//"Merit", a poem by Varavara Rao

"Merit", a poem by Varavara Rao

The Hindu caste system is ordered hierarchically, with Brahmins at the top and Sudras at the bottom. Untouchables, also known as Harijans or Dalits, fall outside of the caste system all together

               You are born rich
               To say in your language
               “Born with silver spoon in the mouth''

               Your agitation sounds creative
               Our agony looks violent

               You are meritorious
               You can break the glass of buses
               In a shape

               As symmetric as sun's rays

               You can deflate the tires
               With artistic elan
               While indulgent police look on
               With their jaws rested on rifle butts

               You can tie 'Rakhis'
               Even in
               The dark chambers
               Of a police station
               You do not buy bus ticket
               Not because
               Your pocket is empty
               That is practical protest

               The beautiful roads
               Are all yours
               Whether you do a `Rasta Roko'
               Or drive vehicles with `save merit' stickers

               We are bare-footed
               Sweat-stinking road rollers
               What if we built the roads?
               The merit of plan is yours
               The credit of contract is also yours

               Those exhilarating sixty days, what fun!
               When your cute little girls
               And their daredevil mates
               Were going on a delectable rampage,

               Everybody was delighted
               Parents, their parents
               Brothers and sisters
               Even the servants
               And reporting Newspapers?
               Oh, absolutely thrilled!

               Boys and girls
               Hand in hand
               In protest
               Of buried merit and dashed future
               Going off to a picnic
               O Yaar,
               How heroic!

               You are the marathoners
               In merit competition
               Poor tortoises
               Can we run with you?

               You serve “Chair'' in Chikkadpalli
               Sell “pallies'' in cinema hall
               Polish boots in Kothi Circle
               Stop a Maruti or Priya on the Tankbund
               To demand agitation fund

               Media persons are `merit' creatures
               Their camera hearts `click'
               Their pens shriek,
               “Youthful brilliance''!

               We are drab faced duds
               Sitting in the stink of dead animals
bsp;      We make shoes
               By applying color with our blood
               And polishing them
               With the sinking light of our eyes

               Isn't the shine different
               When polished
               By someone in boots?

               We clean up your filth
               Carry the night soil on our heads
               We wear out our bodies
               Washing your rooms
               To make them sparkle
               Like your scented bodies

               We sweep, we clean; our hands are brooms
               Our sweat is water
               Our blood is the phenyl
               Our bones are washing powder
               But all this
               Is menial labor
               What merit it has?
               What skill?

               Tucked-in shirts and miniskirts
               Jeans and high heels
               If you sweep
               The cement road with a smile
               It becomes an Akashvani scoop
               And spellbinding Doordharshan spectacle

               We are
               Rickshaw pullers
               Porters and cart wheelers
               Petty shopkeepers
               And low grade clerks

               We are
               Desolate mothers
               Who can give no milk
               To the child who bites with hunger

               We stand in hospital queues
               To sell blood to buy food

               For the smell of poverty and hunger
               How can it acquire
               The patriotic flavor
               Of your blood donation?
               Whatever you do
               Sweep, polish
               Carry luggage in railway station
               Or in bus stand
               Vend fruits on pushcart
               Sell chai on footpath
               Take out procession
               With `Save merit' placards
               And convent pronunciations

               We know
               It is to show us that
               Our labor of myriad professions
               Is no match to your merit

               White coats and black badges
               Hanging over chiffon saris and Punjabi dresses
               `Save merit' stickers
               On breasts carrying `steth's (stethoscopes)
               When you walk(ed) in front of daftar
               Like a heaven in flutter
               For EBCs among you
               And those who crossed 12000 among us
               The reservation G.O.
               Is not only a dream shattered and heaven shaken
               But also a rainbow broken

               Is movement for justice
               On the earthly heaven
               That i
s why
               `Devathas' dared more for the amrit

               The moment
               You gave a call for `jail bharao'
               In the press conference
               We were shifted out
               From barracks
               To rotting dungeons
               Great welcome was prepared
               Red carpet was spread
       (`Red' only in idiom; the color scares even those who spread it.)

               We waited with fond hope that
               The pious dust of your feet
               Would grace not only the country
               But its jails, too

               How foolish!
               The meritorious cream
               The future
               Of country's glorious dream
               How can they come
               To the hell of thieves,
               Murderers and subversives?

               We read and rejoice
               That function halls
               Where rich marriages are celebrated
               Became your jails

               Ours may be a lifelong struggle till death
               But yours is a happy wedding party of the wealth
               If you show displeasure
               It is like a marriage tiff
               If you burn furniture
               It is pyrotechnical stuff
               If you observe `bandh'
               It is the landlord's daughter's marriage

               The corpse of your merit
               Parades through the main streets
               Has its funeral in `chourastas'
               Amidst chanting of holy `mantras'

               But Merit has no death
               You creatively conduct symbolic procession
               And enact the mourning `prahasan'
               In us
               To die or to be killed
               There is no merit

               We die
               With hunger, or disease,
               Doing hard labor, or committing crime,
               In lock up or encounter
               (Meritorious will not agree inequality is violence)

               We will be thrown
               By a roadside;
               In a filthy pit;
               On a dust heap;
               In a dark forest

               We will turn ash
               Without a trace
               We will `miss'
               From a hill or a hole

               Our births and deaths
               Except for census statistics,
               What use they have
               For the national progress?

               We take birth
               And perish in death
               In and due to
               Miserable poverty
               You assume the `Avatar'
               When Dharma is in danger
               And renounce the role
               After completing the job
bsp;              You are the `sutradhar'

               You are lucky
               You are meritorious.

Varavara Rao (b. 1940) is a member of Viplava Rachayitala Sangham (VIRASAM: Revolutionary Writers' Association). He lives in Hyderabad.



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