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N.D. Rajkumar

N.D. Rajkumar is a poet and musician who has published four volumes of poetry in Tamil. Till 2014, he used to work as a daily wage labourer in the Railway Mail Service in Nagercoil, and now teaches music for a living. His poems have appeared in English translation in anthologies of Dalit writing.

Presented below are four untitled poems by ND Rajkumar:


I wrote this on water, summoning

the fortune-teller with his hand-drum

and the parrot that picks the fortune cards --

On this flowing water, too, I drew

a toy-boat made of fronds

where my fireflies are now asleep.

Only on this flowing water did I try

drawing sketches of my springtime flowers.

Having painted on this flowing water

a house not worn out yet by moths;

the sixth star not gobbled up still by termites;

and toddy gushing forth at dusk

without relent from the palm-springs.

Only on this streaming water did I try

to unite and shape a good me together with

a virtuous self and a fine woman.

The flowing water keeps flowing still.

The water that flowed before has now flowed past;

and along with the water that flowed earlier,

my raft, too, has floated away.

The crows that built a nest down

the line thrown by an angler astride a buffalo’s back,

then laid eggs and hatched their little ones there –

they too have flown away.

Under the flowing water swims

my crow downstream,

not wanted even by the fishing line.


When the crow you had

sketched on my heart

with a charcoal bit

flew away, its nest

of thorns, rising,

pierced and lacerated

its body, leaving

hibiscus petals

scattered in the courtyard

of my remembrance.

O ash-smeared woman, inhaling

the smoke from my burning corpse –

I’ll throb forever at the margins

of your conceit

as a pitch-black mole.


When Drona was called to do battle,

it was Ekalavya’s arrow that he came to betray.

One day, aeons ago,

the mystic wizard of our martial tradition

who, after using the big toe of his foot

to hit rutting white elephants

on their ears to fell them,

went down into the earth,

frolicked there and then swam

into the ocean, swishing his tail-fin.

Sometime later, when the ancient veteran

picked up and blew his long horn to call

our men to arms for the great caste war,

that whale knowledgeable in the arts of war

multiplied one ocean into two and set them boiling,

to bring us fangs and thorns to fight with,

and weapons fashioned out of old bones.


A mob picks up the green sword

and places it suggestively

between us and our sorcerer-king.

Another horde puts on

their caste robes, climbs to the top

of palm trees; and stationed there,

delivers diatribes against our people.

Do not grab hold of us and destroy

our will to struggle by raising false slogans.

Go away, just go—we stomp our feet

like demons to thwart their ploys.

We alone will write on your behalf.

So you must simply lie here,

stuffing cocks into your mouths—

Twirling and thrusting thus

their tongues honed to sharpness

and dripping with venom, the ash-smeared gods

come marching down yet another

flank, dressed in their sacred threads

More poems by ND Rajkumar in my translation in

No Alphabets in Sight: New Dalit Writing from South India, edited by K Satyanarayana and Susie Tharu, Penguin Books India, 2011


The Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing, edited by Ravi Kumar and R Azhagarasan, Oxford University Press (India), 2012


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