Kumar Vikal (1935-1997), the prominent Hindi poet, was a first-hand witness to the Partition as an adolescent, as well as to several wars and many mutinies. His work was immensely popularity in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Born in Wazirabad (in present-day Pakistan), he lived, worked and died in Chandigarh.

Creed of Blood

Spot the blood flowing in the street
sniff it and try to tell me its creed
Does it belong to a Hindu, a Muslim,
a Sikh or a Christian or for that matter
to a brother or a sister?

Among the stones scattered in the street
is a lunch-box, can you tell me of what
caste is the aroma of the bread kept in it?

Can you tell me the race of the
blood-stained clothes, broken cycles,
toys and torn books or even the
religion of a mother’s tears whose
daughter never returns from school
or of the wails of the injured in hospitals?

Yes! I can tell you of this blood
It belongs to the creed that bicycles
every day from home to office
and its dreams are buried forever in files

The blood-stained clothes belong to the
man whose hands weave cloth in mills
make shoes in factories, scatter seeds in fields
write books, make toys and late evening
light lamp-posts in the streets

Even I can light lamps but I cannot tell you
the religion of the tears of a mother
whose daughter never returns from school
just as I can put balm on the wounds of the
injured but cannot tell you the agony
the agony of their screams.

A small battle

I have to fight a small battle
So exhausted by false warfare
I can no longer fight a big war

Now I will not fight
for a short man who
to gain a few inches more
will force me into a war

I will not fight for any symbol
For any name or programme
I have to fight a small battle

For small people, for small things
I have to fight for a small clerk
dismissed from service without
without even a chargesheet, who
with an ulcer in his belly and pockets
full of pleas for justice knocks at
the iron doors of officialdom
with his weak wrists

I have to fight against tyranny
handed out in the name of equality
by a beastly man wearing a smile
I have to fight against the symbols
of my own poems for in their darkness
I am losing out on the sunshine of life

Betwixt remembrance and fragrance

It feels so good
battling with office files


to recall the wild flowers of Pothohar*
sniff at memories of adolescence
wait for the last bell in school
catch partridges and quails in the fields

climb the beri fruit trees
like parrots tasting the sweet-sour ber
listen to the songs of the young men
returning from Bari Imam fair
and run after their carts a long way

steal the eggs from old Sakina’s hens
and till late in the night sit in the graveyard
listen ’n’ tell tales of Jagga the dacoit
dream of fairies who come quietly at night
to paint with henna the fair hands and feet
of a classmate’s mother

find new excuses every other day
to visit this classmate’s home
and encase the fragrance of henna
in our notebooks and bring it home

how good it felt to paint the walls
of our homes with fragrant fantasies
blissful to recall now that remembrance
and fragrance are similar words

It just feels bad
when the year 1947 comes betwixt
remembrance and fragrance
and then be afraid of any word that
had anything to do with raging fire.

*The region around Rawalpindi in Pakistan

All poems translated from Hindi by Nirupama Dutt.