By the time the tremors reached the imperial bedchambers it was already too late. Too late to repair the shattered bastions, too late to raise the mighty satraps and bannermen.

Deep chasms lay proud across the empire. Chasms that smelled like freshly cut stalks of wheat, deeper than the hatred our emperor had for the starving masses, wider than even his galactic chest, ran across the streets leading to the palace, the markets, the walls of his sacred gaushalas. It was too late.

Too late to let the pet ravens loose, skittering and squawking among the public, to declare the tremors a nuisance, just a passing wisp. Too late to make them despise the marching feet. Oh those cracked and sun-baked feet, how they make his masnad wobble! Too late to preach that this holy imperium shall last a thousand years. Those verdant hands that turned dirt into lush ears of corn were reaching the skies.

But whose demonic fists were those? Half of them were women, one-third bore the collars of slavery, one-fourth more ancient than the others. Some were decked in brilliant rainbows, some had splashed crimson, or a daub of yellow over them, while others were in rags. Rags that were far more regal than emperor’s million-dollar robes. They were death-defying spectres marching, singing, smiling, rejoicing. These were plough-wielding savages that even the holy trebuchets and sacred shotguns had failed to kill.

By the time the tremors reached the imperial hole where a heart should have been, it was far too late.

Listen to Pratishtha Pandya recite the poem in English



To the Farmers

1)

Rag-a-doll farmers, why do you laugh?
“My buckshot eyes
are an answer enough.”

Bahujan farmers, why do you bleed?
“My skin is a sin,
my hunger rasheed .”

2)

Women in armour, how do you march?
“With a sun and a sickle
as millions watch.”

Penniless farmers, how do you sigh?
“Like a handful o' wheat,
like a Vaisakhi rye.”

3)

Red, red farmers, where do you breathe?
“In the heart of a storm
for a Lohri beneath.”

Terracotta farmers, where do you run?
“To a hymn and a hammer
in the driftwood sun.”

4)

Landless farmers, when do you dream?
“When a raindrop burns
your ghastly regime.”

Homesick soldiers, when do you sow?
“Just as a ploughshare
falls on the crows.”

5)

Adivasi farmers, what do you sing?
“An eye for an eye, and
down with the king.”

Midnight farmers, what do you haul?
“Our orphaned land
when kingdoms fall.”


Glossary

Buckshot : a type of shotgun-shell

Bahujan : Dalits, Shudras, and Adivasis

Gaushala : a protective shelter for cows

Lohri : a Punjabi festival to mark the passing of the winter solstice

Masnad : throne

Rasheed : obedient, righteous

Satrap : a feudal ruler subordinate to the emperor

Trebuchet : a large siege-weapon (a type of catapult)

Vaisakhi : (also Baisakhi ): a spring-harvest festival celebrated mainly in Punjab, but also across other parts of northern India

We thank Smita Khator for her significant contribution to this team effort.

Poems and Text : Joshua Bodhinetra

Joshua Bodhinetra (Shubhankar Das) has an MPhil in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He is a translator for PARI, and a poet, art-writer, art-critic and social activist.

Other stories by Joshua Bodhinetra
Paintings : Labani Jangi

Labani Jangi is a 2020 PARI Fellow, and a self-taught painter based in West Bengal's Nadia district. She is working towards a PhD on labour migrations at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Other stories by Labani Jangi