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Date of Publish: 2017-12-10

A few poems of Kamal Kumar Tanti

 

Post-colonial Poems

(1)

We, the guards of the Water Fairy

From the depths of the river

As we reached its bank

 

The last ship of the remorseless merchants

Laden with all the river had

Had sailed away, tearing through the darkness

 

The waters of the river flowed, over the stains

That stuck to the sands, like greasy

Blood stains

Like thick clots of dry blood

Thickening and growing, over the ages

 

The Water Fairy became

A woman alive

 

And she told us and our robbed wretched people, that

‘For long have we stayed silent. Silent witness

To the suffering and suffering of justice long denied.

But today we have got back

Our mind and our strength

Our conscience

And our speech.’

 

We are guards of the Water Fairy

Alert guards of her water country

 

History is on our side now.

 

(In the original, it is Jalkunwari, which could be water goddess/princes/fairy.)

(The original Assamese poem was translated to English by Dr. Manjeet Baruah)

(2)

 

At dawn, one day

The Old Spirit of the old tree

In the middle of the muddy pool

 

Stood standing next to the lotus bloom.

His lonely mind in flight, to the

Expanse of the field of the plants of rice

 

From the field of the plants of rice

Had come carried then, screams of neighing

Of horses of war

And had come carried then, a loud load of music

Of their victorious masters

…and the last cry of a

Dying aged man

 

Famine struck the people

And famished people famished towards death

They remained no longer human

For human became inhuman

 

Days passed, and passed into the forgotten

Nights passed, and passed into the past

 

The Old Spirit of the old tree

His mind took flight, again

To the expanse of the field

Of the plants of rice

 

At dusk, one day, in the village

The old and the wise

Saw the lifeless corpse of the Old Spirit

In the naked field of the

Plants of rice

 

Nearby were footprints and hoof marks

Of men and their animals

In the original, it is Burha Dangoria. Burha Dangoria in folktales is an aged ghost/spirit who could be benevolent as well as revengeful upon the people.

(The original Assamese poem was translated to English by Dr. Manjeet Baruah)

 

(3)

 

When the birds cried in the blue hills

When the fields of paddy dripped, dripped in blood

 

The hills and its forests, and its birds cried

People’s hearts burst of pale blood

 

And the day when the termites sang in the woods

And sang and screamed –

And the ships of the merchants waded upstream

Then the tiny boats and their wounded boatmen

 

All sank, sank deeper, all boats, and river, and blood and men

Scared, shrunk, the poor countrymen

They lost their speech, they lost their courage

 

And dawned then the dawn of the eternal night

Of the war for power between those brown and white

 

On the last day of the war, the crows gasped –

Water, water, water, water –

 

The riders of the horses pushed, pushed the brown

To one end of the black iron chains

And the other end of the heavy chains were tied

To the hoofs of the horses of the fair

 

People crawling in front of death

Crawling in the mud of life, growing roots

 

And metamorphosing into ghosts of glory

Chained around necks, alive in slavery

the ghosts of glory

In the original, it is the wind that blows in the month of Phagun. Phagun is a windy month (February-March) in Assam.

(The original Assamese poem was translated to English by Dr. Manjeet Baruah)

 

(4)

 

A gust of the Windy wind

And swept away were dust of the road, old waste of the fields

 

But there remained beside the ancient pond

Seated our Old Man

A windful of memory held in his restless thoughts

 

We too were ruminating, studying

… Of lives perished long ago

… Of time that perished long ago.

 

So we asked our Old Man

What is life: … ‘Momentary water slipping off yam leaf’

And what is history: … ‘Tales of rich and famous

… Of people and country bought and sold’

… ‘Of minds and thoughts no longer one’s own

… Of wasted shorter routes to being bought and sold’.

 

We asked him again

Who are we?

 

‘Nothing and nothing yam leaves, crushed beneath their white feet’

‘Muddy waters under stomping hoofs, left behind in the path of riders’

‘Startled souls in fear, at the very ringing of a gunshot’

 

Then who are you?

We asked again our Old Man

 

‘I am History: of two lost centuries

Of centuries lost in the time of the colonial

Of centuries lost in the time of the colonized’

 

In the original poem, it’s Kachari Burha (old man from the Kachari tribe/community), used to convey a folk sense of old man.

(The original Assamese poem was translated to English by Dr. Manjeet Baruah)

 

Amchoi Memories

 

That day while walking on the

Dusty hill road

both of us

 

You were looking for

fruits of which tree

 

The trees had bowed down

The green leaves had touched

Our unblinking eyes

 

Beckoned us the

Cold waters of

the Killing River

 

Even the blue hills knew

About our love

 

We were holding hands

 

That day while returning

Between the water and stones somewhere

I lost you

 

 

When death would approach

I would remember

 

The leaves and

The stones that preserve

Your shadow

 

And you,

who were looking for fruits

 

(The original Assamese poem was translated to English by Dibyajyoti Sarma)

 

Confounded

Confounded 1

 

Look at the lights,

They fade away as one passes the station

 

I have left that, my own port. That lone

Current of return is no longer there. Currents

Returning home, do not stop. Do not fall drops of seawater.

 

I’ve left her. Just her.

 

What was on her brown eyes

I haven’t forgotten even after leaving the port

How the snows turn to stones.

 

I am confounded

I have left my own port.

 

Confounded 2

 

The only regret I will have in my death,

If I don’t die for love.

 

This dark night of solitude

This magic night of rainfall

Who arrives, arrives who, Basantasanhita

To light a lamp on this ancient Buddhist shrine

Who is so such desirous?

 

I am confounded

Is this a lamp of sin

Or a lamp to absolve sin?

 

You ask them, Basantasanhita

What have they come looking for?

 

Dead customs, the bones, the ashes

The clay lamps and its doused flames

 

Do they want the shade of trees?

Dry logs of dead branches

Ashes of dead trees, ashes of dead leaves

 

Do they search for

The giant, ancient trees of the centuries?

 

You ask them, Basantasanhita

Have they preserved their grandfathers’ dry ashes?

 

How long is there –

To end this nigh of traditions –

 

I am confounded

Trees keep men alive

Or men keep trees alive

 

Go, tell them Basantasanhita

If they have come looking for

The meaning of life, they

Will have to wait until dawn

Will have to wait until dawn

 

I am helpless, a bhikshu

 

Otherwise, how would I pray?

For all of you

The way we pray for human life

Not death

 

I am helpless, a bhikshu

 

P.S. Dear Basantasanhita

Light up with your prayers

The threshold of this ancient temple, with your memories

Unlock this temple door

 

I am confounded

 

(The original Assamese poem was translated to English by Dibyajyoti Sarma)

 

Reflection

I said from a distance

You look beautiful

 

Damp soil near the river, your home

Dusty road of Panikhaiti, your courtyard

 

That day after sundown

The toads in the waterhole screeched

 

Give us our food

Give us our drink

 

The male toads had found

The way to your courtyard

 

From a distance, they said

You look beautiful

 

Slowly, you turned

Into a female toad

 

We returned

On our way

 

From a distance you said

You all look beautiful

(The original Assamese poem was translated to English by Dibyajyoti Sarma)

 

About the poet

Kamal Kumar Tanti (1982) is one of the bold voices of contemporary Assamese Poetry. A bilingual poet and writer, Tanti writes in English and Assamese and published his first collection of poems Marangburu Amar Pita (Our Father Marangburu) in 2007. He was awarded Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar for 2012, for Assamese language and Munin Barkotoki Literary Award for 2008 for this collection of poems. His poems have been included in various anthologies of Assamese and English poetry and featured in various journals in English and Assamese. Tanti's collection of prose in Assamese, Nimnaborgo Somaaj Oitijya (Subaltern Society's Legacy) comprised articles on post-colonial theory and subaltern historiography, with specific reference to colonial history and culture of Assam and was published in September 2007.

Kamal did his PhD in Astronomy & Astrophysics, for which he worked at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai and Gauhati University, Guwahati. He is currently working in Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology in Assam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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