Namdeo Dhasal—the Panther, the poet


Dhasal and Chitre

Remembering the unapologetic iconoclast a year after his death, here is a poem Namdeo Dhasal penned on Kamatipura, the most famous “red light district” of Bombay. A name once made synonymous with prostitution and lost honour by Bollywood’s lexicon and today held up as a fossilized site of “human trafficking” inviting international aid and stricter state-sponsored border control between states and cities. Of course, this renders any other experience, perspective or instance of life there to be in need of correction by urban policing.

He writes to Kamatipura as a lotus in its mud. And as his friend and translator Dilip Chitre said of his work, “it could have been written only by a dalit.”


The nocturnal porcupine reclines here

Like an alluring grey bouquet

Wearing the syphilitic sores of centuries

Pushing the calendar away

Forever lost in its own dreams

Man’s lost his speech

His god’s a shitting skeleton

Will this void ever find a voice, become a voice?

If you wish, keep an iron eye on it to watch

If there’s a tear in it, freeze it and save it too

Just looking at its alluring form, one goes berserk

The porcupine wakes up with a start

Attacks you with its sharp aroused bristles

Wounds you all over, through and through

As the night gets ready for its bridegroom, wounds begin to blossom

Unending oceans of flowers roll out

Peacocks continually dance and mate

This is hell

This is a swirling vortex

This is an ugly agony

This is pain wearing a dancer’s anklets

Shed your skin, shed your skin from its very roots

Skin yourself

Let these poisoned everlasting wombs become disembodied.

Let not this numbed ball of flesh sprout limbs

Taste this

Potassium cyanide!

As you die at the infinitesimal fraction of a second,

Write down the small ‘s’ that’s being forever lowered.

Here queue up they who want to taste

Poison’s sweet or salt flavour

Death gathers here, as do words,

In just a minute, it will start pouring here.

O Kamatipura,

Tucking all seasons under your armpit

You squat in the mud here

I go beyond all the pleasures and pains of whoring and wait

For your lotus to bloom.

— A lotus in the mud.

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