Poetry at Sangam



FIVE POEMS by Kalyani Thakur Charal

(Translated from the Bengali by Angana Chakrabarti.)


I am leaving behind these marshlands
          The people of the forest
I am leaving behind the river, the forest path
          Far from here somewhere are my own
People who are sweating blood
Who survive beating after beating
          My ancestors

          The emaciated sons and
Daughters are my brothers and sisters
          Their family is close by

I will leave and cross over the four rivers and five



Happy dreams adorn this path
The morning passes in soft sunlight
The sun dwells in a house of clouds
A flood of colours washes over the green forest
Such a morning has come after long
Freedom leaves this mind delicate
Through the parted clouds, across the gaps of sky
A village boy passes through
To board a plane, fly to the eastern
Moon and whisper in its ear
Let all my fears remained chained,
My many dreams like luxuriating
As they roll in, they like laughing…



This is a great game
          Lalgarh Lalgarh [1]

A game of green and red
          the black people
                    have red blood
                              the green grass
                                        Jungle Mahal [2]

This is a great game
          of green and red



These sons of pigs have the dogs
          all riled up
                    Elephant after
elephant walks silently
          One time when they swung to the other side
the sons of pigs understood
          that there would be trouble, at
that very moment they caught the dogs’ collars
          and yanked them
          There was a sudden lull

In this way the sons of pigs
          With their trained
dogs have always
          harassed the elephants



My grandfather
          was not allowed to enter the boundaries of the school
My father with extreme difficulty learnt to write his name
          on palm leaves with ink made of ash powder
My mother carried dung with her left hand
          Grandfather had to bring the offerings for durgapuja

You have certainly not understood
          The spot on which she stood
                    with her dung-filled left hand
                              had to be covered
Oh! Compared to the touch of the Dalit’s feet, the faeces of a cow
          is holier

My colleagues in the office
          call me charal, chamad, dom [3]
I have to listen to these insults every day
          That these gentlemen too belong to different castes
my colleagues have somehow

Even then I have to remember that
          in Bengal there is no such thing as a ‘Dalit’
Even if Dalits exist everywhere else in the world, here there are none
          Everywhere in India there may be castes
                    But here there are none

I am gagged
          and taught to say – we
are all one, there is no divide here

After one generation is provided jobs
          they deliberately take away the reservations

They smother our throats and say – if in non-government jobs
you ask for reservations then we will make you forget
your fathers’ names

Say that you no longer require it that you
          have everything you need



[1] Lalgarh is a village in the West Midnapore district of West Bengal. In 2008 guerrilla Community Party of India (Maoist), who controlled the village, launched a movement here against police brutality in this region.

[2] Jungle Mahals or ‘jungle estates’ were districts consisting of British territories and the independent chiefdoms lying between Birbhum, Bankura, Midnapore, Chota Nagpur. These were thickly forested regions significantly populated by Santhals.

[3] Names of Scheduled caste communities.