from Luqman Ali

Soumitra Mohan


a dwarf hums while peeing behind the bushes and returns
sighing for a panther seen in a dream. this is Luqman Ali
and knowing him won't cost you a coin in the machine.

for Luqman Ali, things aren't as big as reaching them.
wearing yellow, red, blue, black pyjamas all at once
when he stands, his magical powers race beyond him.
he writes three and people think of it a gang
and come walking barefoot to gift valuables: for instance
pubic hair, babies' bibs and empty tea cans.
he keeps these items carefully and then selling them off to the trash-dealer
feeds the opium to the goat. this is his hobby
and he never seeks ganga prasad vimal's permission for it.

'how and where is Luqman Ali?'
if you've read tom thumb's tale
you might pull him out of your pocket.
carry out the bloodiest attacks chanting his name,
show bajrang bali tatooed on your back;
beg from america, russia, china or anyone
with eyes shut and still be called indian:
this too Luqman Ali tells me.


for Luqman Ali, his freedom is just
three inches taller than him.
he wears the tricolour instead of his vest
and shows acrobatics.
he wants to represent midgets in the fifth general elections.
distribute toffees among them.
make them swear in the name of castes and dialects.
tear out patches for the bums of each of them
from his own pyjamas.
            he'll ride a donkey.
            with his battery of spies
            he'll unleash terror on his people.
he knows that elections aren't
the opinion of the people
but embers of money and threat
that people hide in their clothes
and keep on running for water.

or tomorrow
or the day after
or some other day
he'll recite scriptures from a refrigerator.
            he doesn't detest ramleela as much
            as men playing women's roles.
he looks at the mounds under their dhotis
and gets intoxicated.
he remembers his childhood town and the naked boy
from the youth organisation.
he ties roller-skates to his feet.
he keeps his beloved's hair in his shoes.
he indulges in his dwarfness.
he can't be grabbed because he isn't a tree then.
he isn't a tree so he isn't tall.
Luqman Ali he is : Luqman Ali he isn't.


                              he unbuttons himself sticking a safety-pin in his chest hair.
                              he sticks carrots to his cuffs. wears khadaoon in his feet.
a singh:                meditating after Mahesh yogi or some sham
                              he smokes marijuana.

b singh:                he has been observed collecting insects from bamboos in

                              he was friends with rajkamal chaudhuri, but didn't feel like
                              he was alone in this drama of absurdity.
c singh:                he began panting lifting spears.
                              he forgot balraj pandit's name
                              right when he was talking to him.

a singh:                his dwarfness is all pretence. I saw him six feet five one

c singh:                a psycho, he is.

d singh:                his real name is something else. he is elephant dung.

                              he looks for himself in hamdam's paintings. whatever he
b singh:                starts melting. the paintings of hamdam are not plastic
                              so that they could be molded again. he should handle them
                                                                                                           with care.

                              he hammers nails into people's heads and counts them.
a singh:                then flying aloft kites he ties an end of the cord to the nails.
                              he wishes kanchan kumar be his judge.

instead of these myths that surround him,
Luqman Ali wishes to understand the language that he mumbles in his sleep.
draping the bridge between language and sleep
around his waist, he wishes to leap into Parliament.


Luqman Ali guards by the dictionary in black-outs.
for interpretation of people's words, he turns pages in a jiffy.
he roams around with a noose in his hand:
                             in his childhood, he called it a vocation.

looking at the wrong interpretation of right words through binoculars
he stalls thirty years of his life in sweating fists.
right in the middle of the road
in the rear mirror he is looking at those behind him.

L|u|q|m|a|n| A|l|i| p|a|s|s|e|s| d|a|r|k| n|o|o|k|s| l|i|k|e| a|n| a|r|r|o|w|
t|h|a|t| w|i|l|l| n|e|v|e|r| h|i|t| i|t|s| t|a|r|g|e|t.

he hangs his yellow pyjamas in the fields and starts waiting for
contingents of ministers. he hangs his red pyjamas in the coffee house
and dreams of everything changing overnight.
he hoists blue pyjamas in border posts and
joins the queue of those waiting to buy story-books of valiance.
he throws his black pyjamas behind academies
and wishes it to be effective like witchcraft.

going stark naked, he is lying on a rock. you know he
is remembering the boy of his childhood
who hid for hours reading horror stories.

Luqman Ali cannot change a thing; not even himself.
he is just waiting. he knows the idiom of the futility
of waiting. blowing glass, he is sculpting a soldier.
he'll crack jokes to him and laughing at himself
will take out pyjama-strings from drawers.

he is Luqman Ali on the outside, and dark cellar within.
he is looking at everything in the fantasy of the blind cell.
he is feeling his pulse alighting the staircase.
what you call psychosis
he calls the ill-fate of the nation.
Luqman Ali doesn't want your consent: with salt rubbed on his wounded
he is armouring people.
he wants them saving themselves. he knows how ugly
man can get.

lighting fires with wet matchsticks, Luqman Ali is fleeing.
there isn't a house where he can hide. not any forest.
not some old blazer. nor a beard.
his pyjamas give him out.
crouching, he walks miles with queues of people.
he stands there where the police is hyperactive.
and he becomes a 'scene' in a short while.

he knows people aren't honest when they're climbing ladders of success.
immortalizing the flattery crawling in their ribcages
he wishes to flee forever.

helicopters keeping a vigil over protests and locusts and pamphlets and
and corpses and caps and violinists and printed speeches and cows
and poems and masks and politicians and chairs and tussles and duals
and lockouts and rails and atom-bombs and lathis and rifles
and hunger-strikes and commercial newspapers and girls and shoes
and eggs and prizes and foreign travels and bureaucracy and bribes
and democracy and vulgarity and effigies of critics and universities
and foreign intrusions and culture and corruption and nepotism
and pigs and hotels and young artists and the dark and screamings
and rapes and dacoities and road-jams and hospitals and borders and
and and and and and and and and and and and and and and
and and and and and and and and and and and and and and
and and and and                                              and and and and
and and and and and and and and
                         and and
                         and and
                         and and and and
                         and and and and and and
          and and and and and and and and
and and and and and and and and and and
          and and and and and and and and
                          and and and and and and
                          and and and and
                          and and
                          and and

Luqman Ali is running right beneath these ands. even as part of processions
he is terrified of and.
using his pyjamas as an umbrella, he tolerates everything.
he is looking for saket in the rhyming of jholi and lolly and dolly.

Luqman Ali is being pushed to the middle of a large gathering.
just now, he has been jumping roofs. he was sowing illusions
with the valiance of his pyjamas. he knows nobody knows his destiny.
standing in an open gutter, Luqman Ali is doing service to the nation
and this he doesn't realize.

translated from the Hindi by Samartha Vashishtha and Shailendra Shail

Click here to read the translation of the entire poem.

Read the original in Hindi

Read translator’s note

Soumitra Mohan (b. 1938) is one of the exponents of the Akavita movement in Hindi. Luqman Ali Tatha Anya Kavitayen, his best known book, is widely regarded as a landmark work in Hindi literature. Mohan is also an accomplished translator, and has been associated in various capacities with major literary institutions of India. He lives in New Delhi.

Samartha Vashishtha (b. 1983) has published two poetry volumes in English — Anhadnãd (2000) and Shadows Don't Live In Walls (2004), besides poems in leading literary magazines, both in Hindi and English. He is presently working on his first volume of poems in Hindi, tentatively titled Sapne Mein Piya Pãni (सपने में पिया पानी). His literary weblog can be found here. Samartha lives in NOIDA, India, where he works with Adobe Systems as a content and community lead.

Shailendra Shail (b. 1942) has been publishing his poems since the early 1960s in leading literary magazines in Hindi. He has also published translations of poems by Nicanor Parra and Boris Pasternak, two giants of world poetry, besides a volume of poems. After a long stint with the Indian Air Force, he retired as Director from the Air Headquarters. Post-retirement, he has been involved with the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth (SPICMACAY), an NGO.

Luqman Ali was first published in 1968 in 'Kriti Parichay' (कृति परिचय), a literary magazine published from Jabalpur. Over the four decades that it has been in circulation, the poem has grown in relevance and stature. It has been translated into the Urdu and Bengali before this English translation.

The following translation of the author's epilogue to the poem sheds light on its origins and themes:

Luqman Ali is not auto-writing. In writing it, I have been possessed for five months. Facing the situations in Luqman Ali, I have rid myself of the phobias that had plagued me since childhood. I can call this poem semi-autobiographical.

Luqman Ali is not a mere symbol for me—it has a physical realm, a realm of fantasy; and I believe that it is only through fantasy that we can portray, encounter, or react to 'days of darkness'. It is through fantasy that we can understand the logic of our being alive in today's seemingly unreal surroundings.

It is not that life today or poetry can be meaningful discovery: in the drama of absurdity, we can only be mere spectators. I know from my personal experience that the favorite 'magic' today is the wizardry of meanness; and that people try their level best to get rid of their moral consciousness to master it. This is an uncalled for torment, and everything drifts away under its influence to turn into a nightmare. The laws of the conscious world do not apply to nightmares. Dreaming, you witness yourself being buried alive and can do nothing. The beginning and end of the poetic consciousness of Luqman Ali is stalled somewhere in this nightmare.