"I’d read poems to rocks / not one rock melted": Three poems by Vasant Abaji Dahake translated by Suhit Kelkar

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"I’d read poems to rocks / not one rock melted": Three poems by Vasant Abaji Dahake translated by Suhit Kelkar

Poetry in translation from the Marathi by Suhit Kelkar

And I Cut My Poem

(translation of मग मी कविता कापली)

the land was already barren
the rivers were already dry
people were already destitute

no people, skulls here and there
beside stumps of trees

I was in a village with no people
I’d read poems to rocks
not one rock melted
instead, aggressively
they moved forward
I stopped
so did they
they stood rooted to the spot
their stony silence
filled up everywhere

and I cut my poem
lengthways
horizontally
I massacred it
I held up my blood-drenched hands
in front of my eyes

then I filled a bag with
the bloody pieces of my poem
and turned my back

then I got on a donkey
left the village

I cursed no one

***

Thick Still Darkness

(translation of काळॊखाच्या गडद स्तब्धतॆत)

In thick still darkness
even if a dry leaf falls,
I tremble in fear
with a hare’s heart.
Can’t trust my limbs now
even in the afternoon’s bright glare.
These days, during daytime too
all has gone dark
and all around me
is inhumanly still.
A bizarre disease afflicts me.
I see wriggling ants instead of alphabets
on the stale newspaper in front of me;
whether ants or worms
spawned from the decayed
annals of the present,
I can’t fathom the adverse signs.
But something has decayed,
in our village or our home or
in my body.
On the TV screen I see wide open jaws,
tiny frogs coming out of them
and jumping around the screen,
and they keep coming even after the TV’s off.
Who knows if I am in a fantasy land.
I can’t speak the language of mice,
but a while back when a small mouse
ran by, saying something,
I heard and could follow his speech.
He said, run away, run, the saviour is coming...
It’s the saviour, right? Why run away...?
He didn’t wait to answer.
It’s something bizarre,
the dots join differently, the meanings of words
have changed.
It’s possible I’ll understand the language of pests
and be freed from the language of people.
The age is one of darkness,
the days are dark and without tongues.

***

Identity

(Translation of ऒळख)

In that small village the long-slumbering theatre
has woken up today. The stage with heavy eyelids
has opened its eye.
Some play is being performed. Actors with white-painted faces and
black costumes
are speaking, making movements. The spectators are seated
in their places, quiescent.
But two individuals in nondescript dress and with expressionless faces
stand at the door by the stage, watching the play,
as if they are in charge of security
for the god of theatre. Who are they, why are they standing, the front row
has a few vacant seats,
why aren’t they seated there, the spectators wonder,
but no one dares ask. The equivocal spectators are still at the door,
examining the characters with a penetrating gaze. They can’t figure out
what caste, what religion, what ideology
the characters in the play belong to.
The characters are isolated, sorrowful, helpless,
around them
something frightening is happening, these citizens of the play
are terrified, there are tremors in their movements, their speech stutters
as if a giant python
has coiled around the city.
Those two equivocal spectators
don’t recognise them at all. Finally, fed up,
a few moments before interval, they get on stage
and their shoes scrape
as if scratching the silence. The spectators treat
them as characters in the play.
One of the two says, forgive us, audience,
we’re causing an interruption,
we want to examine the characters’, not the actors’, the characters’,
IDs.
The actors are nonplussed, and the audience, they can’t fathom
what’s happening,
why these people have intruded, and why they’re asking to see
the characters’ IDs.
An actor says, mister, these are characters created by the playwright,
they have no papers, they express their identity
through their speech and actions.
By now you’ve seen they have no identity of their own,
they’ve forgotten their identity, they are nothing,
they are no one,
as for our papers, examine them after the play is over.
The two equivocal spectators have no answer, they say,
alright, continue the play,
they come down from the stage, go and stand by the door, till the play ends.
Then, without saying anything they come out, look at each other,
one of them says,
Who are we? The other says, Who are we?
Looking at the spectators walking slowly out of the theatre
they wonder, who are they?
After everyone has left, the two equivocal spectators keep standing on the street.

***

Vasant Abaji Dahake (born March 30, 1942) is a Marathi poet, playwright, short story writer, artist, and critic from Amravati (Maharashtra, India). He has received several awards, including the Sahitya Akademi Award for his collection Chitralipi for the year 2009; Vinda Karandikar Lifetime Achievement Award from the Government of Maharashtra in 2014; Jansthan Puraskar in 2019.

Suhit Kelkar’s poetry has appeared in several Indian and international journals, including The Charles River Journal, Speak, Poetry at Sangam, Vayavya, Bengaluru Review, The Indian Quarterly, and The Bombay Literary Magazine, among others. His short stories have appeared in Firstpost (India) and Out of Print magazine (India). His debut book is a poetry chapbook named The Centaur Chronicles (2018), which uses the figure of a centaur to explore themes of exclusion, discrimination and otherness. His book of photos and haiku, Mumbai Monochrome, came out in 2020.

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