Friday, February 24, 2023

A translated poem, and a wonderful new poet

Recently, I translated a poem of the contemporary Hindi poet Amitabh Bachchan (not the film actor). It was entirely spontaneous for I saw him share the poem on Facebook and was so moved by it, I immediately wanted to share it with a non-Hindi reading audience. 

I share, below, the poem in the original and the translation. 

Life of a grave
Graves don't just live in graveyards
Some live at intersections
Some right on the street
They receive none of the thick shade from giant tamarind trees
They are circled by medical stores and bicycle shops
No river comes forward to kiss them
No grass grows upon them
Dry leaves do not cover them in autumn
They listen, day and night, to the sound of shutters rising, falling
Their ears ring with the sound of bicycle bells
And people scrambling about in their haste
They live out their lives
Between electric wires
Watching a compact sky
Breathing smoke all day
Only after midnight
Do they catch a bit of sleep.
- Translation mine (Annie Zaidi) and the Hindi original below.

कब्र का जीवन
कब्र सिर्फ कब्रगाहों में नहीं होती
कुछ चौक-चौराहों पर
कुछ बीच रास्तों पर होती हैं
उन्हें इमली के विशाल पेड़ों की घनी छाया नसीब नहीं होती
वे दवा या साइकिल की दुकानों से घिरी होती हैं
किसी दरिया का पानी उन्हें चूमने नहीं आता
कोई घास उन पर नहीं उगती
पतझड़ के दिनों में सूखे पत्ते उन्हें ढ़कने नहीं आते
वे दिन-रात सुनती हैं शटर उठने-गिरने की आवाज
उनके कानों में बजती रहती है साइकिल की घंटी
हड़बड़ी में भागते लोगों के साथ
बीतता है उन कब्रों का जीवन
बिजली के तारों के बीच से
वे देखती हैं छोटा सा आकाश
दिन भर धुआं पीती हैं
आधी रात बाद ही
मयस्सर होती है उन्हें नींद
(December 10, 2014 )
- Amitabh Bachchan

Amitabh's first collection of poems, Samastipur, is now out, available online (amazon etc) as well as through the publisher (you can write to if you want to order it).

I've also offered an endorsement for the book, which goes as follows: A strong, fully-formed poetic voice has emerged from the belly of great uncertainty. Amitabh Bachchan's aesthetic expression is unclouded and unsentimental even though it remains firmly rooted in the landscape of sentiment. It is an emotional and political response to every shade of injustice around us and Hindi literature is doubtless richer for it.

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