"I Am a Victim of Politics": Poetry by Varavara Rao, translated by Maithri and R. Raj Rao

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"I Am a Victim of Politics": Poetry by Varavara Rao, translated by Maithri and R. Raj Rao

Jointly translated from the Telugu into English

Varavara Rao photo by Indira Jaisingh via Twitter

I Am a Victim of Politics

I see growth

In the pea-climber at the front of my house
And in the almond tree behind it.
But I have shrunk into sadness.
If I were to follow the net
Along which the creeper was planted
I would need to bow my head
To go underneath it.
I am unable to touch
The branch of the almond tree
Whose fruits have grown
Beyond a stone’s reach.

I have learnt my lessons.
There is no electricity without revolution
I see the turbulent flow of water
When the shock of the wire
Makes your head spin
It feels like an oil lamp is best.
Nowadays
I have begun to pity the jasmine
That doesn’t know how to bloom
Except in white.
The honey-bee from the neighbour’s honeycomb
Hasn’t stopped buzzing.
It drinks the nectar of the rose
Despite the narrow walls.


I wish to be the wood chip
That lights the fire.
Yet I stand on trembling legs.


It seems as if all except me prosper.
I am tired.
Is there no meaning in action?


The night jasmines that blossom
To worship the Lord
Seem to be the same.
For years on end
Insects run into the light
By habit.

Vox Populi.
My desire to do better
May be mistaken
For selfish

FromChalinegallu’ (1968)

*
Life isn’t Like Grandmother’s Fables

Life isn’t like the fables
That Ammamma narrated to me.
There was no king once upon a time.
We are mere clerks.
With no king
There are no seven sons.
That logic of lineage
Isn’t for the clerk
With seven daughters.
The clerk’s eldest falls asleep
Listening to stories of princes.
The prince and she
Are the hero and heroine of a film.
The clerk’s sleepless eyes
Worry about the expense incurred on his girls.
His second daughter
Is always in a car in her dreams
With detective Parasuram.
The detective novels that the clerk reads
Make him think of himself as the culprit.
Working in the treasury
He thinks of his boss’s money purse.

The clerk dreams.
His loans are paid.
His sisters and daughters are simultaneously married.
His wife dresses in her bridal sari.
It is their honeymoon night.


The dream ends.
The clerk is reprimanded
For mistakes in the file.
He suffers a month’s loss of pay.

Time passes.
The clerk reads the news
Of the suicide of his eldest daughter
Who eloped with the actor
Who played the part of a king.
Another day
He reads the news
Of his second daughter and her rowdy husband
Landing in jail.
Rowdy is an anagram of dowry.

The clerk’s life isn’t like grandmother’s fables.
It is a tale told by an idiot

FromChalinegallu’ (1968)

*

Hunger?

Oh beggar
Oh idiot,
The breaths you took leaning against my back
Are filled with hunger.
Your youthful touch,
The glances you threw
To catch my gaze from below my neck
Reek of hunger, not of sex.

The dreams that you dreamt as a virgin
Aren’t about the son you bore
Who drank elixir.
They are about your breasts
That couldn’t hide a single drop of milk
What do you have left to hide?
What can you cover yourself with?

I couldn’t bear to see you.
The knees that dug into my bed
The breasts that tease me,
I am unable to look in the eye.
A murky canal emerges from the side of my waist.
Stretched out in front of me
Are your nails filled with dirt.
What can I taste?

You desire me for my polish.
Your hands are in my pocket
Looking for small change.


You trade your youth
For pennies that satiate your hunger.
But I can’t even afford to buy your youth
For a pittance.

Forgive me.
I am not blessed enough to embrace you
And quell your hunger.
I haven’t a single penny
To give away in charity.
We’ll meet for another haggle.
Where’s the guarantee that I can repay you
In life’s journey?

FromChalinegallu’ (1968)

*
Tomorrow

You can’t cool off
The sorrow of tears.
Think of your duties.
Poetry doesn’t end suffering.
Write strategy.

Struggle become a pyre
That singes your heart.
Light the revolution
Of a million hearts like yours.

Call the frog out of the well
Abandon the boat that no longer floats.

Today, the sky is an opportunist.
Ignite the fire that’s cooled off
With your breath.
Nurse tomorrow with your thoughts.

FromJeevanaadi’ (1971)

*
Blood for Light

A freedom-seeker is always in jail.
The coloniser won’t sleep
Before putting an innocent
In shackles.
Only in nightmares
Do the echoes of the oppressed
Resound.
Boundless thoughts
Are wound by steel chains.
The warriors who tread the path of pain
Become lamp posts
That light the path
To revolution.

FromJeevanaadi’ (1971)

*

We Need Poetry

We need poetry.

We have been writing poetry.
Poetry of tears, of dreams, of shams.
Poetry of memory and revolt.

We need poetry with seeds
That explode and bloom,
That blossom and scent.
We need poetry that bears fruit.

We need poetry with spine
That demands answers
From a system that stands tall.
Poetry that intercepts the state.
Poetry with sight and insight.

Poetry is an infant’s smile,
A mother’s embrace overflowing with love.

Poetry is solace,
A beacon that lights the workers’ path.

Poetry is made fertile
By the sea of life.

Poetry is the resounding gunshot
Of the people’s fight.

31 January 2013, From‘Bheejabhoomi’ (2014)

*

Na Mo 1

In the land of Manu,
Of men that make Gods
And Gods that make men,
What do they Modi-fy in our times?
Men and Gods are sold in bazaars.

After trading as much as they can
They’re vexed by the brand
Drowning Gods in water.

Khairtabad’s Ganesh is a brand.
Balapur’s laddu is a brand.

They lay flowers
Around Tankbund’s bathukamma
And its gowramma.

These, like Barkatpura’s Durga,
With weapons and saffron flags in her hands
Are brands8

Work and worship are synonyms.
The immersion of idols
Is nothing but a performance.
Water bodies are dumping yards for the Gods

Where do we float then?
We’re drowned at the polling booth.

8 October 2013, From‘Bheejabhoomi’ (2014)

*Khairtabad, Tankbund and Barkatpura are various areas in Hyderabad known famously for their idol worship during various Hindu festivals

*

In The Path of Flowers

No matter how far we tread on this path
What is left is beyond time.
Earth’s age is the fulcrum of history.

Where do these paths merge?
Paths in a desert meet at an oasis
Where camels rest under the shade of date palms.
Sidewalks in a forest lead towards
Redemption of villages.

Roads are a maze,
Labyrinths where men vanish and disappear.

Crossroads are hazardous
Like the state
Where accidents happen.
But who do we complain to?
Who guards the fence
Surrounding our crops?

Let’s save the flowering trees.
Let’s grow creepers like vine.
Let’s protect seeds that harvest.

Let’s destroy obstacles
In the path of flowers.

31 December 2013, From‘Bheejabhoomi’ (2014)

*

Na Mo 2

From tea-selling
To demolishing a mosque
We’ve been watching your growth.

That is why we brought bricks
To build a temple
When you asked.

We picked up our trishuls
To kill infidels.
Our frenzy
Brought you to glory.

You built the nation
On men’s corpses,
You built a steel statue
Of the man you idolized
With iron from the homes of the poor.

The court conspired with the hangman
To tighten the noose
Around voters’ necks.

You are the winner
Who sold the nation.

1 January 2014, From‘Bheejabhoomi’ (2014)

***

Varavara Rao is an Indian activist, poet, teacher, and writer from Telangana, India. He is an accused in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence and has been arrested under the Unlawful Activities Act.

R. Raj Rao is a well-known poet, novelist, professor and columnist. He has previously co-translated Dalit Marathi writing and transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi's biography into English.

Maithri hails from Hyderabad, Telangana and has a background in media, literature and politics. She is currently pursuing a research master's in Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam.

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