In the Mumbai crowd, there were those women too
whom Genghis Khan had abducted
whom Iltutmish had driven out of the city boundaries
who were bewitched, watching Krishna wrestling in the arena
who stole books from the library of Babel to buy bread
who were bare in bedrooms and on streets as well
to whom the roadside truckwalas opened their zips and showed their meat
and there was that adolescent girl too, a victim of polio, whom her own kin had impregnated.
Women lounging on the side of the railway tracks got it over and done with, taking one after another. When a local rumbled past, these women stood up promptly. If for some time on not receiving the signal a local screeched and stood in front of them, the women too stood the same way waiting. In the distance, the men hunkering down without a shelter never stood up. Those in front of whom a ladies coach clanged and locked itself felt shy, looked here and there and getting themselves done, promptly departed— but every now and then, there also came a bugger who rubbing with vigor made his manhood stand upright.
My train also chugged past such places where brothels skirted the tracks. Prostitutes sitting at the entrance read the signals of the lecherous lads hanging from the local. An ageing prostitute combed a teenage girl’s hair, the teenager sat on her lap. A two-year-old wearing half pants played in the mud yonder. The other cried. The third repeatedly trotted toward the wheels of the local, a woman rushed each time to hold him back. A man and woman quarreled violently. A young man poured water from a plastic bath mug, washed tyres of his motorbike. With water that spouted from the water supply’s broken pipe, a woman took bath, fully clothed.
My train dead-ended at VT station. From there I went out into the street. Beautiful hookers stood waiting in front of the Fort shops. Once a friend of mine had cried her heart out. I had asked her to wait in front of VT. In the half hour that she stood there, she was asked three times by three different people— Wanna play? Amidst floods of tears she had bemoaned— You don’t even have the decency to pick a place for me to wait for you!
Dog-tired I got down from trains, equally tired got into trains
returning home, flumped into bed
on TV, a woman would strip, hold a pole, dance
another would shake her mammaries so hard that
I’d stare in fear of their breaking off
Genesis told me: God created a dummy of Adam with clay
puffed air into his nostrils gave him life, then
broke one of his ribs and from it created the world’s first woman
Nobody told me: To create Eve, did God fall short of clay?
On the platform, some women are seated with their heads stuck in books. These women are victims of poets’ love— they read a raft of books, weep and wail, and hurl profanities at the poets.
Let me tell you a tale of 1810 : Published in a book in 1838, this account was recorded by an English padre who had come to Hindustan from a village near London : This padre came to propagate Christianity and before it, create its road map : A certain pandit having lived to one hundred years died in a village in Eastern Uttar Pradesh : The whole village went into mourning : In his house were maternal-paternal grandchildren— even great grandchildren : His wife had died ages ago : To burn along with him on his funeral pyre, there was no one : Far and wide, his sons, neighbours, villagers, kith and kin from the neighbouring provinces spread the news of the pandit’s demise : Heaven knows from where all women in veils streamed in : They did not even let anyone see their faces : One woman jumped into the flaming pyre : Blazing-writhing, she became sati : Then the second : Then the third : For four days the pandit's pyre burned, these women were the fuel for his fire : In four days, more than forty women became sati : They were the wives of that elderly deceased, the undisclosed entities, as secret as his age of one hundred years : Their existence was not known to anyone : They were themselves unaware of one another : Except for an odd suspicion-supposition that always sneaks into one’s mind : To become sati they had no coercion : Even so who burnt themselves and extinguished their lives : This could very well be a tale of women’s liberation in the early nineteenth century Uttar Pradesh Or the limitation of the English padre to comprehend the local language Or a tale of Jaydeva's cowherd girls who hastened there, emerging from some time-worn manuscript of his epic-love-poem Gita Govinda : Do not surmise that I am in support of this vile sati-practice : However, when in four days, forty women become sati, then together they raise not forty but one single question : If they had wanted, nobody would have come to know about the relationship between them and their beloved elderly pandit : Then what had come over these women simultaneously : That they did not hesitate even momentarily to thus publicly incinerate-immolate themselves and proclaim their love for the pandit?
In my silence you emerge like vapour from my mouth
The morning mist has set in because
Remaining silent, I breathe your name
At daybreak there’s nobody at this place
As nobody I peep into the stagnant water on the roadside
The road is your delayed affirmation that does not begin from where I’m standing
Ritardando I end there, where you are standing
When Ganga fell from Shiva's dreadlocks, I had sowed her on my palm
Turning into lines on my palm, the river furrows and flows
Between two hills, the lone lock of your mane is your tree
I can recognize your car from a distance
Looking for me, you pass by my side oblivious
I’ve been disembodied by Shiva's curse – I am anang
I always have to make my disembodied presence felt
One morning we had ample time at hand
You desired to preserve me like the night’s leftover food
Long we ambled on a leaf blade
From then on, the colour of your soles turned green
You said that in your soles, your heart now lives and
I have to kiss your heart first
Whilst leaving, I turned and glimpsed you as was my wont
Some doors always open inwards
Venus never dips inside me
Mars of valour rises, far from me
Space is a decoction of darkness
You are here, a petiole of luminescence
It is not binding that on paper, only pen should write
You should read the ones that papers write on pens
You would then discern the bond between the wait and the ink
Boats of constellations would sail on your body
Your outstretched arm is a fish
The water of my thinking suspires with it
I read your body in the braille script
Let others praise ancient times
I am glad I was born in these.
—Ovid, Ars Amatoria
Oblivion is my father Memory my mother
I in my entirety will not look to any Father Almighty Mother Goddess
Since my language cannot catch reality
I embrace the easier path of imagination
Between reality and imagination one day no difference remains
I renouncing here-somewhere go into nowhere
I my surrounds, You your above and below
Frame a 3-D film Even truth is but a perception
I collect memories of the future Or
I discern the meaning of already collected memories—
The two acts are alike
Inside there is no Self no I
Just a mute witness a looker-on
Phantasm too is a philosophical outlook
I dwell in a world that has no boundaries
I don’t reclaim land from the ocean that’s encroaching upon water
I regard spaces outside the outline of this body as my own body
They asked me how I could dwell in spaces outside
I could never ask them how they dwelt inside the outline
To dwell is also a mere sensation like I dwell in your heart
The night longs to say something to every flower
The flower cannot fathom when
The night places her one tear gently on its colour
You wake up in the morning your tresses damp
I don’t spend time an overly large eraser keeps effacing all traces of my moments
Life is not an overlong novel but a collection of several short stories Unfinished
When I started translating Geet Chaturvedi’s poetry, I was struck by its deep, unusual tones, much like a song of a fractal, incoherent world (the name “Geet” itself means a song). The philosophical pains and love are two of many voices of his poetry, which with fine covertness present a socio-political commentary. “Women” and “Pandit and his Women” are parts of the 27-part long poem “The Amphibian” that woven around the socio-rituals and scenes commentate tellingly on the society, at the same time, reach an emotive sublimity. The poet chooses to address the identity crisis of the Indian culture caught between its own traditions and the western culture not with the help of direct realism but with meta-reality as his vehicle, he writes in the love poem “Petiole”— As nobody I peep into the stagnant water on the roadside/The road is your delayed affirmation that does not begin from where I’m standing/ Ritardando I end there, where you are standing. The poem “Of Perceptions...” is about the Buddhist tradition of no Self, no soul, no persona. There is only stream of consciousness like a dotted line, each dot adding to the line, at the same time, remaining independent.
There is a playfulness with the language in the poems that gives the reader immense synesthetic pleasure, a sprinkling of extraordinary metaphors (Your outstretched arm is a fish/The water of my thinking suspires with it), and unusual imagery (I read your body in the braille script). Geet’s poems are inseparably connected with the cultural history of India. For any translation, therefore, I do extensive groundwork to familiarize myself with the contextual references buried deep in the roots of Indian culture. An abundance of contextual reference in his poetry at times necessitates an explanation to the reader.
Ganga in Shiva’s dreadlocks (Petiole): According to Indian mythology, the Ganga or Ganges used to flow in Heaven. She was to be brought down to Earth to quench the thirst of its people. But if she came down with her incredible velocity, there was the danger of Earth getting washed away. So Lord Shiva took her in his matted locks and quelled her pace.
Anang (Petiole): Anang is another name of the God of Love, Kama deva. It also means disembodied. Kama deva shot the arrow of love at Shiva to disrupt his meditation; Shiva, becoming furious, opened his third eye and incinerated Kama deva, turning him bodiless. While translating, I kept both the Hindi word with its English meaning, (anang/disembodied) to draw the two different meanings to an English eye and create a distinct flavour.
Hindi and English are two languages that have very different sentence construction. Moreover, Indian culture is very different from Western culture. The translator needs to find the most fitting words in the “new” language to capture the pulse of Geet’s poems, the different stylistic plays, mood, and tone. Translating the cultural and artistic memory of this kind of poetry is essentially writing one linguistic culture into another.