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POEMS

- by Kedarnath Singh

AN ARGUMENT ABOUT HORSES

Translated from the Hindi by Vinay Dharwadker

The three of them were sitting in the sun
and arguing about horses
The horse is beautiful—the first one said
You’re wrong—the second one retorted
the horse is simply solid—very solid
The third man who’d been silent until then
said softly—It’s so solid
that you can’t argue about it
Why can’t we argue about it—the first one shouted
Of course we can argue about it—the second one agreed
The third man was silent
rather he was very pleased
flicking the ash from his cigarette he said—
But where is the horse?
So what if it isn’t here
at least we can argue about it
the first one said
We can argue about it
but I’m sad I haven’t seen a horse in so many years—
there was a strange kind of pain in the third man’s voice
There are fewer and fewer horses
the first one said
Right—the second one replied
that’s precisely the question
why are there fewer and fewer horses?
They’re sold off—the first one said
But who buys so many horses
the second one asked—
there must be statistics about this somewhere
There are—said the first one
emphasizing the are—
but we can’t get to see them
Why—why can’t we get to see them—
the second man was shaking
Because the horses trample down the statistics
the first one said
His voice was so faint
it seemed he wasn’t speaking to the others but only to himself
The third man who’d been silent all this while
screamed suddenly—
My friends
one day those statistics will rise
and trample down the horses
For a long time
after that
there was no more argument



BETWEEN NEEDLE AND THREAD

Translated from the Hindi by Vinay Dharwadker

My mother’s brooding on my loneliness
It isn’t raining now
but it could start at any moment
I have to go out
and she’s tight-lipped
because I have to
It’s certain that going out
will put her out of my mind
will make me forget
her bowl
her glass
make me completely forget
the white sari with a black border
that she and only she
in the whole wide world
wears
Winter will be here in a while
and I’ve noticed that when it’s cold
she bends over
a little closer to her shadow
Her thoughts about wool are harsh
about death are tender
About birds
she has nothing to say
even though in sleep she seems
so much like a bird
Whenever she’s weary
she picks up needle and thread
I’ve noticed that when
everybody else is asleep
her fingers ply the needle
late into the night
slowly—slowly—stitching time
as though it were
some frayed old kurta of mine
in need of repair

For the past sixty years
my mother has been squeezed between
a needle and a thread
even though she’s a loom
that has slowly—slowly—woven
length upon length
of this cloth of sixty years
so thick and coarse and dense

Biography
Born in 1934, Kedarnath Singh is widely acknowledged as one of the major writers of contemporary Hindi poetry. Subtle, understated, economical, nuanced and allusive, Singh’s poetry has been associated with the New Poetry and Progressive Writers’ Movements in Hindi. His work has been described as ‘polyvocal’ and ‘dialogic’, surcharged with a folk and mythic consciousness, capable of evoking ‘the silent mysterious and magical presence of everyday realities.’ Born in Chakia in the Ballia District of Uttar Pradesh in northern India, Singh studied at the Benaras Hindu University where he received his Masters degree in 1956 and doctorate in 1964. He taught at various colleges in Benaras, Gorakhpur and Pandrauna, before moving to Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, as professor of Hindi in 1978. He retired as the Head of Department in 1999 and was appointed professor emeritus by the University. He has published seven books of poetry and several works of prose, poetry translation and criticism. He was awarded the Asan Poetry Prize in 1980 and the Central Sahitya Akademi Prize in 1989. His work has been widely translated.