One Poem, Two Translations


Mohenjo Daro
(translated from the Hindi by Rashmi Gajare and Patricio Ferrari)

I stand in the court of the Simon Commission
let mother earth and humanity be my witness
from there I speak where
the burnt body of a woman lies
right there, on the last step of the tank at Mohenjo Daro
inside it, scattered bones of humanity

scorched corpses of women
you’ll find in Babylon
bones of humanity you’ll find scattered in Mesopotamia

over and over I think
to remember—
at the estuaries of many an ancient civilization
lies the scorched corpse of a woman and
scattered bones of humanity
from the spurs of Syria to the plains of Bengal
this story travels
and spans the jungles at Kanha
and the woodlands of the Savanna.

a woman
who could have been a mother

I tell you, go away from me
my blood boils,
my heart smolders,
my body, a fiery ember

it is my mother, it is my wife,
it is my sister, it is my daughter they have killed, they have burnt
their souls resound in the heavens above

and on that scorched corpse of the woman I would have banged my head
until I died if I didn’t have a daughter of my own!
yet this daughter of mine says—
“Papa, you worry unnecessarily about us
We girls are just firewood
to be tossed in the cooking hearth”

and these scattered bones of humans
they could have been slaves from Rome
or Julahes from Bengal
or even Vietnamese, Palestinian children

empires are empires after all, be Roman be British
or the ultramodern American empire
the destiny of all empires
to scatter bones of humanity
over mountains and plains, by river and sea

they claim their right over history
with just these three decrees
that we packed this Earth with embers
that we engulfed this Earth in flames
that we littered this Earth with human bones!

as the heir of humanity
I avow even as I live
go and tell Caesar’s slaves
we shall meet as one
and one day march on Rome!

(The audio in the right-hand column is the version of the poem in the Hindi used by Rashmi Gajare and Patricio Ferrari for their translation.)


(translated from the Hindi by Somrita Ganguly)

I am Simon, standing on the stairs that lead to the dock—
With Nature and Man as my witnesses,
I speak to you from the last step to the pond at Mohenjodaro
On which lies
A woman’s burnt body;
And in the pond, lie scattered, human bones.

You can find the body of another such woman burnt, in Babylon;
And in Mesopotamia, scattered human bones.
I have wondered, and wondered often, why
In the crevice of ancient civilizations lie
The body of a woman burnt, and
Scattered human bones, and
Their successors continue to die
From the forests of Kanha to the jungles of Savannah,
From the rolling plains of Bengal to the Scythian cliffs high.

That woman could have been a mother

Go away, I say.
The blood’s surging
In my veins, my heart’s aflame,
My body is burning.
They have killed my mother
The outcry
Of my ancestors rends the skies.
I would have bashed my head against the burnt body
Of this woman and killed myself,
If I were not the father to a daughter.

And my daughter—
She says,
Papa, you get needlessly emotional about us.
We are girls, born to become
Firewood when we grow into women.
And these scattered human bones—
They could be the bones of
Slaves from Rome, or
Weavers from Bengal, or
Children from Vietnam, Iraq, Palestine.

An empire is an empire—
Be it British or Roman or
Neocolonial, American. And empires have only one end—
To scatter human bones on mountaintops
And plateaus;
By riverbanks, plains
And seashores.
And empires claim to summarise
History in three lines—
That they have set the earth on fire,
That they have set the earth burning,
That they have scattered across the face of the earth
Human bones.

But I am a descendant of Spartacus.
I live with his promises.
Go, tell Caesar that we will gather
All the slaves of the world together
And infiltrate Rome one day.
We’re here to stay.
Even as I narrate this poem to you
Workers in Latin America are digging
The graves of great empires
And workers in India are feeding
The pet mice of such an empire.
The fire of hatred spreading
From Asia to Africa
Can’t be smothered, my friends,
Because that fire is
The fire of the body of a woman burnt;
The fire of scattered human bones.

The first woman in history
Was murdered by her son at the behest of his father.
Jamadagni commanded his son,
Parashuram, go, quell thy mother!
And Parashuram did.
And so the son belonged to the father.
And this was the beginning of patriarchy.
And so, fathers started killing their sons.
Janhavi suggested to her husband,
Drown my sons in me.
And King Shantanu drowned
His children in the Ganga.
Yet, Shantanu did not belong to Janhavi,
Because a king belongs to nobody.
Wealth belongs to nobody.
Duty and Religion belong to nobody.
But everything, and everyone, belongs to the king:
The holy cow, the holy Ganga,
The sacred Bhagavad Gita,
The sacred Gayatri Mantra,
And the good god—
Well, he tends to the king’s horses anyway.
This god was a rather well-meaning god.
He worshipped the king, his lord.
But unfortunately, he is no more.
God died quite some time ago
And when he died
The king neither buried him nor gave
Any land to build him a grave.
No one knows where god’s tombstone lies.
All we know is that in the end he had died.
And his death turned out to be historic,
Or so historians believe.
Historians further opined
That the king also died
And the queen also died
And their son also died.
The king died fighting;
The queen, cooking;
And the son, apparently, studying.
But the king’s wealth remained,
And this wealth was hoarded,
And this wealth kept increasing.
And so the story goes—
That on the threshold of every civilization lies
The body of a woman burnt, and
Scattered human bones.

This body didn’t burn itself:
It was burnt down.
These bones didn’t scatter themselves:
They were scattered around.
The fire didn’t combust on its own:
It was lit and spread around.
The fight didn’t initiate on its own:
It was started somehow.
And the poem didn’t compose itself:
It was written down.
And when poems are written down, they ignite fires.
I say, good people, save me from this fire.
Save me from this fire, my sisters from the East—
You, whose lush fields were ploughed down with the points of swords;
You, whose harvests were crushed under the wheels of mighty chariots.
Save me from this fire, my brothers from the West—
You, whose wives got auctioned off at the bazaars;
You, whose children got thrown down chimneys.
Save me from this fire, my comrades from the North—
You, whose ancestors were forced to carry
Mountains on their backs.
Save me from this fire, my friends from down South—
You, whose villages were thrust like fuel into burning flames;
You, whose boats were drowned in bottomless rivers.
Come together, good people, and save me from this fire—
You, whose bloods were shed to design pyramids,
To erect minarets,
To construct walls,
Because saving me would amount to saving
That woman whose body was found lying
On the last step to the pond at Mohenjodaro.
Saving me would amount to saving
Those humans whose bones
Were found scattered in that pond.
Saving me would amount to saving
Your own forefathers.
Saving me would amount to saving
Your own futures.
Save me, for
I am your poet.

(The video below is the version of the poem in the Hindi used by Somrita Ganguly for her translation.)

Watch "Mohenjodaro" in the original Hindi recited by Vidrohi

translated from the Hindi by Rashmi Gajare, Patricio Ferrari, and Somrita Ganguly