Post-colonial Poems by Kamal Kumar Tanti

Post-colonial Poems

(Tr. by Dr. Manjeet Baruah)


We, the guards of the Water Fairy*
From the depths of the river
As we reached its bank

The last ship of the remorseless merchants
Laden with all the river had
Had sailed away, tearing through the darkness

The waters of the river flowed, over the stains
That stuck to the sands, like greasy
Blood stains
Like thick clots of dry blood
Thickening and growing, over the ages

The Water Fairy became
A woman alive
And she told us and our robbed wretched people, that
‘For long have we stayed silent. Silent witness
To the suffering and suffering of justice long denied.
But today we have got back
Our mind and our strength
Our conscience
And our speech.’
We are guards of the Water Fairy
Alert guards of her water country

History is on our side now.

(*In the original, it is Jalkunwari, which could be water goddess/princes/fairy.)


At dawn, one day
The Old Spirit** of the old tree
In the middle of the muddy pool
Stood standing next to the lotus bloom.
His lonely mind in flight, to the
Expanse of the field of the plants of rice

From the field of the plants of rice
Had come carried then, screams of neighing
Of horses of war
And had come carried then, a loud load of music
Of their victorious masters
…and the last cry of a
Dying aged man

Famine struck the people
And famished people famished towards death
They remained no longer human
For human became inhuman

Days passed, and passed into the forgotten
Nights passed, and passed into the past

The Old Spirit of the old tree
His mind took flight, again
To the expanse of the field
Of the plants of rice

At dusk, one day, in the village
The old and the wise
Saw the lifeless corpse of the Old Spirit
In the naked field of the
Plants of rice

Nearby were footprints and hoof marks
Of men and their animals

(**In the original, it is ‘Burha Dangoria’. Burha Dangoria in folktales is an aged ghost/spirit who could be benevolent as well as revengeful upon the people.)


When the birds cried in the blue hills
When the fields of paddy dripped, dripped in blood

The hills and its forests, and its birds cried
People’s hearts burst of pale blood

And the day when the termites sang in the woods
And sang and screamed –
And the ships of the merchants waded upstream

Then the tiny boats and their wounded boatmen
All sank, sank deeper, all boats, and river, and blood and men

Scared, shrunk, the poor countrymen
They lost their speech, they lost their courage
And dawned then the dawn of the eternal night
Of the war for power between those brown and white

On the last day of the war, the crows gasped –
Water, water, water, water –

The riders of the horses pushed, pushed the brown
To one end of the black iron chains
And the other end of the heavy chains were tied
To the hoofs of the horses of the fair

People crawling in front of death
Crawling in the mud of life, growing roots
And metamorphosing into ghosts of glory
Chained around necks, alive in slavery
                    The ghosts of glory


A gust of the Windy wind***
And swept away were dust of the road, old waste of the fields

But there remained beside the ancient pond
Seated our Old Man****
A windfall of memory held in his restless thoughts

We too were ruminating, studying
… Of lives perished long ago
… Of time that perished long ago.
So we asked our Old Man
What is life: … ‘Momentary water slipping off yam leaf’
And what is history: … ‘Tales of rich and famous
… Of people and country bought and sold’
          … ‘Of minds and thoughts no longer one’s own
          … Of wasted shorter routes to being bought and sold’.

We asked him again
Who are we?

‘Nothing and nothing yam leaves, crushed beneath their white feet’
‘Muddy waters under stomping hoofs, left behind in the path of riders’
‘Startled souls in fear, at the very ringing of a gunshot’

Then who are you?
We asked again our Old Man

‘I am History: of two lost centuries
Of centuries lost in the time of the colonial
Of centuries lost in the time of the colonized’  

(***In the original, it is the wind that blows in the month of Phagun. Phagun is a windy month (February-March) in Assam.
**** In the original poem, it’s Kachari Burha (old man from the Kachari tribe/community), used to convey a folk sense of old man.)

About the Poet : KAMAL KUMAR TANTI (b. 1982) is a well-known young voice in the contemporary world of Indian English Poetry as well as of Assamese Poetry. Kamal is a bilingual poet, critic, writer and translator; and writes both in Assamese and English languages. He is a nominated Member of Assamese Language Advisory Board of Sahitya Akademi (National Academy of Letters), New Delhi. He belongs to Adivasi Tea-garden Labourer Community of Assam. His first collection of Assamese poetry Marangburu Amar Pita (Our Father Marangburu), published in 2007, won him the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar in 2012, for Assamese language and Munin Barkotoki Literary Award in 2008. His second collection of Assamese poetry Uttar-Ouponibeshik Kabita (Post-colonial Poems) has been published recently in July, 2018. His Assamese poems have been included in various anthologies of Assamese poetry and featured in various journals in Assamese. His recently published book titled Post-colonial Poems presents the best of his Assamese poems in English translations, selected from his two collections of Assamese poetry.

Kamal’s first collection of prose in Assamese Nimnaborgo Somaaj Oitijya (Subaltern Society's Legacy), published in 2007, was comprised of critical essays on Subaltern historiography and Post-colonial theory, with specific reference to colonial history and cultures of Assam. This book was selected as one of the “Ten Best Books” among all the Assamese books that has been published during the year 2007-08, by Grantha-Bandhab (Friends of Books), a well-known organization in Assam. His second collection of critical essays Uttar-Ouponibeshik Somaluchona (Post-colonial Criticism) is due for publication by the end of 2020. He writes fiction occasionally and few of his short-stories have been included in several anthologies of Assamese fiction.

Kamal’s English poems have appeared in many journals, including Indian Literature, The Little Magazine, Muse India, Kavya Bharati, Pyrta, Exchanges Literary Journal, Cerebration, NELit Review, Kritya, Visual Verse, Brown Critique, Steer Queer, etc. His poems also included in several anthologies of English poems, including 40 Under 40: an anthology of Post-Globalization Poetry, Shout It Out! Anthology, The World I Write In, etc.

Kamal has a Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics, for which he worked at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai and Gauhati University, Guwahati. Kamal worked for a leading Telematics company in Mumbai, and was a Modeling and Simulation Engineer with a software company in Pune. He was also closely associated with the “Design, calibration & testing of Ultra-Violet Imaging Telescope (UVIT)”, onboard ASTROSAT, First Indian Multi-wavelength Satellite for Astronomical Observations, launched by Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), in 2015. He is currently working as an Assistant Professor of Physics at Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology, Assam Centre and lives in Sivasagar, Assam, India.           

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