MYSELF AND POETRY, DURING A DROUGHT

Literary Trails

DURING A DROUGHT

Selected poems of F.M. Shahajinde

(Translated by Ashok Gopal)

Born into a low-ranked Muslim jati, in Sastur, a village in Osmanabad district of Maharashtra,
F.M. Shahajinde  is a poet well known in some Marathi literary circles and is considered a vanguard of ‘Dalit Marathi Muslim literature.’ His poems draw upon and are rooted in his experiences as a person who adores Kabir, Phule, Gandhi and Ambedkar, and cherishes democratic values, but is repeatedly labeled and treated as a ‘Muslim’ and, a person from a low-ranked jati.

Like much of Dalit Marathi poetry, Shahajinde’s poems are marked by socio-cultural specificity and a bluntness that is difficult to re-create within the frame of contemporary English usage in India; the poems are perhaps best appreciated when the reader tries to read “another language” behind the language of the printed text. The year in which the poems were first published is provided in brackets after headings. Italics are used to indicate that the source-text is in a language other than standard Marathi–such as Deccani Hindi filmi Hindi or rural Marathi.  Some specific references are explained in brief notes at the end of poems.(Ashok Gopal)

My mother (1979)

My mother…

just one such evening

seated at the threshold of the house

said casually,

“Fakir, do whatever you like

but offer prayers to Mehboob Subhani1 on the eleventh of the month.”

Holding on to fermented superstition

even after tying sixty knots to the peg of life

My mother…

just one such evening

seated at the threshold of the house

said casually,

“Son, we don’t get engaged to those people

our clan is the clan of Kanhopatra2.”

(People who don’t know me may please make note of this).

On every one of those blank evenings

I responded with a bare “Yes”

first within the threshold, then outside it

Even after tearing twenty-six pages of an idle life, I

am chewing the question, “Who am I really?”

A man’s answer: a zero-shaped droplet of aspiration that is dribbling and

will keep dribbling

like  a barren cloud!

Notes:

1.Legendary Sufi saint

2.Medieval Marathi woman poet-saint who was said to have been be a dancer from a low-ranked jati

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Myself and poetry, during a drought (1996)

1.

From multiple perspectives

Marathi poetry is facing a drought

Possessed by urbanism and aestheticism

Marathi poetry is

drunk on foreign liquor

This is not so

only with respect to poetry

2.

Drought, drought, drought

Who faces drought?

Those who take to agriculture

to hide black money

do not face drought

Industrialists

and those in their shadow

do not face drought

As for leaders

they enjoy twenty-five per cent profit from their fields

And how can drought hit seths and moneylenders?

Those who earn salaries as well as something on the side

look forward to a drought

To fill the stomach

by flinging mud

there is an employment-guarantee scheme

Somehow or the other, with something or the other,

the stomach gets filled

Every victim of hunger

is never a victim of hunger

He dies on account of some illness

or misfortune

So we all accept

So then who, if anybody, faces drought?

Those who are blind though they have eyes

deaf though they have ears

mute thought they have mouths

certainly face drought

But today no one

treats them as equals

they don’t count at all

When nobody cares for the country

who on earth is going to care for them?

Everything is done in the name of public welfare

In reality, everyone

is filling up his own home

I, he, she, they, all

have become self-centredly hypocritical

Hence, here there is a drought of human feelings

there is a drought of public concern

Issues do not get resolved

Issues raise more issues

That’s why there is an abundance of law here

and drought of justice

Live for yourself

Others do the same

The heart has broken into a thousand fragments

If one piece falls here and another falls there

What does it matter? Why are you whining about drought?

3.

How terribly and abruptly we become alone!

Now there is not much strength left

in truth and goodness either

4.

Love is mind-centred

The mind has to accept it

and the heart has to live it

5.

As false spiritualism of fake gurus multiplied here

high ideas turned into rubbish

6.

Our own people seem so strange

Strangers seem so much like us!

7.

You have money to eat pan

but not to buy clothes for your daughter?

8.

How often have you been felicitated?

Not even once?

I have been felicitated five times

Now if someone felicitates you, do not accept it

What difference does it make anyway?

9.

You write such rubbish!

The people who give you awards are definitely fools

You were lucky to come in contact with Guruji1

That’s why you struck gold…gold.

You have my blessings

If I withdraw the blessings

you won’t be able to write anything!

10.

Had never imagined

that distances would be such

that someone would be seated in front of me

and I would have no one

What is the use of getting angry

or feeling bad for someone?

Drought has spread

over our lives!

11.

After Upara2

the book that shook me

was Shetkari3

12.

Due to writing people who were close became distant

those who were distant came near

Seeing always-open doors closed

what sort of penance should one do?

I could never earn

the sympathy of near ones

13.

You could not get a plot in the slum?

But you have been living here for so long!

14.

The woman who came to do manual labour said,

Guruji, sit in the shade

the sun will hit you

We

are always in the sun!

15.

The architect of my house told me,

your novel got a prize?

Use the money now to buy a toilet bowl

I said: Okay,

please come for its inauguration

the bowl will be blessed

by your presence

16.

People don’t even allow you to

enjoy some false pleasures

People

praise you and also defame you

But our friends are silent

or is it that those who are close to us are not close to us at all?

Swallowing so much without protest

is no big deal

“Be prepared to endure all that comes your way”

The crux of the matter is that

one cannot speak lies

to please others

This whole life is so disconnected, scattered

stressed, drought-hit…

What is one going to get out of

gathering words from the garbage of one’s life?

There is currently a drought of compassion!

17.

There was no breeze, yet you and me got separated

Don’t know where we have reached…you and me

18.

“When I am not around

I will be under your eyelid

in a painful tear drop”

19.

Let everyone say what he wants

A moment of joy

helps one endure lifelong chafing of pain

when there is a drought of love!

20.

Deshpande Uncle told me,

Aaho Shahajinde,

Antulay4 was earlier Karandikar, Karandikar5

In the past, those who were scared

seduced by money, power

became Muslims

and not on account of injustice or atrocities

You were also earlier a Hindu

The Kaaba you circumambulate

previously housed a Shiv ling

That is now proven.

Shahajinde, become a Hindu, a Hindu

I will be the first to garland you!

Wah, Uncle! Wah!

First you committed atrocity after atrocity

and drove us out of the fold of Hindus and turned us into Muslims

Now speaking the way you do

turn us into Hindus

so a circle will be complete

and it will be easier for you to boast about your high status

“Uncle, save me! Uncle save me!”6

21.

After human minds have been wrung

how can beauty be beautiful?

Or does beauty need to be paired with ugliness?

You said: Pick up this shawl

and don’t ever come back here again

22.

Listening passively, enduring

we forget

At best

We use words and secure release

That’s one good thing

else what would have happened to

the drought-struck mind?

23.

Lord of the world

on the one hand

you fulfill the desires

that have arisen in the deepest recesses of the mind

and on the other hand

you present a nuclear crisis

Not just that

you have spread an extravagance of drought

in Adam’s life

Lord of the world

why do you do so?

is it because your mind is also drought-struck

like mine?

Notes:

1.Narhar Kurundkar (1932-82), a progressive Maharashtrian intellectual, who wrote an introduction to Shahajinde's first anthology of poems was called 'Guruji' by many of his admirers.
2.Title of autobiography of Laxman Mane, a member of a nomadic group, published in 1980; considered a milestone in modern Marathi literature.
3.Title of a long poem by FM Shahajinde in the voice of a farmer; published as a book in 1986.
4.First Muslim chief minister of Maharashtra.
5.A Maharashtrian Brahmin surname.6
6.Well-known Marathi quote; believed to have been uttered in vain by a 19th century Peshwa regent as he was being murdered in the presence of his uncle.

————————- ————————-

Circle (2014)

To ensure that the faithfulness of your respectable, high-status wives

remains intact and unsullied

to ensure that your intellectual ideas about virginity

do not suffer even the slightest harm

following the blinding and seducing traditions and customs that you yourself established

we ourselves gave away our beautiful teenage girls in the name of gods

or in the name of those claiming prestige

and beat drums to praise your greatness and gentility

and we ourselves permanently put our dignity on sale

That’s why your lusty, shining horses driven by demonic customs and norms

raised their hooves and scattered in all four directions

What has happened has happened, and all waters meet the Ganga, that is true

but now democracy’s capitalist open economy

has turned select, beautiful girls boasting about their purity

into leading cinema mistresses

In the name of art you people have become bastards

and today hereditary concubines are facing hunger

Embracing their self-respect crushed entirely along with their virginity

they are leading lives of hunger and penury

What kind of a circle is this that has turned fully and still keeps turning!

F.M Shahajinde with Ashok Gopal on left.

————————- ————————-

Practice

Reading between the lines of news reports

I become shell-shocked

Now what will happen to us, how?

I get disturbed by this question, become restless, writhe in agony

get tired, very tired by despair

Then for many days I don’t talk to myself

keep staring like a widow without vermilion on her forehead

till I can forget the news reports I came to know

But though this happens often

a wound rankles always on one’s identity like a boil

I have no medical options to treat it

Is goodwill something to be obtained through effort?

Instead, you may openly resurrect slavery in an ultra-modern form

through a constitutional amendment!

In any case, in privatized—post-liberal—globalization

where does man enjoy the status of man?

That’s why I have started

practising to walk on my hands!

am practicing to walk with my feet and hands!

They say the world has become a village

and if one has to live in the village

I have to do such practice

Because I am the true descendant

of rural Indian slavery

fed up with discrimination  I became a Muslim

That’s why I am practicing to walk on my hands!

————————- ————————-

Relations

Nowadays my hands are smeared with blood every day

though the blood may be of mosquitoes it is ultimately human blood!

It’s not the case that mosquitoes were not biting before Partition

Fearing the possibility of several diseases caused by mosquitoes

fear of mosquitoes became firmer after Partition

And as this fear was continuously fed

mere fear turned into intense belief

Then, when a mosquito took flight, a hawk is flying, it was said

When a hawk took flight, a buffalo is flying, it was whispered

The infection of that whisper spread like a communicable disease

Relations between men and men became relations between men and mosquitoes

————————- ————————-

Traps

From bygone epochs in time’s muddled march

somehow, without choice but with contentment, these ordinary people

have been living according to internalized sanatan habits

under the domination of trapper vaidiks1 enjoying status according to gunas2

Whenever the march of time compelled shifting of load from one shoulder to the other

thevaidiks changed their nets, changed their pegs

pulled back the loose flying kite back into their control

In the present too if the occasion  arises and the gods on earth3 feel the urgency

they can easily

doshikaar of rabbit hearts, of ordinary people

by showing green pastures

of faith, jati, religious merit, auspiciousness, planetary constellations, clan, class, varna

as well as wealth, power, fame and complexion

Because they have already laid traps

for those who slip out of any of their traps

Notes:
1.People who claim knowledge of the Vedas and derive authority from it
2.Innate qualities, claimed to be basis of varnamodel of society
3.The source-text word 'bhoodev' refers to a title traditionally claimed by Brahmins

———————————— ———————

Notes:

Ashok Gopal is an independent researcher and writer based in Pune, Maharashtra. He has known Shahajinde for over two decades. The translations have been done with the help of Anagha Bhat-Behere and Suman Belvalkar, both academics well versed in Marathi language and literature.

 

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