Societal values are not constant. They not only keep changing with time but are also manipulated, to benefit a few. There is no better means than poetry to expose these inherent contradictions within a society.
The poetry of resistance often deals with such contradictions – illustrating the underbellies of various societies and the dark corners of the glorified past. Mere reading such poetry can be a very unsettling experience.
While a recital can take this poetic experience to an entirely new level, the intensity of a good theatrical presentation of poetry is simply an out-of-the-world encounter. My first experience of such theatrical presentation was a performance by Space Theatre Ensemble Goa. Hartman de Souza and his team of brilliant performers not only exposed me to a different genre but also shook me to the core with their brilliant poetry selection.
One of their performances was a poem called ‘Beef Beef’. The poem ‘goddu mamsam‘ (cow meat) is written by Telegu poet Digumarthi Suresh Kumar. The poem has been translated in English by Naren Bedide, a writer, translator, and poet who has keen interest in dalit literature.
So intense was the performance and so unsettling were those words that I still vividly remember the performance that I witnessed over 5 years ago. I do not have the recording of the performance. Neither is it available online. So you will have to satisfy your souls with the words alone.
Read the poem slowly.
Then close your eyes.
Now recite it to yourself.
It is alright to not remember the lines.
Just feel the feeling!
Experience the irony!
Experience our collective blindness!
Originally written in Telegu by Digumarthi Suresh Kumar.
Translated in English by Naren Bedide.
The meat I have eaten since my cord was cut
The meat that has risen as bone of my bone
The meat that has raced as part of my blood;
When you drove me far from the village,
When you found even my footprints untouchable,
When you couldn’t even see me as human,
What stood by me
And brought me here was beef.
When you bragged, presenting your side,
Your forefathers drank ghee
It was only beef which stayed with me
Stood by my side;
When its udders were squeezed and milked
You didn’t feel any pain at all,
When it was stitched into a chappal you stamped underfoot and walked on
You didn’t feel any hurt,
When it rang as a drum at your marriage and your funeral
You didn’t suffer any blows,
When it sated my hunger, beef became your goddess?