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Lankesh P

Lankesh P

Translated from Kannada by Ankur Betageri

Neelu Poems

If god
who gave
to these birds and beasts
to withstand cold,
does not even give
to man
how can we
call him

Seeing that
the heart also has a language
the tongue naturally
gets jealous

She who says
‘I have seen in your eyes
the spark of love’
has actually seen
her own weakness.

The other day
my tooth ache
was so intense
that it made me think
about the futility of life.

The thing about
love and death
is that
at the time of separation
a strange
feeling of guilt

Pleasure got easily
gives birth
to revulsion
is the Theory of Shyness
of clever girls.

Even in a rich
beautiful family of all comforts
an orphan child
without reason
keeps on crying

The ordinary are those
who die before
the longing of the body ends,
and the desires of the soul
begin to bud.

My lover
with his fingers
woven in mine,
in his eyes
a piece of heaven

Our pains and pleasures
are so private
that they have to be turned
into stories
for others to believe.

Translator’s Note on Neelu Poems by Lankesh

The fictitious identity of Neelu was created by P Lankesh and it is apparent that as a character she was born out of a pressing need to express something which he could not express in any other form of writing. So Neelu, one can say, was the feminine alter ego of Lankesh.

The poems that Neelu wrote appeared for nearly two decades in Lankesh Patrike, a tabloid which Lankesh edited. It was published in Lankesh’s handwriting with illustrations by different artists. Many people had begun to believe that there was a woman called Neelu and there were intense speculations about her, and her colourful and unstable love life. From her poems one gets the picture of Neelu as a middle-aged married woman who has a secret lover and who longs for him. She speaks about the uncertainty of love and the precarious nature of being alive. And Neelu, above all, wants to be alive. She is ready to go to any length, and is ready to break any rule, to be alive. She indulges in adultery, celebrates love, suffers pangs of guilt, endures separation, longs for union, becomes a recluse and from her loneliness scribbles lines. And these lines are what we have here as Neelu Poems. These lines were never meant to be poems: they were the public record of a person’s innermost feelings, written under a heteronym. 

These poems were collected from Lankesh Patrike. Lankesh started writing Neelu poems in the 1980s and continued to write them until his death in the year 2000. These poems never appeared in the form of a book during Lankesh’s lifetime. So we don’t know what form these poems would have taken if Lankesh himself had collected them. I believe that the quality of poems by Neelu is very uneven; while some are gems of poetic insight and illumination others are tawdry hedonistic exercises with embarrassing overstatements about the nature and power of sexuality. So, given the standards that Lankesh set for himself – as is evident from his other published works – he himself would have done a lot of sifting if he were to edit a collection of Neelu Poems.

The process of translating Neelu Poems has been as frustrating as it has been exhilarating. Ultimately it is the reader who has to decide about the quality and merit of the translations. But if these translations could provide even a glimpse of the mercurial nature of Neelu’s personality and her acute insights about what it means to be human, I will consider my efforts worthwhile


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