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Tamil dalit literature

N. D. Rajkumar


N.D. Rajkumar

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I know
if anyone not
of our people
were, somehow,
to read our old
palm-leaf books
their head would spin
their heart would pound
blood would rush up into
their head and make
their eyes grow dim
their brain would curdle
and anything they did manage to read
would lose its

  • 1 This poem appeared originally in Rajkumar (2004), p. 19.

But just to make sure,
I have dispatched
these ghosts
of the violent dead
through my poems.1


Hair as long as seven waterfalls
hanging down and flying,
eyeliner gathered up from trees
in the woods slathered on,
awake in the sunlight, awake
in the rain, Mundakkanni comes
into my dream, her eyes
are bulging in their sockets
and her huge belly pushes out
in front of her.
With the face of my ancestors
in the sacred grove where
bird-droppings never decay
and where the birds and the beasts,
and the little animals, too, all see
to their own birthings,
where broken grains of rice, like children’s teeth
scrape eye-shaped scars on her milk-laden
breasts, she holds on her hip a milk-cactus plant
that slithers over her body like a snake.
A wild man of the jungles
carries a thick forest in his heart,
wanders through and cleans up the grove
for that jungle goddess
who has no jungle
of her own.


As I lay spread out, water in the middle of the night,
I left my fish swimming inside me and nibbled,
nibbled away at your five senses.
A long time ago, in the middle of a fresh flood,
a woman who couldn’t swim
fell in this very pond and died. She floated.
The frogs make a racket and jump in, plop,
here at my monkey-bathing-ghat.
At the midnight watch,
there rises up an echo
of dirty clothes beaten
against a flat rock.


With a charcoal pencil on my heart, you
drew a crow, and when
it flew away
the thorny nest where it had sat
rose up and jabbed and tore
our red flower petals apart, they lay
lifeless in the courtyard of my consciousness,
O cremation-yard woman
who drinks in the smoke of my burning corpse—
On the edge of your brashness I too shall smile
like a black mole.


After World War II, the people all ran fanatically
from allopathic to homeopathic medicine.

  • 2 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, forerunner of the World Trade Organization.

And after the GATT Agreement2 a movement took shape
to say let’s look into traditional medicine, and folk remedies.

The poem grew long, like a cancer on my father’s penis,
and though you cut it off and tossed it out, and even burned it off,
the root inside sprouted again, corroded, and murdered.

Whether it was winter time or summer time, karaam-puraam, up
and down he’d heave and cough.

If he went to the hospital, he’d get well right away but
it always came back right away, too. He’d
get better again, and again it would return.
He took his medicine for the cough,
but then his stomach ached,
and when he swallowed a pill for his stomach-ache,
his heart burned, he had no respite
from new, and ever more new maladies.

In olden days, you know what bananas would be like, man? They
were like the pinky fingers of little kids, the maddi, the rasagadali,
the red tuluvan, and the yeetthan bananas.
And look at what’s coming to the market now,
hanging up like medicated, bloated corpses.

A shameless man picks fights
with his own son. Look
at all the things that irresponsible jerk
has done, he has no space in his head
for thinking.

On the color TV he bought yesterday
there was this guy who talked in English
about wars, about bombs exploding, about superpowers,
and he reached in and grabbed him
by the shirt, yanked him out, and went
into that box himself. He spoke
of other stories, about this earth
which has already exploded,
and what really takes things all to hell
is the atrocity of
your rationality.


A dog licking
like that, that’s

I said we need another child
to play with the one
we already have.

We ain’t got what it takes
to raise this one here, and right
in the middle here you go
talkin’ about it would be nice
to have another one

That worried woman

secretly looks at her child’s
mathematics book, then

from her mat of tightly woven reeds
she scrapes off some ugly colored patches
and tosses them out.

They rot and fall off
with dreamy colors like aborted eggs in yellow,
red, and white.

But what I really, really want is
to give you my eggs
to keep together.

  • 3 Ethnographic note: The poet implies she is eating these two foods because they are thought (...)

Inside her womb
she keeps piling up papaya slices
and sesame balls.3

You shrugged off the odor
of the earth that came from your flesh
when you rolled around having a good time,
you hacked off branches that were dancing
in the air, reaching to copulate
with chlorophyll, you distanced yourself
from your ancestors, water-witchers
who opened up the earth
and drank of its waters, you lost
the subtleties of your own ancient heart,
and you forgot the rules of the earth.
The night just before the earthquake hits
the crawlers and the fliers all feel the tremors
and scuttle off, but when it all faaaaaaalls
down, man runs to the south, or
to the north, holding
his life in his


When he was born, my grandson
had computer keys stuck
to his fingers. And the moment
they cut his umbilical cord
his penises grew
longer and longer,
it wrapped around his hip like a waistband,
and fitted itself out
with a three-prong electrical plug.
Eating iron filings instead
of rice and drinking electricity
instead of water, he stored away,
up in his museum,
the coconut shell pieces I used to
have fun with making sand-pies,
along with his other
antiquities. Then he would struggle
trying to remember, “Now where
did these things come from?”
A little while later, he stuck me up
in his museum too, as yet another
of his antiquities.
Then down he came
into his garden, the spider
of his strange world jumping
and then spinning its web slowly,
slowly, eating up as it moves along
the aluminum vegetables and fruits, and plastic
flowers, that grew out of his iron
You create a pig
out of your paints, but it roots
around with its snout,
and when I enter with a guilty
conscience, it comes in too.
That pig you gave birth to,
it is no longer
on the canvass.
It is feeding on the feces
inside of me.


1 This poem appeared originally in Rajkumar (2004), p. 19.

2 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, forerunner of the World Trade Organization.

3 Ethnographic note: The poet implies she is eating these two foods because they are thought to induce abortion in the early stage of pregnancy; women who want to keep their babies are encouraged to avoid these and other similar foods.


(1968) is a Dalit writer from Nagarkoil in Kanniyakumari District. He has published a number of poetry collections including Teṟi (1997), Oṭakku (1999), Iratta Cantaṉa Pāvai (2001), Kāṭṭāḷaṉ (2003), Kal Viḷakkukaḷ (2004), and Patanīril Poṅkum Nilā Veḷiccam (2010).

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2011

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