Bruised, but not Broken (poems)

-Challapalli Swarooparani 

3. Water

Just as water knows the ground’s incline,
It knows the generations-old strife
Between village and wada
Like dampness on the well’s edge that never dries,
It knows that untouchability never disappears.
Water knows everything.

It knows race
The difference between the woman from Samaria and
Jesus, the Jew.

It knows caste and sub-caste too
The subtle difference between leather and spool.
It knows the agony of the Panchama,
Who waits, with empty pot near well
Not having the right to draw water
Until a Shudra arrives.

It knows the humiliation of
The wad girl
When he, who kept his distance
When he poured water
Falls all over
And touches her.

It knows righteous rage
Karamchedu Suvarthamma’s anger*
She, who opposed the Kamma landlords
With her water pot and asked them
Not to pollute the pond water.

Water has been witness
To centuries of injustice.

When I see water
I remember
How my wada would thirst all day
For a glassful
For us water is not the simple H2O,
For us water is a mighty movement
The Mahad struggle at Chavdar tank.

A single drop embodies
Tears shed over several generations.
In the many battles we fought for
A single drop of water,
Our blood flowed like streams.

But we never managed to win
Even a small puddle.

When I see water,
I remember
How we welcomed our weekly bath
As if it was a wonderful festival and
The entire village bathed luxuriously …
Twice a day.

When I see water I remember my childhood,
When we walked miles to reach the canal
And carried back heavy pots,
Muscles and veins on our necks straining, bursting.

I remember
The malapalli burning
Its thatched roofs aflame,
And then ashes
All for want of a pot of water.

Water is not a simple thing!
It gives life but also devours lives.
Water that refused to quench parched throats
Returned as the tsunami killer wave that swallowed
Village after village.
The poor, mere playthings
In its vicious hands.

Often, it turns villages into dry deserts
and at times it drowns them in floods.
Between the village and wada
Between the one and the other,
Water can ignite struggle and strife.
Make blood flow like a rivulet
But it can also sit in a Bisleri bottle
All innocence.

This water from our village well
That forces us to do many a circus feat,
Now slowly, surreptitiously
Dances its way into the Pepsi man’s bottle
A new name for it, ‘mineral water’
It takes to the skies, raises a storm.

Now water is no mean matter.
It is a multinational market commodity.
As they say
Water is omniscient.
It contains the world.

*Suvarthamma’s raising of her water pot (toward off the knife that was lanced at her) was taken as an offence and was the ostensible reason for the Kammas going on a rampage, killing over a dozen Dalits in Karamchedu village in 1985.

(Telugu: “Neeru”, translation, Dr.Umamaheswari Brugubanda, Dept of English, English and Foreign Languages University and published in K Satyanarayana & Susie Tharu (eds), The Exercise of Freedom, 2013.)


(To be continued-)

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