Translated from the Hindi by Somrita Urni Ganguly
Translating a Revolution
I am a farmer
Hoarding seeds in the sky.
Some people laugh, oh madman
Raising rice in the skies!
I sigh, oh madmen,
If gods can grow on earth then
Grains can grow in the skies.
Either of the two will come true.
Either the gods will be uprooted from this earth
Seeds will be sown in the skies.
- Lego Gods
Stones turn into gods
Because you so choose to believe.
Can stones turn into cash and coins
If you so choose to believe?
Your god is the make-believe plastic cow
That you can playact with
But never get any milk from.
Arise, awake, and stop not till you have destroyed
All those walls that have arrested the
Fresh breeze, the
Fresh water, and
Do not fear walls –
For they have no souls.
Do not fear trees –
For they harbour no ghouls.
Do not fear temples –
For they house no gods.
And the day you understand that
Bricks are bricks,
And stones are stones,
No one will be able to break you again.
It is spring –
Allow us to love and live,
Allow us to fight for our rights.
Screw this world of yours, oh lord, and
Allow us to build a brave new world of our own
Where humans can live like humans
Live, express, listen, endure.
Ramashankar Yadav joined Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, as a student in 1980. He was a political activist affiliated to the students’ wing of a radical Left party. He was rusticated from his department in 1983 for participating in a mass demonstration – or so legends say, and some legends we do not wish to verify! He had been living on campus since then as a minstrel, under the skies. While the administrative policies of the university could not house his kind of political activism, the thousand-acre campus accommodated his revolutionary zeal effortlessly. Students offered him warm clothes in winter, dhabas offered him warm chai and the man with his two polythene-bags full of passion and poetry, survived. He came to be called “Vidrohi”, the Hindi word for a “rebel” or a “revolutionary”. This epithet had been conferred on the path-breaking Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, but rarely, ever before, has a title so overshadowed the real name and become so organic to the individual. Vidrohi, in the true spirit of socialism, continued to visibly participate in protest demonstrations staged by the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU), and compose poems that are anti-state, anti-government, anti-establishment, and anti-patriarchal norms. In poem after poem he sought to re-write the canon, re-tell narratives, re-construct public memory, and re-interpret suffering. Vidrohi died in December 2015 of a cardiac arrest while participating in a public demonstration that the JNUSU had called for against the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. The legend of this “poet and perennial protester” (The Indian Express, 9 Dec 2015), this madmanand revolutionary writer continues to live on in JNU.
Somrita Urni Ganguly is a professor, researcher, and literary translator, soon to complete her PhD from the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She teaches British Literature to undergraduate students, and translates from Hindi and Bengalito English. She was selected by the Writers’ Centre Norwich as an emerging translator in 2016. She has been invited as translator-in-residence at Cove Park, Scotland, in October 2017, and in December 2017 she was invited as poet-in-residence at Arcs of a Circle, Mumbai, an artistes’ residency organized by the US Consulate in Bombay, Akshara Centre and Rochelle Potkar. Somrita’s work has been showcased at the 2017 London Book Fair and she has been published in Asymptote, Words Without Borders, In Other Words, and Muse India, among others.
Somrita is currently translating a novel on the Russian Revolution, and an anthology of erotic verses, to be published later this year.