Gandhi & the Robot

Written in Manipuri by Thangjam Ibopishak, translated by Robin S Ngangom

Gandhi and Robot
A long time ago
Nehruji owned a robot gifted by Russia,
that could chant a thousand ‘Hare Ramas’
in a minute!
Vallabhaiji possessed a Gandhi borrowed from Birla,
that could spin ten balls of thread
on the charkha every hour.
Vikram Sarabhai proclaimed on Republic Day:
I’ll create a new pilgrimage site for science 
at Trombay.
In Delhi’s Red Fort, donkeys bray
with parched throats on an empty stomach;
the dhobis who rear them feed them
old copies of the ‘Harijan’ newspaper
by tearing them into bits.
Today, sadhus announce:
we will build a pagoda at Pokhran
to shelter the ‘New Buddha’.
Elated, I cried:
‘Bravo, Bharat, bravo!’

(from The Smell of Man, Red River, 2021)

Thangjam Ibopishak (b 15 February 1948) is one of the leading Manipuri poets. Based in Imphal, he taught Manipuri literature at GP Women’s College and has published 10 volumes of poetry, three of which earned him some of the most prestigious awards in the state, including the Manipur State Kala Akademi Award in 1986, the Jamini Sunder Guha Gold Medal in 1989, the first Jananeta Irabot Award in 1997 and the Kavi Ratna Dr Kamal Memorial Award in 2012. He has also published two books of essays and a memoir. Ibopishak also won the Sahitya Akademi Award for poetry in 1997 for The Ghost and the Mask, and the Manipur State Award for Literature in 2009.

Robin S Ngangom is a bilingual poet and translator who writes in English and Manipuri. Born in Imphal, he studied literature at St Edmund’s College and the North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, where he currently teaches. His poems have appeared in The New Statesman (London), Verse (Georgia), Kunapipi (Denmark), Planet: the Welsh Internationalist (Ceredigion), The Literary Review (New Jersey), The HarperCollins Book of English Poetry (HarperCollins India), These My Words (Penguin India), Chandrabhaga (Cuttack), Kavya Bharati (Madurai). Ngangom describes his poetry as ‘mostly autobiographical, written with the hope of enthusing readers with my communal or carnal life — the life of a politically-discriminated against, historically-overlooked individual from the nook of a third world country’. His third book of poetry, The Desire of Roots, was published by Red River.


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