The Bard

When the order is amiss
And billowing pitch-clouds of time
Strangle the throat
Neither blood trickles
Nor tears drop

Lightening swirls into thunder,
Drizzles surge into deluge, and,
Absorbing mother’s tears of agony
Purl out from prison grills
Voice of the poet’s missive.

When the tongue pulsates,
Tone manumits the air, and
Song turns missile in battle
The foe fears the poet;
Incarcerates him, and
Tightens the noose around the neck
But, already, the poet in his notes
Breathes among the masses

The scaffold
Like a gravitating balance
Disseminates into earth
Challenges to death
And hoists the paltry
Hangman colonist

Poet’s Note: For Benjamin Franklin Molaise

© 1986, Varavara Rao
From: Bhavishyattu Chitrapatam
Publisher: Vijayakrishna Printers, Vijayawada, 1986

© Translated by D. Venkat Rao
From: Pretext: A Journal of Rhetorical Theory, Vol. 18: Nos. 1-4
Publisher: Victor Vitanza, Clemson, 1997


Poetry is the Truth that need not be hidden
Like a People that don’t need a government
or a life that doesn’t require an elixir.

You may frisk the pockets,
or pour the papers and books
on the table
to probe, or scan the drawers,
or explore the long tunnel of the heart
that opens as a beera-flower:
you cannot find a single secret
there’s only poetry.

You don’t understand:
It is the secret called poetry that is most dangerous
about my being.

You think that the moon is forever trapped in the
rectangle of the dark sky
until you, who bury your hands in the pockets,
rise your head to insult me: see
a moonlight spreading across the sky as my poetry.
You will be dazzled to know of the story of this
strange moon that cannot see
the moon of the sky.

I used to feel repulsed, like insects crawling
on my skin
when you groped my body for contraband,
in the beginning. Now, in this loneliness, as I
drained out my old blood and transfused it
with poetry, I feel bad for you
fumbling for your own humanity desperately
as you search me.

I give myself to you
to have a collar fixed around the throat
or a metal-machine rubbed on my heart,
to strip my clothes, to rinse my skin,
and to follow the secret lands with me.

Poetry is the sound of the hands
heavily shackled,
birds of freedom fleeing out of chains
for every movement.

The conspiracy of prosecution comes to light
on the court-days.

Poetry flares up
the more you surveil,
Poetry keeps inspiring masses
the more you do government,
Poetry will swim in your own conscience
the more you spread the death-trap.

Poetry is the open secret that
abolishes the State,
it reaches its reader even while
it is forming in heart, it renderes itself
meaningful by default,
for the one who can understand,
it spurs protests while
it is still dawning in my conscience,

the real secret is that
my poetry came to life drinking the
breast milk of social movements.

From the hands you tied, as an
string of grief and rage, as a sight
that blazes tears,
poetry keeps streaming
through the red veins of my language.

(Translated by Rohith)

‘కవిత్వం’ (‘Poetry’) by Varavara Rao: Justice for Varavara Rao

The Quarantine Train stands in solidarity with the poet and activist Varavara Rao and condemns the injustice meted out to him. We strongly demand that the poet of the people be released immediately, and push for the values of democracy, freedom and dissent to be restored and upheld as they are through his poetry.

Here, Rohith, a member of TQT, reads his translation of Rao’s poem, ‘కవిత్వం’ (‘Poetry’), written while he was in prison in the late 1980s. This is not a poem of death, but from death. This poet of the people needs to be heard, read, re-read, and shared widely, for he resonates in each one of us, endowed with the gift of poetry.

#JusticeForVaravaraRao #ReleaseVaravaraRao

Posted by The Quarantine Train on Thursday, 16 July 2020

(Rohit reads Poetry in Telugu and English)

Unburdening Song

Like the East Wind
You came to recount
The heart-rending tales that
The tear-filled Godavari told the sea.

Stunned like the tree
Anguished for the very breezes of life
I opened my mouth.
Has some invisible hand stood between us?
Are we, decreeing injunctions on ourselves,
Turning mute?
To avoid your sight
I swallowed tear streams
Down my throat.
All day long tears continue to pierce my throat.

Now, this night,
The night when the sea has taken
Godavari into its lap and is consoling,
Composing tunes, that have gone discordant
In sighs.
Breathing into my repressed, harmonium-like heart
With two hands.

I washed my whole face
With the elegy surging from memory.
Now there are no more thorns in the throat
Nor in the eyes.
On this bridge of abyssal time
Between us
– We could not open mouths to converse –

This unburdening lyric I delivered.

This may reach you either as a bird or flower
Or even as a mad breeze.

Won’t you be soft in response?

© 1990, Varavara Rao
From: Muktakantham
Publisher: Samudram Prachuranalu, Vijayawada, 1990

© Translated by D. Venkat Rao
From: Pretext: A Journal of Rhetorical Theory, Vol. 18: Nos. 1-4
Publisher: Victor Vitanza, Clemson, 1997

The Dream Pigeons

Pigeons released by the heart
alight on the eyelids
You know that I am scared to open
my eyes and break the wings,
and so, I pretend, eyes closed.
I know very well that my
dreams are not my creations alone
and that imagination is not
anyone’s solitude.

© 1990, Varavara Rao
From: Muktakantham
Publisher: Samudram Prachuranalu, Vijayawada, 1990

Translated by Rohith

A Petition to the Court of the People

Dispatch those laws with stones
and greet the diffident
in a confetti of flowers.

Build a tomb to the dictatorship
of death and liberate
the caged love.

© 1990, Varavara Rao
From: Muktakantham
Publisher: Samudram Prachuranalu, Vijayawada, 1990

Translated by Rohith

The Other Day

Not that my coming is without intimation
What needs be said always remains unsaid
Not an unanticipated occurrence
But yearning for the propitious in the unintended

No word chain disrupted
No effort aborted
And each experience . . . halfway

Yet that is not the problem
Time has not come to a standstill
Time has simply
Uncoupled us

Our sleepless wait
Altering the date
Was to efface
The bittersweet divides.

Our cuddle,
The nestle of twenty springs
Snuggled in the nest of feathers
Dissolving in the bitter actual . . .

Even as you say, alas,
Will they take you away tomorrow?
It’s already the day

Even as you agitate in agony
Alas, do they already take you
Even while you look on
I am shackled

The scene,
Arrested word
Like the broken tear
Slashed through the
Squares and rectangles
Of the gratings at
Our counter meetings.
I can only pityingly
The escort van roars
And stirs up dust.

Something smells
As I turn my view inside
Rifles and Khaki uniforms do
The surveillance.

My self writhes
I am agitated
As the petrol smells,
My wailing entrails move
I turn in
My view from you
In the outer world
Towards you
In the inner world.
Time and I have only two limbs
Day and night
With the desire to work a bit faster
Time grasping its arrow-seconds
Me clasping my quill
Move on
And go on moving.

The enemy has four legs
Tele-ear, tele-gaze, radio-mouth
And armed palms.

Above all,
The rapacity to live on
All alone.

It is for this
He annihilated his heart,
For this he smothers its vibrations.

In what discourse
Can we converse
With the heartless?

Bloodhound’s gasping tongue
His neck-strap,
The whip in the prodding master’s hand,
He assumes, from his rank.
What language can translate the utterance
That it’s felony to shackle reflections?

Fractures the human world
Into custodians and criminals
But when I assert and declare
Banishment of the very thing
Property’s cage turns me a defendant, all right,
For the overlord’s eyes
I am a Communist
As if nothing can surpass it
He arraigns me as a

Let us persist to actualize it exactly
Let us perpetuate ‘treason’
For the purpose of multitudes

Poet’s Note: Any forcible separation from loved ones is of course very painful. But even worse is the sense of utter helplessness. There is nothing we can do about it. Such a person feels that there was something unsaid, a sentence cut in the middle, a melody abruptly stopped. It now feels as if even a minute’s re-union would enable the unsaid to be said, the sentence or the melody completed. If only . . . if . . . if . . .
Ngugi [Detained: A Writer’s Prison Dairy]


I did not supply the explosives
Nor ideas for that matter
It was you who trod with iron heels
Upon the anthill
And from the trampled earth
Sprouted the ideas of vengeance
It was you who struck the beehive
With your lathi
The sound of the scattering bees
Exploded in your shaken facade
Blotched red with fear
When the victory drum started beating
In the heart of the masses
You mistook it for a person and trained your guns
Revolution echoed from all horizons