January 25, 2020
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A Coward’s Song

The title poem of Perumal Murugan’s new book of 200 poems, Oru Kozhaiyin Paadalkal

A Coward’s Song

Misery befalls no one
because of a coward
Riots break out nowhere
because of a coward
Nothing gets destroyed
because of a coward

A coward
does not draw his sword
or aim it at a tree
to check its sharpness
Why, a coward has no sword
to begin with

A coward
causes no one to feel fear

A coward
fears darkness
Songs come forth from him

Nature welcomes
a coward
He doesn’t pinch away a leaf
or pluck a flower

Nature embraces
a coward
A mother gathers a terrified child 
and suckles it

Nature garlands
a coward
For he steps out only 
to feed himself
He stays in and
keeps out of trouble

A coward 
also finds it hard 
to stay confined
He keeps cleaning up
nooks and corners

You won’t find a coward
in a playground
He never rouses crowds
into hateful nationalist frenzy

A coward 
joins no political party,
abides by no ideology,
and is loyal to no leader

A coward
cannot prepare a welcome flyer 
he cannot pour milk over big banners
he simply cannot whistle, prance about,
and go out in processions

A coward
steals from no one
He doesn’t stop those
who come to take away his things

A coward
does not attempt to rape anyone
He is also unable to look in stealth
at anyone’s body

A coward
never turns into a murderer
he thinks about suicide
And does it, too

— Perumal Murugan

(This is the title poem of Perumal Murugan’s new book of 200 poems, Oru Kozhaiyin Paadalkal, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan. We offer this also as a tribute to the Madras High Court, which “resurrected” the dead writer and upheld freedom of expression.)

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