Friday, April 29, 2011

One World

Rafiki, a theatre group in Bangalore, is offering an eight day workshop for children between 9 and 12 years between 7th and 14th May. The workshop is titled Duniya Sabki, and is based on a poem (by the same title) written by the poet and theatre artist, Safdar Hashmi, featured in One World published by Tulika. Here it is, for your reading pleasure.


YOU KNOW OLD AKBAR, one-time king
He thought he knew ‘most everything,
Cross his path, at you he threw
A torrent of words on how much he knew.
“I’ve seen the whole wild world, you bet!
The moon, the stars, sun and set,
Mountains, forests, rivers, streams
Islands, oceans, the wave that gleams,
Town and village, big and small
House and hearth, I’ve seen them all.
Give me the people, give me the crowns,
Success and failure, ups and downs,
Drums and cymbals, playing cards,
Theatre, entertainment, all of the arts,
I’ve watched the wheel of politics turn
Saints and sinners — what’s left to learn?
As far as far as eye can see,
All of this belongs to me.
King of the world am I say I,
This one truth nobody dares deny.”                                                

Now Akbar had a minister                                                    
Birbal was his name
Slim, slender, slightly built
Ever ready to play the game.
He saw the bug his king had caught,
He was sharp, not one to miss,
Pride it was he knew for sure
That made the badshah speak like this.                                     

One day a stroll King Akbar took                                                 
Across the rambling palace grounds
And right there in the courtyard tripped
On something, someone, that he found.
Red with anger Akbar got, he                                               
Unleashed a mighty jab.
“Get up, you sadhu!” Akbar shrieked,
“Listen to me, don’t gab!”
“This courtyard that you make your bed,
Belongs to me, to me!
Each leaf, each blade of grass that grows
Is mine, can’t you see?”

The sadhu raised his neck just so
Scratched his ear, twitched his nose,
Stretched long and lazy arms and legs
Cracked first his knuckles, then his toes.
Eyes half-closed, he spoke with ease:
“Each blade of grass so fresh and green
Is yours, you say?” And then to tease,
“Deluded you have been!”

Akbar growled and growled some more
“Get up, you — ! You make me sore!
The grass, the green, all the leaves
The hives of all the honeybees
Each minaret in Fatehpur, my friend
All the walls from end to end,
Dome, window, every door,
Stone on rock and sand on shore
Every bit of grit and grime
Is mine! All mine! Only mine!”

He opened wide his half-shut eyes —
The sadhu — stroked his beard,
Parted his lips as if to speak
Then pursed them tight as if he feared.
In a scared and little voice:
“One question only, Sir,” he said.
 “How many years have you lived here,
In Fatehpur, King, born and bred?”

“In this palace,” Akbar said, “in this palace was I born,
“In this palace,” Akbar said, “I saw my very first morn.”
“Who was king before you, Badshah?
Trumpets sounded in whose glory?”
“Oh sadhuji you are so dumb!
Don’t you know my Abbaji?”

“And before your father, Sir, who lived here do you know?”
“Grandpa Babar, Shahenshah — many called him so.”
“Who lived here long before them all,
Who ruled long before them all?
And when they died why did they leave
Things in ruins to fall?
Their palaces, their gardens, their fortresses so tall?
Tell me, tell me, Akbarbhai, some history let’s recall.
They spent some moments of their lives
On this earth called home
And then moved on ahead, alone,
Each and every one.”

“You’re right, you know!” said Akbar Badshah.
“Oh sadhu maharaj!
I am not the only one
To have ruled this land so large!”

“Your fortress is an inn, my friend,”
The sadhu said — he spoke his mind —
“Where you may sit and rest a while
And when you go, you leave behind.
Not just your palace but this world
An inn it is, some rest to take,
Where people going to and fro
Use as they will just for a break.
What proof do you have to say
All this belongs to only you?
Nothing is yours, not one thing
Not house or palace or shoe.
Not the grass, not the leaves,
Nor the hives of honeybees,
Not minaret or mighty wall,
Domes, windows, doors so tall,
Not one item in this world
Is yours, my Lord, my King,
Think about it for a moment,
It’s a pretty simple thing.”

Akbar Badshah was dumbfounded
Nothing could he say,
For he at last had understood
The key of life this day:
The world belongs to everyone
Or else to none at all.
This was the secret he did not know,
That made him trip and fall.

The King was quiet, the sadhu smiled,
He winked at him and said:
“I fooled you, King, I’m Birbal”
As his disguise he shed.
“You mean you could not guess, my Lord,
How will you rule?” He shook his head.
Akbar said to Birbal:
“You took me for a ride,
The sadhu has my grateful thanks
For puncturing my pride.”

Translated from the Hindi poem, Duniya Sabki
Also published in Tulika's anthology of writing on communal harmony and tolerance with
the same title, One World

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