Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mazdoor: A Ballad

Just a short introduction. It might be better if you read this after you've read the poem, but I leave that up to you.
A ballad is a poem meant to be set to music, which is why I've posted this here instead of on my other blog. Also, the rhythm of this poem came after listening to Join Together by The Who.
I might also mention that My Medicine by The Pretty Reckless was also playing on my mental jukebox, so that may have influenced this as well.
The idea for this poem took shape while I was helping my father with his rooftop garden this evening. An hour or so of shifting flowerpots, drawing water from a desert cooler tank with a bucket and bending my back over a fifty or so plants got my body aching and my mind whirring. I decided to write some kind of ode to manual labour which I originally wanted to call Roll Up Your Sleeves. Midway through, the tone became a lot darker and I found myself talking about something I never thought I felt this strongly about. I still don't think I do.
Since this is more of a song than a poem, I've included what you could call a chorus which was inspired by Grovel, Grovel from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, a musical I was part of 7 years ago.
The title comes from a chapter in my junior school Hindi textbook, Katha Ras, which may have been written by Premchand (that one chapter, not the whole textbook) and may or may not have been a subconscious influence in writing this poem. Here it is, without further ado:

Roll up your sleeves and make some inroads
Into the work of the masses, it's time to lift loads
And dig up the earth, now put your back in it
I bet sweat's streaming down your spine now, isn't it?
Digging the wells is all very well
But if we had something to fill it with, now that would be swell
But you gotta make the best of a bad situation
So roll up your sleeves and join the celebration
Of the weight that you know you're gonna have to carry
As you make your own way down to Mr. Stone's quarry
With a song on your lips and a hammer in your hands
It's time to roll up your sleeves and sing along with the band
(As they hum and sing):

Dig! Sweat! Toil and carry!
A hot meal on my table and a wench for me to marry, (now sing):
Carry! Toil! Sweat and dig!
Gotta keep my neck from the noose and my finger from the trig.

Now the taxman's gonna tax you and the beggar's gonna beg
You're gonna fall down the stairs and break another leg
And your blood's gonna boil and the gods will curse your soil
But the digging don't stop until you say you've struck oil.
Your wife is gonna leave you and your husband's gonna die.
The dog will run away and your kid is gonna cry.
So if you haven't got the money, and your brain ain't all that big
Might as well roll up your sleeves and start to dig, dig, dig
(As you start to sing):

Bleed! Sweat! Cough and stumble!
All that weight upon your shoulders' gonna have to make you humble, so
Stumble! Cough! Sweat and bleed!
You've got a lender who's a spender and a family to feed.

Well you can curse, you can spit, you can laugh or you can cry
Big fat tears in the night or you could ask them why
They can sit and watch and need you and perhaps they might feed you
But you know that you won't otherwise they might beat you
With the stick that you carved or the hammer that you forged
They can spit in your face or they could knock aside your porridge
Because even though your skin may be harder than their bones
It's the owner's right to beat the howling dog that he owns
(As he shouts and sings):

Weep! Wail! Beg or complain!
But the one thing you can't do is run away from all the pain
Complain! Beg! Wail and weep!
My whip is mighty heavy and your life is mighty cheap.

So you crouch in the mud and you take all that you can
But in the end, like any other, you remain a mortal man
So you stand and you turn and with murder in your eyes
You wrap your hands around his neck and you cut him down to size.
He may beg you to spare him, but your ears can't seem to hear
So you squeeze and you squeeze until the frantic, feral fear
That he felt slowly fades from his oh so glassy eyes
As he falls down at your feet and now he's dinner for the flies
(And the lawman says):

Die! Burn! Writhe and twist!
Your name is boldly writ on old Lucifer's long list, so
Twist! Writhe! Burn and die!
For you'll be hanging on the gibbet while the sun's still in the sky.

Although the trigger's far away, the rope is all too close at hand
And all the beggars, taxmen, rich men, workers, all across the land
Come to see you and your family, grief and fear writ on their face
Watch trembling as the hangman's golden garland takes its place
As the wood benath your feet falls and you fall towards the soil
All you wish for is another world where you won't have to

No comments:

Post a Comment