Poetry at Sangam



RIGHTS by Nissar Ahmed

(Translated from the Kannada by Roopa Pai.)

Even though I had watched the
coconut sapling I had long ago planted 
inside my compound with my own hands
grow taller and taller over the years 
in front of my very eyes, 
It was only when I turned into my street one day,
Walking home in the scorching noonday sun,
And saw a car parked in its shade,
That I realised that the shade it cast
Covered part of the street too.

I stopped, surprised, indignant. Would it be 
so wrong of me to walk up to the driver 
And say: ‘Hello?! What do you think you are doing?
This is the shade of MY tree. Kindly move your car along’? 
Would I not be within my rights to claim
That since the car was in the shade of my tree
It was now MY car?

Hmm. Maybe.

But what if, instead of quietly moving along,
he began to argue, saying: “Look, boss, the coconut tree
may belong to you, but seriously, how can you claim its shade as yours?
Next you will be saying 
That the birds that bloom each dawn in its leaves are yours too! 
And what about the wind that rustles 
And the sunbeams that play
And the moon that sways nightly
in its fronds?
You own them all too, I suppose!

Well, ex-cuse me, but this street is public property. 
And it is therefore my right to declare 
That any shade that falls on it, 
is public property too.
Also, about that shade—it’s nothing but a bloody nuisance.
It’s the only reason anyone parks here at all!
‘Your’ shade holds up traffic and causes 
half the street to be blocked
At any given time. Cut that tree, I say!”

What would I say to him then?

Suddenly nervous
I thanked my stars that there was no one inside the vehicle
Guiltily averted my eyes from the shade
Cast only the most charitable glances at the car
and hurried inside.