By- Upal Deb
“Thunder will blow away/
Storms too are ephemeral/
though shameless, the dark force will bid farewell/
to beauty someday//
Spring goes on endless”.
This is how a young Manipuri poet sings the heart of everybody of his state. Spring in heart can wait. But this heart will sing on. Till the boots and bullets bid farewell. The heart of hearts, our Meira Paibi, this is how a Kerala playwright dubbed IROM SHARMILA, a torch-bearer….can rekindle a hope, or awaken us cautiously to the spite of state laws. Sharmila is a champion to the cause of human rights in her state. Specifically, she is seeking the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), an emergency legislation that has been in force in Manipur since 1980, under which the right to life lies suspended. Fake encounters, torture, rapes and the disappearance of ordinary citizens are commonplace in regions that come under AFSPA. Since November 2000, when a group of soldiers from the Assam Rifles shot dead a 10 civilians standing at a bus-stop, she has refused to eat, drink or even brush her teeth, she has not seen her mother too since the fast began. Charged with trying to commit suicide, she has been repeatedly arrested, detained and force-fed by tubes inserted into her nose twice a day. Her sacrifice focuses on a struggle barely glimpsed in the rest of India, let among the wider world. A decades-long insurgency by up to 50 armed groups and the subsequent rule by troops may only see a saturnalia where as a poet from different land said, “Between the closed eyes/ in the air all black”. Rule of the gun in a lunatic frenzy. But Manipur survives on hope. Blood its witness.
This post of poems offers a peep into poetic responses to a state in siege, offers a nod to the resilience of Sharmila and her people. Needless to say, her people include us all living between death-wish and dream of spring, between wounds of dawn and songs of life.
1. ~YES~/ K.Satchidanandan (Malayalam)
(For Irom Sharmila)
My body is
my flag at half-mast.
My water comes
from Tomorrow’s river,
from the wind’s kitchen.
In my brain is a bullet,
green like the clairvoyante’s parrot.
My name is the last letter
of my ancient language,
the final answer to every riddle,
the moral of every proverb,
the god of every magic chant,
the ominous truth of every oracle.
My life leaves me everyday
and everyday it comes back
like the bird that survives the hunters
to return to its nest
with the odour of the forest-rain.
In the night emptied of
the morning’s greetings
and the evening’s prayers,
I lie alone under one desolate star
like the broken bench
in an abandoned village teashop
holding on still
to the warmth and odour
of yesterday’s visitors.
I have forgotten love
like the nameless flower
once seen in a flash
on a village hillock;
my childhood lies sunk in the sand
like the paper boat
pulped by the heavy rain.
My poems are the autumn’s
last yellow leaves.
My kids turned into vapour
by the echoes of rifles’ reports
will come down heavily
as a rain of blood
over those soldiers of hell.
I won’t be there; but
my hope will be :
a word from the mountain
that doesn’t need to be tube-fed,
a poem from the woods
no boots can crush,
an alphabet of steel
no bayonet can pierce,
a purple hibiscus:
My Manipur heart
ever in bloom.
(TR: By the poet from the original Malayalam. K. Satchidanandan is one of India’s finest poets and a respected critic. He was a nominee for the Nobel literature prize in 2011).
2. ~Ibomcha Singh~/Subodh Sarkar (Bengali)
’95, in a wintry Delhi, in a poetry reading
at Sahitya Akademi,
Ibomcha Singh twittered out like a bird:
–Come in my homeland, at Manipur’s Moirang
Moirang, what a lovely name it is, who named it?
Just in a distance, Asia’s most beautiful lake, Loktak,
A colour like a child’s gum.
There’s nothing lovelier than
a child’s gum.
In the midnight, from Manipur a phone call: Ibomcha Singh
I said: what’s happening there in your state?
–What’s happening? Don’t you all know this?
If tomorrow the Assam Rifles
barge into Tagore’s Jorasanko household
and masturbate in front of Rabindranath?
How will you feel?
If tomorrow at the Gariahat Road a teacher
is stripped and made to do rounds of
sit-down stand-up before his students?
How will you feel?
If tomorrow the daughter of your Sankha Ghosh
is bundled off? How will you feel?
Ibomcha Singh was in tears
I sat motionless
Did he call from Manipur?
Or from across India?
Nine hills surrounding
the Loktak Lake are fading out
Trucks of the Assam Rifles
march through these hills
Did they kidnap Manorama, did they?
Did Ibomcha Singh call me,
Or was it anyone else?
His daughter can’t go to the school
If she doesn’t return!
No, how can this be possible,
we have one Constitution
who has scripted another?
–The military can quarantine you
You cannot lead a nation with them
Even the military know this
and you do not know this?
(Tr: Upal Deb from Bengali. Subodh Sarkar is a well-known name in contemporary Bengali poetry. His poetry is often marked by mordant irony and insights into our social dynamics).
3. ~ Sister~/ Saratchand Thiyam (Manipuri)
This rain has not let up
Don’t get out yet, sister.
It’s only a semblance of afternoon
After it decided to live in
With its paramour Night
This is no longer the afternoon we know
Your umbrella alone will be useless, sister
You’ll not be able to cover
Your body from the raindrops.
Haven’t you heard this sound
The commotion in every home
Of the still incoherent babies.
Don’t you go sister
This rain is only becoming harder
Don’t you go sister
Don’t you go.
Look sister, every courtyard
Since, I won’t allow to go
Every road is reverberating
With the deafening utterance of boots.
Hide inside the house, sister
Don’t you go at all
*Mangarak kanbi is a place in Manipur. Early Meiteis used to throw
the bodies of people who died unnatural deaths in Mangarak kanbi.
(TR: Robin S. Ngangom from Manipuri. A very popular poet, Saratchand Thiyam is
also a sports columnist. He is an engineer by profession).
4. ~Manipur~/Mona Lisa Jena (Odia)
The soldiers can recognize
They can sense the stench
A roof without walls on the wayside
Breathing of eleven dead human beings
It smothers their lungs….
How many years more
till her petition lies unanswered?
She gasps out these days
in a mud hut, walled by gun point
An ordinary young woman, dogged to the core,
She is not afraid of working hard
She does not beg anyone….
Like this, one morning
Many, many days ago
A morsels of rice ran short
In the Ima Market
Thousands of ‘mothers’ had assembled
At Kangla’s main roads
Not even a smidgen
of rice could be shipped way from their country.
They had uncovered their bosoms and humiliated
the unashamed administrators
They were not shameless.
They did not vend their semi-naked body
In the market place
At the Ima Market
Of women only.
From the long over bridge
One can see clear
their carnival, all tinctured in crimson
because many women are together
they do not ripple out
A sea of flames….
Their dust-laden sobbing
And the flashes
wafting in fitfully
leave trails in the heart:
It is painful to be a woman!
(TR: By the poet from Odia. Monalisa Jena is a promising Odia short story writer and poet.).
5. ~Manipur: 2~/ Thaudam Netrojit Singh (Manipuri)
What’s the crime of these children,
Are they disinherited from life?
Why do they ride the cremation-bed?
In your inviting lap
are they so fond of death
like nectar-like mother’s milk?
The paths to the cremation ground
are all mud today
Mothers’ tears mingle with
blood of the cremation
in dry colours of the red rose
for whom is the door
of the vacant room open
before the despairing heart of the veiled mothers?
What else can you hear
other than sad sound of the cymbals and
Have you ever heard
love songs echoing back, floating from
a land of peace?
Did the generous men sing paeans
in the infinite sky for you alone
in hope of flying till eternity
in wings of white pigeons
whose feet are tied with
You’re only the night without a face
Even your blue sky
pales in smoke.
(37-year old Thaudam Netrojit Singh is an up-and-coming Manipuri poet, playwright and story writer).
6. ~Death of a Poet~/ Irungbom Deven (Manipuri)
In a closed abandoned room
lies a decomposed corpse
body of some poet
Cause of his death
The police let out offhand:
This is a suicide
People around whisper:
This is certainly a murder
the reality is
he is dead
With his poems in hand
the police finally say:
They are his suicide note.
7. ~News of My Death~/ Irungbom Deven
Last night an unknown man
was mercilessly killed
The body was not found
Combing operation is on
I walk on endlessly
towards the unknown
my dead body
on the shoulders.
On the front page
of the newspapers
the news of my death
I am reading this news!
(TR: 5, 6 and 7 by Upal Deb from Bengali translation of original Manipuri poems. Irungbom Deven is a leading Manipuri poet. He is a professional doctor).
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