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Celebrating National Poetry Day, Part 1

CELEBRATION: National Poetry Day

FROM MAU to Madeleine
(Mau, Uttar Pradesh to Usine St. Madeleine Plantation, Trinidad, West Indies)

Achchha, Achchha, Arkati tell me where to sign,
Your cunning persuasion convinced my mind.
I’ll become exceedingly wealthy you say?
Live well on a bountiful island not far away?
Of course I want a better life!
Earning money to marry and support a wife.

I can wear shiny shoes like you Britishers do!
A white starched collar and stripy suite too!
Five full years of pay?
And then I can leave and make my way?
Back to Mau village in Uttar Pradesh
Not to reap paddy rice to thresh,
But to build my own home
In which to praarthana and chant Om.

Journey to Lucknow Depot to be certified.
No lice, worms, TB; neither cockeyed.
Declared fit to emigrate! I swell with pride.
But must face my parents’ heartbreak and chide.
Goodbye father, mother and Pundit Devdas dear friend
I’m leaving, but with money I’ll return for the temple to mend!

There she sits in Bengal Bay
Sleek and teak pausing to ferry us away
Embarking for some island called Trinidad today.
Her name is Fatel Razak
Sturdy and strong; no pirates dare attack.

Three months across the kala pani we sail
Crushed in her belly I piss and vomit in a pail.
Hindi, Kari Boli and Urdu too
Languages creating an East Indian brew
Brahmin and Dalit side by side
Something in India we’d never abide.

Long, thick, glossy, black hair
Brown, almond eyes catch my stare.
Vibrant sari wrapping the perfect gift,
Causing my heart to stop, then shift.
Pleeeeease marry me now and be my wife!
Shukriya, Jhoti. I will love you for all of my life!

Shree Baldeo Singh is my name
Rajput and proud; from Mau village I came.
Whip me, strip me, beat me, aren’t you ashame?
Meagre food, filthy water, shacks of ex-slaves
Strip me of my dignity and insist I behave.
In this punishing heat I sweat gall
Toiling in your cane fields so tall.
Weeping whip wounds inflicted by a maniac
Haldi paste smears my wounded back.
What more can you take?
Except my spirit to break.

My dream to go home I’ll never surrender
My love for India grows stronger and tender.
This passion to go back will never die!
And your promise of wealth was a deceitful lie.

Your affluence grows, my body wanes
This wretched life, my memory stains.
The great Lord Krishna forgives you
And I pray, that one day I may too.

By Tanty Mauvais (Michele Beute) - Great granddaughter of Shree Baldeo Singh

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