(English translation of a poem by the great Tamil poet and freedom fighter Mahakavi Bharathiyar, reproduced here with the permission of the translator, writer Bhargavi Chandrasekharan. The poem’s thoughts on fake nationalists are particularly apt for the Sanghis who claim to stand for ‘Swadeshi Jagran’ (promoting Indian interests) but actually support policies that promote the interests of foreign corporations; who use ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ to bully others but attack women, as well as minorities, Dalits and any citizens who reject the idea of a Hindu India.)
Bereft of fortitude and honesty,
They speak with malice,
Oh birdie, they are only the warriors of words!
Of industries and factories
And Indian textiles, they talk,
Dear birdie, magic never brought mangoes down!
Talk of Indian sugar, salt and sarees,
They join the party and lie “I use them too!”
Oh birdie, they are a part of the patriotic fashion!
Of women’s honour and God’s power,
Their tongues yap, not the mind,
Dear birdie, they have no conviction!
With no confidence nor inner strength,
They lead only animal lives,
Oh birdie, they are unfit to live!
Like chanting the Lord’s name,
But aiming for liquor,
Dear birdie, their heart is everywhere but nowhere!
Their own brothers are martyrs now
Yet they march without care
Oh birdie, they have forgotten their duty!
Their mother has been dying,
They don’t act or react,
Dear birdie, they repeat “I bow to thee, Mother!”
Manto was born on May 11, 1912.
An Urdu writer who straddles the subcontinent and towers over both India and Pakistan;
who was far ahead of his time when it came to women’s rights and social morality; who was outspoken against imperialism;
whose life and writing were both scarred by the pain of Partition; and who waged struggles for freedom of expression against ‘obscenity’ charges in both India and Pakistan;
reading Manto is especially relevant today.
Liberation salutes his legacy.