By way of introduction

I’m run ragged, in and out.
My daily bread is my daily doubt.
I am a worker, a flashing sword,
Set to slash through the literary horde.
Don’t you quiver, don’t go “Tut tut”,
My sins will be venial, Mr Saraswat.

I’ve watched, I’ve heard, assessed it all.
I turned it into what you’d call my signature scrawl.
All those learnings, losses, all that mess,
As I live, I write, so I confess.

Bread is dear but I need more.
I burn my brand into your door.
To my words, I offer flowers.
I give them swords, release their powers.

I’m not alone; our time has come.
Beware, what follows is the storm.
I am a worker, a flashing sword,
Set to slash through the literary horde.
Don’t you quiver, don’t go “Tut tut”,
My sins will be venial, Mr Saraswat.

I don’t want your sad nights now

I don’t want your sad nights now.
I rose from one such mehfil not long ago.
I was sad as I rose: but one must be sad.
The moon had set: as the moon must.

Or let me say: I turned forlorn footsteps homewards.
Or let me say: the moon waned in woe.

The flags of day began to fly.
Or let me say: they fell, enfolding us.
Or let me say: they cantered over the city, over home.

Jivba was on his bench at the gate,
lantern still alight,
counting subscriptions.

“Hey Jivba, what long nights you keep.”
“Yeah, yeah. Eaters of fire, shitters of scorpions, that’s us.
Don’t give us these ghazals.”

I don’t want your sad nights now.
Really, I don’t.

Money order

Now look here, write like this,
Say: I’m happy; my body aches, yes;
But also say: this is better than the village.

Men gather like the clouds and burst all over us.
But Babdi, she goes for them with:
“How many have you slept with
Before me?”
I tell her: “He’s a client, girl.
They say ‘sit’, you sit.
Are their wives going to give them up?”

Now write: The money order may be late
But it will come.
The vajratika has been sent to Vishnu
and fifty rupees, less ten.
From that, buy books for Gangi
And chuddies for Namya.
Give them ten paise every day
So they’ll run to school.
And kiss them both for me

Things are getting expensive here.
Each john wants a fresh sheet.
Not enough now to freshen up
The bed with some water
And offer a soft shoulder.
They want fans now.
Don’t write that.
You’re listening, that’s why I’m talking.
Look, I feel like laughing.
Should I say all this or not?
One day, a customer came and said:
“Instead of staying here,
Come and be my wife.”
I said: “Aren’t I here for you?”
When I said that, he shuddered.
And I felt like laughing
at all the men of the world.
This terrible hide of ours
draws men like leeches;
they can say anything they like.
I feel like laughing at men
And I feel like weeping.
They crave this hide.
They’re like animals,
They can’t help it.

You must be bored, listening to me.
Everything here is boring.
Come when you can.
Come up and see me some time.

Excerpted with permission from In That Mill, I Too Was Forged: Poems, Narayan Surve, translated from the Marathi by Jerry Pinto, Speaking Tiger Books.