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tearing the rag off the bush again
10 Hindi Poets, translated and introduced by Arlene Zide PDF E-mail

b. 1937 Najibabad, U.P. She holds an MA and Ph.D. in Sanskrit from Benares Hindu University. She has lived in the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry and is presently at Vivekanand Kendra Yoga Research Foundation, Bangalore. Amrita Bharati is a unique, idiosyncratic poet belonging to no particular ‘school’ or movement in Hindi poetry, who says of herself: ‘’There is very little of the world in my poems. The reason for this is not unfamiliarity with the world, not a sense of detachment nor a lack of sensitivity, but rather, a wait for some real purpose between me and this world.

Poetry doesn’t have any independent truth — my truth is the truth of my poetry and it can always be discovered in a new way...

The distance between me and my poetry is … minimal, almost nil… . … when your vision is turned outward, then it presents things as and where they are. But when it’s turned inwards, it begins to see such things as they ought to be — man, society, the world, relationships , even things within their essential nature.’


I was a true mustard seed
He, just a huge mountain of lies

He talked for hours
about gunpowder
so when I handed him a match
he backed up
like an unbroken mule.

Running through the mustard fields, that mountain
turned into

first, a camel
then, a jackal
then, just an empty thought.

[Translation from Hindi by Aruna Sitesh and Arlene Zide]


He was only he
atop the raised hunter’s blind
they all
were either inside
the cage
or were sneaking up from behind
his hiked up shoulders

It was only he
on top of that hunters’ machan
a tiger
looking for a tiger.

[Translation from Hindi by Gagan Gill and Arlene Zide]

 [This translation has been published in India in The Little Magazine, 2006]


Shrikant Verma (1931-86), a poet from a small town in Madhya Pradesh, Central India, had a career in both journalism and politics. He was General Secretary of the then ruling Congress Party and rose further to become the speech writer for the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. While he wielded considerable clout in such power circles, his poetry was haunted by self- doubt and paradox. He worked in different genres such as poetry, short story, essays, intimate journals and published 25 volumes in all. He was awarded almost all major literary awards during his short life time. Magadh, his book of poems named for the fabled ancient Indian city, remains one of the groundbreaking works in contemporary Hindi poetry. It employed familiar historical and mythic places — many of which have not actually disappeared, but have simply evolved into vastly changed modern towns or cities, but still possess immense resonance in the Indian psyche — to express his deeply ironic take on the contemporary political and social scene.


Can you hear the wailing of Mathura?

This is what happens —

Mathura wails
when Mathura is nowhere
Mathura! Mathura!

Mathura is just one example
Take Avanti
Listen carefully —

Did you hear it?
It groans again and again?
Avanti! Avanti!

Didn’t I just say it?
people moan on and on
about Mathura
not being Mathura
about Avanti
not being Avanti.

Maybe we’ll get used to the wailing
over cities
no longer there

But —
Mathura and Avanti
are not memories

And even if they were
who will believe
Mathura and Avanti
are only memories?

[Translation from Hindi by Gagan Gill and Arlene Zide]


The horseman
rides to Kalinga1
Is he the same one who comes back?

What do people say?
or Murderer!?

Do brides
welcome him?

or does he wander
What happens?

Where does this road go?

1. Kalinga Ancient name for what is roughly the state of Orissa in modern India. One of
the places where Ashoka planted his stele.

[Translation from Hindi by Gagan Gill and Arlene Zide]


Have you seen Kashi
where the road a corpse goes down
is the same road it comes back on?

So what about corpses?
Corpses come
Corpses go.

Just ask
whose corpse is this?
Is it Rohitashva’s?
No No
every corpse can’t be Rohitashva.

If it is
we’ll know it from far away
If not from a distance
then from close by
and if not from up close
then it can’t be Rohitashva.
And even if it were
what does it matter?

you’ve seen Kashi1
you know the road the corpse goes down
is the road it comes back on.

All you did was just this —
gave way
and asked —

whose corpse is this?

Whoever’s it was,
Whoever’s it wasn’t
did it matter?

1. Kashi the ancient name for Benares (Varanasi) on the Ganges

[Translation from Hindi by Gagan Gill and Arlene Zide]


Gagan Gill’s (b. 1959 , Delhi) ‘existential’ work is widely recognized both in India and in translation. Quintessentially ‘contemporary’, it often uses devices such as the prose poem, soundplay, and repetition intertwined with contemporary themes of alienation, covert sorrow, and impermanence. Considered one of the outstanding poets of her generation, she had a successful career as a journalist, but chose to give up the journalist to the poet in her in order to secure the 'long periods of silence in her everyday life' which she considered necessary to remain 'truly connected to words'. She has published four collections of poetry and two volumes of prose: her first collection, Ek din lautegi larki (One Day She’ll Return, the Girl), focuses on the gamut of female experience (but also includes epigrams and verses about political events); the poems of Andhere me Buddha (The Buddha in Darkness) are variations on the theme of sorrow in human existence; her third volume, Yah akanksha samay nahin (This Is Not the Time for Desire), is dedicated to the enigma of desire; the songs of her fourth collection, Thapak thapak dil thapak thapak, rely on sound and images, rather than narratives, to crystallize suffering as the one constant in the impermanence of human existence. Those who are familiar with Buddhism will see the reflections of the Buddha's four noble truths in much of Gagan's writing. She writes about pain without sentimentality or overt emotion. Her intensely psychological poems are understated, deceptively simple, filled with repetition , yet extremely well- crafted. She combines stark images with expressiveness composed of gaps and silences , with absences and even disruption sometimes which goes beyond language. Gagan Gill was a visiting writer at Iowa International Writing Program in 1990 and a Nieman Fellow for Journalism at Harvard University in 1992-93. She lives in New Delhi.


Nearing the hangman’s noose
What is the first man thinking?
He’s thinking -couldn’t he
have been the last man?

Walking towards the rope
suddenly, he realizes freedom
from the terror of death.

Suddenly, free of attachment and illusion
Just one thing stays with him –
his envy –
of the last man.
Infinite envy.

Reaching the end
he turns for the first time
and looks
at the last man
as though assuring with his own end
this last man’s end as well.
In this helpless dark instant
what else could he have done?

[translation from Hindi by Arlene Zide and Madhu B. Josh]


God is watching you in a dream this time. In one of his eyes it’s you and in the
other, her. How you parted — God’s watching it all.

This is a frightening dream. In it are several trenches. Many darknesses from
before earth’s beginnings. They were not even there then, God thinks in his
dream and watches you tumbling down.

You yourself are half inside God’s dream, half outside, up to your neck
drowning in water. Above it, drowning in thirst. God’s watching you in his
dream and a tear is forming in his eye.

What is this dream which never comes to an end? What is this tear flowing over
all the earth?

[Translation from Hindi by Arlene Zide and the poet]


          “Whoever has no house now, will never have one
            Whoever is alone, will stay alone.”


The wind
is soaking up
their sounds of laughter
The wind is soaking up
their secrets, their sorrows.

At this very minute, blood gushes out
Once they part,
they will be left shadows
of themselves.

This is the hour of God.

He knows
what is going to happen to them
once they go away.

Leaving all his work behind
He’s come
to watch them all.

At this moment
all of them move
like puppets
dangling from the magic hand of God.

God has finally arrived
It’s bad news.

This is the hour of God

the orphans
of God.

Never let yourself dream of friendship... .
Friendship is a miracle. Simone Weil


God won't ever come to them

The world will become
full of continents and oceans

They’ll roll all over it
all of them
like balls
There’ll be no path
to their friends’ houses.

He’ll forget, God
to map the longitudes and latitudes
Their parts of the world
won’t be anywhere.

The earth will be outside
the Time of God.

They’ll roll
over the cruelest
surface of the universe.

[Translation from Hindi by Arlene Zide and the poet]


Rajee Seth, b. 1935, Nowshehra, Cantt. (NWF, now in Pakistan) has been writing for over 30 years and has won several major awards for literature in India. She holds degrees in literature, comparative religion and philosophy. She is a renowned short-story writer, novelist, poet and essayist. Her literary work includes all genres of literature. Her work has been translated into several languages. Her works have become the subject of several post-graduate and doctoral dissertations and are now prescribed in many post-graduate level courses in universities in India and the U.S. She was awarded Fellow of International Institute of Advanced Studies in Simla, India and was a member of the Advisory Board of the National Academy of Letters for five years.
She currently lives in New Delhi, India.


You don't see the hands
which clasp the axe
What you see
is the glint
off the blade
held high in the air.

You see just the necks
Which moment when
will the axe-blade

[Translation from Hindi by Aruna Sitesh and Arlene Zide]
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