Wednesday, August 6, 2008

1857 : Looking for Things Misplaced

By Asad Zaidi

Translated from Hindi ('1857 : Saman Ki Talash')

by Rajesh Kumar Sharma

(This draft is being put online for the purpose of attracting comments and suggestions. The readers can read the original poem, written in Hindi, at

The battles of 1857

that once upon a time

were far-off battles

are here and now.

In these times of shame

and of a sense of wrong

when every wrong

oppresses you as your own doing,

the ears catch

the rumble of war-drums

of the mutiny

and also the hubbub

that is so, so Indian

and the whispering

of frightened pimps and traitors

and the restive footfalls

of chance-mongers.

This could just be an effect

of fiction

and of commercial cinema



But this is certainly not the clamour

of those

150 crore rupees

which the Government of India

has sanctioned to celebrate

the 150th anniversary

of the First War of Independence,


with the pen of a Prime Minister

who is embarrassed

of every battle for freedom

and goes begging

around the world

for apologies,

a Prime Minister

who would sacrifice


for the national objective

of a better subjugation.

This is the reminder

of a fifty seven


by a national elite,

by Bankims and Amichands and Harishchandras,

and by their offspring

installed in thrones,

who never wanted anything


than a better enslavement.

A fifty seven

for which there was nothing

but contempt

or reticence

in the minds of Moolshankars,

of Siva Prasads

and Narendranaths

and Ishwar Chandras

and Syed Ahmads

and Pratap Narains

and Maithili Sharans

and Ramchandras.

A fifty seven

that came to be remembered

in the exclusive literature

of Hindi

only by Subhadra

some seventy

or good eighty long years


This is the reminder

of a process

that gets relived now

some 150 years too late

in suicides

of peasants and weavers

whom you cannot even call rioters

or protesters

and who go

their lonely way

-- as food of the national indexes

of development

and starvation --

from Special Economic Zones

towards collective graveyards

and cremation sites

like a melancholy


ungovernable procession.

Who has left them

so terribly


Back in 1857

the common people were probably meant to be

that soiled

and filthy,

fated perhaps

to be so,

with an irrevocability

that no one questioned.


such appearance has become

an extreme crime.

Battles often remain


only to be consummated

in times to come,

in other ages,

with other weapons.

At times it so happens

that the soil-laden corpses too rise

to give battle yet again,

mocking the living

that are deader than themselves.

And they want to know from them

which section of the infantry

or cavalry

they belong to,

which leader they follow.


taking them to be sympathizers,

they happen to tell them

of their destination

that is Najafgarh,

or else

they pause to ask the way

to Bakhtawarpur.

The dead of 1857 speak.

Forget about our feudal leaders,

forget about the jagirs

they fought to repossess,

forget too the way we did die

for their sake.

Tell us something

of yourself.

Is the world now fully delivered

of injustice?

Or is it just

that you are blind,

that you only can’t see

any way out?


1 comment:

Ek ziddi dhun said...

एक जरूरी कविता का बेहतरीन अनुवाद। यह कविता कई भाषाओं में जानी ही चाहिए थी। क्या हिंदी के मठाधीश इससे भी खिन्न होंगे।