Amrita Pritam: A Letter

File:Amrita Pritam (1919 – 2005) , in 1948.jpg

Me—a book in the attic.
Maybe some covenant or hymnal.
Or a chapter from the Kama Sutra,
or a spell for intimate afflictions.
But then it seems I am none of these.
(If I were, someone would have read me.)

Apparently at an assembly of revolutionaries
they passed a resolution,
and I am a longhand copy of it.
It has the police’s stamp on it
and was never successfully enforced.
It is preserved only for the sake of procedure.

And now only some sparrows come,
straw in their beaks,
and sit on my body
and worry about the next generation.
(How wonderful to worry about the next generation!)
Sparrows have wings on them,
but resolutions have no wings
(or resolutions have no second generation).

Sometimes I think to catch the scent—
what lies in my future?
Worry makes my binding come off.
Whenever I try to smell,
just some fumes of bird shit.
O my earth, your future!
Me—your current state.

TRANSLATED FROM THE PUNJABI BY D.H. TRACY & MOHAN TRACY

Amrita Pritam was a Punjabi poet and novelist who recorded the trauma of Partition in her best-know poem, “I Call upon Varis Shah Today.” Denis Matringe’s French translation of her novel, The Skeleton, was awarded the La Route des Indes Literary Prize (2005). Among her other honors were the Jnanpith award (1981) and the Padma Vibushan (2005).

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