The angry protests by farmers against legislation rammed through Parliament in September by the Centre (despite agriculture being a state subject) touched poets and artists across the country. This beautiful poem is from the Punjab, born from the poet’s anguished reflections on the everyday struggles of a small farmer. The lovely accompanying illustrations, inspired by the poem, are from a very young artist in Bengaluru.

Listen to Sudhanva Deshpande recite the poem in English

Illustrations: Antara Raman 

Tale of a farmer 

Till, sow, plough and reap 
Are the promises I keep 
To the good earth beneath my feet
Such is life... 
Till the last breath this body breathes 

The soil I watered with my sweat
Storms I weathered on my chest
Biting cold or summer heat 
Could never make my spirit retreat
Such is life... 
Till the last breath this body breathes

What nature could not, the ruler did
Put my spirit’s effigy 
Like a scarecrow in fields of plenty
For his mirth and mockery 
Such is life... 
Till the last breath this body breathes 

In days gone by, my fields were spread
Where heavens with the earth met
But alas! Now I’m only left 
With a couple of acres to pay my debt
Such is life... 
Till I breathe my last breath 

My harvest gold, white, and green
I bring to market hopes umpteen
Dashed hopes and empty hands
Are the gifts of my lands 
Such is life...till death agrees 
To put me out of this misery 

Children whine, unfed, unlettered
Their dreams now lie scattered
Under the roof, just debris
Bodies broken, souls shattered
Such is life... 
Till the last breath this body breathes 

All the gems, jewellery gone,
Empty stomachs, souls forlorn
But I have promises to keep
To quell the hunger and the greed
Such is life... 
Till the last breath this body breathes 

The golden harvest that I reap
No merchant ever wants to keep
Debt ridden, in distress so deep
My leaden heart can hardly beat
Such is life... 
Till the last breath this body breathes 

Can there be another solution?
It’s either noose or revolution
Sickle and scythe no longer tools
But are now arms indeed 
Such is life... 
Till the last breath this body breathes

Listen to the poet, Sarbjot Singh Behl, recite the poem in Punjabi

Translated from the original Punjabi by Jeena Singh, an Amritsar-based architect.

Illustrator Antara Raman is a recent graduate of Visual Communication from Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru. Conceptual art and storytelling in all its forms are the biggest influences on her illustration and design practice. 

Audio in English: Sudhanva Deshpande is an actor and director with Jana Natya Manch, and an editor with LeftWord Books. 

Sarbjot Singh Behl

Prof. Sarbjot Singh Behl is Dean, Academic Affairs, at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. An architect by training, he teaches at the School of Architecture and Planning and writes powerful poetry.

Other stories by Sarbjot Singh Behl