Translation and Commentary by Nabina Das Nabina Das is a poet and writer based in Hyderabad. Assamese poet Nilim Kumar recently published a poem Ekhon Asustha…
I am a poet, of a continent inscribed with rivers and mountains,
The world is my song.
We make tiktok, memes,
dalgona coffee and chicken dry fry.
We sons of bitches are doing fine.
We write rain-poems, sing songs,
paint pictures and hold online Bihu;
curse the useless prime minister
at eight in the evening
and fuck at midnight and high noon.
We sons of bastards are doing fine.
Two poems by Kabiranjan Saikia/Swadhinota Phukan, a revolutionary poet from Assam who was killed by Indian state in a false encounter on 26th May 2000.
Translations by Arunabh Konwar
Daily we gulped down the alcoholic news
of roasted cars and brutalised bodies, fleeing
families and flimsy appeals for peace, curfew
reliefs, temporal windows for resupply, while
at home we gossiped about spilled blood
between endless games of scrabble, our tones
hushed lest the police patrolling sanitised streets
would hear and accuse us of plotting. That year,
with winter fast approaching with no sign
of school reopening, I learnt the vocabulary
of hate and placed my preadolescent signature
on a certificate that declared my neighbour
and friend, Abhijit, his family, had become
I ask, will you come to my funeral?
You ask, will you come if I die?
I will come before you die.
As your masked relations mill about
like carrion birds,
ready to take you away
“Ernesto Cardenal, the renowned poet and Roman Catholic cleric who became a symbol of revolutionary verse in Nicaragua and around Latin America, and whose suspension from the priesthood by St. John Paul II lasted over three decades, died March 1, 2020. He was 95.
RAIOT remembers Cardenal via two piracies. First, an interview on Liberation Theology and second, his most famous poem ORACIÓN POR MARILYN MONROE / PRAYER FOR MARILYN MONROE
Raashid Maqbool – poet, teacher, scholar, journalist, friend-recited this ghazal to me in late December 2019 in his dusty car, parked on the side of a main thoroughfare in Srinagar, Kashmir. We had only an hour ago driven by a macabre spectacle: a young man, no more than 25 years of age, was being dragged by his long hair, his body bouncing against the rutted road as he flailed and kicked in protest.
The black and yellow share taxis still ply,
The shops stay open past nine,
The walls are void of graffiti that say
We are Khasi by blood, Indians by accident. But
The walls, they are still covered with lime:
Poor republic labours
And asks for two handfuls of rice-
They find jaat paat under republic’s lungi.
Hunger burns in republic’s stove.
Republic is lame and maimed
Someone crushes republic in a mortar’s nook.
I never learnt Jana Gana Mana.
Every Independence Day was our annual celebration
As a day of burning flames and protests,
A day of complete shutdown.
Each day, a day of murder, a day of rape
A day when crimson tears fell on each memory’s hearth
My heart never could feel the love for Jana Gana Mana
This anthem did not bear the name of my land
Nor the names of my rivers, my hills.
There was a parking lot in Shillong
that took a year and crores to build.
Why, I asked, was it not used to ease congestion?
It awaited the Minister for Roads to inaugurate,
who awaited the fall of his government.
And the waiting goes on,
for here they change parties and governments
like Hindi film stars changing dresses in a song.
My familiarity with the Shillong hills is not new. Probably Shillong will remind you of Amit and Labanya of ‘Sesher Kobita’ (the last poem). But however great a poet Rabindranath may be, there is no fitting image of Shillong in ‘Sesher Kobita’. The reason for this is that he never developed a kinship with Shillong. However, Rabindranath being an intelligent person, by naming it ‘Sesher Kobita’ he meant it to be a poem rather than a novel. If someone wants to write a novel, one cannot do it by excluding the inhabitants of Shillong, especially hill tribes like the Khasis. In his description and in the treatment, there is absolutely no flavour of Shillong.
The demand for Hindi
is now a demand
for better treatment–
put by the agents
to their slave-masters.
They use Hindi in place of English,
while the fact is
that their masters
use English in place of Hindi-
the two of them have struck a deal.
Today the cruel majority vote to enlarge the darkness.
They vote for shadows to take the place of ponds
Whatever they vote for they can bring to pass.
The mountains skip like lambs for the cruel majority.
Hail to the cruel majority!
Hail! hail! to the cruel majority!
Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Thinking about yet another mass murder of innocents and a frightened, hate-filled man who proudly dons the mantle of ‘heroic defender of white people’. In his effort to protect the white race Brenton Tarrant has stupidly only succeeded in further darkening the growing stain of shame that increasingly covers so much of the pale skinned fraternity.I am a white person. I am a male. Together these two accidents of birth have placed me at the very bullseye of privilege
Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
Everything will be okay tomorrow
Tomorrow everything will be okay
Tomorrow the great media will
Deliver the propaganda pizza
Tomorrow everything will be okay
After every war
someone has to clean up.
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
For all that he had written there will be no posthumous award for Phrangsngi of the green house. You see only the well-connected shine and speak, even from their graves, to those giving awards.
A poem for Gandhi ji on the sweet occasion of his birth and Swacch Bharath anniversary
through the bars
to shake me up
from my early morning dreams
with a hug
of a good morning
clanking a huge bunch of keys
into the cage of my life sentence.
The feeling sank into my stomach like a stone. This wasn’t the city of my childhood vacations anymore. Had I grown up so quickly as to quietly absorb this pinching away of the dearest part of my treasure of memories? Or was this gross erasure an external change taking everything and everyone over elsewhere as well as in the city? I wasn’t so corrupted with knowledge then as now. As any child of eleven, I too didn’t bother to explain or philosophise. I only felt the difference with my senses: the cattle-touched smell of earth was gone; and it had taken with it a school-ridden child’s hyacinth and vine-covered paradise of her imagination and escape. I had lost something irretrievably. And it wasn’t even my fault.
You are told you write depressing poetry
You answered “The trick is to read newspapers incessantly”
You didn’t tell them “The trick is to feel every death in your bone”
The familiar blackout is not because of load shedding, now it is your choice because electricity is prepaid.
In another time I am sure
they’ll treat you with electricity
coursing your skin or maybe they did.
There are political rights; a government is set up in the land. Democracy functions with total success. An election is held every five years. But for the people in this land there are no names. So for the nameless citizens the nameless representatives govern the land of the half-humans. Because whether to give human names to the head or to the body — no one can decide. A land such as this is very much in the news, a land much talked about.
Members of my father’s house, languages mix like the marriage of clattering utensils. Members of the house, you folded your mats and gave yourself up to another religion. Members of the house, let us not pretend that we are one thing and one thing alone. Together we brewed in the cauldron of that kitchen or have you chosen to forget? We will never be just one thing again. Never again will there be enough to burn to purify the impure in us.
Venkat Raman Singh Shyam, artist and author of the autobiographical Finding My Way (2016), found himself at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London speaking on 21 June at a seminar on “Indigenous Media, Self-Determination and Cultural Activism”. This poem came to him then as he first typed out Hindi in Roman script on his phone and sent it to his friend and accomplice S. Anand, publisher at large at the small Navayana. Anand felt impelled to find the words in English just like he did when working with Venkat on his autobiography. Venkat’s work has been exhibited worldwide, including at Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art, at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, in 2013.
My mother is a woman with ten tongues
That is why she raves incessantly
Unmindful whether it’s day or night!
I run from home to bazaar
Muddle-headed on lanes and streets
Like an owner-less dog;
When I returned she fumed again
“Offspring of sin why don’t you die
At least other children die by swallowing poison”,
I became so angry my blood boiled,
From my heart my pulse bounced in and out.
No one goes to Iewduh, now burning.
“Too crowded, eww”, they say.
Dirty and living, too like OUR city.
We are non-tourists,
It’s not even famous on Instagram!
Five days my city burns
And the non-tourists have disappeared.
Kashmir is burning too.
Where will you go now?
This is the best time to read Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s poem Sundori, while we sit amidst angers, rumours and curfews in Shillong. Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih is the key Khasi modern poet whose rooted yet critical verses uncover the unsaid of Khasi society. Sundori was written during the troubles of 1990s when the local nationalist anger and resentment was at its peak.
Don’t become the sand
Don’t become the sand
Where we end,
Become the water
Become the water, where we come from
Soso Tham refused to believe that a people with no evidence of a written history was without foundation or worth. He set out to compile in verse shared memories of the ancient past—ki sngi barim—presenting his people with their own mythology depicting a social and moral universe still relevant to the present day. For him the past is not a dark place but a source of Light, of Enlightenment. It may lie buried but it is not dead, and when discovered will provide the reason for its continued survival. Ki Sngi Barim U Hynñiew Trep is the lyrical result of dedicated devotion. It is an account of how Seven Clans—U Hynñiew Trep—came down to live on this earth.
Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right, at least people wrote poems for you! RAIOT’s tribute to the philosopher of revolution and history on his 200th birth Anniversary
5 poems of love, biology, nicotine, fuck and hangover by Lapdiang A. Syiem
“Brothers and sisters
this day is dying
a two-minute silence
for this dying day
When she took an afternoon nap,
she was tigerish: “You sons of a vagina!” she
would snarl, “you won’t even let me rest for a moment,
sons of a fiend! Come here sons of a beast! If I
get you I’ll lame you! I’ll maim you! …Sons
of a louse! You feed on the flesh that breeds you!
Make a noise again when I sleep and I’ll thrash you
till you howl like a dog! You irresponsible nitwits!
how will I play the numbers If I don’t get a good dream?
How will I feed you, sons of a lowbred?
Around 00:05 on February 19 2018, Indian armed forces shot dead Syed Habibullah after he allegedly “tried to enter the high security Air Force Station” in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district. The police spokesman said that the man, in his fifties, “appeared to be mentally challenged”—he was not wearing any footwear, had no winter clothing, and did not carry any identity card. Those who knew him told media-persons that “he used to roam from once place to another, not because he was mentally challenged but because he was distressed with extreme penury.” He was laid to rest in his native village of Soibug amidst pro-freedom slogans and clashes with the government forces.
The name Habibullah translates as ‘the beloved of God.’
Laugh – you are being watched,
Laugh, but not at yourself because its bitterness
Would be noticed and you would not survive it
Laugh in a way that your happiness does not show
As it would be suspected that you do not participate in the remorse
And you would not survive it
O Daddyji, o daddyji, they don’t just laff these aurat-log,
they laugh at us, they do, they do
Its worse, its worse, its so much worse
They slurp their beer, they do, they do
Worried about his prolonged boozing,
His son-in-law once took him to a specialist.
Disgusted to find his parts normal and realizing
He has lost a patient, the specialist inscribed
In his report: Has been drinking for 52 years.
Naturally, I threw away all the pills he gave
Said the man who only smiles but never laughs.
A poet interviews his publisher and the publisher retorts right back in this irreverent conversation between Abhimanyu Kumar (whose debut collection of poems Milan & the Sea came out in October 2017) and Dibyajyoti Sarma, publisher of Red River (formerly i write imprint)
Raiot has always published poetry.
That everything in Ayodhya
Which was demolished
Sometimes, through no fault of its own, a neighbourhood picks up a bad reputation. If you happen to visit it on a singularly uneventful day, you will find it roofed with a blue sky, and dark-green pines and bamboos stooping to kiss its dusty road. And although it is true that love was made in all its wintry houses and its dead have been buried in its unruffled graveyard, you would never guess how it earned such a vague hatred from outsiders.
Was it a murder or an accident
Nobody will investigate
Asad Zaidi on the dark prophetic voice of Muktibodh, one of the key modern poets of India
Lalnunsanga Ralte’s old poem about the tragedy/farce of Demonetisation
One of the greatest Tamil poets, C. Subramania Bharathi’s wrote a poem welcoming Russian Revolution – in a translation by V. Geetha
9 poems of Pranabendu Dasgupta in a translation by Brinda Bose