For a fistful of self-respect

I don’t know when I was born but

I was killed on this very land thousands of years ago

punarapi jananam punarapi maranam

I don’t know the karma theory but

I am taking birth, again and again, in the same place where I had died

My body dissolved in this land

And became the Ganga Sindh plain

When my eyeballs melted as tears

Perennial rivers flowed across this country

When my veins spurted minerals

This land became green and showered wealth

I was Shambhuka in the Treta Yuga

Twenty two years ago, my name was Kanchikacherla Kotesu

My place of birth is Kilvenmani, Karamchedu, Neerukonda

Now Chunduru is the name that cold-blooded feudal brutality

Has tattooed on my heart with ploughshares

From now on, Chunduru is not a noun but a pronoun

Now every heart is a Chunduru, a burning tumour

I am the wound of multitudes, the multitude of wounds

For generations, an unfree individual in a free country

Having been the target

Of humiliations, atrocities, rapes and torture

I am someone raising his head for a fistful of self-respect

In this nation of casteist bigots blinded by wealth

I am someone who lives to register life itself as a protest

I am someone who dies repeatedly to live

Don’t call me a victim

I am an immortal, I am an immortal, I am an immortal

I am the poison throated one

Who swallowed the famine so that the world may have wealth

I am the sunrise standing on its head

It was I who kicked the Sun on the head

To make him stand erect

I am the one stoking slogans in my flaming heart’s furnace

I don’t need words of sympathy or tears of pity

I’m not a victim, I’m an immortal

I am the fluttering flag of defiance

Don’t shed tears for me

If you can

Bury me in the middle of the city

I’ll bloom as the bamboo grove that sings the melody of life

Print my corpse as this nation’s cover

I’ll spread as a beautiful future into the pages of history

Invite me into your hearts

I’ll become a tussle of conflagrations

And rise again and again in this land.

Kalekuri Prasad‘s Telugu poem ‘piDikeDu aatmagauravam kOsam‘ (from the collection of poetry ‘daLita kavitvam- 2‘ ; originally published in another collection ‘manDutunna chunDuuru‘). Translated by Naren Bedide.

From The Shared Mirror



temporality is a petty tool. don’t carbon date me with my own words

my ancestors chiseled words into couplets that cusp universal ethics.

another, oiled tanned and unstitched brittle form into free flowing humanity

light a torch and shine it on your kind, look under the morass of hypocrisy

our words, thoughts, gods, you burgle. what webs woven to keep the loot

go untangle that if you dare. it would leave your descendants bare

so instead you continue weaving that ancient web of thievery

your greed is a calendar

our humaneness has no chronology


karaikkal pey

Punitavati traded her beautiful young body for one that repelled and terrified humans and became Karaikkal Ammaiyar. she then refers to herself as a pey (a ghoul). it is so fascinatingly terrifying that some women poets had to so violently reject their bodies to pursue their spiritual goals.

Sagging breasts and swollen veins

protruding eyes, bare white teeth.

Skeletal legs and knobbly knees

has this female pey.

She lingers, weeps and wails

and wanders aimless in the forest–

There, holding fire but cool of limbs

Siva dances his cosmic dance-

this forest

this sacred Alankatu

is the home of our supreme lord.


she composed some of her poems at the scared banyan forest, thirualankatu, in them, she has created stunning imagery of the destruction of the human body meshing with the cosmic forces. these poems hold a spell binding effect on the tamils but were never sung as devotional songs. these prayers are too scary for ordinary folks.

The ground is damp with liquid marrow

Skeletal ghouls with sunken eyes jostle and elbow

looking furtively around them

Extinguishing the fires

they eat half burnt corpses

There in that menacing forest

holding fire in his hands

dances our beautiful lord


Source: Women in Early Indian Societies.

Awwal Kalima

You won’t believe us

but no one’s talking about our problems

now, again, it’s the tenth or eleventh generation scions

of those who lost glories

who are speaking for all of us.

Is this what they call the  loot of experience?!

In reality, Nawab, Muslim, Saaheb, Turk-

whoever’s called by those names belongs to those classes-

those who lost power, jagirs, nawabi and patel splendours

they have retained, at least, traces of those honours

while our lives have always been caged between our limbs and our bellies.

We never had anything to save.

What would we have to recount….?

We who called our mothers ‘amma’

never knew she was to be called ‘Ammijaan’. Continue reading

Burn and same-same

found this video on 3Quarksdaily and loved it. totally! with the white stuff  all around, karachi and jaipur sound like heaven. dear sun, please come to my part of the world, i am ready to burn.

We had the half yearly parent-teacher meeting yesterday. The report card is sent a day earlier and the next day the parents, child and teacher sit together for 30 minutes, going over what has been learnt, what are the goals for 3rd grade, where we have got so far and how we go on with learning new lessons and revising old ones.

All this is still very novel to me, I am used to getting the report card home, depending on the number of red marks or rank, one had to bear with a cold glare from my mother, some teasing from siblings, my father only looked to see how we did in math. He was very busy when we were young and felt he was not able to give attention to us with our studies. He was, I think of the opinion that the teacher had nothing much to tell him about his children in report cards, that he had not already assessed about us. He would look at the report card, as I’d nervously shuffle around, with my eyes intently watching his face for any minute change, but mostly recall him saying ‘do better next time’ and that was it. 

Here, I cannot get over the fact that for two days the school closes early and parents troop in, one by one to sit with teachers going over the progress of their children. I always come away feeling more in awe of these creatures called teachers. With just one kid, I am always on edge, 15 kids and being responsible for their learning, manners, their safety AND their never ending questions all day long, all week long, I would most definitely fall over the cliff. Teachers are truly awesome! (I am sure they are less patient with their own kids).

Anyway, the teacher let my son initiate the discussion by asking him to describe his science activity and as they chatted, here are the concepts I got to revisit or rather learn for the first time: 1) respectful listening 2) careful listening during group discussions. She says to him “I can control the first one, but you are in charge of the second one!” right there, she made an 8 year old feel important about how he learns, and that he is in control of it. She also put him on equal footing, ‘I do my bit, you do your bit’ kind of thing.

Then we parents got to review his writing, math, science and AND his poetry notebook. I desperately want his notebook, but have to wait until the end of the year, then, with his permission, I’ll reproduce some of his poems. I only got to read the one the teacher wanted to discuss, it was about a cactus and it was lovely. They went over what was learnt about poetry writing (I only had to learn by-heart and recite poems in school, never did any writing). So I listened to them very carefully. They spoke about what poets do with poems a) poets describe, b) poets use different voices, c) they sometimes talk to the objects they describe, sometimes they tell a story, d) punctuations are optional and dwelt a little longer on what is that poets always do: use precise words. They took a poem he had written and discussed why he had used the word ‘glimmer’ when he could have used the word shiny. And lastly, e) poets compare (the word metaphor was not used, thank god, I hate metaphors and would hate it even more if a kid said ‘metaphorically’ instead of same-same)

Motives, thoughts and feelings


Must I shoot the
white man dead
to free the nigger
in his head?  

by Conrad Kent Rogers. 


if you have any patience left, we know what to do.
if you love sleep, we’ll tear you away.
if you change into a mountain, we’ll melt you.
if you become an ocean, we’ll drain you.

by Rumi


The Self Affirms Herself

Neither stars nor gods can guide me
A law unto myself
And a self apart
I move in the shadow of the great guillotine
That rhythmically does its work
On heads remaining unbowed.

by Rita Mae Brown.


Motives and thoughts

Rotating bodies, confusion of sound 
Negative imagery, holding us down 
Social delusion, clearly constructed 
Human condition, morals corrupted 
Trapped in reaction, lawlessness war 
Dissatisfaction from bowels to core 
Devil’s technology, strategy for 
Human mythologies, urban folklore 
Sick of psychology, counterfeit cure 
Wicked theology, robbing the poor 
Scheme demonology mislead the pure 
Strictly strategically studying war 
Light shown in darkness, image exposed 
Few can see through the new emperor’s clothes 
Lustful this hustle turn humans to hoes 
When the blind lead the blind 
Just more trouble and woes 
It’s the mind that they chose 
Its designed to stay closed 
Standard of jokers, court just a logic 
Sick looking cosmics, from schoolyards to college 
Primitive man with civilized knowledge 
Systems collapse and he still won’t acknowledge 
God is the saviour, studies behavior 
Trying to fix the mix mind that he gave ya 
Stiff-necked scholars on prescription meds 
Wishing their problems were all in their heads 
Morale dilemma, pride is the root 
Misguided from youth, heart divided from truth 
Egyptians and Grecians, spiritually dead 
Imperially led, by the gods in their heads 
Motives and thoughts 
Industrial wealth 
Global economy, in it for self 
Heart full of madness, covered with kind 
Pleasure designed to take over your mind 
Furnished in godliness, painted in good 
This tainted priesthood got real saints misunderstood 
While classes in government, set up the veil 
And cultivate minds for more mythical tales 
Typical Hollywood follies good girl 
While vice and corruption take over the world 
Motives and thoughts 
Check your motives and thoughts 
Blind with the wickedness, deep in your heart 
Modern day wickedness is all you’ve been taught 
Lied to your neighbors, so you get ahead 
Modern day trickery is all you’ve been fed 
Motives and thoughts 
Check your motives and thoughts. 

by Lauren Hill

Rise to learn and act

Rise to learn and Act

Weak and oppressed! Rise my brother  

Come out of living in slavery.  

Manu-follower Peshwas are dead and gone

Manu’s the one who barred us from education.

Givers of knowledge –the English have come

Learn, you’ve had no chance in a millennium.

We’ll teach our children and ourselves to learn

Receive knowledge, become wise to discern.

An upsurge of jealousy in my soul

Crying out for knowledge to be whole.

This festering wound, mark of caste

I’ll blot out from my life at last.

In Baliraja’s kingdom, let’s beware

Our glorious mast, unfurl and flare.

Let all say, “Misery go and kingdom come!”

Awake, arise and educate

Smash traditions-liberate!

We’ll come together and learn


Slumber not but blow the trumpet

O Brahman, dare not you upset.

Give a war cry, rise fast

Rise, to learn and act.


Sunil Sardar and Victor Paul have translated this poem along with four other poems for a chapter in a lovely new book titled: A forgotten liberator: The life and struggles of Savitribai Phule. These poems were translated from M.G. Mali’s original marathi collection Savitribai Phule Samagra Wangmaya.

This book is a first of its kind in English on the social reformer and first woman teacher of India Savitribai Phule, by independent  authors.

Indian history is not just porous and one sided but is often a naked lie for and about the large majority of people who were once forbidden any formal education under the caste system. It would have us believe that this vast humanity produced no thoughts and actions worthy of mention in its pages. Occasionally stray strands do get woven into this brutally selective reading of the past like the 9th century Saint Nandanaar and 13th century Janabai. These are names that have escaped and appear in literature inadvertently; perhaps a rare occurrence of negligence in the maintenance of tightly clamped literary facilities. The hegemonic majority treats any acknowledgement of original, radical thoughts and actions emanating from the lower castes akin to radiation leaks. It has to be avoided at all costs and they use every single resource they command to do so. However, when such histories are far too powerful to fall into the usual traps of appropriation and co-option, they have the strategy of just saying and writing nothing about it. Stonily waiting for the collective memory to erase itself over generations.

In the last century a small group of people from within the lower castes have emerged to retell Indian history. This they do by finally claiming and owning the alphabet, taking us to the ones who made it possible; Savitribai Phule and her husband Jyotirao Phule, the visionary educators and social reformers. How cruel and effective a system we face, when this lady who in the mid-late 1800’s sought English as a liberating tool for the masses, only now in the year 2009  an independent well researched book on her life and achievements gets published in English!! This effort has been done by a group of dedicated scholars and researchers on their own steam. To the marginalized these efforts come as iridescent showers of enlightenment connecting us to the vibrant ancestors and their vision of an egalitarian society, their compassion and empathy rooting us firmly back to this soil. We stop feeling like ahistorical entities as we begin reading about the life and struggles of Savitribai Phule. A feeling of sudden awakening grips and removes the hovering disconnectedness for members of the oppressed communities, to whom she dedicated her life!

The startling strength and razor sharp intellect of this pioneer leader taking on society’s myriad evil and unquestioned practices of inequality among humans and between men and women is stunning in its forcefulness and sincerity. We receive this rare and fantastic effort of bringing out a book on Savitribai Phule like a sparkling oasis to quench the thirst of a million throats, charging us with fresh energy to continue on with her legacy.

I chose this poem of the five in this book as it brings us closer to the multifaceted personality of a reformer whose engaged poetry weaves her politics into her verses. In them one gets a glimpse of the mind of a woman completely dedicated to education of the downtrodden. Her impatience to see them empowered, her conviction that knowledge alone is the ingredient for salvation of people caught in unending cycles of servitude and destitution speaks volumes. Her revolutionary call to shake of the mantle of ignorance and fear of scriptures can be grasped only in the background of a time when her husband and she were ostracized from their family and home as they feared a backlash against the couple’s move to educate women and untouchables.

The undisputed place Savthribai Phule holds as the pioneer in women and human rights movements in India at a glance below:

Events Year
Birth of SavitriBai.(Naigaon,Tha. Khandala Dist. Satara) Father’s name- Khandoji Nevse, Mother’s name- Laxmi. 3rd Jan.1831
Marriage with Jotirao Phule. 1840
Education started. 1841
Passed third and fourth year examination from Normal school. 1846-47
Started school with Sagunabai in Maharwada. 1847
Country’s first school for girls was started at Bhide’s wada in Pune and Savitribai was nominated as the first head mistress of the school. 1 Jan.1848
School for adults was started at UsmanSheikh’s wada in Pune. Left home with Jotirao for educating Shudra and ati Shudra’s . 1849
First public Til-Gul programme was arranged by Mahila Seva Mandal. 14 Jan.1852
Phule family was honoured by British government for their works in the field of education and Savtribai was declared as the best teacher. 16 Nov.1852
Infanticide prohibition home was started. 28 Jan.1853
Prize giving ceremony was arranged under the chairmanship of Major Candy. 12 Feb.1853
“Kavya Phule”-the first collection of poems was published. 1854
A night school for agriculturist and labourers was started. 1855
‘Lecture’s of Jyotiba’ was published. 25 Dec.1856
Orphanage was started. 1863
Opened the well to untouchables. 1868
Adopted son of Kashibai, a Brahmin Widow’s Child. 1874
Done important work in famine and started 52 free food hostels in Maharashatra. 1876 to 1877
Adopted son, Dr.Yashwant was married to the daughter of Sasane. 4 Feb.1889
Death of her husband Jotirao Phule . 28 Nov. 1890
Chairperson of Satya Shodhak Samaj Conference at Saswad. 1893
Again famine in Maharashtra. Forced government to start relief work. 1896
Plague epidemic in Pune.Had done social work during this hour. 1897
Died while serving the Plague paitents during plague epidemic. 10 March 1897
Centenary year in Maharashtra and National honour. 10 March 1997 to 98
Government of India honored her by publishing a postage stamp. 10 March 1998


Source: A forgotten liberator: The life and struggles of Savthribai Phule. Page 66.

Edited by

Braj Ranjan Mani

Pamela Sardar. 

Update: A earlier NCERT book on the life of Savithribai Phule is also available.

Caste Sway

When the old weapon seizes

And doesn’t engage,

Their ascendency sputters

Emitting dull croaks.

Pausing in mid-yawn  

The convoluted posture

Rearranges to throw a lazy,

Slouched swat on the little savage 

The careless aim misses.

Years of obese satiation, you see!



O Yashodhara!

You are like a dream of sharp pain,
life-long sorrow.
I don’t have the audacity to look at you.
we were brightened by Buddha’s light,
but you absorbed the dark
until your life was mottled blue and dark,
a fragmented life, burned out,

O Yashodahara!
The tender sky comes to you for refuge
seeing your shining but fruitless life
and the pained stars shed tears
My heart breaks,
seeing your matchless beauty,
separated from your love,
dimming like twilight.
Listening to your silent sighs,
I feel the promise of heavenly happiness is hollow.

Tell me one thing, Yashodhara, how did you
contain the raging storm in your small hands?
Just the idea of your life shakes the earth
and sends the creaming waves
dashing against the shore.
You would have remembered
while your life slipped by
the last kiss of Siddharth’s final farewell,
those tender lips.
But weren’t you aware, dear,
of the heart-melting fire
and the fearful awakening power
of that kiss?
Lightening fell, and you didn’t know it.
he was moving towards a great splendor,
far from the place you lay….
He went, he conquered, he shone.
While you listened to the songs of his triumph
your womanliness must have wept.
You who lost husband and son
must have felt uprooted
like the tender banana plant
But history doesn’t talk about
the great story of your sacrifice.
If Siddarth had gone through
the charade of samadhi
a great epic would have been written about you!
You would have become famous in purana and palm-leaf
like Sita and Savithri
O Yashodhara!

I am ashamed of the injustice.
You are not to be found in a single Buddist Vihara.
Were you really of no account?
But wait – don’t suffer so.
I have seen your beautiful face.
You are between the closed eyelids of Siddharta.
Yashu, just you.

By Hira Bansode


I, would like to think that this queen actually led a fulfilling life, apart from her, the king also abandoned his Kingdom, maybe she was the guiding hand, making decisions to help in the Governance? And maybe the same amnesiac History forgot that too. Nevertheless I love this poem for the image of Hira herself; Did she stand at the feet of the massive Buddha in the caves of Aurangabad, look up at the peaceful face, and while being mesmerized by those half closed eyes, did her thoughts drift to Yashodhara?

A dalit woman reviving the memory of a queen that husband and history left behind, and she was brought to us by others too, usually in the sadness of her being, Hira a Dalit, calmly, like dusting cobwebs, sweeps through caste, status and temporality to reach out to the woman Yashodhara. Hira who found solace in Buddhism, is taken in by the teachings yet is able to see the Great one, as merely a man, one being only capable of taking leave of his beloved wife, while she slept. She goes further to bring the Enlightened-one to ground level, by seeing in him the devotion of a man to his beloved, as she says -in his eyes an image of “Yashu, just you”.

Anybody who has been in those caves, atheists included experience the sheer magnificence and calmness of the statues. The powerful flashlights placed at the base of the massive forms are focussed only on the face and the darkness of the caves becomes a halo around the Buddha’s face, it is an unnerving sight and experience.

Hira Bansode wrote Marathi poetry describing the lives of dalits. Hira’s assurance to the abandoned queen is one she wrote after converting to buddhism……… translated by Jayant Karve and Philip Engblom.

Source: Poisoned Bread.