February 2017        

Speaking bluntly

Gabriel Rosenstock introduces and translates a poem by Sukirtharani

The poem “I Speak Up Bluntly” was written in Tamil, one of the oldest literary languages in the world. Sukirtharani is a contemporary Dalit poet (the term that has replaced “Untouchable”). She and other Dalit poets have shown great courage and eloquence in their struggle for equality and parity of esteem in a country that is as riddled with the caste system as Britain is—and indeed parts of our own country—with class divisions.
     The Dalit struggle is being expressed in cutting-edge poetry today, but you have to ask yourself, what is new?
     Another Tamil poet, Sivavakkiyar, who flourished some time before the tenth century, asks what’s the difference between a Paraichi (or Pariah) woman and a Panathi (Brahmin) or upper-class woman:
     When you say Paraichi or Panathi—what do you mean?
     Is it marked in their flesh, skin and bone?
     Conjugal pleasure of a Paraichi or a Panathi, does it differ?
     Paraichi and a Panathi differ only in the mind!
Labhraím amach go NeamhbhalbhI Speak Up Bluntly
Chuireas an ruaig ar na préacháinI shooed away crows
is d’fheannas an bhó.while flaying dead cows of their skin.
Im’ sheasamh ar feadh i bhfad, ag fanachtStood for hours, waiting
go n-íosfainn farasbarr an bhaile—to eat the town’s leavings—
ag maíomh ansin gur itheas rís the úrdhéanta.then boasted that I ate hot, freshly cooked rice.
Nuair a chonac m’athair ar an tsráidWhen I saw my father in the street
an druma leathair crochta dá mhuineál,the leather drum strung from his neck,
d’iompaíos m’aghaidh uaidhI turned my face away
is shiúlas thairis.and passed him by.
Toisc nach ndéarfainn cén jabBecause I wouldn’t reveal
a bhí ag m’athair, cén teacht isteach a bhí aige,my father’s job, his income,
bhuail an múinteoir mé.the teacher hit me.
Shuíos liom féin ar an gcúlbhinseFriendless, I sat alone
gan chara gan chompánach, ag golon the back bench, weeping,
gan fhios don saol.though no-one knew.
Ach anoisBut now
má chuireann éinne ceist ormif anyone asks me
labhraím amach go neamhbhalbh—I speak up bluntly:
is Íochtarán mé.I am a Paraichi.

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