POEMS BY BALBIR MADHOPURI

MY OLD MAN

 

A line drawn on water
Is still taken
To be a line on stone
By my old man

He himself starts flowering
While watering the plants and bushes of other
Patting the milch cows and buffaloes
Praying for everyone’s sons and cattle
Putting his hand on the plough
Prays for the well-being of all
Becomes soil working with the soil

He has brought with his own hands
The green, the white and the blue revolution
And still flows on his body
A dry rivulet.

His lean body burns in May and June
And on the other side there are
Shining and Silken bodies
Searching for happiness in other bodies
And his wounded by genrations thoughts
Repeatedly tells him
All this is merely a game fate plays.

Sometimes he ponders
No matter there are crocodiles in the sea
But fishes keep on swimming merrily
Birds have the sky to fly
And nests to live
And what home I got ?
A country with a culture to be ‘proud’ of
To carry forward the tradition of slavery
My own children!

And then again sometimes he thinks
And looks around to find
The meaning of the saying – “There may be delay but not denial”
And starts searching in his hardened hand
The vanishing and dimming lines

A line drawn on water
Is still taken
To be a line on stone
By my old man.

 

HIGHLY SLIGHTED MAN

 

Many a time
I get dwarfed
Like a tree cut at the top
Over whom passes the power lines
I get pruned out of season
When in the passing
Someone asks my religion

Many a time
Gets spilt water
This statue made of earth
And words –
Leave my lips
Like leaves of trees
During the fall
Water starts flowing over my head
The earth does not open to swallow me
When suddenly
Some one asks
My caste.

Many a time
Tthe skies of my mind
Get dark
With clouds of acute depression
When in the metropolitan air
The free flying bird
Who had come here in surch of food
Sits folding its wings
When all of a sudden
Someone asks its ancestral place.
First village and then the sector.

Why many a time ?
More than often
The free flying bird
Gets shot
With the arrow of
Religion some time, caste some time
Sector of the village some time
And sub caste some time.

HE SAID

He said –
I have followed you for a long time
Now you follow me
They said –
We have got the ‘mouth’
And you have got the feet
The dharma of the feet is to walk

He said –
I have ‘yes-sired’ you for a long time
Now you show agreement with me.
They said –
We have got the speech
And you have got the ears
The dharma of the ears is to listen

He said –
I am homeless because of you
Please return my dwelling to me
They said –
Jungle is the home of the tribals
We shall spread the jungle’s wind
It is a sin to go against the wind.

He said –
I am a ‘bullock with covered eyes
Remove the blinds, let me see
They said –
Your dharma is not to see
But to ignore what you see

He said –
I shall walk against the wind
Your words shall be entrapped like an echo
They said –
To stop the wind, to entomb the voice
Is now totally impossible, impossible.

MA TELLS ME

Ma looks towards me
And also tells me,
Before you were born
He faced the hills beyond
And challenged their might
Straightened the paths
Filled the gaps between valleys
Showed the high mountains their place.

Ma ---
Brightens up like a sparklet
And tells me
when you were born
He, like Farhad
In the Shivalik hills
Used to dig canals
Night and day
So that there is
Green all around
So that the deserts
Bloom
Prosper the wastelands.

Ma ---
Tells me -
And also laughs
When you started playing around
Falling and running
Those bridges across the rivers
Were built.
The sunken chest
He became rock-like
Swollen with pride
So that distances get
Narrowed down
So that caravans could pass.

Ma
Tells me ---
Some thought tortures her
But even so tells me
He called for someone loudly
"I smoothened the fields
Built the palaces
Lifted the sinking motherland"
And they
quietly issued their edict
"You deserve only rebukes
For ages you have
Existed only to
Serve us."

Ma ---
Tells me
As if saddling the house,
Tells me again and again
There are innumerable
People in the world
But rarely a brave soul
And an image
Comes before my eyes
That of my
old father,
And his lean face
Full of wrinkles
With red eyes
Burning like flames
And now again and again
I think what
Ma told me
Watching the horse

Ma Looks Towards me
And also tells me,
Before you were born
He faced the hills beyond
And challenged their might
Straightened the paths
Filled the gaps between valleys
Showed the high mountains their place.

HORSE AND THE OLD MAN

 

Riding on his back for age
Are these inhuman
High castes
These religions
There satanic false rites.

On the naked body
When falls the whip
He does'nt walk
He runs blindly
Forgets the cotton
Choking his ears
The blinds on his eyes
The trap on his mouth
Summer and winter.

Tied with Smrities
And rules
And those very people
Explain the rules to him
Outside whose doors
He stands
In a mood for fun
Those very people make
Fun of him.
He sleeps clandestinely
Never saw him sitting
Only saw him made to
Lie by them
When shoes are
Hammered into his hooves

Eating grass and weeds
Waste from the fields
So active is he
That even time can't
Match his agility
So powerful is he
That even electricity
Faints before him.

And these days
He has started
Stopping again and again
And resisting
And it seems to me
As if this brave house
As my own old man
As if it is a fresh
Music from the
Tired and bored
Public Mind.

For centuries
Riding on his back
Are these inhuman
High castes
The religions of this place
And the Satanic
False rites.

 

A POET’S ASPIRATIOH

 

I don’t want
My poems
To be like monsoon streams
Ruining and merging with a river
And losing their identity

I don’t want
My poems
To be part of the mainstream
Whose holy books
Divide a vast field into small plots
And segregate into part the velvety greens
To safeguard their caps and hair locks
And forbid the opening of the third eye
For the dark skinned people like me.

I on the other hand want
My poems
To be like those birds
Who flying across lanes and drains
Of the village descend in any courtyard and
To pick up the grains
Without caring for the high of low dweller

All I want is that
My poems
Should join that mainstream
Which contains
Eklavya, war songs on Banda Bahadur.
Struggles of Peer Budhu Shah
And the pain of Pablo Naruda


THE SHRINKING FOCUS

Much has been left behind
Like childhood
For example ---
My village, my people
Fields, dearer than sons
Trees witness to my love
Like Mirza's acacia.


This earthen statue
Has passed much
Like water which
Has flowed away
For example ---
Caravan of breaths
Years more than two and a half of
Geeta's chapters
Walls of my love
And hieghts of the hills

Much has been forgotten
Like a dream
For example ---
Birds how to fly
Own heritage
Own language
And the land of Sials' daughters.

Much is still there
Like wife and kids
For example ---
Enmities behind loves
Vanished have relations
Divisions of the waters
And horrible scenes arising
Out of them
And the bird with
Trimmed wings only remembers
Like the blood circulalting
In the body
The thought of picking
Up the scattered feed.

Much has been left behind
Like childhood
For example ---
My village, my people
Fields, dearer than sons
Trees, witness to my love
Like Mirza's acacia.

LIFE

 

Life !

I want to live with you

As a plant lives with soil

Greenry with leaves

Scenery with eyes.

 

Life !

I want to have such an

Emotional relation with you

As a fish with the sea

Warmth with the Sun

Flower with Scent.

 

Life !

I want to pass through

The ups and downs

As a boat passes

Through waves

Some mountain shepherd

Through the lows and highs of the hills.

 

Life !

I wish daily

To became a

Cloud over hot deserts

On spread my wings

Over the little ones

Of the birds

Shivering with cold.

 

Life !

I want to become so vast

As a form of seven seas

A sun of the rainbow

A tree flush will green leaves.

 

Life !

I want to live with you

As a plant lives with soil

Greenry with leaves

Scenery with eyes.

 

 

STREAM

 

I think -

What might  not have happened

To the standing old trees

When they saw falling

Trees nearby

In a sundden hurricain

And  remember

The level of tolerance of those trees

And then automatically

Comes agility in my feet

The bird with the saddend heart

Again gets busy with its flights.

 

(Translated by Gyan Singh

A/3, 12 Maitri Apartments,

Paschim Vihar, New Delhi-63)

 

Four poems by Balbir Madhopuri

Translated by T C Ghai     

                                                     

1. My Caste

 

My caste is always with me

like my complexion

like my shadow.

We are so rolled into one

I’m nothing

except my caste,

wherever I am

in the city or in the village

here or across the seas.

 

I try very hard to hide,

wear a hundred masks

but it shows itself

again and again

like the white hair

after the dye has worn off

or like the body showing

through tattered clothes

 

I wish to be rid of it

like someone wanting a divorce

but they tell me,

this bond  stays on

birth after birth...

nothing to think about.

 

Finally

the bow is strung

with arrows of contention,

which pierce both past and present.

Blood boils within, like an earthquake

and then

divisions  come in the open

up-down, right-left.

 

My caste is always with me

like my complexion

like my shadow.

We are so rolled into one

I’m nothing

except my caste,

wherever I am

in the city or in the village

here or across the seas.

---

2. Tsunami Waves

 

The tsunami waves

washed away many things;

rocky shores,

living creatures

fishes and tortoises

trees and humans

beautiful natural landscape

 

The waves

wrecked the houses

where God was segregated,

where people

would step in or pass by

 shivering, in fear

 

And in no time

the land became water

and death ruled all over.

One recalled:

‘Death is a great leveller.’

Yet the survivors sang a different tune.

The living labelled the dead

as high or low

touchable or untouchable .

 

In this way

on the sea shore

the ‘not humans’ were left

hungry, thirsty,

and without hope

by the demonic laughter

of the ‘humans’.

The tsunami waves

that altogether demolished

the rocky shores

could not knock down

the high walls of hatred

that stood in the human hearts.

 

In the aftermath

let someone,

on the now calm sea’s wide shore,

reflect, and say:

Let us push our boat

into the sea of humaneness

embrace each other like the waves

merge into each other

destroy the poisonous fish.

Come let us play this game.

 ---

 

3. Come, My Friend

 

Come, my friend,

let’s meet again

just as two pathways meet,

merge into each other

like a river in the sea.

 

Come, my friend,

let’s sing, in the marketplace,

the death song

 for the Sanatani culture

that has divided mankind again and again,

that has no reason to be.

 

Come, my friend,

let’s bury deep

the ’living words’

that stink,

that don’t let you forget

‘the dead mother’

and lacerate  so many hearts.

 

Come, my friend,

let’s give up the kissa tradition

give up the culture of ‘culture’

let’s load with stones and sink the boat

in which life is a living death

 

Come, my friend,

let’s fight another Mahabharat

write another  sixteenth chapter

dam  the river of fire

drive the black spotted pigeon

across the dividing lines

 

Come, my friend,

let’s bring under the shade

the life that is a desert,

 plant flowers in barren lives

and fulfill the duty of words

 

Come, my friend,

let’s find words

that bring sunshine, air and the sea

that are charged with the energy of a warrior

that make the whole sky fragrant

 

Come, my friend,

let’s meet again

just as two pathways meet,

merge into each other

like a river in the sea.

 ---

4. My Culture

 

Now

even the deserts

have become green.

The barren lands too

are blooming

The natural landscape too

has changed

Yet my culture

drenched in caste

still remains unchanged.

 

Now

even the unbounded space

has shrunk

The seven continents too

have become one

like the colours of the rainbow

in the sunlight

The Berlin wall

has come down like a house of glass

and is a heap of sand now

Yet no key can unlock

the stony doors of my culture

that refuses to open up

 

Now

even the glaciers 

are melting

The waters in the oceans

are warming up

And hot winds too

are blowing at places

Yet my culture

like the consumer culture

still sticks different labels

on human beings

---

 

5. Sunshine and Shade Walk Together

 

Water flowed away under the old bridge

The river-swell receded

 

The duck’s body remains dry

even while it moves in water

 

The frame is old

yet the mirror reflects new light

 

The wind chases away the cloud

lest it should touch the sky

 

The wind rubbed past the tree

leaving it stock-still

 

Why do you blink your eyes:

Sunshine and shade move together

 

The branch bends low with the weight of the fruit

The tree sways with the wind

 

When the East wind blows

the tree blooms faster.

---

 

 

6. Before I Go to Sleep

 

My wife lying beside me

never knows

when I,

riding in the lap  of the wind,

start chasing a small cloud;

push a boat

into the flooded river

to reach the light shining across;

start ransacking  my books

to find the butterfly wings

I had tucked in a book

in my childhood.

 

She does not even know

when, trotting on the road,

I break through the red signal

and collide against a dolphin;

when I sweat from every pore,

reminded of travelling in a bus in Punjab

as if Iraq were reminded of America;

and then of the garbled couplets

of a perfect ghazal.

 

My wife lying beside me

does not know

when, piercing  the darkness

and through closed windows and doors,

I drop down with heavy wings

as if I were drowned in debt

But in truth I wait

in a ramshackle house

for the sun to rise

to see a smile

on my little girl’s face.

---

 

 

 

7. When the Hot Wind Blows

 

Now when

the hot wind blows

and Icharan’s gardens are devastated,

when many faces disappear

and silence reigns during the day

as if it were night

then I

rush back home reminding myself

of my soft-as-cotton daughter and

my sunshine-like wife ‘s pale faces.

 

Now when   

someone writes on the wind

draws a line on water

clips the wings of  birds in flight

imagines a world in his heart

then

swans drown themselves

in the clear waters of lakes.

And I

like cowards

encircle like a creeper

my soft-as-kitten daughter,

who is just beginning to prattle

and my mulberry-shoot like wife,

and like someone sick  

I enclose my small world in my eyes.

 

Now when

an earthquake shakes the high mountains

above the piece of earth that’s my share,

desire descends like rain,

the sea of sensuality rises unstoppably high

then

the toy-like daughter of mine

erects a mud wall

between me and my part of the world

And I

think of raising the height

of walls that enclose my home,

for who knows when the reckless wind

would come crashing through the threshold.

---

 

8. Consolation

 

My dear wife

don’t fear the water’s rising wave.

It will turn by itself

into an eddy;

waters after all must flow

under the bridges.

 

Don’t wake my daughter,

lying asleep in her cradle,

who, watching the stars coming out of a sparkler,

turns into a sparkler herself;

and let her dream of filling her lap

by picking  the stars swimming in the sky;

and don’t ever tell her

that her father’s dreams

of swinging on the rainbow,  

of bringing down the moon

and placing it on his wife’s forehead

have come to nought.

 

Don’t tell

my butterfly-like

butterfly-catching

lighter-than-flowers daughter

that the procession of sins is endless;

otherwise her dolls would drop down her hands;

rather you should tell her

that her father holds

pigeons in his left hand

and eagles in his right one.

 

You should let my fragrance-like daughter

draw pigeons and doves

in her notebook as before,

and set them to fly.

My good wife

don’t be afraid of the whirlwinds

for they are godless.

 

Don’t fear the tidal waves,

my dear wife,

waters after all

must flow under the bridges

---

 

9. Waiting for a Cool Breeze

 

The sunshine dies at high noon

and there is no shade

The trees are bereft of their branches

Only a few remain

Anthills have risen under every tree

There is no shade to sit under

The five rivers

shed tears, where they are

 

Pistols and guns grow

where flowers and ears of corn grew

One is at a loss

for these demand blood for watering

Why no one stops the destructive hailstorms

is a deep mystery

The masters reap what they sow

and yet they complain.

 

The skies swing in hopelessness

The stars fall

Courtyards are drowned in mourning

The walls shiver

How can one stop this wind

that is spreading all around

Bodies hard as stone are worn down

in the stream of bitterness.

 

Bodies like cypress should not fall

A crane should not stray from the flock

Doves should coo in courtyards

A cool breeze should blow from somewhere

People should not come to mourn in droves

Nor a mare be without its rider

Winds should become fragrant

Minds glow with good sense

---

 

10.  The Sunshine’s Journey

 

The break of day

is like a siren for her

As soon as she wakes  

she begins to water the plants

and the flowers big and small

bloom and spread their fragrance

 

And I

while slurping  my tea

turn over the pages of the newspaper

in search of state-of-the-nation news ⎼

how one faction

has battered the other

and I am reminded

of some slokas of Tulsi and Manu

 

That’s how

her morning turns into noon

and she spreads the shade of her being

on the blooming flowers

and the difference

between the tall mulberry tree

and her

seems to disappear

 

That’s how her noon

mellows

That’s how her noon

has mellowed

 

Whenever I return home

riding my mare

through dark and narrow lanes

she standing at the door

catches the mare’s rein

and the tidal wave

surging through her heart

recedes

A light shines in her eyes

and the earth

seems peaceful to her

 

 

That’s how

her morning begins

That’s how

her noon descends

That’s how

her noon mellows

That’s how  

her high noon has mellowed

--- 

 

11.   My Life

        (to My Wife)

 

Ever since she has stood beside me

we are not two but eleven

My feet sail above the ground

I have left far behind

the jungle of deep sorrows

I have surrendered before her love

weapons shaped by resentments and anger,

plans of animosities and revenge

 

She has sowed

in my heart

the seeds of  a new revolt

just as she is nurturing

in her body

our heir to come.

 

She has covered

the net of my vices and imperfections

just as the skin hides

the network of blood vessels and entrails

But she lays bare

the journey of my feet

that have negotiated many ditches and bumps

left and right, back and front;

how I swam across wide rivers;

my forthright utterances

in public places.

 

She is very secretive

like thoughts dissolved in blood

Sometimes

in fact many times

she calls

me Krishna

and herself Radha

me Shiva

and herself Parvati

She builds a bridge

between the Aryan and the non-Aryan

and for my sake

she has absorbed much

just as the earth has absorbed

poisonous chemicals

When we go out

to rent a house

or face insults

while visiting a religious place

she questions the conscience of humans.

Then she shines all the more

like the sun

and filled with joy she says,

our heir, born of our union,

will bring heaven on earth

and spread his eyelids

for people to walk on.

 

I stare at her

goggle-eyed and

see the present and future

through the past.

---

 

12. Waves in the Mind

 

Walking through the crisscross of roads

passing through life’s blind alleys

I see in front of me

milky corncobs as if spinning cotton

blooming wheat and paddy

stalks more fragile than glass;

and beside them some crops already withering.

I am witness to this silent lamentation.  

 

One remembers

fissures in the drought-stricken fields,

like the cracks in the elders’ heels;

oxen biting into withered stubble

like sisters, born one after the other,

chewing at their mother’s dry teats;

and father’s quiet prayers,

both said and unsaid,

for flowers to bloom for everyone

for the drying crops to green again,

I quietly translate to myself.

 

The water channel dug on the southern side

seems becoming unbridgeable day by day,

which neither I nor my upper caste friend

could ever swim and go across

rebelling against the banks we stood on.

The river of friendship wants to flow

riding over the furrows like old men’s wrinkles,

in spite of the silt or marble

because water seeks its own level.

---

 

13. An Oasis

(to my friend Purshotam Sharma)

 

At times

he is distant like the sun

and close like the sunshine

At times

reminded of my adolescence days

I am filled with warmth

At others

his speech scorches

 

Whenever I unroll

the folds of the past

I see him

sometimes as my crutches

sometimes as my wings

 

Whenever I descend

into dark endless caves

or a boggy hell

he is like the steadfast polestar

 

Sometimes he is the sunshine

Sometimes an umbrella

Sometimes a protective  sword

Sometimes the Lakshman Rekha

 

During a drought

he is a dew drop

In the desert

he is an oasis

 

---

 

14. The Contracting Circle

 

Many things have been left behind

like my childhood:

My village, my people

Fields dearer than sons

Trees like Mirza’a Jand

witness to a love tale 

 

This clayey figure

has crossed many landmarks

like waters that have flowed past:

Lived through years

breath after breath

two and a half times

the number of chapters in the Gita;

Scaled the walls of love and infatuation

and many mountains

 

I have forgotten many things

like dreams:

The flight of birds

My ancestry

My language

The land of Siyals’ daughters.

 

There’s much I remember

like my wife and children:

A few names and places

Fights over love

Relationships that are dead

Horrifying scenes of slaughter

over water sharing

And the wingless bird thinks only,

like blood coursing through the body,

of picking the feed that lies scattered.

---

 

 

15 The Sky is Witness

      

 

Many eyes

were riveted on deserted pathways

to lovingly welcome someone;

but the pathways had devoured

the footprints of the home-comers.

 

Many fields

waited for the soft touch of the feet

that never weighed heavy on them

like those of strangers.

 

Many oxen

bellowed for the hands

whose one pat would relieve

their daylong fatigue.

 

Dogs like Moti ⎼

members of family ⎼

sat disheartened

wondering for whom

should they wag their tails.

 

A heart would suddenly

start beating fast

on seeing a clayey figure

become a tiger, with a weapon in hand.

 

The sky has absorbed

the tragedy of the five rivers

the winds of conspiracy

the tearfulness of the exploding clouds

the memory of falling stars

the sound of tender shoots cracking.

---

  

xxx