Friday, Dec 01, 2023

Poetry, Protest, Pain, Pathos: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Poetry, Protest, Pain, Pathos: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Over the past two years, from Shaheen Bagh to Tikri Border, protestors have found hope in the verses of old greats such as Faiz to contemporary poets such as Varun Grover.

Poetry, Protest, Pain, Pathos: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Pithy at times. Stirring at others. But powerful always. Poetry has always been one of the most important weapons in civil society’s resistance against oppression—a spontaneous pushback through verses that speak truth to power. Across the world, from the Black rights movement to the Arab Spring uprising to the CAA/NRC protests back home in India, poets and thinkers have moved the masses with their rousing poems and songs.

The ongoing peasant protest against three farm laws—which the government has said will be repealed—too has seen some of the finest verses being recited during the demonstrations. Some are old, the others new. In December 2020, at the peak of North India’s bone-chilling winter, a farmer cycled 400 kms from his home in Faridkot, Punjab, to join the farmers protesting at the Tikri borders on the outskirts of Delhi. All that he carried with him was a poem by Avtar Singh Sandhu, also famous as Paash. Like a slow-burning flame, the stirring poem titled ‘Sab Ton Khatarnaak’ (The Most Dangerous), kept the hearts of many protestors lit with hope on cold dark nights.  

ALSO READ:Roses Among Thorns: The Many Solidarities Of Diverse Protests

Here’s a selection of some iconic protest poems which have become voices of the masses over the years…

Zara mulk ke rahbaron ko bulao
Yeh koonche yeh galiyan yeh manzar dikhao
Jinhe naaz hai Hind par woh kahan hain?

Call the leaders of this country
Show them what’s unfolding in its streets
Those who take pride in India, where are they?

—Sahir Ludhianvi

The caged bird sings    
with a fearful trill  
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

—Maya Angelou
Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?

Ye tune Hind ki hurmat ke aaine ko toda hai
Khabar bhi hai tujhe Masjid ka gumbad todne wale
Humare dil ko toda hai imaarat ko nahi toda
Khabaasat ki bhi had hoti hai had todne wale

What you have broken is the image of reverence of India
Do you have this idea, you who have broken the dome of the mosque
Not the building but our hearts have been broken
Your wickedness is limitless

—Jagan Nath Azad
(After demolition of Babri Masjid)

Kirat di lutt, Sab ton khatarnak nahin hundi
Police di kutt, Sab ton khatarnak nahin hundi
Gaddaari-lobh di muth, Sab ton khatarnak nahin hundi
Sab ton khatarnak hunda hai
Na hona tadap da
Sabh kujh sehan kar jaana
Ghar ton niklana kamm,
te kamm to ghar aana
Sab ton khatarnak hunda hai,
Saade supniaan da mar jaana

Being robbed of one’s daily wages is not most dangerous
Suffering police’s torture is not most dangerous
The conspiracy between greed and treason is not most dangerous
The most dangerous is
being filled with deathly silence
to bear everything quietly
to leave home for work
and to return home like routine,
The most dangerous is the death of our dreams

—Avtar Singh Sandhu ‘Paash’

Hindustan se mera rishta hai
Tum kaun ho be
Kyun batlaun tumko kitna gehra hai
Tum kaun ho be

There’s a connect between India and me
Who the hell are you
Why should I tell how deep it runs
Who the hell are you

—Puneet Sharma 

Hum Dekhenge  
Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge
Hum dekhenge
Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-giran
Rooyi ki tarah ud jayenge
Hum mehkumon ke paon tale
Jab dharti dhad dhad dhadkegi
Aur ahl-e-hakam ke sar upar
Jab bijli kad kad kadkegi
Hum dekhenge

We will see  
It’s inevitable that we’ll also see
We will see
When the huge mountains of tyranny
Will blow away like wisps of smoke
When below our feet
The ground will throb like heartbeat
When the heads of our rulers
Lightning will strike
We will see

—Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Toh tum zameen pe zulm likh do,   
Asmaan pe inquilab likha jayega,   
Sab yaad rakha jayega, sab kuch yad rakha jayega

You oppress us on land
Revolution will fill the skies
All will be remembered, Everything will be remembered

—Amir Aziz

Sabka khuun hai shamil yahan ki mitti mein
Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai

Everyone’s sweat and blood has nourished this soil
Dare they think India is their own property

—Raahat Indori

Hum kaagaz nahi dikhayenge  
Taanashah aake jayenge  
Hum kaagaz nahi dikhayenge  

We won’t show you the paper [proof of our citizenship]
Autocrats will come and go
We won’t show you the paper

—Varun Grover
(Response to National Register of Citizens)

(This appeared in the print edition as "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised")


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Text and poem selection by Suhas Munshi