Poems by Siva Reddy, Varavara Rao and Ismail

Three Telugu Poets

01 October, 2014

Translated by Raj Karamchedu

About The Poems For most Indian readers in English, contemporary poetry in Telugu lies below the horizon, its existence sometimes reported but never directly encountered. But even from this very small sample of the work of three Telugu poets, translated by the novelist Raj Karamchedu, it’s clear that this is a field as exciting as any other in Indian literature. Whether it is Siva Reddy’s poem about two human subjects and a burrow, Varavara Rao’s remarkable poem about speaking corpses and deaths in police custody, or Ismail’s unforgettable image of a real turtle inside a well and a metaphorical one inside the human mind, here are voices, images, rhythms and metaphors that proclaim a burning faith in  the power of poetry to both reveal and imagine the world afresh.


by Siva Reddy

I have a way

I will crawl away into it

But, she has what

Darkness with no trails

Iron walls dug in all around,

Nowhere she can go

Wherever she goes,

It is back again to within—

In it is way too dark

Brooding, agonising

Into the emptiness

Head split in

Thousand empty pieces—

No choice

Each and everyone

Must search for himself

The burrow that leads

Out of life

Demon Ghost

by Varavara Rao

Hauling the carcass from the lockup

Over my shoulder, I was walking

I’ll let you in on the story of my death

Said the corpse

Tell me if it was a natural death

Or was it a murder

Carcass, and on top of it, speaks while in the lockup

Could only mean a murder, I said

Though pleased at the truth’s voice

For the living to speak is a crime

So the corpse disappeared

Showed up in some other lockup

Turtle in the Well

by Ismail

Hearing that the turtle was found in the well

We ran like a monkey’s herd, all we children

When we peered into it, we saw our own heads

And the sky and the blue horizon

Picking stones and shards we stirred all the water

Not only the turtle didn’t float up

But even our heads disappeared

As the sky’s dark blaze, lighting up the rim’s far end, went into the well

With our heads in I stared still at the perturbed water

There! Behind my eyes

Burrowed inside the skull

Sitting still, is the turtle

A Grave for a Poem

by Ismail

Digging the poem deep is the poet

Beneath tons of dirt

Beneath tons of heart

Lies covered the poem

Who buried it this deep no one knows

Got to dig days and nights

And get the coffin out

Maybe it’ll come alive

At the touch of a breath

Digging the poem deep

When the casket lid opens

Every time the corpse that comes out alive

Is the poet himself

Siva Reddy is a highly regarded poet, and won the 1990 Sahitya Akademi Award for Telugu literature.
Varavara Rao is a poet and a key figure of the progressive literary movement in Telugu. He was a founding member of Virasam (Revolutionary Writers’ Association), which was formed in the early 1970s.
Ismail is a prominent Telugu poet.

Raj Karamchedu is a translator of Telugu poetry, and a publisher. His first novel is All Things Unforgiven, and a selection of his poetry translations appears in The Oxford Anthology of Telugu Dalit Writing.