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More Power to Poet Parul Khakhar Whose ‘Shav-Vahini Ganga’ has Exposed the ‘Naked Emperor’

More Power to Poet Parul Khakhar Whose ‘Shav-Vahini Ganga’ has Exposed the ‘Naked Emperor’

  • An English translation of the Gujarati poem critiquing the Modi government, which lit up the social media.

I came across a very powerful poem this morning, “Shav-vahini Ganga” by the Gujarati poet Parul Khakhar. The poem has, of course, wreaked havoc within the Modi government. The poignancy of this poem hits me more because Khakhar, who is said to be known mostly for her romantic poetry and seldom indulges in any political discourse — and was in fact happy when the BJP government came to power — was compelled to write these words to call out the apathy, neglect and incompetence underlying the state of affairs. 

In a meagre attempt to make her potent words accessible to those who do not speak Gujarati, or have little context of the historical references in the poem, I have attempted a translation that I hope speaks to the rest of the world while trying to maintain fidelity with the overall sense and meter of the original. More power to Khakhar and her ilk — may their tribe increase.

Shav-Vahini Ganga

Cadavers chime in unison, “Everything is fine”
My King, a river of floating dead is thy kingdom divine

My King, your morgues are falling short, you’re out of wood for pyre
My King, our tears are running dry, our shoulders starting to tire
From home to home dance angels of death, depraved, and with design
My King, a river of floating dead is thy kingdom divine

My King, one little germ is lighting countless pyres with madness
My King, we are forced to be widows, our chests heaving in sadness
As Nero played his fiddle, blind to Rome’s burning skyline
My King, a river of floating dead is thy kingdom divine

My King, thy attire full of splendor, splendid is thy grace
My King, now the entire nation has seen your real face

If you have a spine, come say out loud “You’re naked, oh Emperor mine!”
My King, a river of floating dead is thy kingdom divine

See Also

Original Gujarati Poem:
એક અવાજે મડદાં બોલ્યાં ‘સબ કુછ ચંગા-ચંગા’
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.
રાજ, તમારા મસાણ ખૂટયા, ખૂટયા લક્કડભારા,
રાજ, અમારા ડાઘૂ ખૂટયા, ખૂટયા રોવણહારા,
ઘરેઘરે જઈ જમડાંટોળી કરતી નાચ કઢંગા
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.
રાજ, તમારી ધગધગ ધૂણતી ચીમની પોરો માંગે,
રાજ, અમારી ચૂડલી ફૂટે, ધડધડ છાતી ભાંગે
બળતું જોઈ ફીડલ વગાડે ‘વાહ રે બિલ્લા-રંગા’!
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.
રાજ, તમારા દિવ્ય વસ્ત્ર ને દિવ્ય તમારી જ્યોતિ
રાજ, તમોને અસલી રૂપે આખી નગરી જોતી
હોય મરદ તે આવી બોલો  ‘રાજા મેરા નંગા’
રાજ, તમારા રામરાજ્યમાં શબવાહિની ગંગા.

Original Shav-vahini Ganga by Parul Khakhar
(c) Translation by Gauri Shringarpure, Seattle

Gauri Shringarpure is a linguist, keyboardist, humorist, cruciverbalist, and still-working-on-this-list.

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  • So far I have read 5 English translations. I found yours is the best. Thank you for translating. Regards from Scotland.

  • Here is my British version:

    We’re born to rule, we claim impunity,
    No tears please, this is realpolitik,
    Our policy is herd immunity –
    A chance to cull the aged and the sick.

    We’ll let the masses gather in their hordes,
    To watch their sports events and drink their fill,
    And while the clueless multitude applauds,
    We’ll sacrifice the aged and the ill.

    There’s business to be done, let’s make some cash,
    Enrich our friends, the proles can pay the bill,
    Our outgoings are less if we buy trash,
    To hell with all the doctors, nurses, vulnerable and ill.

    The experts of the east showed us the way,
    To extirpate this cruel phenomenon.
    We scorned to learn from them and let it slay
    The nation’s grans and grandads one by one.

    Alun Wessler, Hong Kong-based teacher and writer.

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