Culture & Society

A Collection Of Short Poems

The collection of these short poems by renowned Odia poet Sanjaya Kumar Bag has been translated by Pitambar Naik.

Tribal Artwork by Mayank Kumar Shyam, from the collection of Ajay Kumar Gupta

The Impatient Nomad

Bear this in mind Gobinda, Sribatsa and Chhabila
Srihari isn’t the last multiheaded hydra 
on whose head the earth rests  

without whom the entire world 
with the seas will be still.

Srihari is that monster who resembles god only
Srihari is that god who wants to devour 
all our priceless resources in the form of  
waters, forests, and lands.

The impatient nomad who wanders baking 
pancakes on the pan that belongs to someone else.  


For some people, tribals are hillbillies and wild creatures 
whereas for some others, a great epic of a revolution  
tribals are the venom of reservation for some people, some 
think them the cornerstone of the growth in the courtyard of faith.
So many hearts scream in the skyscrapers of the city
scamper to them once every week to have ragi gruel and 
get ecstatic, sharing the closeup pics on Facebook.
Some poets ooze poetry from their hearts, drinking mahua beer, 
singing the saga of resistance, some hold placards for them every day
some exhibit cultural greatness and others play cards daily, 
some regurgitate the etymology and some think of themselves as 
the saviour for them; however, the tribals don’t have any reaction to this. 

Due to lack of consciousness, tribals are labelled as monkeys 
due to lack of consciousness, their thumb is chopped off
due to lack of consciousness, some term them demons 
due to lack of consciousness, when they’re preached,
they say yes to Ram, yes to Krishna, yes to Jesus, yes to Hinduism,
yes to Islam and forget their Marangburu, Mahadeo, Budharaja,
Jahera-era, Gopagasen, Maili
, while saying so. 
They dance if they’re asked to do so, and they depart if they’re asked so
they say yes to Mao, and yes to Lenin and Marx too
and the portraits they’ve never seen, they compose songs with the 
quill in their name; when talked about Bheema Bhoi, Ambedkar 
and Birsha, they saccade their eyes in pride and wear
knowledge—erudition—ashes on the necks of the caste enemies.

Amidst all this, the forest that had mothered them and the forest 
that they had taken care of is loved by someone 
as like as he loves chilled beer and roasted chicken.
The light doesn’t enter the forest, none avails the rare weapon of 
the  alphabet, the crown of understanding and wisdom is rare, 
that makes all the scholars, poets and leaders do an unending comic.   
Even a tribal can’t recognise a tribal as a tree can’t realise defoliation
like husk deer can’t recognise herself, it’s not feasible also 
since many doing a sacrificial ritual to cover up cataracts
the murky darkness will last forever in the smoke deluged.       
Notes: Marangburu, Mahadeo, Budharaja, Jahera-era, Gopagasen, and Maili are the deities of the tribals and Dalits in the western part of Odisha. 

The Formula of the Grammar  

Cow and buffalo are four-legged, milking domestic animals.
Black or brown or stripped, country breed or jersey
the cow is our mother, whereas buffalo is always stray.

Which is why Madhubabu told Danai, to not go to it
buffalo-milk is not even accepted by god, 
a cow is always a subject for essays and
the centre of songs, epics, and storytelling  
who cares about buffalo, it lies in a puddle of mud, 
but it’s the carrier of the god of death 
isn’t it a matter of delight? 

Cow urine and dung are holy and treatment for many 
diseases, stupids don’t understand—
they dump them into their fields as compost; in contrast, 
the quack and witch doctor sell them for ninety rupees a litre.
it’s also said that the body of a wretched is sanctified 
with the holy sacrifice and in the usage of cow dung.

Forget what science says, this is the land of the Aryans
you’ve to follow the foot of their eminence  
in this land of the Aryans, when a cow or buffalo dies
none comes to throw the carcass, that time no sons 
turn up who were adoring just as a mother
who were being purified with the sanctity of cow dung 
who comes to throw the carcass is infinitely an outcast.

Cow and buffalo are not only the domestic animals 
the peculiar recital of the royal brawn too 
the domestic adjective of a butcher’s weapon 
neither the cow nor the buffalo construes it.

History witnesses, one who doesn’t understand
the etymology and the formula of the grammar 
gets slaughtered just as Mahishasur
despite being a hero, the chopped head 
of Belalsen remains hanging in the Mahabharata.    

The Dream of Development 

How can they realise literature and its pertinence  
who think language is only a communication 
and just the exchange of feelings?

How can they realise the glory of an idol, who 
live embracing the land and mountain as a mother?

How can they decode the Darubrahma in the wood
who burn the planks in the hearth for a bit of rice 
being used in the roofing? 

How can they analyse the indefatigable power of water 
who guzzle and pour into the roots of ash guards,
spike guards, when they avail it?

How can they realise what sacrifice is, those who yell—  
we’ll die, we’ll die when they’re asked to walk 
just a mile away from their hamlet?

How can they decipher the meaning of the nation
when they’re obsessed with protecting their 
own piece of land and forest insanely?

How can they understand the metallic nitty-gritty  
who drink ragi gruel from a leaf bowl, water from a pot,
and cover ten-fifteen miles on foot for salt and chilly, 

go hunting deer and stag with bow and arrow and 
arrange the net with an axe and a knife?

Development—the mahatma! The dream of progress  
here isn’t just complex, it’s intricate too to interpret.       


Sculpted relief showing Anantashayi Vishnu (The Hindu god Vishnu sleeping on a serpent) Detail from the ceiling of a temple hall at Haccappya-gudi. From India, dated 7th Century AD. Getty Images



All languages are easy and elegant like a song and 
story and slick like the call of a mother. 

But now the countenance, characteristics 
and the grammar of the language have distorted    
the noun, adjective, pronoun, and verb are 
like a venomous arrow piercing through 
the lives of many in a second, waging war 
impulsively and erupting lavas in a wink.

People baking their own bread become loquacious
hatching a war of words 
the quotidian life of thatch and clay turns intolerable
the barbaric wheels of language run over
the pregnant paddy and wheat.

The language that was consoling us until now  
becomes excessively murderous, 
when someone abuses a body, like a sharp weapon
the language overpowers the question of dissent.  


Lives of fifty-six crore of living beings fall into 
melancholy in just a few words of the language 
friends, mates, brothers and all innocence 
get bruised in the brutality of words, and mythically  
there blossoms, Brahma Kamal and lakhs of lotuses.    

Even in the scorching sun, the language sells  
the full moon of development; this time is so vile  
how many animals are dumb, deaf and numb 
in the new incarnation and etymology 
of the language and reach the verge of death, 
from every angle, nouns and adjectives are extolled.
A dream of perennial hope clamours like a mic
it’s said, a language also dies sometimes, but then 
how would this language die, when you and I are 
singing a ceaseless paean in the same language?  


(Translated from the Odia by Pitambar Naik)

Sanjaya Kumar Bag has a PhD in Folklore Studies from the University of Delhi. He teaches Odia Language and Literature at the Eastern Regional Language Centre, Bhubaneswar, Odisha. He has four volumes of research work and two books of short fiction—Barnabodha O Madhubabunka Katha (2009) and Birnang Debi (2017). His stories have been translated and published widely in English and other Indian languages like Hindi and Assamese. He was born and raised in Koksara, Kalahandi and lives in Bhubaneswar, India. 

Pitambar Naik is an advertising copywriter for a living. When he’s not creating ideas for brands, he writes and translates poetry. His work appears or is forthcoming in ellipsis... literature & art, The Dodge, The McNeese Review, The Notre Dame Review, Packingtown Review, Ghost City Review, Rise Up Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Other Side of Hope and elsewhere. He’s the author of the poetry collection, The Anatomy of Solitude (Hawakal). He grew up in Mandal, Kalahandi, Odisha and lives now in Bangalore, India.