Category Archives: Translations

K. Sharifa’s Poems


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


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.





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?



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





Kafka’s “A message from the Emperor”


A typical parable by Kafka. Memorable

Trans: Mark Harman

From: nybooks

A Message from the Emperor

The emperor—it is said—sent to you, the one apart, the wretched subject, the tiny shadow that fled far, far from the imperial sun, precisely to you he sent a message from his deathbed. He bade the messenger kneel by his bed, and whispered the message in his ear. So greatly did he cherish it that he had him repeat it into his ear. With a nod of his head he confirmed the accuracy of the messenger’s words. And before the entire spectatorship of his death—all obstructing walls have been torn down and the great figures of the empire stand in a ring upon the broad, soaring exterior stairways—before all these he dispatched the messenger. The messenger set out at once; a strong, an indefatigable man; thrusting forward now this arm, now the other, he cleared a path though the crowd; every time he meets resistance he points to his breast, which bears the sign of the sun; and he moves forward easily, like no other. But the crowds are so vast; their dwellings know no bounds. If open country stretched before him, how he would fly, and indeed you might soon hear the magnificent knocking of his fists on your door. But instead, how uselessly he toils; he is still forcing his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he overcome them; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to fight his way down the steps; and were he to succeed at this, nothing would be gained: he would have to cross the courtyard and, after the courtyard, the second enclosing outer palace, and again stairways and courtyards, and again a palace, and so on through thousands of years; and if he were to burst out at last through the outermost gate—but it can never, never happen—before him still lies the royal capital, the middle of the world, piled high in its sediment. Nobody reaches through here, least of all with a message from one who is dead. –You, however, sit at your window and dream of the message when evening comes.

“Hamara Shakespeare”










It was Macbeth’s turn at the fourth edition of Hamara Shakspeare by the Prakriti Foundation. Three evenings at Kalakshetra, the same story was performed, but each time it turned out to be a different experience. We might think that working on a too familiar and celebrated work, a Shakespearean play, could restrain the creative space. But, director A.J. Santhosh disagrees. “It is a story that the audience already knows and you don’t have to follow the original narrative. It gives you the freedom to go deep into the elements that interests you more. You could express your experience of reading the play and this re-interpretation could be interesting.”

The opening play “Macbeth” (in Malayalam) by Santhosh, stood out for its visual treatment. The motif of guilt-ridden and doomed souls trying to wash off the blood stains on their hands pervaded throughout. Through surreal video clippings, use of reflections and body movements, it explored the possibilities of the visual narrative. As the director puts it, the play tried to observe the inter-play of fundamental human nature of concerns, desires and greed that don the stage of conscious and sub conscious mind.

Plight unveils

“Koodiyattam” by Margi Madhu in all aspects was a cultural translation. The briefing at the beginning and the introduction to basic gestures helped even the first-timers to understand the performance. “Nrupa padha adhirodhim dhushkaram naasthi kinchit/ adhiga bharanambho kashtamevam nrupanam/ (Becoming the king was not at all difficult/ to protect the throne and the kingdom thus gained is the most difficult task) – As the actor enacts these Sanskrit lines, the plight of “Macbeth” slowly unveils before the audience. The plot was transplanted into a Kerala scenario, or rather the inherent cultural elements in the art form stood out. Macbeth’s victory was celebrated with pomp, complete with an array of traditional instruments like chenda, maddhalam, edekka and thimila; and King Duncan was served a traditional Kerala feast by his host Macbeth. The parts where Macbeth enjoys the percussion with the rhythmic movement of his body, the expressions of the host assuring the king to enjoy the feast and Macbeth’s reaction when he has the vision of a dagger, were commendable.

“Whether we could perform stories other than traditional texts in Koodiyattam is an often asked question. When we tried bringing new texts like ‘Macbeth’, they were well received and that gave us the confidence that we could present any story through this art form. The classical nature and the structural strength evolved through the years have given it the flexibility to accommodate creative experiments,” said Madhu who conceptualised and performed “Macbeth”. But, in doing so he strictly adheres to the traditional tenets of the art form.

When asked how it was to bring in a story from a different cultural background, Madhu said, “Conceptualising the performance was not difficult. We could see that Macbeth also goes though the conflicts, fears, and temptations like any other ordinary person. It is a story that anyone can relate to. In ‘Kootiyattam’, bhavam is more important, not the story. What matters is how the artist approaches the text. Here, the performance ends when Macbeth faints on seeing the Birmingham woods approach him, we didn’t go ahead to show his death. The perplexed and chaotic situation that Macbeth finds himself in is performed at length. Like this, we explore the areas that could be illustrated beautifully.”

More here.

Image courtesy: The Hindu


The Taste of Iron


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

Although you are gone, NK


It is so sudden, so sad, so unnecessary. NK Hanumantayya, a promising young Kannada poet, is no more.

I have not met, seen or heard him. But I have read his poems which impressed me a lot. NK was considered by many poetry enthusiasts as a good poet. Much by him was liked, much was expected of him. It was hoped he would take kannada dalit poetry to further heights.

Hanumantayya wrote poems that were intensely political and personal. He was original in his expressions, his images. Well I liked his poems. NK, you will be loved for what you have given us, you will missed.

Here is a fine one in my intrepid translation.

The King, he waits

The King, he waits

Wearing the cobbler’s shoes

Bearing the blacksmith’s sword, the King, he waits

Wearing the weaver’s dress

Bearing the gardener’s flowers

He waits, the King, he waits

Invisible when we search

Inaccessible when we seek

Hiding behind the eye’s hue,

He waits, the King, he waits

photo from

photo from

About Namdeo Dhasal


Dilip Chitre is a poet of significance both in English and Marathi. He is a painter too. His contribution as a translator is also great. Of his from: navayanatranslations,, two noted works are his translations of Tuka in Says Tuka and his translations of the Marathi Dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal. Tehelka had published an interview with Chitre about Dhasal in 2007. The interview was conducted by S Anand of navayana. Read the complete interview here. One of the questions Anand asks relates to the perennial question of the obscurity of the poem and their political stance. I like the way Chitre answers it.


S Anand: There’s something I’ve wanted to ask you, Dilip. His political followers — as you’ve told me — when he’s in hospital, there are some two hundred Panthers outside. Do they read his poetry, do they have an understanding of it? Or is there a split between Namdeo the poet, and this other, political, person?

Dilip Chitre: I don’t see it as a split in Namdeo; it’s the one-sidedness of his multiple audiences. His Dalit audience sees him as a charismatic leader, but they may not possess the literary sensibility demanded by his poetry. He’s not someone like Gadar, who will write these very simplistic poems, and some of them rank bad poetry, and express revolutionary sentiments and rouse people and so on. A middle-class person approaching his poetry does not know the Dalit situation, he does not even want to know. So he misses part of the poetry…

Namdeo dares you, as a reader, and as a translator. There’s something I describe as aesthetic subversion. Namdeo subverts bourgeois sensibilities, and that’s what appeals to me. A subversive act tries to undo the entire system on which your values are based. Namdeo is a guerrilla poet. In one phrase, one line, he’ll juxtapose dialect and the slang of Kamathipura with European references in very sophisticated Marathi.

A Kannada Poem by S Manjunath


In the street

– S Manjunath

Rain began to lash out midway;

granny covered the infant in her arms

with the folds of her sari

I can’t hasten

to shelter them under my umbrella – yet

I can’t keep on under it unruffled.

I hurry

as if to cross the distance

between us;

an unknown twinge – as if piercing the heart

from the umbrella’s handle.

As the granny rushed under a tree

with the infant bouncing like a ball in her arms

as if the rain drops had washed away her age

making even the infant cackle

tinkling waves of the infant’s laughter come floating

where have dark clouds gone

no one needs this umbrella anymore

Dalit Poetry in Kannada III – Moodnaakadu Chinnaswamy


There are some excellent dalit poets writing in Kannada these days. I don’t have too good an access to the latest dalit poetry emerging in Kannada as my visits to Karnataka are not vary frequent. I try my best to get as much as my friends can send me. Continuing my earlier posts, here and here, I present a translation of another Kannada Dalit poet. This time another well known name: Moodnakadu Chinnaswamy. I am familiar only with a few of his poems and they are very good. Here is one ‘Footwear and me’ in my poor translation. I read it in a magazine and can’t find that copy around me. So I am a little unsure if this is the complete poem or if I managed to translate only a fragment. I am sorry, I haven’t done enough homework on this. But I promise I will soon rectify this deficiency. I also don’t have a picture of the poet M. C. If anybody has one, do share, please….

Footwear and me

* Moodnaakadu Chinnaswamy

When I go to the temple

The footwear is not left outside

It is I who is outside

Shoes on cobbler’s feet

Makes as much news as when

A man bites a dog

Taking off the shoes

Everyone’s feet

tread all over me

I am a plant:

and they just don’t realize

that under their feet are my roots

Like a crane craning her neck

to the dried up lake’s spring

I stand on my toes

and peep in to steal

as much of god’s form as I can see

A Poem about Mother

Lankesh + Ramdas

A phenomenal prose writer Lankesh was not specially known for his poems except for his ‘Nilu’ poems.  But this one has moved so many people. Earthy in its perception of the mother, the poem so well captures what most of the modernist Kannada writers were doing: indexing the shift in the consciousness from rural to urban. The poem was translated by KV Tirumalesh, himself a great poet. It had appeared in Kavi Bharati- Triennial of Indian Poetry, March 1987.


* Lankesh (Translated by K.V. Tirumalesh)

Like a wild bear
She tended her children,
Cared for her husband and cared for the money.
She would howl like a hurt dog,
Groan and fight.

Mean, crooked and fretful like a monkey,
Guided only by the welfare of the family,
She would be a fury
If her son went out of her hand
Or husband went after another woman.

The jungle bear doesn’t want your scriptures;
My mother lived for a few morsels of food;
For work and for her children’s sake,
For a roof to live under,
For a sheet to cover,
For that upright walk
Among her equals.

For her are these tears of gratitude
And admiration – for bringing me up.
Bringing me to life
And for that departing – as if
It were to the fields that she went
Talking quietly
This woman of the earth.

Namdeo Dhasal, ‘Kamatipura’


I think the most important 20th century poet of India has to be Namdeo Dhasal. I am nobody to make the judgment, but that is my gut feeling on the basis of the poets I have read and read about. No wonder that another poet whom we all want to turn to has translated him with so much love, Dilip Chitre. His book on Namdeo Dhasal is published by Navayana and is a must buy. It has several of Dhasal’s poems and photographs. A kind of a basic reader for Dhasal. Order it from navayana or flipkart.




(translation: Dilip Chitre)

The nocturnal porcupine reclines here
Like an alluring grey bouquet
Wearing the syphilitic sores of centuries
Pushing the calendar away
Forever lost in its own dreams

Man’s lost his speech
His god’s a shitting skeleton
Will this void ever find a voice, become a voice?

If you wish, keep an iron eye on it to watch
If there’s a tear in it, freeze it and save it too
Just looking at its alluring form, one goes berserk
The porcupine wakes up with a start
Attacks you with its sharp aroused bristles
Wounds you all over, through and through
As the night gets ready for its bridegroom, wounds begin to blossom
Unending oceans of flowers roll out
Peacocks continually dance and mate

This is hell
This is a swirling vortex
This is an ugly agony
This is pain wearing a dancer’s anklets

Shed your skin, shed your skin from its very roots
Skin yourself
Let these poisoned everlasting wombs become disembodied.
Let not this numbed ball of flesh sprout limbs
Taste this
Potassium cyanide!
As you die at the infinitesimal fraction of a second,
Write down the small ‘s’ that’s being forever lowered.

Here queue up they who want to taste
Poison’s sweet or salt flavour
Death gathers here, as do words,
In just a minute, it will start pouring here.

O Kamatipura,
Tucking all seasons under your armpit
You squat in the mud here
I go beyond all the pleasures and pains of whoring and wait
For your lotus to bloom.
— A lotus in the mud.

The Marathi original:

Contemporary Kannada Poetry – Ashok Hegde


Here is the translation of Ashok Hegde’s poem A Morning Picture.

A Morning Picture

* Ashok Hegde

A sleep-interrupted, tea-nauseated chilly morn,
patches of people all over the floor,

in the corner, like a crumpled shirt, a child,
an old woman scratching her dugs in residual drugged sleep,

a teen’s endless cough.
As folk, like the wick extinguished in midnight,

lose the world in their impatience,

you, woman, in lonely expectation waiting…

Come and be a live track,
from your mere touch let
my life rail run full speed, fill each of your
atom with me, untie knots,

drape me in a new dress,

your lips to my lips bring;
drink sins in cupfuls, loot

the cup of my life.

Give to my hands all

mysteries of your body,

place ear to ear so they record each ache,

inhale the sweat smell of my body,

let it spread in this world
in anticipation of a new birth.

Let the snow melt, the rain-moth float,

let the river swell into a sea,

you be fuel to my

fiery lust, burn beyond other births

let hell’s worm be born

Phoenix like in this trashy flesh.

(Translation: Kamalakar)

Punjabi Novelist Dalip Kaur Tiwana’s Gone are the Rivers


Gone are the Rivers is a novel by the Punjabi novelist Dalip Kaur Tiwana.



Tiwana is considered as the leading prose writer in Punjabi. She has written novels, short stories, autobiography and literary criticism. She was a professor  of Punjabi. Her first novel is Agni Prikhy (The Ordeal of Fire) in the late sixties. One of her early works was the famous Eho Hamara Jivan. Her autobiographical work Travelling on Bare Feet is also much discussed. As these titles suggest her works are bent towards the metaphorically.

I have read only one of her works: Gone are the Rivers. It made an immediate impact on me. Primarily for two reasons: it revises the form of the novel. secondly, it has clear unmisty eyes about the past.

Gone are the Rivers uses two kinds of temporalities. The first refers to a feudal time while the second to a modern/democratic time. The narrative in the first part is cyclical, episodic, symptomatic and never linear. The second part is refers to the post-Independent time; the narrative is more linear, more realistic, more like the ‘novel’. This internal refraction about the genre seems to be alive to the burden of a postcolonial writer. This novel becomes important, I think, because of this experiment in relation to the novel form.

The second feature I like is that it is least nostalgic. One of the irritating aspects of some novels is the nostalgia for the bygone lifestyle. A nostalgia that seems to express craving for the feudal social structure. While this novel narrates the passing of time and the transformation in society and culture, major reshuffling in social relations, at no pint this novel indicate a desire for the revival of what is past.

It begins with a graphic portrayal of the lifestyle of the courtiers of the state of Patiala. This depiction is not a chronological narrative. It follows in an episodic manner the various walks of life. The novel builds up a dense picture of the political economy, the social relations, the sexual domain, the familial relations, the  master-servant relations etc. The story line relates the changes in the life of a high ranking minister of the Patiala court.

The second part of the novel refers to contemporary India. Here, the feudal classes have been humbled, there is now the social relations are more flat.

More in the next blog.