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The palm trees leaned over the lagoon,
Like long-haired sisters, sharing in a lonely secret,
and we their wistful keepers,
in the thickening dark, while empty canoes drifted dockside.
We chanted your name against the dying light, four hands clasped,
as quietness washed over the dimming land,
like floating pearls thrumming on your eternal string,
an action of experienced hands,
directed by thought, then utterance, then memory of you,
before that unspeakable stillness.
Translation: Kabir Chowdhury
O poverty, thou hast made me great.
Thou hast made me honoured like Christ
With his crown of thorns. Thou hast given me
Courage to reveal all. To thee I owe
My insolent, naked eyes and sharp tongue.
Thy curse has turned my violin to a sword.
O proud saint, thy terrible fire
Has rendered my heaven barren.
It has prematurely dried beauty.
My feelings and my life.
Time and again I stretched my lean, cupped hands
To accept the gift of the beautiful.
But those hungry ones always came before me.
And did snatch it away ruthlessly,
Now my word of imagination is
Dry as a vast desert.
And my own beautiful!
My yellow-stalked pensive desire
Wants to blossom like the fragrant shefali.
But thou cruel one
Dost ruthlessly break the soft stalk
As the woodcutter chopsthe branches
Off the trees. My heart grows tender
Like the autumn morning
It fills with love
Like the dew-laden earth.
But thou art the blazing sun
And thy fiery heart dries up the tiny drop of the earth
I grow listless in the shadowy skirt of the earth
And my dreams of beauty and goodness vanish!
With a bitter tongue thou askest,
“What’s the use of nectar?
It has no sting, no intoxication, no madness it.
The search for heaven’s secred drink
Is not for the in this sorrow-filled earth.
Thou art the serpent, born in pai .
Thou will sit in the bower of thorns
And weave the garland of flowers.
I put on thy forehead the sing
Of suffering and woe.”
So I sing, I weave a garland,
While my throat is on fire,
And my serpent daughter bites me all over!
O unforgiving Durbasha! thou wanderest
From door to door with thy beggar’s bowl.
Thou goes to the peaceful abode of
Some sleeping happy couple
And sternly callest, “O fool,
Knowest thou, that this earth is not anybody’s
Pleasure bower for luxury adn ease.
Here is sorrow and separation
And a hundred wants and disease.
Under the arms of the beloved
There are thorns in the bed,
And now must thou prepare
To savour these.” The unhappy home
Is shattered in a moment,
And woeful laments rend
The air. The light of joy is extinguished
And endless nights descends.
Thou walkest the road alone
Lean, hungry and starved.
Suddenly some sight makes thy eyebrows
Arch in annoyance and thine eyes
Blazeforth-fires of anger!
And lo! famine, pestilence and tornado
Visit the country, pleasuregarden burn,
Palaces tumble, thy law
Knows nothing but death and destruction.
Nor for thee the license of courtesy.
Thou seekest the unashaamed revelation of stark nakedness.
Thou knowest no timid hesitation or polite embarrassment
Thou dost raise high the lowly head.
At thy signal the travellers on the road to death
Put round their neck the fatal noose
With cheerful smile on their faces!
Nursing the fire of perennial want in their bosom
They worship the god of death in fiendish glee !
Thou tramplest the crown of Lakshmi
Under thy feet. What tune
Dost thou want to wiring
Out of her violin? At thy touch
the music turns into criesof anguish!
Waking up in the morning Iheard yesterday
The plantive Sanai mourning those
Who had not returned yet, At home
The singer cried for them and wept bitter tears
And floating with that music the soul of the beloved
Wandered far to the distant spot
Where the love anxiously waited.
This morning I got up
And heard the Sanai again
Crying as mournfully as ever.
And the pensive Shefalika,
sad as a widow’s smile,
Falls in clusters, spreading
A mild fragrance in the air.
Today the butterfly dances in restless joy
Numbing the flowers with its kisses.
And the wings of the bee
Carry the yellow of the petals,
It’s body covered with honey.
Life seems to have sprung up suddenly
On all sides. Asong of welcome
Comes unconsciously to my lips
And unbidden tears spring to my eyes
Some one seems to have entwined my soul
With that of mother-earth. She comes forward
And with her dust-adorned hands
Offers me her presents.
It seems to me that she is the youngest daughter of mine,
My darling child!
But suddenly wake up with a start. O cruel saint, being my child,
Thou weepest in my home, hungry and stoned!
O my child, my darling one
I could not give thee even a drop of milk
No right have I to rejoice.
Poverty weeps within my doors forever
As my spouse and my child.
Who will play the flute?
Where shall I get the happy smile
Of the beautiful? Where the honeyed drink
I have drunk deep the hemlock
Of bitter tears!
And still even today
I hear the mournful tune of the Sanai.
What is the cause of the present chaos? It is exploitation, I will not say of the weaker nations by the stronger, but of sister nations by sister nations. And my fundamental objection to machinery rests on the fact that it is machinery that has enabled these nations to exploit others. In itself it is a wooden thing and can be turned to good purpose or bad. But it is easily turned to a bad purpose as we know. (Mahatma Gandhi, Young India, 22-10-1931, p. 318)