Hour Camouflage


by Jessica Sequeira

This text was meant to accompany a sound performance on 3 November 2020, to be held at St John on Bethnal Green, a beautiful 19th-century Anglican church. The event was organised by Steven Fowler, and many excellent poets appeared in the line-up. At the last minute, anticipating lockdown, the Bishop of London closed all churches to the public, and given current measures, the gathering has been suspended indefinitely.

For the moment, I’ll share my contribution in this space. The “hour” of the title is spelled with an “h” but pronounced as “our”. The words come from the poem “Introduction” by Kamala Das, the Hindi children’s story “The Whispering Palms” (फुसफुसाते ताड़) by Deepa Gangwani and Tina Suchanek, and Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo.

Translations of the Spanish (by me) and Hindi (by Gangwani and Suchanek), which are meant to be read not spoken, appear in brackets.


The hungry haste
Of rivers, in me . . . the oceans’ tireless
Waiting. Who are you, I ask each and everyone,
The answer is, it is I.

(ring bell and walk)

[In the shade of the trees, she fell into uneasy sleep.
She dreamt of a lake with no fish.]

पेड़ों की छाँव में
वह ठीक से नहीं सो पाई।
उसे सपने में
बिन मछली का तालाब दिखा

(ring bell and walk)

[I thought that woman was crazy. Then I thought nothing at all. I felt myself to
be in a faraway world, and let myself be swept along.]

Yo creía que aquella mujer estaba loca. Luego ya no creí nada. Me sentí en un mundo lejano y me dejé arrastrar.

(ring bell and walk)

Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.

(ring bell and walk)

[And the wind in the palm leaves whispered:
The waters and the land have always taken care of your family,
but you have to take care of them in return.]

और हवाएँ
ताड़ के पत्तों में
फुसफुसाने लगीं,
“पानी और धरती ने
हमेशा तुम्हारे परिवार का
ख़याल रखा है,
लेकिन अब
तुम्हें बदले में
उनकी देखभाल करनी है।

(ring bell and walk)

[And here was that woman, standing in the doorway; her body blocking the
arrival of day; letting traces of sky be glimpsed between her arms, and under her
feet trickles of light]

Y aquí, aquella mujer, de pie en el umbral; su cuerpo impidiendo la llegada del día; dejando asomar, a través de sus brazos, retazos de cielo, y debajo de sus pies regueros de luz

(ring bell and walk)

Not the deaf, blind speech
Of trees in storm or monsoon clouds or rain or the
Incoherent mutterings of the blazing
Funeral pyre.

(ring bell and walk)

[The oil lamp burned deep into the night.]

और देर
रात तक
दिया भी जलता रहा।

(ring bell and walk)

[She did turns again and again, again and again, until some hands at last grabbed
her shoulders, and found a way to stop the movement of her body.]

Se dio vuelta sobre sí misma una y otra vez, una y otra vez, hasta que unas manos llegaron hasta sus hombros y lograron detener el rebullir de su cuerpo.

(ring bell and walk)

I don’t know politics but I know the names
Of those in power, and can repeat them like
Days of the week, or names of months

(ring bell and walk)

[She awoke with tears in her eyes.
All afternoon she sat, weaving coconut mats
and thinking about her dream.]

भरी आँखों के साथ
वह जागी।
पूरी दोपहर
वह बैठी
चटाई बुनती रही
और अपने सपने के बारे में
सोचती रही।

(ring bell and walk)

[The body of that woman made of earth, wrapped in crusts of earth, broke into
pieces as if dissolving into a puddle of mud.]

El cuerpo de aquella mujer hecho de tierra, envuelto en costras de tierra, se desbarataba como si estuviera derritiéndose en un charco de lodo.

(ring bell and walk)

It voices my joys, my longings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions. It
Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is
Here and not there.

(ring bell and walk)

[If we catch so many fish, one day there won’t be any left!]

अगर हम रोज़
इतनी सारी मछलियाँ पकड़ेंगे
तो एक दिन तालाब में
एक भी मछली नहीं बचेगी!

(ring bell and walk)

[My body, which seemed to have grown limp, kept doubling over, it had
loosened its ties and now anyone could shake it like a rag.]

Mi cuerpo, que parecía aflojarse, se doblaba ante todo, había soltado sus amarras y cualquiera podía jugar con él como si fuera de trapo.

(ring bell and walk)

I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.

(ring bell and walk)

[We will only take as many fish as can fit into this basket.
We must only use what the tree gives us.]

हम उतनी ही मछलियाँ पकड़ेंगें
जितनी इस टोकरी में आएँगी।
हमें बस केवल
उन्हीं चीज़ों को काम में लाना चाहिए
जो पेड़ हमें देता है।

(ring bell and walk)

[I kept my eyes closed, my arms open, my knees bent as I faced the sea breeze.
And the sea there before me, faraway, leaving just a bit of foam on my feet with
the rising of its tide…]

Tenía los ojos cerrados, los brazos abiertos, desdobladas las piernas a la brisa del mar. Y el mar allí enfrente, lejano, dejando apenas restos de espuma en mis pies al subir de su marea…


About the Author:

Jessica Sequeira is a writer and translator from Spanish and French.

Images: Adaptations of Steve Cadman: St John, 2007 (CC)

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