1. What Shall We Do Now (Hindustani)

Ab tum hi kaho kya karna hai

Ab kaise paar utarna hai

Ab kaise paar utarna hai


(Now tell me what we should do

How do we get across)


Jab dukh ki nadiya mein hamne

Jeevan ki nau daali thi

Tha kitna kas bal baahon mein

Lahu mein kitni laali thi

Yun lagta tha do haath lage

Aur nau pooram paar lagi


(When we launched this boat of Life

Into the river of sorrow

We thought we had strong arms

That our blood was so red

It felt as if all we needed was two arms

To get across)


Aisa na hua har dhaare mein

Kuch andekhi majhdharein thi

Kuch maanjhi the anjaan bahut

Kuch andekhi patwaarein thi


(That is not what unfolded

Unseen boulders struck midstream

Cross currents caught us in between

Then some of our boatmen

Suddenly turned into strangers)


Ab jo bhi chaho chhaan karo

Ab jitna chahe dosh dharo

Nadiya bhi wahi hai nau wahi

Ab tum hi kaho kya karna hai


(Have your say

Criticize, interrogate

Find excuses to explain

The river has not changed with the passing of time

And the boat, the boatmen remain the same


Now tell me what we should do

How do we get across

How do we cross over now)


2. Ghosts of the Quarry (English and Isizulu)

Bhande nsi nsi

Isiswebhu qho qho


(The belt-strap is tight

The whip cracks)


We sat by the solid waste

Stacked up to the sky

Eating lime from the quarry

There was a crescent moon that night


Waving fiery banners

We remember throwing stones

This is where they shot us

Now we fade to bone


Bhande nsi nsi

Isiswebhu qho qho


(The belt-strap is tight

The whip cracks)




Angiholi napeni

Ngihol’ imvubu


(I toil

In the fields

I do not earn even a penny

Instead I get sjambokked)


The hunger stole our voices

Into your dreams we roam

No longer do we fight r march

The quarry is our home


At night we rise by midnight

We are shadows of limestone

Hauling phuthu (stiff maize porridge) buckets

Bullets we will mould


Bhande nsi nsi

Isiswebhu qho qho


(The belt-strap is tight

The whip cracks)


Too tired to march

Too weak to holler

Too weak to bellow

Too spent to follow


3. Mourning the Insurrection

They come with lathis

and bayonets of silk

as the sun beats down

its rays all worn

a one and a two,

a lean hungry ten

the red and the black

the black and the red

when the flowers bled

the colours of the dead

the colours of the dead


4. Dyani-Hani: An Era Ends (English and Isizulu)

From Johnny Dyani to 

Commandante Hani, an era ends


Izingane zibhem’ isibabuli 

Abantwana bancel’ ichlorine 

Isimangothi inebuliser 

Lethan’ izigubhu namacilongo 


(The children inhale SO2

babies suckle chlorine gas

and nebulisers for popsickles

Bring on the drums and the trumpets)


CNN serves tea and biscuits in famished living rooms

your voices undead rise

catching like bushfire

they plucked strings and we danced

as night dissolved our tensions in its discourse

and in the morning

the morning say was...of broken glass

Chris we are still restless in your absence


This is the megaphone hour

in the stillness of day

hand holding stone, letting it go

bang, watching it flow

watching the blood flow


From Johnny Dyani to

Commandante Hani an era ends

Since then

Its money, money...money


5. Flowers in Insurrection (with Urdu translation)

It started from a butterfly spinning


Spinning twice

Dropping dead


(Koi titli kare parwaaz

Aur maadoom ho jaaye

Koi bulbul rage aawaaz se

Mehroom ho jaaye

Shahadat yoon bhi hoti hai)


I cannot remember lightning or thunder

All I remember is the lull

Waters stood still,

The drop from the leaky tap stood still

The tears from my eyes stood still

A chain of pearls in midair

Before the flowers burst the ramparts

 In what they called the insurgency of the flowers


(Na koi abr garja tha

Na koi bakr chamki thi

Mujhe bas yaad hai khamoshiyon ke baad khamoshi

Hawa thehri hawaon mein zameen ke baadban thehre

Meri aankhon se nikle aansuon mein aasmaan thehre

Gulon ne jab ghulami ki saleebein tod kar phenki

Baghawat yun bhi hoti hai)


They were everywhere

Leaping from vases

Snapping free from bunches

And there:

Flocks of jasmine

Murders of hyacinth

Parading up-down the emptying streets


The rumour spread to the trees

And they bloomed

Roses conspired with almond blossoms

The dangabane flower resurrected

The kunjiri blues intoned


(Gulon ne shaakh chodi gulshanon se dasht mein aaye

Ameene rango boo ne khoon bahakar keher barpaaye

Koi keemat marasim ki na koi kadr jaanon ki

Shahar mein har taraf looti gayee asmat makaanon ki

Kahin nargis kahin mariam kahin sumbuk kahin susan

Khilafat yoon bhi hoti hai)


And the secret ones of Qatalamba

Of Himalchand

marched off the crevices


In the arsenal:

The Orchid, arrogant

With a halo of



6. Kea Hana (Sotho)

He e kea hana

Ke amme letsoho thekeng

Le nna nka tshosa

Le nna kea tshosa


To be added to text

I swallowed the moon

Farted out suns

Just for you


I chased off the lions

Off the storms

Rode on the wings of the gwala-gwala

For you


Bonang ke mo hula ka mosela

Utloang ke mo hlotse

O lla eka lesea


(No I refuse, armed with my arms akimbo

I too can be frightening, me I do also frighten


See, I pull him by the tail

Hear his screams, crying like a little cry-baby)


7. Grounding


8. Lunatics on the Border

Radio Broadcast: A sudden increase in the number of lunatics in the border areas is causing concern to the District Administration. The District Collector told reporters today that there have been reports that Pakistani spies injected with some kind of drugs are being pushed into India. Out of the influence of these drugs they beghave like lunatics for about a fortnight and therefore do not arouse suspicion. After the effects of the drugs wear out they would mix with the local population to fulfill their assigned mission."


When I woke up on the first day: a blur...almost a blur. A boot kicked me. I fell...Night came..A fist in the gut. I turned into granite...I am strong...I am strong. I...am strong.


On the second day I opened my eyes. I saw pines...bright light through pines, light enough to make those spindles shine, then a sharp sting...hot, hot...hot hand across my face. La-la-la-la-la. Spittle trailed from my mouth's corner. I had nothing to tell...there is nothing to tell...I had nothing...nothing, nothing to tell.


By the third day hunger pierced me. Doubled me up. Figures with the heads of dogs...my mother, who is my mother, was it my mother, shadows, shadows took me in. They handed me chunks of bread. I saw a fence. I saw a fence swaying. Who cut the fence? Who cut? Cut! Who cut my border? The fence floating, barbed wire in the wind, the wind...border...Nothing, nothing...nothing to tell.

Sixth day, no...1-2-3-4-5-6. No one's face. Whose face? What is my name? Was I from Cairo? Who is Tripoli? no...tell, nothing to tell. No words, no sentence. 7-8day in the early gloom of day words, la-la-la-la-la-la through the fence, something had formed..it came to me...it stung me...Nothing to say...nothing...nothing to tell

On the 14th day, sweat, cold sweat...trembling...my knees, trembling my feet, my knees, my head, my ears...my skin...my brain...my mouth...my...language. Where is my place? Nothing to tell, nothing...nothing, to tell. Nothing to tell.


9. The Insurrection of the Cow

I stabbed the foetus

with these

I used to stab the rain with these

the baby is gone

How did you dare

grow this inside my womb?


You hear me bellow dear

You’re wrong, I ululate

Where you have seen fine rivers

And valleys full of cud

I have leaked and scorched

my dear, the pathway to the dead

is faint to see

I stabbed the rain with these


My white patch takes to flight

my dear

uNala was my name

Inala was my regiment

uNala was my name


I was too a makoti once

the cwebezela one

Inala was my regiment

uNala was my name


What shines my dear

are only stars tonight

like bats, they drop to me, to me

I stabbed the rain with these


Broken the pen my dear

Run flat the kraal

Cried by the stacks of fillet dear

Poisoned the fields

Snapped at the yoke

Refused the branding iron

Sucked up my teats

And eight-

I stabbed

with these


I used to stab the rain with these

I stabbed the rain with these


10. Bones in the Insurrection

Come...Come with me to the edge of the city

we are building there

You will not find what you seek

in the long trailing

of official cavalcades

nor in the deep green lawns of gated enclaves

But maybe...maybe in the texture

of an old brick taken from the city's far edge

we can begin rebuilding life there


Slowly, I have followed the scent

of invisible footsteps into the valley of death

I saw fleeing flesh

leaving a trail of putrid smells

under the resplendent sun at noon

orchestras and symphonies of rattling bones


Not down these pretentious avenues of light

drafted by planners

Nor in the reassuring grins of leaders

projected on granulated screens

Not There!

But maybe in the face appearing suddenly

radiant out of the darkening rain


We see who we are, now we are gone, we are gone

We dream who we are, now we are here, we are here


Flesh! The betrayer of dreams

with criss-crossing fibulas and tibulas

Pale blood and flesh, we have betrayed the spirit of our gods

Have you not seen the skeletons rise?


Have you not seen column after column rising

into the shimmering sky?


Brandishing glistening vampire teeth, life-jettisoned ancestors

in the night of death dances


Travelled up escalators in the malls

felt the desperate crash of the temple crowds

on a festival day


Celebrating the new moon

armies of bones rattling

more orchestras and symphnes

harmonies and melodies

baying at the approaching pride of 



Maybe...Maybe one day in the collective press of bodies

at the beach say...or in the midst of music

the dead too quietly may join our ranks


We see who we are, now we are gone, we are gone

We dream who we are, now we are here, we are here 


11. The Insurrection of Earthworms 

We till the land and plough the field

We cannot wait until the cows come home

 no we breed

under your toes and silently chew,

masticate the earth, prepare you

to precipitate the thunder

of your own end, now near

near near near


We beat the chenda and shake the dance,

possessed and angry, the theyyam squirms

while you tear asunder and drink the blood

of this our land, the land of earthworms.


In the swamp, among the leeches

we plot and we turn the earth

into speech, yes we speak, not

on your tv, but to alter and claim

the land we till, the land we churn

the land we, not you, understand.

See the dispossessed earthworms

advance, advance, the avalanche

of our legless march, wingless flight

slowly gnawing without your knowing

at the surveyor’s lens and the prospector’s

sense of the price of this land when we

shake near near near the ground beneath

your solid mechanical counting feet


And we chew the bough bent with the honey

of solidarity while the paraya tautens his chenda

and with the crows and the hornbills and thunder-

clouds we are drunk on the rain of the insurrection

the pulluva strums on her earthen pot’s ukulele

and the paraya tunes his drums and beats

the revolution

of the earthworms, here we advance,

varika varika makkale,

here comes the insurrection

of the earthworms, the ululation

of the theyyams of dispossessed

revolution –

the rain of earthworms, the words, the worms.


12. Relah (Malayalam)

Kallum charalum

kaalil kutthum

mullum thaandiyore

changala potti


yonam kootuvore

(O those who have crossed the path strewn with sharp stones

and thorns that prick the searching feet!

O those who have festively come dancing together,

breaking their chains of steel)


Aanandam vazhineele meentuvore

aakrosam mozhiyaale paatuvore

snehaaardram ee bhoomi

thunayaayi naamellaam

onnaayuyaratte ee manninmakkal

(O those who trust in the joy of the path

O those who sing of struggle(/revolution) with these words

Merciful is this earth

And with you are we all

May the children of the soil rise up as one!)








Collections in the Archives