It is a Habit & Other Poems: Laltu

It is a Habit

No different from other days

The struggle for tea in the morning

The morning misery in the eyes of my daughter

the border defined by her buttons between cornflakes or bread

I have to teach at nine

that is I have to study at eight

I have to compose the sea inside

The atoms and molecules like the apple slices

After the tea at ten

A continuous life of a day

Included in which are the ticking away the same the same

The same – the same everyday moments of home and office

Staring at the keyboard buttons with blank eyes

Unable to figure out which one to press

to think of someone every moment every breath every twinkle

to look for the familiar sounds

Someone of this century or someone of that century

Someone of after the midnight

Someone of winter mornings

My being in her being

It is a habit

For her I came here leaving the midstream

Here melancholy resides in all green and blue colors

When she is here and when she is not

Crossing oceans

Lost in these calculations

It is a habit.

 (Translated from the original in Hindi by the poet)


This Way Shall We Die

Mother speaks from the cell

Go back to your room soon

And I learn

Somewhere blasts are on again

And though we are used to

Placing the the news of blast next to other news
I rush back

I talk to friends

Blasts find no place in our chat

We chat about the town

About where and how we fooled around

About how good or bad the town is

 

Blasts go on

Like accidents with buses or trains

The way things happen in places

Where there are wars going on

We get used to death

The way killers get used to killings

Mothers call for us and we listen

The way we learn of weddings among kin

We live the rituals of caution

And come back to our rooms soon

Mellow is the tune of songs and Ghazals

The way we do not cry any more on blasts and

deaths

The way on the front page next day the picture of a

crying woman

Appears like the picture of a child

With a toy broken

And we laugh

Watching how pretty is a crying child

 

One day we will laugh

watching the dead bodies around

This way shall we die.

(Translated from the original in Hindi by the poet)


The day I did not read the news

I did not read the news and I thought

The prime minister must

have been on strike yesterday

 

Does the PM have the liberty to think like

The way I or you think about life

Can he look for a shade under the banyan

The happy sounds of children

The touch of a woman

 

I did not read in the news

If he was really on strike yesterday

What did he do all day

Did he go to a dhaba and

Eat some snacks maybe kachauri with tea

Or did he push people around to get a seat in front

And watch the latest release of a flick

 

As an old man may be he did nothing of this sort

He was probably sitting at home

Or if he went for a walk it must be to a garden

Very likely he

Read some poems.

 

I did not read the news and I have been thinking that

All day yesterday the prime minister read poems.

(Translated from the original in Hindi by the poet)


23rd October in the Diary

On that day Aurangzeb was born,
Lenin proposed armed struggle on that day.
On that day Azad Hind Government declared war on Britain.

That day we were thinking about our split personalities
about the hodgepodge of bread and dreams
deliberations went on over development
and over the hope for tomorrow.

We sang songs hand in hand after the sunset
We went on talking that day till late night. slowly piling up loads of love there was.
It had been five days since full moon.

looking at moon’s face, breeze started drifting along at once.
that dark night for the first time, we stood awestruck.

In the diary, 23rd October demised the very moment.

On that day Aurangzeb was born,
Lenin proposed armed struggle on that day.
On that day Azad Hind Government declared war on Britain.

(Translated from the original in Hindi by Bharatbhushan Tiwari)


 I am not witty

Witty people
rest assured after replying
‘have replies ready for them
like rosogullas hidden in magician’s hair

a magician must be washing his hair later
keeping rosogullas in preparation for the next show

I am not witty
so I could not say the right thing to an icon
at the right time
that his greatness reeks of darkness
I kept thinking all my life
that it was important
to say the right thing at the right time

if I said the right thing
it was to a child
that she is not hurt in falling down
but her ground is
that it is growing bigger with her slowly
if I said the right thing
it was to a dream
forgive me
that I kept you incomplete
I could not become uncommon though I wished strongly to be so

what’s surprising is
that children and dreams love me the most!

(Translated from the original in Hindi by the poet with Bharatbhushan Tiwari)


On the Street

1

Not on a journey

No hills, nor river, nor forest,

We are in the middle of a town

 

These are ordinary days

The phone rings in the middle of the road

We converse with hundreds of vehicles

around us

We talk of the colours of life

of colours of work, of colours of children,

 

The colours of the woman

seeking Spring forever

The colours of the man stepping into the

skies from the roof

The colours of the girls hiding from

themselves

Some colours fade away in time

and we forget them

Talking so on the phone on the street

On the times that we live in

We assume that life is worth living

 

And then we hear the poets scream

What about others

You have taken care of yourselves

What about others.


 

2.

For long have I waited

That on this very street one day

We will hear the Lord

Or may be his accountant Chitragupta

Will tell me

That the Lord shall arrive

And refuting all my arguments

Will place Himself on the throne

 

I will tell him on this very street

That he better not shy away from naming

the killers

And when He comes

if he jigs a bit, how do I care

 

If indeed He does turn up

He will fling into the face of those

Who live in denial

Karahis filled with the Truth

 

I hope that at least this once

People come out of the lanes and

Together they sing

That there, there is the rainbow

And that the weak are now the strong

And the demons lambs

 

For long have I waited

That some day the Lord shall come

And on this very street

I will have a concert.


3.

On the street I remember

that I wish to write to you

what should it be —

I try to focus on a thought

Before I can put it down in my mind

some other matter

stands before me

 

These thoughts are like rain in the winter

so I leave off writing

hoping that if I do not write

may be the sun will appear

 

When I do not write

the last remaining light also

disappears and

the gloom sets in

I walk and walk on the street

the phone keeps ringing

 

Anybody there, I shout –

 

has anyone noticed the gloom

Anybody there, I shout –

it is now beyond the borders

the gloom is spread all over the earth

It is too late

the gloom has spread afar

it is now beyond the borders

the gloom is spread all over the earth.


4

On the street are many things

On the street is the fruit-seller

Who will complain the next time I see her

that I have not not seen her for a while

On the street is the man who sells

coconut water

On the street is the irritation

from the polluting vehicles

On the street is the street

that I watch again and again like a child.


 

5

Vehicles come from sixteen directions on

the street

And each can go in eight

directions

Lord sits on these hundred and twenty

eight lanes

What to do

with those twenty extra names of the Lord

Maybe these are where Yama the king of

hell lives

 

This riddle is like

the one the Englishwallahs face

when they do not get the point that

that the hundred and eight names of the

Lord are an indulgent thought of the poet

For the street every Englishwallah is a

complex question

 

The street has noticed that my world is shrinking

I have less to read

there is nothing on the internet for me

my friends do not write me mails

and almost no one calls.

Memories are bidding goodbye

I had better think of ways to leave.


7

Someone should tell Yama’s messengers

that they should take me away

 

I can go any time now

singing a popular top tune

or marching one two one, left right left

let the spaceship descend twinkling from

the heavens

and before the street can recover, I should be

taken away

 

Someone walks by singing the old Bollywood

song:

‘What a tale this is!

Where does it begin, and where is the end?’

 

You ask what is this departure

What else is a good life

That I march and sing songs from flms

When the time comes the humming will stop

and the limbs will all loosen.

 

Will you say all this from a distance

Why do you bother me so

Come close if you have to do it

So that we can weep together

How can I shed tears in your lap from this

distance

How do I kiss tears on your cheek

What will others say

 

Thus will I live before I leave

afar yet close

or I will leave forever

living thus.


 

8.

What illusions!

It is the street that lives

Not me.

 

– Laltu (Translated from original in Hindi by Giridhar Rao)

About author

Harjinder Singh
Harjinder Singh 2 posts

Laltu [Prof Harjinder Singh, 1957] born of Punjabi and Bengali parent is scientist, poet, fiction writer, social scientist and commentator. At present he is working as Professor at the Center for Computational Natural Sciences and Bioinformatics, IIIT-Hyderabad. He has also participated in several people’s movements Including grassroots science education, literacy, etc. He has published more than 400 poems and 25 short stories in leading Hindi magazines and has written several opinion editorial articles and reviews. Five collections of his poetry have appeared – “Ek Jheel Thee Barph Ki”,“Dairy mein Teywees October” , Log hi chunenege Rang (2010), Sundar Log Aur Anya Kavitayen (2012), Naha kar Naheen Lauta hai Buddha (2013)– as well as a work of fiction – “Ghooghney”. He has also translated literature for children into Hindi, from English and Bengali and has published a book of poems for children – “Bhaiya Zindabad”.

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