Varavara Rao’s Poems they dont want you to Read

"The foe fears the poet; Incarcerates him, and tightens the noose around the neck; But, already, the poet in his notes breathes among the masses."


Varavara Rao, the 81-year-old Telugu poet, and activist has been imprisoned for almost 2 years now as an under-trial in the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case. Due to his currently deteriorating health condition, he was moved to JJ Hospital in Mumbai on Monday (13 July 2020). Last month, the NIA Court had rejected his interim bail application. One wonders what serious threat to national security this 81-year-old poet could pose, so grave that he cannot be granted bail even in the midst of a worsening pandemic. Here is a look at some of his poetry, which showcases the strength of his political convictions and his sensitivity to the suffering of oppressed people.

More Here:Varavara Rao’s Condition Deteriorates in Jail

Varavara Rao has been imprisoned as an under-trial multiple times since 1973 and has faced more than 25 cases over the past 45 years. In 1985, he was charged with distributing bombs in order to protest the custodial death of a Radical Students’ Union activist. Rao wrote the poem below as a response to these allegations:


I did not supply the explosives
Nor ideas for that matter
It was you who trod with iron heels
Upon the anthill
And from the trampled earth
Sprouted the ideas of vengeance

It was you who struck the beehive
With your lathi
The sound of the scattering bees
Exploded in your shaken facade
Blotched red with fear

When the victory drum started beating
In the heart of the masses
You mistook it for a person and trained your guns
Revolution echoed from all horizons.

Source: The Wire

See Also: Chattisgarh Farmers and Adivasi Organisations Protest Against Coal Auction

In this next poem, Varavara Rao writes about the destruction of Adivasi dwellings and forest land by multinational corporations exploiting natural resources or by state-led ‘development’ projects like dams, which benefit the urban population through the deprivation of forest-dwellers. He traces this to capitalism’s ‘hideous greed’ and its ‘insatiable thirst’, which continues to accelerate ecological destruction today.

When The Moonlight Moves Into The Dark

For just a nest no aborigine
Cuts away the wooded-shelter.
For the simple slash-burnt crop no man of the forest
Burns down the nurturing woods.

Even when the hill people
Cut the bases and burn the stumps,
And harvest,
On the hillside, in the slope, on the brink:
Whose sweat of the brow turns into whose burp?

A little moisture of the palm is enough
For the forest that fells and billows away in the Godari –
Forest, the target of hewn lacerations.
Taking forms it fails to find itself in.
This civilizing forest –
Who owns this hauled-out wealth?
In cities and in bungalows
All the riches hidden behind closed doors
Are the forest.

All the power, inciting rare game on the prowl,
Is pillaged from the woods.
Forest with its broken back and blown-out belly,
Dams spreading across its mouth
From reservoir to granary
Measuring heaps of sweat pearls
Burning the fuel of dismal lives-in-death.
In the wilderness of city
Cementing with flesh and blood of the forest
The iron system of justice.
In ‘safari’ robes stitched in the hide of skinned forest
On the intestinal pages of the woods
Death sentences preserved in writing . . .

In the forest reserve
As moonlight prowled –
Furiously, when you set the forest dwellings on fire
Those fires that would show your shady face to the world
Fires – your hideous greed that would put mankind to shame.
Those fires of tears that cannot quench your insatiable thirst.

The blaze smites the vigorous,
Rising defiant, bloody fires.
Flames, flames – the bloody crops
Sprouting in the dwellings you burnt down
Vines entwined everywhere
Flames blossoming new worlds.

Source: Poetry International Archives (Telugu version also accessible here)

The poem below, although written in 1986, continues to be a sharp depiction of the increasingly authoritarian crackdown on people’s movements and the muzzling of political dissent.

The Bard

When the order is amiss
And billowing pitch-clouds of time
Strangle the throat
Neither blood trickles
Nor tears drop

Lightening swirls into thunder,
Drizzles surge into deluge, and,
Absorbing mother’s tears of agony
Purl out from prison grills
Voice of the poet’s missive.

When the tongue pulsates,
Tone manumits the air, and
Song turns missile in battle
The foe fears the poet;
Incarcerates him, and
Tightens the noose around the neck
But, already, the poet in his notes
Breathes among the masses

The scaffold
Like a gravitating balance
Disseminates into earth
Challenges to death
And hoists the paltry
Hangman colonist

Source: Poetry International Archives (Telugu version also accessible here)

Read Next: Bhima-Koregaon: When the Process Becomes Punishment


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April 2024



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