By Jupaka Subhadra
Avva: A Slab at the Doorway
Avva, my mother
she is not a wick-lamp protected in the ledge of a wall
she is the sun that went astray in sky’s rug
she is the famine in the stretched out sari-end* of the mother earth
she is a timeless full moon,
the embodiment of struggle sans dawn.
Her head placed in the mortar,
she is an empty grain bounced against the pestle
The sun that rises at the cockcrow warms itself in her eyes
She sweeps the stars at the dawn,
smears dung-water on the front yard
wakes us, feeds us, and leaves for work.
Neither the cow in the forest
nor the calf at home would long for each other
she is a slave unrecognized.
Quite often she falls in the furnace of ayya, father’s anger
because of over or under cooked rice
because of a sand grain or hair in the rice
or to grab her wages for drinking
she is like served platters for us all.
A seed in the furrow,
she sprouts into green crops
planting and weeding in the knee-deep mud fields
even after the dusk,
that’s my avva!
It’s my avva
who blows the song into the village holding a spade.
Carves tunes shaping ridges in paddy fields.
When avva is at work,
her sweat turns into fountain in a desert-sink.
She becomes un-extinguishable fire in the mud stove
I had no memories of clinging to the waist of my avva
I never heard lullabies or tales while being fed baby-food
with her soot-formed, hardened hands.
I had no occasions of sleeping in her lap, yawning.
The memories of my screech for food
holding a dented bowl are not yet put out
she is a drumbeat on the broken drum
she is a tune denied of crop.
Having taught the earth to bloom and to give fruit,
having become leather for the sandals,
hers is the agony of the top
to escape from the string in the hands of the landlords.
Though she fed the mother-earth by her breast,
they kept her at a distance from the plough
she is a slab at the doorway that gathered sorrow.
As an unfastened bundle of history,
having tightened the sari-end around her waist,
my avva is a question with a flaunting sickle in her hand
The wretched alphabet,
never accessed even the peripheries
where my avva had walked
* Dalit and sudra women receive alms into the stretched out sari-ends forming like a bowl
Telugu original: Maa Avva Dukkalni Dunniposukunna Tokkudubanda
Translated by K. Purushotham
Having Made Telugu a Tramp
The language of the conqueror
raised its head as the language in history
the language of the vanquished became
a dark unwanted sun
The song, the play and the writings of the vanquished –
you have set them all aside
termed them obscene and awful
having termed it vulgar,
you disqualified it to be a part of literature
You adjudged him, ‘father of poetry’
for he rendered Mahabharatham into Telugu
by suffixing cases* to an alien language
You have unfurled on our shoulders
the flags that don’t belong to us
Having placed on our throat
the foot of the immigrant ethics,
Telugu sans a trace of a classical word
became a goat that went astray
in the commotion of celebrations
It has been searched for
everywhere and anywhere
You the modern mother of Andhra!
The ancient Telugu words and songs
could find the wings of letters
but not luck!
Yet it glows like a gem in the filthy rag
Go and visit the dark wadas and nomads
the green tender groves of the ancient Telugu
would fondle you entirely
It would exult with the its early terms
which were set aside as substandard
The dark cloud that didn’t soil itself in the mud
would accost you in multifold
The ancient Telugu is rooted in the wadas and villages
where the sweat springs and flows
where the soiled feet of our old men and women tread
Telugu would be shot at sight and subjected to curfew
if heard in the city schools
Telugu is made a tramp.
Where English is enthroned,
where Sanskritised Telugu is crowned,
How does it matter whether Telugu is made classical or not!
Original: Telugunu bichagathenu jEsi
*Reference to Nannaya, who transliterated Mahabharatam by suffixing du mu vu and lu, the Telugu case endings, to Sankrit words and termed it Telugu translation – Translator’s note
Translated by K. Purushotham