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Dadri Lynching – ‘Crowd, I want to tell you something”- Poem



This  poem by Beji Jaison touched me. I have attempted a translation below.

It could have been inspired by the Dadri (bordering Delhi/Noida) lynching of a 50-year old man suspected by village mob to have eaten beef, but she doesn’t make a direct reference to it. I have seen mob violence and more generally crowd behavior as a boy, and read about it later on. The poem appealed to me because it portrays that general collective attitude and behavior that feels impossible to understand at only an individual level. It also reminded me of poems in Gujarati and English from the early 20th Century on urban alienation. (Hence I used crowd, not mob for भीड़. To me, a mob acts frenzied; the crowd is quite “normal” – almost by definition – in its crimes of neglect, apathy, deception, covering up and hiding in the open behind a veil.)

I first saw mobs in Ahmedabad streets – Relief Road, from the roof of a Bank of India building under construction – in perhaps 1963. Stoning, police firing, a death, curfew, military, the works. One or two other such minor “incidents” in the following years until the big one – 1969 August, when we had moved west of the river. There were no televisions then, nor in 1974 during Navnirman days. So it’s the witnessing in sight and smell that corroded something inside, permanently marking it like a metal vessel can be with acid. This poem reminded me of the corrosion all around – we see but do not see; it’s all a matter of door darshan.

Cynicism can also be a quality of crowds; it rationalizes the pretense of collective helplessness, a studied mantra – “What can be done?” Crowds blame mobs, forgetting that they are no different; collective inaction and collective violence are both excuses for thoughtlessness.

– NIkhil Desai

भीड़ मैं तुमसे कुछ कहना चाहती हूँ

मौका-ए-वारदात पर तमाम चश्मदीद गवाहों के बावजूद भी
मुझे तुम्हारे बेगुनाह होने पर यकीन है

मैने देखा है तुम्हारा बिल्कुल निष्क्रिय रहने का हुनर
जो बहुत लगन से सीखा है तुमने

तुम तमाम बुरी ख़बरें अपने घर परिवार के साथ
टी वी के सामने बैठ कर देख सकती हो

मैने देखा है, कैसे किसानों की आत्महत्या जैसे विषय
तुम्हारे लिए बेहद उबाऊ हैं

और अगर पास की बहुमंज़िली इमारत में आग लग जाये
तो तुम इत्मिनान से अपने खिड़की दरवाज़े बंद कर देती हो

नहीं मैने नहीं देखा तुम्हें विचलित होते हुए भूकंप से
या ख़राब मौसम की भविष्यवाणी से

तमाम एक भीड़ के कुचले जाने पर भी तुम उफ़ नहीं करती
फिर वह कुम्भ में हो या हज में

मैने नहीं देखी तुम्हारी दिलचस्पी कहीं भी
तुमने तो अफ़वाह फैलाना तक बंद कर दिया है

फिर मैं कैसे मान लूँ कि किसी ने तुम्हें इतना उकसा दिया
कि तुम हत्यारे हो गए?

तुम बेगुनाह तो हो, पर नशे में हो
जातिवाचक से व्यक्तिवाचक बनने के ख्वाब में

तुम्हें तो पता भी नहीं कि जिस हथियार से ख़ून हुआ
उसपर तुम्हारे उँगलियों के निशान थे

क्या अपनी पैरवी नहीं करोगी, नहीं ढूँढोगी कोई अच्छा वक़ील?
जो तुम्हें कोई नाम दिए जाने से बचा ले, और कड़ी से कड़ी सज़ा तुम्हें ना सुनाई जाये?

तुम गुनहगारों को ना पहचानो ना सही
तुम क्या खुद के निर्दोष होने की गुहार भी नहीं लगाओगी?

अपनी निष्क्रियता में क्या तुमसे इतना भी नहीं होगा,
कि असली मुजरिम को पहचानने की कोशिश तो शुरु होगी?

Crowd, I want to tell you something

Despite all the chance eyewitnesses to the crime,
I’m sure you are innocent

I’ve noticed your craft of staying calmly inactive
You’ve learned it very diligently

You can watch all bad news with your family
Sitting in front of the TV

I have seen how a subject like farmer suicides
bores you so

And if that multi-storeyed building were to catch fire
You will confidently close your doors and windows

No, I didn’t see you distracted by the earthquake
Or from an ominous weather forecast

You wouldn’t moan a bit if all in a crowd were trampled crushed
Be they in the Kumbh or the Hajj

I have not seen you take an interest in anything
You have even stopped spreading rumors

So how I am to believe that someone so provoked
you to become a killer?

you are innocent, and you are drunk
On the dream of becoming a proper noun from a common noun (*)

You do not even know that the killing weapon
Had your fingerprints on it

Will you not now make the arrangements, get yourself a lawyer?
Someone who can save you from being named, for it would then earn you a most severe penalty?

You may not want to identify the guilty, (but)
Will you not even be pleading innocence yourself?

In your passivity, will you not even do this much –
that trying to look for the real culprit can start?

(*) From “crowd” to an individual.

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