1. The sun fastened to a knife
We are the ones living below your habitation
And we are the lighter
We are the ones inhaling the stink
by your elevated mansions
When I was amputated
Pounding stones to fortify your foundations,
was the limb that I lost
The limb that grew into such a tall mansion
When I collapsed, neck wounded,
Pulling the cart of
manure on an untrodden way
When our feet suffered sores
Carrying you in a palanquin and
Massaging your unstrained
Haven’t you called me a buffalo?
you termed us beggars?
We are the ones living below your
And we are the lighter ones
long can you keep the lids shut on our eyes?
To open the eyes with vengeance is imminent.
Fastening the sun to a knife,
When we walk thunderously
Filing my waist’s knife on flint stones
When the sickle’s handle in my fist squeaks
The forest should now shudder;
should now produce
The sound of an uprooting tree
The minority caste-Hindus
Should now step down
At the shrieks of chendalas, the wretched
original: “Poddunu Kattiki Gatti”
2. Stench of Cemetery*
I am the one burning dead bodies
Thrusting down the blazing
body with a stick
Shoving the burning pyre-wood
into a heap.
I am untouchable
I gather in my loincloth fistfuls of rice
Left at the penultimate
destiny of the body
Only after the bier is shifted
When I was the crow among the crows
the food offered to the souls of the dead
When I was the one
Offering a couch to the dead body
Fastening sticks of length
Scaling hillocks and cutting the trunks
thorns and chopping twigs
When I was the log burning the body into ashes,
you who would
Knock away everything, as an eagle grabs chicks
the one who penned the stinking-nonsense of
Cock and bull stories,
In the mind’s silt my body is stirred
By the crowbars of repeated
You branded me the wretched
set my foot in the hymn of your incantation.
You only know the delight of incense sticks
I would show you the burial-stink
the stench of the cemetery.
Here you listen now
I will sing with my filthy voice
The noise of your skulls
Even before you reach the pyre
*Telugu original: “Begaronni”, one belonging
to a Dalit sub-caste
whose traditional occupation is to burn/bury the dead bodies.
Carrying on the back
A bucket, a broom and a tin tray
My trace on the earth having been slippery
At the site that’s touched
Outcast that is
Drawing faeces from shitting-enclosures
Washing the stink and odour of time
the manholes of sewers,
would cap the stench into a snuff-casket
I wouldn’t mind being termed a pariah
In the lingo of your tongue
But when I’m called the wretched caste
It rings in my ear as a buzzing fly
Offering a pitcher of water for washing your anus
shoving off heaps of shit,
When I stretched out the tin tray for
Didn’t you name me a scavenger?
scolded, sporting an innocent face,
Did I ever scorn anyone?
Having endured the stench,
I covered myself
With my occupation as the quilt.
I’m not a rogue to drag into the street
The service of the priests,
their bellies to the brim in temples
Chanting credible hymns and the clans
Was it of any use to anyone?
I am the only one who’s authentic
I would plaster you
Till the roots of your caste are crumpled
*Telugu original: “Jaathnaara” (Excommunication)
4. Hard bullock meat
Attending to the time’s turns
Being the residue
of hunger around the threshing floor
Being the hard meat of cultivation’s services
labour agreement the floor on which we are threshed
The bonded labour having become a yoke
anyway stirring on our necks!
When my skeleton keeps sentry
At the ridges of
The merciless thorns of the caste fence
Shredded my body
While your caste is the sunflower
At the way of your farm-shed;
Either a dry palmyra frond
or a worn-out chappal
Beckons as a symbol of our occupation and
The trace of our
We could outline the imprints on leather
Only when your
feet moved about on our finger-tips;
My face a round black stone beneath your white feet
The travails of hunger and
The stirring bowels of the belly,
yield of my skin processed leather
Soaking in lande, the trough1
chewing a piece of the liver
As the solid walk of your chappal
Trampled on my heart,
am the one who could see
The generations of my ancestors
Crushed under your walk
It’s anyway known to me -
The knack of skinning by
the feet of the calves of caste.
Having become the bubbling up of
Marking nuts boiled in the earthen
casket of oil,
I am filing my tools, awaiting
The moment of glimpsing my full length shadow
In raw blood
Telugu original: “Saanem Tunakalu” (hardened pieces of dry bullock-meat)
5. A novel knock on the eyes2
harvesting-floor, when an animal dies,
Is but the slaughtering slab.
Peeling off the skin
to mix with lime
Smearing alum with the hands that butchered
to soak the skin in lande, the trough1
Carrying the stench
We processed the skin stubbornly.
Fastened the leather of bucket-hose3
Wetting with drops
The early factory of artisan occupations
We’re the ones
who honoured our occupation
The tail of life being a bullock’s neck-strap
trace having become a blister in the knot
Our pot being at the end in the row at water,
Our abode is wailing
behind the village
A grand name for the bonded labour.
there to find by measuring immeasurable depths
Each step of this pit has a generation of insult
How else can my crushed pulse throb
Except as pain when compacted by trampling feet
Being a leader either ritually or as a ploy
Bowing to the one of the caste Hindu
it that you’re fishing as a beggar ra?
Did you negotiate to mortgage the caste
In the mystical game
Do you feel ashamed or insulted?
Hasn’t the chewed up residue dried out?
You the Dalit
Don't ever bow as a hangman!
If the reserved seat goes astray in future
Is there anyone
to pity you?
Is there a term to address you?
Struggle to walk on
path laid by the leader4
Join the Dalit masses
Lest you might spill over or get disturbed in the pathway
As a knocking-bird(2) on the magical banyan tree
As the one serving from our bowl,
He, the caste-Hindu, is ready
To prick these eyes ra!
Telugu original: Kallameeda Kotha
6. Feats of drum-beats
I am the one who glued
To the heel of your foot's thinned sole
I am the one
adorned your worn-out chappal
Grafting my skin
nerves into strings of your tender feet,
When the bullock’s eyes wailed as flowers
On the straps of
your chappal that I decked,
I joined them wailing!
My grits are the grains
Under your feet in the washing-pan5.
I’m the butcher
sharing raw meat on the slaughtering slab
When offered an aged bullock for slaughter
I am the one who lifted first
The fathoms-deep fountain-spring
In the bucket-hoses2.
there someone to calculate
The perforations on my palm?
My resonating drum at your ritual
The very skin flattened with moulds and tools
… When the chisels of 'whore son' and 'widow son'
Pierce my bosom,
The scrap left
in the lande1 is our treatment
You, the one of caste-arrogance
The one of amorous
tunes and bathing games
My drum, hanging on the peg, knows my gushing agony
I am the one
Who picked up a rupee placed in the soil
Tumbling myself – the belly and the
brow – in the dust
To present you amusement
I remain untouchable in spite of the feats I perform
This body had been mortgaged before we were
This wealth sank in the marsh of your caste men
Beckoning us with waving hands,
our own drum that begot tinkling flames
Dripping tender rhythm
The skin that we peeled the layer from with the knife
The leather that’s fastened on the
frame of the dappu
The drumsticks have changed the rhythm
We are now stepping
our feet to approach with
The feats of the tiger
Telugu original: “Oddulu Tirukkuntu”
1 Lande is a huge oval-shaped earthen
container dug into the ground up to the edges; it is used by the madigas for soaking and processing animal leather.
2 The predator bird that strikes the eyes
of the rabbit-prey to kill and eat it.
3 A bullock-drawn spherical bucket of about 100 litres, fastened at one end with a diameter of 12-inch leather hose,
that holds and releases water as the bullocks tread to and fro drawing the bucket. This device, called mota, was
the means of irrigating fields, especially in Telangana, till the emergence of diesel pump-sets in the 1970s.
4 Dr B.R. Ambedkar.
5 As the bride’s mother pours water,
the father washes the feet of the groom who stands in a brass pan in the Hindu marriage ritual. The left-over grains of rice
used in the ritual are taken away by the maadigas who beat dappu for the ceremony.