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The Butcher Loves Me a Lot – Reading the poems of Loknath Yashwant
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Assertion

The Butcher Loves Me a Lot – Reading the poems of Loknath Yashwant

chanchal kumar

 

Chanchal Kumar

chanchal kumarThe critic Walter Benjamin, talking about a piece of literature, says that the truth content of the work becomes more relevant only if it is bound up with its subject matter “inconspicuously and intimately”. If we go by this explanation then Loknath Yashwant’s volume places a mirror to us, in order that we look for ourselves where we have failed as human beings. The truth content of his work is starkly visible as he talks about contemporary society and how after Dr Ambedkar left us, there has been a deluge of problems that has beset the lives of Dalit-bahujans.

 His attitude is often cynical, sometimes confrontational, and always helps provide succour to the struggling masses. Sometimes they come as advice to those who are just starting out in the resistance against Brahmin-savarna dominance. Each of the poems in the volume jabs at our conscience, opening up vistas and worldviews that we have not been really familiar with. He talks of blind hero-worship, warns against mystical solutions to our problems and moves us to lead a life where action is the only God, Buddha and saviour. The reason for this could be his penetrating insight, a life lived as and amid the poorest of the poor, breaking bread with the subaltern, be it from among Hindu, the Muslim or any other community.

On Religion

Loknath Yashwant’s views on religion could be summed as coming from someone that has struggled to find meaning and significance in idol worship, in going to places of worship only to find beggars thronging the altar. What kind of an insecure, inept God would allow this? In a society where inhuman barbarity is inflicted on those who have no place to call their home, the imagination does not allow for a benevolent, prescient higher power, he seems to say. In his poem “Merry Go Round” he writes,

“Religion was created for man
Then
Man became religion

And all went merry-go-round”

Echoing the words of Dr Ambedkar who said “Religion is for Man, Man is not for religion”.

In his poem “Anguish”, he talks about religious sacraments and how being a religious fundamentalist brainwashes us, pitting us against our fellow beings, making us lose whatever humanity is left in us,

“I was naive, innocent, and
Dripping slobber

In the meantime
In a language peculiar, strange, and weird,
So-called religious sacraments were done on me

And unknowingly
I got stamped with a particular religion

I became a cannibal”

Here, he criticises the beguiling “word of God”, the formulations of holy scriptures that have “a language peculiar, strange and weird” which distorts one’s basic understanding of what it means to be human.

broken man

In the poem ironically titled “A Devotional Song”, he subverts the genre of hymns and praise, and in no uncertain terms expresses what he thinks of the “famous God”, the “God of Mercy”:

“… I saw you well, and
I recognised you well

Oh, God of Mercy
I saw the Tsunami
And the floods and the destruction
Saw earthquakes, floods, droughts, and
hurricanes
Saw epidemics and loss of life

Suffered evictions and displacements
Saw famines
Experienced malnutrition

Saw the mighty World Wars
Saw the death of my mother
And saw the death of a new-born infant

What else is your identity
Oh, Almighty, the eternal Provider?”

He spares no words to humiliate and bring to earth the promises of holy men who say that prayer will ward of pain from our life.

 In the poem “We All”, he implores us, the people, to “discover ourselves.” because

“The Buddha, Prophet, Allah, Jesus
An unending row of gods
And tacky magical deceit…

… You discuss

In this crowded garbage
You lose your life
Life you only get once…”

On Assertion

The poet’s take on political assertion and vindication of the rights of the underprivileged millions is one of sharp counsel to his readers. He writes about his disenchantment with traditional political means- putting up posters and pamphleteering and the tomorrow that was promised but never delivered. He titles the poem “Awakening” as if to say that his political maturation began when he realised that such processes and procedures only lead to a distaste of everything that is called “revolutionary” because revolution is often slow to come, if it come at all. Everyone is dependent on the person next to them and there are no leaders, nobody to show the path ahead.

“Awakening

… Next morning
The city was quiet, as usual
My enthusiasm fizzled out

Everyone was busy with their own affairs
Nothing happened

A week passes
Nothing at all

Just as earlier

In the slow city, I took a stroll yesterday
And realized that
People now continue to talk
With their eyes, glued on the eyes
Of the person in front of them.”

Continuing in the same vein, Yashwant talks about the heartbreak and anguish that he has been through. In “Tragedy”, he says

“Against the system
With friends for company
I started to fight with all my might
Much later, I realized
That all my friends
Around me
Had themselves become
A new system”

However, it is not always that his poems border on hopelessness and defeat. There are poems that are spirited and full of passion. In these, he rouses his community to stand up and fight, to incinerate and destroy the foundations of this unjust society:

“The Complaint

Again and again
They destroyed our huts
Huts with mud walls
And we built them
Again and again

They continued to destroy
And we continued to rebuild
Those little huts
Again and again

Now
Just for once
We destroyed their big mansions
And threw them away
Forever

For that
Why complain so much?”

He writes, “The world belongs to us”, and in the poem “Prostration”, he warns us to not give in to weakness and have “molten steel/Poured into our bodies” then

“When they meet
Salute them with respect
If they are not satisfied
Even with this
Pretend to greet them with a Johar
And pierce your horn into their stomachs
Through and through…”

Experience

The poems of Broken Man help us introspect, and through incidents where his own personality was shaped, we get an internal view of the mind of Loknath Yashwant as a rebel and a political commentator, who has been through it all and asserts that he makes his whole argument “in one single sentence.” In one of the rare tender moments in the collection, he says in “A Love Song”,

“Do not sing your love song
Please, not at this time
I am engrossed in mechanical thoughts
I may pierce my bayonet
Through your guts

This time
I want a companion
Who understands the times
And behaves

At this critical time
Do not sing a love song
And the wounds, those are healed
Do not make them bleed again”

 In “Love and Affinity”, Yashwant shows us the dark side of “Love” and how such sentiments could be one’s undoing. If one lives in this caste-ridden society, one has to learn to differentiate between sentimentality and hard knowledge of one’s own history. He writes,

 “The butcher loves me a lot
True, great love
That’s why
He has placed me
At the very end.”

A brief comment on the translation

In the Jim Jarmusch movie Paterson, one of the characters says that poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on. But Dr. K Jamanadas and Yogesh Maitreya’s translations of Loknath Yashwant’s poems hit you in the face like rude raindrops nevertheless. The reason could be that the poet does not explore some esoteric, rarefied idea liable to be lost in the crossroads of language. Instead, his poems seek to examine lived reality, the knowledge one gets from walking the unpaved streets after yet another massacre. And such poems are certain to disturb you.

~~~

 

 Chanchal Kumar is a student of Delhi University. His poetry has recently appeared in The Sunflower Collective and Hamilton Stone Review.

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