Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The historian

On a summer noon I saw him.

By one side of the dusty street strewn with garbage

He was returning home; with some journals under his arm

And a new-born sapling of Jamun, whose leafy crest

Was swinging a bit above his head. 

I saw that child in his hands 

Whom he will never be able to root in any soil of the past,

Who will have to be given today’s earth –

When in the wind of some other Jaishtha, 

The black bunches of fruits will swing 

He may remain that day

Or may not. 


His palms talk with the salt of destruction and the chemistry of decay,

Within him he has created the birds

Who often fly towards the lost waves of time,

Dive in,

Feel the level of water,


                Faint inner-currents,


                            Possibilities of storm,

The blood pressure of a moment of the society.

A moment.

Still! The shadows of earth, sky, sun, and the clouds!

Still! The human settlements all over!

Still! The countless human beings,

            In the instant postures of their daily chores!

Still! The raised hand of the ruler!

Still! The screaming face of the prisoner who wanted to live! 

Still! The lone mother on the hill calling her child!

Still! An arm on the musical instrument!

Still! The fingers on three notes!

Still! Everything!

On the cross-sectional panel of a flow

Sufferings, dreams, voices –

Still, definite certainty of that one moment of life! …….

Birds spread out 

trilling inside that still silence of a lost moment. 

They search and pick up the straws and deep roots of secret cues

Of consequentiality and causes amidst numerous scattered happenings,

And come out again

Above the wave.

Shaking off the carbon and water of time from their wings

In a wink they cross several ages and enter

In his chest. 

The birds are invisible

Yet one understands their return

By looking at the appearance of sudden brightness of his eyes

In corner of the library. …

Then sentences come out on paper

Like the sharp granite of logic, from smoke.

His table like the twilight gallery after the end of a game,

His pen and the discoloured case of his spectacles  

Get filled up with once lost dust and noise. …

One day the machines of printing press rattle.

And on a humid morning

Coming in the glass cases of the book shops of the city,

Ours lost age,

Ours unknown identity 

Look at us – busy, rushing on the streets. 


And those birds. 

Seeds of their life had come on the shores of this peninsula

As the rules of money come with the merchant ships.

The British state had established itself in the world

As universal equivalent –

‘He is the gold; he has the right to be money!’

But then where stands the wheat? The clothes? Minerals?

All the peoples coming in the ambit of the Empire

Began searching their relative values.

In the lanes and fields of the new-built cities

On the stairs and in the libraries of new-built colleges,

In front of the eyes of the guards of Empire,

That search of relative value,

That search to fetch in oneself, own historical labour 

necessary to be identified as a state 

entered being the telescope of Galileo,

The names of Cromwell, Robespierre, or Garibaldi,

The poetry of Shelly, 

And the seeds of life of those birds began quivering all over. 

Standing in the hazardous evening of the city

The youth with coppery, sun-burnt face began thinking –

“Why so much humiliation? Everyday?

“Who we are? From where we have come?

“If asked, they will say, ‘Greece, Rome,

                                          The Middle Ages, The Renaissance!

“Much bloodshed, darkness, yet, repeatedly the masses are on the move!

“What shall I say, if I am asked?

“Isn’t there one full-fledged human being in memory?

“All are deeds of Gods?

“Who are we?

“Why were we subjugated?

“Were we independent sometime?

“Why the hands of British Empire could not be broken

                                                              with the roar of canons?

“Was everything just fated?

“Or it was a terrible darkness of a motionless society

                                       which made us treacherous to our lives?

“Was a Cengiz Khan necessitated in this land

                                       sunk in the mire of self-destruction?

“Was binding India as India necessitated

                                       not by swords and marks of horse-hoof

                                       but by Permanent Settlement, cotton mills and rail line?

“Was motionless while free, so coming in motion while imprisoned

“Was sick in wealth, so being healthy in famine

                                        was destined?” …

Those birds came into life with these questions.

Raised their wings. And then

The ship of Empire cannot sail without a sailor.

And as the memory of the sailor 

                                     was inevitably anti-imperialist –

The memory in which was the golden cake with cherries

Which he could not purchase on the Christmas night;

There was pained blue eyes of his child and 

                         dirty water from molten ice in the shoes on Christmas night,

There were shrunken cheeks from the slum areas of the city,

Beggar on the bridge, 

There was a battle to get in the eyes, 

                                               the evening falling off beyond the walls …

Same way here also 

Around the newly-built factories,

If the new Manchester, new Liverpool was rising,

If the new ‘Irish quarters’ were rising,

Were Lyons and Silesia afar?

Was much distant the year eighteen forty-eight?

Here also

Had arrived the call from Geneva –

        Strike to get the evening! …

Hence inevitable became the search

Of that great consequentiality, sense of cues, age of the bones,

Flowing electricity of suffering and revolt 

in the lullabies of mothers through which

A country becomes a country. …

Past is not only discovered, it takes birth!

It took birth in the self-consciousness of India.

Great historians came. 

They removed the masks of gods and etched out

The faces of human beings.

The faces of the shepherds, the hunters, the nomads, the peasants.

They measured the rust of the Divine words

And revealed the human language.

The language of the shepherd, the hunter, the nomad, the peasant.

And this old historian of ours

Came and moved on as their successor. 


One by one his body has sent the years to past.

He has brought back the years of past in hundreds. 

On the streets of Patna

Sravan has soaked him in rain.

Standing on the muddy street,

Looking at the distant question he has said:

“Oh, nothing they are. Just dust of the orbit around sun,

Oxide of the seasons and the haze of

Barbaric idealism of thousand years!

Beyond that drizzle,

Though not visible but remain

Scenes absorbed in our blood. 


The outrages of emperors?

No. first I need the royal mandate for tax-collection. 

Entry of a commoner in the court of the king!

No, not the stories of charities by the king,

I need to know from where he has come, and why?

What he does?

The person who received blessings from the deities –

                Why did he ask for it?

How the proverbs and legends were produced?

And the pieces of images of life in the verses and hymns?

I want the common words.

Paddy, coin,

Ownership of land, rules of their transfer,

Debts, the percentage of rent,

Dacoits, footmen,

Bulls, plough, loom, merchant, iron, salt, boat, fish! …

What is this conflict between Samhitas of Yajnavalkya and Manu?

Two systems of production?

So many sharp thoughts on statecraft in ancient 

                                             political literature yet

Why no thought on the content and form of the state?


Repeatedly saying all these, his worn-out aged body 

Has moved on 

Wearing a pyjama nearly up to knees and an old kurta of his son

Spreading the tattered umbrella with a hue of the wings of old cormorant

                                                                                                  on his head

Simultaneously in the rush of today’s traffic and the traffic of time. 

The track on which Man has moved forward gradually,

Like any person, he also does not follow that track

While going backward.

From tenth of July nineteen seventy-eight he instantly enters

The palace rooms of Gupta emperors and rummage through the documents.

Or sits down with a Buddhist Sramana 

On a terrace of Nalanda.

He never feels pain in his waist riding invisible horse

Galloping by side of the man carrying

The order of Shahen Shah to the Nawab.

Then and there he can come back, or

Even he doesn’t need to come back –

From the openings between scenes of the past

The face of a young teacher of his department rises in front of him;

He responds to his nod –

                                     Riding on invisible horse –

                                     From which human settlement, which century?



I am writing this poem! Today!

Day after day, how this today is spreading out!

As the consciousness is widening and deepening,

Today is becoming widespread.

All the birth, death, and rebirth of Man

                                                  Happened today itself!

Today morning itself I was

Bailing out water from the boat

With my back towards the sun of Aztec, Sumer, or Harappa!

Today morning itself I, coming out of the library of Nalanda

Wrapped the shawl around me in cold wind.

Just a while ago

Coming out of the back-door of a house in Mexico City

Leaving behind the odour of washing soap and yells of children

I am sitting here in Patna on the grass, writing.

The shadow of my cycle kept standing nearby

                                Is falling on the walls of the shanties 

                                Beside the rail lines of Johannesburg.

Someone called me by my name – from where? …

O Historian!

This I owe to you!

Hence, in this July noon of nineteen seventy-eight

                                               I am singing you.

I want to sing you and all others

Who make us recognize the seeds and sufferings of thousand years

In the structure of our blood.


Yet today!

So critical is this today!

Here in this noon itself

That old man contemporary to the historian

Coming out of the book-binding shop

Has lit a bidi, standing on the street …

He does not know to read,

But in exchange of wages for two meals and clothes to wear 

                               And rent of a narrow room

Have made beautiful and durable covers for books and theses all his life …

And the child standing beside him

He also could not begin his school

Yet has started binding of books in a nice way …

And that man who nodded at the historian and went away;

Works in the press –

Page after page of the works of the historian

He has printed with care, 

But could never read …


Are you thinking 

What is the meaning of a word developed through history,

If one who holds the blood of that word in his body

Doesn’t know the history of that word?    



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