Friday, June 22, 2007

Dalit Urdu writer Jayant Parmar's poem against Manu, caste system

"Manu*, some day I would hang you by the neem tree in front of my house, totally bare

I will tear apart your veins to see how much blood of my ancestors you have drunk..."

I have done a loose translation of the initial lines of Jayant Parmar' nazm. The whole Nazm in Hindi, Roman and Urdu can be read here.

ek na ek din ghar ke aage/neem kii shaakh pe
nangaa karke latkaa dunga tujhko Manu...

The poet challenges the caste system and goes on to say, 'I have learnt to fly like falcon/leap like leopard and made words my weapon.

It is very rare to find a Dalit voice in Urdu poetry. For living languages it is necessary that their literature should represent voices from various cross-sections of the society. There is a tradition of Dalit poetry in Marathi and now in Hindi and some other regional languages also.

Urdu has no dearth of Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Christian, (even Parsi) poets, there is probably no Dalit voice. And here lies the reason why Jayant Parmar becomes such an important poet. This particular verse is quite popular and has been translated in various languages.

His ghazals are also different and in short 'bahar'. He recited a few ghazals and nazms. But I found him an introvert and a very private person. In Shabkhoon, Parmar was published regularly. Recently another renowned Urdu poet, Chandrabhan Khayal, has written a Dalit ghazal.

As far as I remember he had written a Nazm on the desecration of Wali Dakhni's grave in Ahmedababd during the riots in 2002. Generally Urdu poets readily Nazms, qitas and ghazals on every occasion ranging from tragedies to triumphs but there is less focus on such social issues in Indian Urdu poetry.

That's a healthy sign for Urdu language and literature.

Later addition to post:

Here is the translation by Riyaz Latif, which I found at

One of these days,
in front of the house,
on the branch of a neem tree,
stripping you naked,
I will hang you.
Tearing out your veins
I will see
how much of my ancestors' blood
yo have consumed--
One of these days
I will flay your skin.
You decreed we should serve
Brahmins, Kashtatriyas and Vaishyas.
You inscribed the fate of Chamar, Bhangi and Chandal
Stay outside the precincts of the village!
Eat from broken vessels!
Here, even the buffalo is a wise pundit;
even a donkey partakes of holy Ganges water!!

But are you aware?
I have now learned to soar like a falcon;
to spring like a tiger;
to use words as weapons..

One of these days
I will flay your skin
and hand it back to you!
In the same way
you stripped my father naked and struck him down

[It is believed that Manu had penned the 'Manu Smriti', which codified the 'varna-ashram' caste system and also legitimised the status of Dalits and women in the society.]