance).

So, Bangladesh made a conscious effort of being inclusive at its foundation. Something to celebrate on its 40th birthday, surely?

Yes, it is, but…

The Taste of Iron

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Look how words

are styled into a poem

Look at this

Read this man fallen amid letters.

You hear that?

Is it the clanging of iron or

the blood spilled on the soil?

Ask not the blacksmith

the taste of iron,

Ask the horse with a leash on his mouth

——- Dhumil (Sudama Pandey, 1936-1975)

Translation Kamalakar Bhat

लोहे का स्वाद

 

शब्द किस तरह
कविता बनते हैं
इसे देखो
अक्षरों के बीच गिरे हुए
आदमी को पढ़ो
क्या तुमने सुना कि यह
लोहे की आवाज़ है या
मिट्टी में गिरे हुए ख़ून
का रंग।

लोहे का स्वाद
लोहार से मत पूछो
घोड़े से पूछो
जिसके मुंह में लगाम है।

—— धूमिल

Pash: The Most Dangerous Thing

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The Most Dangerous Thing

The life of a pirate is not so dangerous
nor is a bashup in a police lockup
spying too is not very dangerous

to be woken up in the middle of the night
by the secret police
I admit is nerve wrecking
so is the quiet lonely fear
which follows you
and throttles your chest
when you are locked up in a cell
on a framed up false charge
for a crime you did not commit
all this I admit is bad enough
but all these are still not so dangerous

because the most dangerous thing is
to live like a dead man
when you don’t feel any thing
when the routine of daily life saps you totally
the fixed life of
home to work
work to home
that is a life without dreams
that is the most dangerous thing

that is when
the hour is alive and kicking for everyone
excepting for you
that life is the most dangerous thing

because
like the eyes of a dead fish
you stare at everything
but cannot feel anything
about yourself
or about others
that’s why
the most dangerous are those people
who have forgotten how to love people
for such people
live and shift aimlessly
in the ordinary humdrum orbit of their lives
in which nothing happens
nothing moves
like a placid cemetery

these people
are like that cold blooded moon
which feels nothing
no pain, love, sympathy or revulsion
when it goes over the courtyards
of the innocent victims
butchered in a slaughter

the most ugly sight is
that of a debauched old man
who is trying to sing a melody
but only succeeds in racking his weak chest

So the most dangerous life is the one
in which our conscience doesn’t prick you
because your soul is dead
that’s why I say

piracy is not so dangerous
spying is not so dangerous
bashup in a police lockup is not so dangerous
the most dangerous life is…

Translated by Suresh Sethi

Courtesy: Pash ‘s poetry in English

Vandana Shiva on the War on Earth

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image courtesy - urbanitebaltimore-com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we think of wars in our times, our minds turn to Iraq and Afghanistan. But the bigger war is the war against the planet. This war has its roots in an economy that fails to respect ecological and ethical limits – limits to inequality, limits to injustice, limits to greed and economic concentration.

A handful of corporations and of powerful countries seeks to control the earth’s resources and transform the planet into a supermarket in which everything is for sale. They want to sell our water, genes, cells, organs, knowledge, cultures and future.

The continuing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and onwards are not only about “blood for oil”. As they unfold, we will see that they are about blood for food, blood for genes and biodiversity and blood for water.

The war mentality underlying military-industrial agriculture is evident from the names of Monsanto’s herbicides – ”Round-Up”, ”Machete”, ”Lasso”. American Home Products, which has merged with Monsanto, gives its herbicides similarly aggressive names, including ”Pentagon” and ”Squadron”.This is the language of war. Sustainability is based on peace with the earth.

The war against the earth begins in the mind. Violent thoughts shape violent actions. Violent categories construct violent tools. And nowhere is this more vivid than in the metaphors and methods on which industrial, agricultural and food production is based. Factories that produced poisons and explosives to kill people during wars were transformed into factories producing agri-chemicals after the wars.

The year 1984 woke me up to the fact that something was terribly wrong with the way food was produced. With the violence in Punjab and the disaster in Bhopal, agriculture looked like war. That is when I wrote The Violence of the Green Revolution and why I started Navdanya as a movement for an agriculture free of poisons and toxics.

Pesticides, which started as war chemicals, have failed to control pests. Genetic engineering was supposed to provide an alternative to toxic chemicals. Instead, it has led to increased use of pesticides and herbicides and unleashed a war against farmers.

The high-cost feeds and high-cost chemicals are trapping farmers in debt – and the debt trap is pushing farmers to suicide. According to official data, more than 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997.

Making peace with the earth was always an ethical and ecological imperative. It has now become a survival imperative for our species.

Violence to the soil, to biodiversity, to water, to atmosphere, to farms and farmers produces a warlike food system that is unable to feed people. One billion people are hungry. Two billion suffer food-related diseases – obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cancers.

There are three levels of violence involved in non-sustainable development. The first is the violence against the earth, which is expressed as the ecological crisis. The second is the violence against people, which is expressed as poverty, destitution and displacement. The third is the violence of war and conflict, as the powerful reach for the resources that lie in other communities and countries for their limitless appetites.

When every aspect of life is commercialised, living becomes more costly, and people are poor, even if they earn more than a dollar a day. On the other hand, people can be affluent in material terms, even without the money economy, if they have access to land, their soils are fertile, their rivers flow clean, their cultures are rich and carry traditions of producing beautiful homes and clothing and delicious food, and there is social cohesion, solidarity and spirit of community.

The elevation of the domain of the market, and money as man-made capital, to the position of the highest organising principle for societies and the only measure of our well-being has led to the undermining of the processes that maintain and sustain life in nature and society.

The richer we get, the poorer we become ecologically and culturally. The growth of affluence, measured in money, is leading to a growth in poverty at the material, cultural, ecological and spiritual levels.

The real currency of life is life itself and this view raises questions: how do we look at ourselves in this world? What are humans for? And are we merely a money-making and resource-guzzling machine? Or do we have a higher purpose, a higher end?

I believe that ”earth democracy” enables us to envision and create living democracies based on the intrinsic worth of all species, all peoples, all cultures – a just and equal sharing of this earth’s vital resources, and sharing the decisions about the use of the earth’s resources.

Earth democracy protects the ecological processes that maintain life and the fundamental human rights that are the basis of the right to life, including the right to water, food, health, education, jobs and livelihoods.

We have to make a choice. Will we obey the market laws of corporate greed or Gaia’s laws for maintenance of the earth’s ecosystems and the diversity of its beings?

People’s need for food and water can be met only if nature’s capacity to provide food and water is protected. Dead soils and dead rivers cannot give food and water.

Defending the rights of Mother Earth is therefore the most important human rights and social justice struggle. It is the broadest peace movement of our times.

Courtesy Znet

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.