Gained in Translation: May the children stay alive

May your kids survive, my friend, I wish And when they cry, you may hold them close to you.

Updated: May 13, 2018 2:00:35 am
(Illustration by CR Sasikumar)

In this silent night/ I hear a child wail/
The dry westerlies/
Carry the howling sound/
And then crash its head/ Against my chest.

Could I just be dreaming/
Could my mind be playing a trick on me/
Don’t the cats sound like a child/
When they cry?

I have heard of this horn sold
in the market/
Which sounds just like a wailing kid.

Do not create such myths/
Oh you murderers/
Do not invent such travesty/
That a wailing child is/
Mistaken for a horn playing its tune.

My grandmother used to say/
That a child lost before time/
Cries in the darkness of the night/
That their spirits hunt for/
Any sign of their mothers.

Do you hear it as well/
The wailing of dead children/
Lost to illness, blasts, miseries/
Murdered by us even before they were born/ And once born those lost to our perversion and lust/
Children who ushered in Fall/
Who giggled in Spring/
Do you hear it as well/
The wailing of dead children/
Listen/ Through the stillness of the night/
Slowly, almost imperceptibly/
You will hear them cry/
If you were to ever pass by where they wail together/ You will tremble .

There are those kids too/ whose corpses were never consumed by soil/
Like a spinning top, they too roam/
Restless to fly/
When the waves came for them/
They were looking for an evening meal/
In the morning waste/
When the bombs were dropped on them/
They were sleeping in their warm hats/
Cushioned on pillows, shaped after them/
And when the fire was put out/
It was hard to distinguish/
Between them and the charred pillow/
Such was their infancy/
That birth was unknown to them/
And at the time of death/
They were ignorant to the fact/
That they were dying.

They will never know/ about the nestling their mothers prepared/
Only a tree that has had its branches and leaves wilt/
That has seen Spring turn to dust/
The cycle of seasons completed/
Would know/
Only a river whose bed lies dry/
A sunken boat in its barren lap/
And few broken helms/ Would know.

Only those mothers would know/
Who are haunted in their dreams/
By their fallen children/
Who they cannot even hold/
Hug them safe against their chest/
Merely run after/
Some imagined signs of life
like a madman/
And suddenly/ the stillness of the night/ is punctured by their shrieks/ Like a siren.
Crowd/ And children lost in commotion/
Lost in riots/
May even return sometimes/
A few return after years/
Recognising the dirt roads of their
childhood/ Belying the conclusions around her death/
Say I was residing in that town/
The road back home, all but forgotten.

For years I looked around, tried to recall/
It was only you, my mother/
That I could see in my foggy memories/
Despite all the venom that I drank/
I would never forget/
The fragrance of your dress/
I am that same child of yours/
See here, the mole on my left shoulder/
You remember, oh mother/
That tattoo on your right arm/
You etched my father’s name/
I remember still.

Robbers/ And children trapped by
smugglers/ Even they return sometimes/
But once you die/
Then the dead kids never return.

May your kids survive, my friend/
I wish/ And when they cry/
You may hold them close to you.

The writer, a well-known poet, teaches Hindi at a school in Hajipur, Vaishali. Translated from Hindi by Shatam Ray

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