Against the Language of Diplomacy

When I faltered
and fell at your feet
you became the Buddha
but I am still trying
to balance my wounded flight

I call from a withered orchard
far away from beyond Lake Mansarovar
I speak not to you
but to the soldier breathing his last
in the battlefield of Kalinga

Why is it
that knowledge is only the twist of a rope
around our necks?

Soldier, can you tell me
why the way to salvation lies
through your and my
last hiccups?

Do not the footprints
that have left for the Banyan at Gaya
know that time is aging in my eyes?
Into those footprints will converge
one day

- but for me the Himalayas will extend interminably
moment after moment

Soldier, you have seen the country
expand and shrink this side and that
of rivers
but Lake Mansarovar
- which is like a deep far-off moonlit night -
never understood
why and how man became Dravidian sometimes
but at others Aryan
it never understood
why the verses of the Quran and the Vedas rose
like smoke
to choke the nostrils and eyes of men
and why the water from Mansarovar
never returned
to tell the tales of men dishonoured by knowledge

Soldier, Mansarovar would little know
why I, a drop of its vapours, did not return this time
from another merry wandering with friendly winds

Mansarovar is not an Abdali
nor did I bring, like Sabir, some threatening word
but let me tell you something -
wherever Shah Nawaz happens to be
a mere unsheathed bright silence becomes
for the sake of his speech
a word
but in my wings the nectar
oozing from the first-time mother’s tender breasts
has never changed into a shelter
of any one of the seven colours

And do you know, Soldier,
how impotence makes language a rascal
- which uses the word history for a wound
and civilization
for the pain of wounds untold?

It perhaps thinks all flying birds are swans
and pearls are merely peas, pulses or grains of rice

It knows just this much –
that Mansarovar engenders rivers for the sake of a folly called nation
it understands only this –
that the poetry of the Vedas and the Quran is just smoke

Mansarovar is, for it, a mere lake,
a dead quiet -
and the melting of embodied words
into sounds
by Harvallabh or Tansen or Ghulam Ali, music –
in the sound of death’s footsteps
it finds the song of swans

Soldier, it sounds, of course, awkward
to describe a dying man as one
who belongs to the race of swans

But all this is the mischief of language
- that poetry should be reduced
to mere smoke
and man, blinded and sneezing,
should submit to regimented obedience
and offer his chest – annoyed with his beating heart -
to the devil
for medals of valour
and that the devil should plant in his chest
nails of gold
and teach him the ways to turn gold
into grains
and food into vodka
and that vodka change man
into a jackal, a fox, and then a wolf
- and the pack of wolves
into society

Soldier, how can the swan say
that Tolstoy arrived too late
and that the real story had begun way before the day
the ploughman’s bread was stolen . . .

O Soldier, if you agree to rise
we shall leave this rascally language to die
in the battlefield of Kalinga
and proceed for the Siddhartha of Kapilavastu
on the way
we shall also meet Shankaracharya
before giving all knowledge back
to the East India Company

Later you can go and live
on any piece of the naked earth
- without telling the sea
that real history is the other one

My messages
the rivers from Mansarovar will carry
messages that shall be
like gypsy songs
or like the pollen of divinity
dropping sweetly from wanderer eyes
messages that shall have
the mystery of mountain springs

If you could just arise, O Soldier!
if you could only arise . . . .

Translated by Rjesh Kumar Sharma