Within This Body

In honor of Gandhi Jayanti, we present this work by one of India’s greatest Hindi language poets.

Tulsidas
Indian
1532 – 1623

 

Within this body
breathes the secret essence.
Within this body
beats the heart of the Vedas.

Within this body
shines the entire Universe,
so the saints say.

Hermits, ascetics, celibates —
all are lost
seeking Him
in endless guises.

Seers and sages perfectly parrot
the scriptures and holy books,
blinded by knowledge.

Their pilgrimage,
and fasting,
and striving
but delude.
Despite their perfect practice,
they discover no destination.

Only the saints
who know the body’s heart
have attained the Ultimate, O Tulsi.
Realize this, and you’ve found your freedom.

While teachers trapped in tradition
know only the mirage
in the mirror.

from Ardhakathānaka

Banarasidas
Indian
1586 – 1643

 

Samvat 1662.
Came the month of Kartik and the end of the rainy season.
The great Emperor Akbar
Died in the city of Agra.

The news of his death reached Jaunpur.
The people, bereft of their emperor, felt orphaned and helpless.
The townsfolk were afraid,
Their hearts troubled, their faces pale with fear.

Banarasi suddenly
Heard of Akbar’s death.
He had been sitting on the stairs,
The news struck him like a blow upon the heart.

He swooned and fell,
He could not help himself.
He cracked his head and began bleeding profusely.
The word ‘God’ slipped from his mouth.

He had hurt his head on the stone floor
Of the courtyard, which turned red with his blood.
Everyone began making a great fuss;
His mother and father were frantic.

His mother held him in her arms,
Applied a piece of burnt cloth to his wound.
Then, making up a bed, she laid her son upon it
His mother wept unceasingly.

Meanwhile there was chaos in the city,
Riots broke out everywhere.
People sealed shut the doors of their houses,
Shopkeepers would not sit in their shops.

Fine clothes and expensive jewellery–
These, people buried underground.
Books recording their business transactions they buried somewhere else,
And hid their cash and other goods in safe and secure places.

In every house, weapons were gathered.
Men began to wear plain clothes
And casting off fine shawls, wrapped themselves in rough blankets.
The women too began to dress plainly.

No one could tell the difference between the high and the low.
The rich and the poor were alike.
No thieves or robbers were to be seen anywhere,
People were needlessly afraid.

The chaos and confusion continued for ten days.
Then peace returned:
A letter came from Agra saying that all was well.
This was what the letter said–

“The great Akbar was emperor
For fifty-two years.
Now in Samvat 1662,
He died in the month of Kartik.”

“Akbar’s oldest son
Sahib Shah Salim,
Has, in the city of Agra, assumed the throne
In Akbar’s palace.”

“He has taken the name of Nuruddin
Jahangir Sultan.
This news is being given all over the kingdom,
In every place where the emperor’s authority holds sway.”

This was the news contained in the letter
Which was read from house to house
And spread around Jaunpur
Causing the people to give thanks in relief.

There was joy in Kharagsen’s house
A state of well-being prevailed, gone were sorrow and strife;
Banarasi recovered, and bathed;
The family rejoiced and gave alms generously in their joy.

Song of the Hindustani Minstrel

We present this work in honor of Ganesh Chaturthi.

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio
Indian
1809 – 1831

 

I

With surmah tinge the black eye’s fringe,
‘Twill sparkle like a star;
With roses dress each raven tress,
My only loved Dildar!

II

Dildar! There’s many a valued pearl
In richest Oman’s sea;
But none, my fair Cashmerian girl!
O! none can rival thee.

III

In Busrah there is many a rose
Which many a maid may seek,
But who shall find a flower which blows
Like that upon thy cheek?

IV

In verdant realms, ‘neath sunny skies,
With witching minstrelsy,
We’ll favour find in all young eyes,
And all shall welcome thee.

V

Around us now there’s but the night,
The heaven alone above;
But soon we’ll dwell in cities bright,
Then cheer thee, cheer thee, love!

VI

The heart eternally is blest
Where hope eternal springs;
Then hush thy sorrows all to rest,
We’ll treat the courts of kings.

VII

In palace halls our strains we’ll raise,
There all our songs shall flow;
Come cheer thee, sweet! for better days
Shall dawn upon our woe.

VIII

Nay weep not, love! thou shouldst not weep,
The world is all our home;
Life’s watch together we shall keep,
We’ll love where’er we roam.

IX

Like birds from land to land we’ll range,
And with our sweet sitar,
Our hearts the same, though worlds may change,
We’ll live, and love, Dildar!

Fruits of Unity

We present this work in honor of Indian Independence Day.

Altaf Hussain Hali
Indian
1837 – 1914

 

A house in which all the hearts are united
In misery and joy all of them beat as one
If one is elated all the rest are delighted
If one is in sorrow, all others are saddened
That humblest of dwellings is surely more blessed
Than that royal castle where one soul is depressed.

Turn

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 60th birthday.

Vijayalakshmi
Indian
b. 1960

 

The insulted corpse spoke to me at night:

Can’t you see what’s planted in my hands?
Definitely, this gun isn’t mine.
I do not recognize bullets,
except the one that pierced me.
Those diary entries aren’t mine,
the hitlists were appended later.
Though murdered, I’m not a dimwit.
If so,
even I want to see the hellish diary
that added our names into the hit list,
a diary that vanished
because it was never written.

After death,
I came to know from the rotten,
decaying, withered,
powdered and wounded corpses
about the guns that were planted
between their dead fingers,
about the insult thrust upon them
by exhibiting their gun wielding pictures,
about romantic diary notes
that were written in their names.
Corpses don’t lie.
We are the truth, the sole truth.
But what can corpses do?

We can.
Even if we are erased from days
and appended to newspapers,
bulletin boards and
lazy after-dinner miniscreens,
even if our lifeless recline
is repeatedly insulted,
our blood silently appears
in honest mirrors at night.
Pressing the lips
against every ear that is awake,
It will chant this till sunrise:
Do not sleep.
What dawns is your turn.

from Rādhikā-sāntvanam

Muddupalani
Indian
c. 1739 – 1790

 

If I ask her not to kiss me,
stroking on my cheeks
she presses my lips hard against hers.

If I ask her not to touch me,
stabbing me with her firm breasts
she hugs me.

If I ask her not to get too close
for it is not decorous,
she swears at me loudly.

If I tell her of my vow not
to have a woman in my bed,
she hops on
and begins the game of love.

Appreciative,
she lets me drink from her lips,
fondles me, talks on,
making love again and again.

How could I stay away
from her company?

I am Mad with Love

Mirabai
Indian
1498 – 1557

 

I am mad with love
And no one understands my plight.
Only the wounded
Understand the agonies of the wounded,
When the fire rages in the heart.
Only the jeweller knows the value of the jewel,
Not the one who lets it go.
In pain I wander from door to door,
But could not find a doctor.
Says Mira: Harken, my Master,
Mira’s pain will subside
When Shyam comes as the doctor.

Closing In Like a Dark Cloud

Jayaprabha
Indian
b. 1957

 

The train hadn’t stopped yet
I stood in the open doorway,
hoping you to come to the railway station
to await my arrival…

Like unknown places,
I saw many faces running backwards
Yet I couldn’t find
the sea of sweetness personified as your face
among them…
Nor the sunflower fields…
nor any trace of Mahendragiri,
that hallowed hill we knew so well.

Thinking
that you hadn’t come to receive me,
or that this wasn’t my destination
doubting… nervous,
I began to quietly get out of the way.

Suddenly,
from behind,
two strong hands — as if with a prankish intent,
entwined me, along with a loud chant
of the mantra of my name ‘Jaya!’
and covered me,
closing in on me like an opaque dark cloud
and turned me into a shower of rain.

Beggar

We present this work in honor of the Day of Dr. Ambdekar Jayanti.

Suryakant Tripathi Nirala
Indian
1896 – 1961

 

He comes.
Making us repentant with remorseful remarks,
He comes on path.
His stomach and back seems one,
A stick in hand,
Asking for alms and grain,
To satisfy his hunger.
He spreads forward
His torn satchel,
Making us repentant with remorseful remarks,
He comes on path.
Two children with him always,
With one hand on their starved belly
Other hand raised
to attract some merciful sight,
Lips and mouth parched.
Receiving no mercy from the Maker,
Starving, can’t sob and shed tears
Busy eating decayed leftover by a roadside
Competing with stray dogs
To satiate their hunger.