“For Vincent Van Gogh”: a poem by Namdeo Dhasal

For Vincent Van Gogh

Sunflowers truly are
The self- expression of your
Experience
But, brother
You’ve forgotten to paint
One of the colours of the sun!

– Namdeo Dhasal from The Soul Doesn’t Find Peace in This Regime (1995)

Translated by Dilip Chitre in Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld published last year. A great book with some fine translations and an introduction to Dhasal and his works. The stunning pictures by Henning Stegmuller provide a visual introduction to Dhasal’s world. My only disconcert with the book is that Chitre entirely washes out Dhasal’s later shift to Hindutva politics. This poem can also be read as an expression of that disconcert.

Related Post: Namdeo Dhasal and the Fall of the Dalit Panther Movement

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Nazi Literature in South America and India

Roberto Bolano in his recently translated novel Nazi Literature in the Americas weaves an entire literary universe filled with imaginary writers and their writings.Not all writers were,however, fans of Hitler or other Nazi leaders or even their ideology. Bolano’s biographies of these imaginary writers, inspired in a way by Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, are short- the longest runs into a few pages, the shortest about a page in length. Marked by sharply etched portraits of the writers and of their equally imaginary writings, the novel reads like a racy potboiler, except that there is no evident plot in the novel. Only the last story (which readers of Bolano’s novel Distant Star will be familiar with because it is a summary of the same novel) is somewhat longer and has Bolano himself speaking in the first person and somewhat gives the clues to the underlying impulses behind the novel.

In this he recounts the story of Ramirez Hoffman, a Chilean air plane pilot who seemingly heralded a ‘new era’ in Chilean arts after the coup against Salvador Allende’s socialist government and the establishment of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship. Hoffman’s poetry is written in the sky using smokes from his air plane thus announcing the new blend of technology and arts as Chile was ‘recovering its manhood’ under a military dispensation.Some of Hoffman’s poems, all one liners written on the skies, read as follows:

“YOUTH…YOUTH”
“GOOD LUCK TO EVERYONE IN DEATH”
“LEARN FROM FIRE”
“Death is friendship”
“Death is Chile”
“Death is responsibility”
“Death is growth”
“Death is communion”
“Death is cleansing” and so on till “Death is resurrection” and the generals themselves realize that something is amiss. It is, however, something far more macabre that leads to his downfall.

Bolano’s prose is marked by the alacrity of flash fiction (which to me is one of the most important developments in literature in the internet age), but nevertheless carries forward the tradition of the serious novel. The absence of an explicit plot in the story does not mean that there is no plot- as a post- modern reading would suggest. Instead, the plot is hidden below the surface, like an underground river.

The point that he makes is that Nazi- like brutality has a long lineage, and it resides perceptibly and imperceptibly in literature as well. Literature is, therefore, a battlefield in the recovery of humanity and is not outside the realm of politics, and neither is politics outside the realm of poetry and literature.

Reading the novel, I could not but relate very much to India where, interestingly, it is rather normal to have politicians, in the tradition of rulers of the past like Bahadur Shah Zafar and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, to double up as poets and writers. It is therefore not unusual that two major contemporary politicians- Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, former Prime Minister and a present Chief Minister of Gujarat respectively, belonging to what is easily the closest we have to a fascist political movement, the Bharatiya Janata Party, have some claim to being poets.

To look for Nazi literature in India, one does not need biographies of imaginary writers. In India, they live among us, in our times. The question of literature and politics being separate also does not arise. They are so intricately tied up that both are the same. The nightmare and the muse.

Related Posts on Roberto Bolano

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Sudarshan Faakir

Sudarshan Faakir, poet and lyricist whose ghazals and some nazms were sung by Begum Akhtar in her last phase and Jagjit Singh in his early phase in the 1970s and 1980s died on 19 Feb in Jalandhar. He will be remembered as one of the significant though minor poets of the language. In context of the language issue, it needs to be remarked that he belonged to the small and diminishing tribe of non- Muslim Urdu poets from East Punjab. Krishna Adeeb, who passed away couple of years back and Joginder Lal (known by his nome de plume Naqsh Lyallpuri) are others that come to mind. His compositions may not have been prolific, but each is remarkable for its profundity and perfection.

Pretty much a recluse, this is one of the very few interviews that one can find on the internet. I have heard that he was associated with the left- progressive circle around NK Joshi in the early 1970s in Jalandhar.
Newsreport about his passing away
One of my own favourites is a film song by Faakir
Zindagi main jab tumhare gham nahin the.  Another is the one by Begum Akhtar below.

Another ghazal sung by Mohammad Rafi:

This is a popular Jagjit Singh item Kagaz ki Kashti:

You can listen to a good collection here too.

Romanized text of some of Faakir’s poetry at Urdupoetry.

Suharto- ‘Water will wear away the Stone’

Death, even of dreaded criminals like Suharto who died today, comes as a shock. It is also a reminder of events- in this case, the slaughter of at least a million Indonesians in the 1960s- mostly communists in a predominantly Muslim country. Outside the officially communist countries, Indonesia had the largest communist party in the world before Suharto brutally decimated it. (news report at npr)

Closer home, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr Modi- he brought ‘economic development’ and ‘stability’ to the country.

Here is a poem by the great Indonesian poet, WS Rendra written during the 1998 student demonstrations that brought down Suharto.

Because we have to eat roots
while grain piles up in your storeroom…
Because we live crowded together
and you have more space than you need…
Therefore we are not on the same side.Because we’re all creased and crumpled
and you’re immaculate…
Because we’re crowded and stifled
and you lock the door…
Therefore we are suspicious of you.

Because we’re abandoned in the street
and you own all the shelter…
Because we’re caught in floods
while you have parties on pleasure craft…
Therefore we do not like you.
Because we are silenced
and you never shut up…
Because we are threatened
and you impose your will by force…
therefore we say NO to you.

Because we are not allowed to choose
and you can do what you like…
Because we wear only sandals
and you use your rifles freely…
Because we have to be polite
and you have the prisons…
therefore NO and NO to you.

Because we are like a flowing river
and you are a stone without a heart
the water will wear away the stone.

Source

As to the barbaric political repression under the former general, Tariq Ali quotes the Indonesian writer Pripit Rochijat:

Usually the corpses were no longer recognisable as human. Headless. Stomachs torn open. The smell was unimaginable. To make sure they didn’t sink, the carcasses were deliberately tied to, or impaled upon, bamboo stakes. And the departure of the corpses from the Kediri region down the Brantas achieved its golden age when bodies were stacked together on rafts over which the PKI [Indonesian Communist Party] banner grandly flew . . . Once the purge of Communist elements got under way, clients stopped coming for sexual satisfaction. The reason: most clients–and prostitutes–were too frightened, for, hanging up in front of the whorehouses, there were a lot of male Communist genitals–like bananas hung out for sale.’

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The Year of Roberto Bolano

Roberto Bolano’s posthumous onslaught on the US literary scene continues. Boston Review has published a poem My Life in the Tubes of Survival.

Dreaming
That the saucer and I had finished our ridiculous dance,
Our humble critique of Reality, in a painless, anonymous
Crash in one of the planet’s deserts. Death
That brought me no peace, so after my flesh had rotted
I still went on dreaming.read the full poem

The New Yorker has a superb short story about a fictitious Argentinian author:Álvaro Rousselot’s Journey.

It has all the elements of a Roberto Bolano story- fast paced sequences written in exquisite prose and an ending with a dramatic twist. A short extract from the story:

But the action of that sinister and eminently sardonic character Time has prompted a reconsideration of Rousselot’s apparent simplicity. Perhaps he was complicated. By which I mean more complicated than we had imagined. Or, there is an alternative explanation: perhaps he was simply another victim of chance.

Such cases are not unusual among lovers of literature like Rousselot. In fact, they are not unusual among lovers of anything. read the full story (about 10 pages long)

Related posts on Roberto Bolano on this blog.

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Nisar Main Teri Galiyon Ke- A Translation

I could not find a translation of the complete nazm Nisar main teri galiyon ke on the internet while writing the previous post and have attempted my own translation of Faiz’s popular and, in present circumstances in Pakistan, a particularly apt nazm. The original nazm is reproduced below the translation. I have taken quite a few liberties in this humble attempt at translating this highly idiomatic  poem.

***

My salutations to thy sacred streets, O beloved nation!
Where a tradition has been invented- that none shall walk with his head held high
If at all one takes a walk, a pilgrimage
One must walk, eyes lowered, the body crouched in fear

The heart in a tumultuous wrench at the sight
Of stones and bricks locked away and mongrels breathing free

In this tyranny that has many an excuse to perpetuate itself
Those crazy few that have nothing but thy name on their lips
Facing those power crazed that both prosecute and judge, wonder
To whom does one turn for defence, from whom does one expect justice?

But those whose fate it is to live through these times
Spend their days in thy mournful memories

When hope begins to dim, my heart has often conjured
Your forehead sprinkled with stars
And when my chains have glittered
I have imagined that dawn must have burst upon thy face

Thus one lives in the memories of thy dawns and dusks
Imprisoned in the shadows of the high prison walls

Thus always has the world grappled with tyranny
Neither their rituals nor our rebellion is new
Thus have we always grown flowers in fire
Neither their defeat, nor our final victory, is new!

Thus we do not blame the heavens
Nor let bitterness seed in our hearts

We are separated today, but one day shall be re- united
This separation that will not last beyond tonight, bears lightly on us
Today the power of our exalted rivals may touch the zenith
But these four days of omniscience too shall pass

Those that love thee keep, beside them
The cure of the pains of a million heart- breaks

***

The original (source)

nisaar mai.n terii galiyo.n ke ae watan, ki jahaa.N
chalii hai rasm ki koii na sar uThaa ke chale
jo koii chaahanewaalaa tawaaf ko nikale
nazar churaa ke chale, jism-o-jaa.N bachaa ke chale

hai ahl-e-dil ke liye ab ye nazm-e-bast-o-kushaad
ki sang-o-Khisht muqayyad hai.n aur sag aazaad

bahot hai.n zulm ke dast-e-bahaanaa-juu ke liye
jo cha.nd ahl-e-junuu.N tere naam levaa hai.n
bane hai.n ahl-e-hawas muddaii bhii, mu.nsif bhii
kise wakiil kare.n, kis se mu.nsifii chaahe.n

magar guzaranewaalo.n ke din guzarate hai.n
tere firaaq me.n yuu.N subh-o-shaam karate hai.n

bujhaa jo rauzan-e-zi.ndaa.N to dil ye samajhaa hai
ki terii maa.ng sitaaro.n se bhar gaii hogii
chamak uThe hai.n salaasil to hamane jaanaa hai
ki ab sahar tere ruKh par bikhar gaii hogii

Garaz tasavvur-e-shaam-o-sahar me.n jiite hai.n
giraft-e-saayaa-e-diwaar-o-dar me.n jiite hai.n

yuu.N hii hameshaa ulajhatii rahii hai zulm se Khalq
na unakii rasm naii hai, na apanii riit naii
yuu.N hii hameshaa khilaaye hai.n hamane aag me.n phuul
na unakii haar naii hai na apanii jiit naii

isii sabab se falak kaa gilaa nahii.n karate
tere firaaq men ham dil buraa nahii.n karate

Gar aaj tujhase judaa hai.n to kal baham ho.nge
ye raat bhar kii judaaii to koii baat nahii.n
Gar aaj auj pe hai taala-e-raqiib to kyaa
ye chaar din kii Khudaaii to koii baat nahii.n

jo tujhase ahd-e-wafaa ustavaar rakhate hai.n
ilaaj-e-gardish-e-lail-o-nihaar rakhate hai.n

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