Narayan Gangaram Surve, who passed away in 2010, was one of India’s leading poets. He was a foundling, raised by a mill-worker until the age of ten and then left to fend for himself. Working as a waiter, helper in textiles mills, a peon in a Municipal school, he finally retired as a primary school teacher. A Marxist by conviction, he forged a new idiom of the spoken word in Marathi poetry. His poems mix dialects of Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, and English to catch the pulse of the life of the underprivileged. Narayan Surve can be seen as a precursor of radical dalit poetry in Marathi
Narayan Gangaram Surve | translated from Marathi by Mustansir Dalvi
Here is how I met Marx
during my very first strike.
In the middle of a protest march,
hand on my shoulder,
“D’you know him?
This here, is our own Markusbaba-
born in Germany,
wrote sacksful of books
then met his end in England.
Nothing unusual for a sanyasi, eh?
Land, for them is the same everywhere.
Just like you, he had four kids.”
That was how I met Marx
during my very first strike.
Later, as I was speaking at an assembly
(So, what are the reasons for this downturn?
What are the root causes of poverty?)
Marx pushed his way forward
and said: I’ll tell you-
then shot his mouth off, going on and on.
The day before yesterday,
during a picket outside a mill-gate,
there he stood
hearing me holding forth.
“Now, we are the protagonists of history
and the subject of all accounts that will be written.”
He clapped the loudest of all,
then came forward,
placed a hand on my shoulder,
and with a hearty laugh said:
“Man, you do write poetry, d’you not?
Y’know, I used to like Goethe.
Originally published here
Hans Magnus Enzensberger is a German author, poet, translator and editor. He has also written under the pseudonym Andreas Thalmayr. Enzensberger was born in 1929 in a small town in Bavaria and is the eldest of four boys. He is part of the last generation of intellectuals whose writing was shaped by first-hand experience of the Third Reich. Hans Magnus joined the Hitler Youth in his teens, but was expelled soon afterwards. “I have always been incapable of being a good comrade. I can’t stay in line. It’s not in my character. It may be a defect, but I can’t help it.” Enzensberger studied literature and philosophy at the universities of Erlangen, Freiburg and Hamburg, and at the Sorbonne in Paris, receiving his doctorate in 1955 for a thesis about Clemens Brentano’s poetry. Until 1957 he worked as a radio editor in Stuttgart. He participated in several gatherings of Group 47. Between 1965 and 1975 he edited the magazine Das Kursbuch. Since 1985 he has been the editor of the prestigious book series Die Andere Bibliothek, published in Frankfurt, and now containing almost 250 titles. Together with Gaston Salvatore, Enzensberger was the founder of the monthly TransAtlantik.His own work has been translated into more than 40 languages.
Though primarily a poet and essayist, he also makes excursions into theater, film, opera, radio drama, reportage, translation. He has written novels and several books for children (including The Number Devil, an exploration of mathematics) and is co-author of a book for German as a foreign language (Die Suche). He also invented and collaborated in the construction of a machine which automatically composes poems. It was used during the 2006 Football World Cup to commentate on games.
He lives in Munich.
Karl Heinrich Marx
Hans Magnus Enzensberger | translated from German by Michael Hamburger
on brown daguerrotypes
i see your face
in the snow-white aura
and your papers in the linen press:
warrants for your arrest
your massive body
i see in the ‘wanted’ book
in tail coat and plastron
your gall-bladder scorched
by heavy cigars
salted gherkins laudanum
i see your house
in the rue d’alliance
dean street grafton terrace
in worn-out slippers:
soot and ‘economic shit’
usury ‘as usual’
rumours of sordid affairs
in your prophet’s hand:
i see it calmly
in the british museum
under the green lamp
break up your own house
with terrible patience
for the sake of other houses
in which you never woke up
i see you betrayed
by your disciples
only your enemies
remained what they were:
i see your face
on the last picture
of april eighty-two
an iron mask:
the iron mask of freedom
Mallika Sengupta is an important voice in contemporary Bengali literature. She began writing in 1981 and has since published eleven books of poetry, two novels and several essays, and edited an anthology of women’s poetry from Bengal. She works as a lecturer of sociology in a Kolkata college where she is currently the head of her department. She is also the Poetry Editor of Sananda, the Bengali women’s fortnightly
Tell us Marx
Mallika Sengupta | Translated from Bangla by Sanjukta Dasgupta
The Dravidian woman who sowed wheat
In the Aryan man’s fields, reared his kids
If she isn’t a worker, then what is work?Tell us Marx, who is a worker, who isn’t
New industrial workers with monthly wages
Are they the only ones who work?
Slum life is the Industrial Age’s gift
To the worker’s housewife
She draws water, mops floors, cooks food
After the daily grind, at night
She beats her son and weeps
She too is not a worker!
Then tell us Marx, what is work?Since housework is unpaid labour, will women simply
Sit at home and cook for the revolutionary
And comrade is he alone who upholds hammer and sickle?
Such injustice does not become YouIf ever there’s a revolution
There’ll be heaven on earth
Classless, stateless, in that enlightened world
Will women then become the handmaidens of revolution?
Ode to Karl Marx
Old father of the horrible bride whose
wedding cake has finally collapsed, you
spoke the truth that doesn’t set us free—
it’s like a lever made of words no one’s
learnt to operate. So the machine it once
connected to just accelerates & each new
rap dance video’s a perfect image of this,
bodies going faster and faster, still dancing
on the spot. At the moment tho’ this set up
works for me, being paid to sit and write &
smoke, thumbing through Adorno like New Idea
on a cold working day in Ballarat, where
adult unemployment is 22% & all your grand
schemata of intricate cause and effect
work out like this: take a muscle car &
wire its accelerator to the floor, take out
the brakes, the gears the steering wheel
& let it rip. The dumbest tattooed hoon
—mortal diamond hanging round the Mall—
knows what happens next. It’s fun unless
you’re strapped inside the car. I’m not,
but the dummies they use for testing are.