Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It is Paris again

It is Paris again
where we spent that
week in the knees,
learning love's a-b-c's
and thinking we'd still be

It is still here,
that grey asphalt,
still here, that crease
felt by love's deportees, who
once battle-ready, are now

There is still that
half-promise of the ferry
lights, still the breeze
comes with half-guarantees
of charm, of leaving you

(after Leela Gandhi)

"Should we go to mine,"

I said, but then feeling creepy,
added "or not, you must be sleepy."
He leaned nearer, "I'd just said
let's get out of here, no one's
sleepy, don't put words in my mouth."
Tingly, that this might go somewhere,
I shifted between legs, & didn't know
where to look, right or left, north
or south, tonight, there's just one
word I want to put in his mouth.

Travel Diary - Amrita Pritam

(autobiographical sketches excerpted as 4 poems)


From the water of the Ganges
to vodka - this
is the travelogue of my thirst.


Those days,
I used to work in the radio.

One evening,
I was sitting in my office
when Sajjad Zaheer came to meet me.

For a while, he remained quiet
and slightly fidgety, then
with some hesitation, he spoke:

"A delegation of Indian writers
is going to Russia, I want you
to be among them.

At yesterday's meeting,
no writer - of any language - had a problem
with this, but the Punjabi writers
put their foot down...

they said - if Amrita goes with this delegation
then our wives won't let us go..."



There is a strange sense
of loneliness in the pages of my diary.

As I look out of the air-plane window,
it is as if someone has torn the sky into two.

It is as if I have lain below me
one sheet of this torn sky,
and the other over me.

I don't know how long it will take
to reach Moscow.


28 May, 1966

This evening,
I saw the preserved houses
of Bulgaria's greatest writers:
Peyo Yavorov
and Nikola Vaptsarov.

Several years ago
I had translated Vaptsarov's poems
into Punjabi.

That Punjabi book is now kept in
his house.

when I touched
his table
his pen
his tea-kettle
with my hands,
my eyes teared up.

It was as if
when all those years ago,
I had translated his poems,
those lines had fallen on my ears,
those lines, which have stood there since,
and now singe my ears -

"Tomorrow, this life will come of age...
this belief stirs in my heart
and that which can come and strike this belief,
there's no such bullet in the world...
there's no such bullet in the world...".

These lines, he wrote in 1942,
a little before he was murdered by the Fascists.

It is as if, that belief,
which makes this world,
which remained untouched by bullets,
I touch it today.


14th June, 1966


160 kilometers from Tbilisi,
on our way to the Borjomi valley,
there was the Gori town, where we saw Stalin's birthplace...

Writers have come from all over the world
and this evening in Borjomi
is theirs.

of all countries spoke
of the wish for a better life, but
when the poet from Vietnam, Che Lin, got up,
all our hearts were heavy.

Today, his words are -

"Our poem swims in a river of blood.

Today, it speaks only of guns so that
one day it can speak of flowers.

When our soldiers go to the battle-front,
our people write poems and put it in their pockets.

We pray for the pockets which
carry poems in them.

Today, if we can save those poems,
then know we have saved the man..."

And there were tears in my eyes,
when this poet from Vietnam
came near me and said, "You are Amrita?"
I was stunned, then he said,
"As I was leaving Vietnam,
the poet Svan Jiyao told me
that there would be a woman from India,
and her name will be Amrita,
do remind her of me..."

A prayer is rising from my heart - I hope
that all the beautiful poems in the world become one
and protect Vietnaam..."

(tr. from Kulwant Kochad's Hindi tr. of Amrita Pritam's Punjabi prose)

Amrita Pritam

Love Jihad

There's an uncle of mine, Jatin,
he married Noor. Both had met in
college, & to do the bended knees,
both had to fight their families.

When their first child was born,
they must have thought of a thousand
names - Rahul, Ali, Gaurav, Hassan,
Akash, Chaman; but they chose - Aman.

“But he is pointing his finger at us,”

Mohit said, the guy (Thakur by caste)
as he drove me past the Ambedkar 
statue, on my way to work in Noida. 
“One day we got together and stole 
the statue in our village in Meerut, &
hid it in the fields!” “Why?” I asked. 
“You see, that finger, it’s always pointing
– That Thakur killed my brother! That 
Thakur stole my land! That Thakur raped
my daughter, and, goads our police to use
that rotten atrocity act in his book, look,” 
he pointed to the one in Ambedkar’s hand,
“so we took the damn thing and threw it 
away.” He carried on speaking, something
about the big sorrows of the Meerut Thakurs, 
I sat, quiet, seat-belt buckled, saw the statue 
again, bronze Ambedkar looked at us, chuckled.

And I understand that

I will never know whether
finally, your going away,
was the cause or the
consequence of my fear
that, one day, you would.
I spent days thinking that,
little knowing, those days
and nights of little knowing,
and I don't, even today,
want to be accountable for
the loss, not be asked the
why or the how of it, as
if I had willed it on me
- what could be worse - as
if I had dealt a bad hand,
as if I could have asked
the teller. I played it all
- you know it better than
any - on quicksand, and
love's going away was,
like death, it had to happen,
no matter how much we try
- we all think we won't
till the day we die.

इतने सालों में कितना कम

tr. from Vikram Seth's "How rarely these few years"

इतने सालों में कितना कम, माँ पापा
के घर सब मिले हैं हम, सब काम में
मशगूल, मिलने की बारी ही नहीं आई,
पापा, माँ, मैं, मेरी बहन, मेरा भाई

एक दिन ऐसा आएगा, हम पांचों नहीं रहेंगे
- ये देह किसी को नहीं बक्श्ता, इससे कौन
लड़ेगा - मुश्किल तो बस ये है, कि हम में से

एक को, बाकियों के बाद, थोड़ा जीना पड़ेगा