Yasoda lulling Hari to sleep,
Shaking the cradle, cuddling and fondling,
Singing to Him a song.
My darling is sleepy
Why doesn't sleep come along?
Come sleep, come quickly
Kanha for you does long.
Sometimes He closes His eyes
Sometimes His lips are aflutter.
Thinking He has fallen asleep
Yasoda stops her singing.
Awake still, He's up suddenly
Enjoying Yasoda's song.
Such joy as Yasoda feels
Is unattainable to the gods.

Pens Surdas, popularly called as Sant Surdas, was a blind poet of the fifteenth century. In this verse "Krishna in the Cradle," he personifies sleep being able to walk, a journey towards Krishna’s eyes. Most of Surdas’s works are devoted to lord Krishna, being composed of thousands of songs in the patronage of Moghal emperor Akbar, that contribute enormously to the Hindi literature. Surdas’s disability too is mystified, asserting his plea to Lord Krishna to take back his vision as he doesn’t want to see anything else in the world. in the Indian context, the journey of invisibility is against gender, against social prejudices, and a reassertion on their original identity as a poet. In the attempt to read journey as a metaphor, this essay will look at the various connotations of journey as a symbol of traveling within, how some of the poets with disabilities in India define travel as a metaphor of resistance, and the ways adopted by them to reconfigure their disability sometimes fitting gender into the question.

Locating simple words towards intricate poetic lines is a natural way for two visually challenged poets in their mother tongue. It lies in the hearts of the people, the darkness, thick as an infection, clear as pelting stones, that perhaps kept two sisters exiled at their own home. The Satyawada sisters popularly known with their pen name "sathyawada sodarimanulu" in Telugu, remain as a witness to the age of no computers, a prejudiced life with no opportunity to learn Braille. The elder sister in the duo, Raghunadhamma, recalls many of their adverse situations in her domestic life. The younger sister, Suryakumari, is influenced by her sister’s interest in poetry. They have written many stories, composed songs and sing. Not having a school education takes no reflection in their poetry. Not having the opportunity to see the world outside the home because of their rooted traditions of a Zamindari family, takes no place in their worldview of poetry. Being confined in a room with the radio waves, they picked up the language; their first poem was on radio. I was curious to know the ways of recording their thoughts, drafting them, revising them. They told me of the natural travel of words, thoughts coordinated between the two poets. They gave a sketch of their lives, being spent many years unseen by the public view, then slowly spelling their names through written word. Their mastery over Sanskrit acquired from radio, knowledge on Indian classical music gave their poetry the musical flavor. "Our poetry is an examination paper, we cannot correct, neither evaluate" they confess. In one poem, which I have translated, they compare themselves with two of the trees Mango and Neem. They talk about "Ugadi" a festival, new year to Telugu culture. The poem is a dialogue between the trees on the occasion of Ugadi.

Mango and Neem

With full bloom, don’t laugh dear neem, scattering your bitter fragrance.

Don’t mock at me, dear mango, your flowery bliss is a blessing to me.

Why do you sway with flowers filled? Whom do you want to feed your bitterness? You never
know what it feels to be sweetened. You drench the world in bitterness.

No one can ignore bitterness among those six tastes, I am contended of medicinal wealth I give.
Which bird resists my leaves? Which disease stays even after consuming my leaves?

I am sweet, sign of bliss, you are bitter, marking pathos, why do you stay festive in this Ugadi?

You humiliate me forgetting the existence of sorrow and happiness in human life. Life is filled with both, we tell the world the same.

I am able to understand my folly, Ugadi calls us both.
Forgive me, all facets of taste is the essence of Ugadi pickle.

The poem has a simple moral, but the way the poets compare themselves with those trees and make their lives together makes it pertinent to gender struggles, questions of disability in the conservative families, and education as a deconstructed notion of learning. They started their journey invisible to the world outside, absorbing the outside world through the sound waves> Poetry brought the sisters away from home, as they talk of radio as a woman, who can sing, teach, and entertain in one of their poems "Who You Are". They personify the darkness in another poem, telling how darkness travels for permanence, but gets weakened gradually. They insert the question of sightlessness in the poem, giving fluid meanings to darkness.

Darkness Tells the Truth

I am defeated. My pride, up till yesterday, is burnt.
In the nights, I am crowned as king, when the light blooms, I disown my existence.
I wanted permanence, I bigoted the blind.
I thought of all the eyes as my own home.
But, they threw me away.
Erased my name.
They invited light, filled it in their lives, lit many moving lamps.
Reading the world in six dots, making their fingers and ears move towards light,
Winning the world with saptasvaras.
I accept my defeat.
I am leaving their lives.

The perceptions of light and darkness travel physically in paintings. While colours travel through the canvas, Yasmin Sawhney, visually challenged poet and painter, brings words in them, co-passengers as images and speaking pictures. Sawhney’s poems speak of a picture more as a movement than static. Her poem "White Earth" speaks about the environment as a distorted canvas, ironically white as a pure entity.

White Earth

Nature in soundless retreat,
stung by the savage stride
of the ravenous cityscape.
Mock slogans ‘Save the Earth’

The phrase "Save the earth" is repeated in the second part of the poem too, not aimed at mere emphasis of saving the earth, but suggesting the state of many slogans remaining limited to the campaigns. In the second part of the poem too, she maintains the same irony. Being a painter herself, she pictures white earth poetically, also reflects on the failure of many slogans, flags and posters, inability to make use of productive time, most of the social causes being traveled to the oblivion, and the societal Hippocratic state.

In Sawhney’s poem "Where is God," her journey to find God is a metaphor for questioning inequalities of gender.

Where is God

Chants hum.
Their drone lulls the boy spirit
and conceals it in structures of stone
where it lives
sterile and un-thumbed.
Ah, how the gatherers of wool lie!
They sell a Shangri-la
of trussed bodies and levitating minds.
God is not there.
The sound of the temple-bell swirls around
the naked lust of the pundit’s paunch.
With every chuckle the blubber jerks.
Just outside, the hapless and humble stand;
skin hugging bones; entreating eyes in line
with pleading palms but the temple-gate rasps
"Stay! Touch me not".
God is not there.

Under the cleric’s watchful eyes,
knees bend; minds too;
the smell of sweat mingles;
foreheads kiss the floor of the ancient mosque
and a sign yells ‘Only for men’.
The patriarchal plot
has found the most potent park.
God is not there.
The false hush
and greater falseness in the church pews;
even before the hollowness of the sermon lulls
they have flown out of the front door
into the labyrinths of the sinner self.
Penitence shows but two empty hands
and one bloodied nose.
God is not there.
The older the creed
the more gangrenous it grows;
down, down it goes
to the door of the waiting fascist

In the next part of the poem, she declares that God is found in the nature, equalities of gender and religions.

Where ears heed the Creator’s voice
which says, "this woman-soul and man-soul
are both part of me. Handle with equal care."
God is there.
Where the wonder of the innocent
and the gaze of the old skeptic
are mothered;
mothered with the same belief —
"This is life".
God is there.
Where dins doused;
scabbards with their devil-charges
laid in tombs;
clasped hands nurse fractured minds
and frightened nerves.
Where every parish priest,
every muslim cleric, every pundit
has fathomed the others belief
and none transgress.
God is there.

Her journey through poetry as she stresses "Find Your Space" for a woman friend, extends the metaphor to reflect on disability. Being housebound, she metaphorizes the life and world around her in the wordly and visual landscapes.

Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyaya on the canvas of twice removed realities, paints words clearly. In his poem "A Simple Cup" he muses,

Nothing could make me
Stop thinking
about it.
Its inside was white
and its outside
some patches of colors—
orange and yellow,
randomly marked
here and there
by someone who was perhaps
entertaining his vision
with orange and yellow creation.
It lived on the kitchen shelf
like a smile,
watching all the food preparation
from the kitchen shelf.
Who knows what the smile
was about?
No one fed it anything but tea.

Mukhopadhyaya’s creation of a simple cup is not a simple articulation of kitchen space, but talks of many phases in and out of a home. "A Simple Cup" metaphorizes limited space, fed by tea, labeled with the colours of orange and yellow, placing the smile too. the cup in the kitchen space is a painting of it’s voyage towards the home.

As he confesses in his poem "Misfit",

The birds knew I was Autistic;

They found no wrong with anything.

Men and women stared at my nodding;

They labeled me a Misfit"

The world sometimes offers a space that could be misfit by anyone to access.

While Yashodha tries to make Krishna sleep, she travels through the opening and closing of Krishna’s eyes. Krishna in half-awakened state, becomes the subject of Surdas’s verse, aesthetically pleasing as a natural invocation to sleep. The journey of the world they disconnected finds the connections by their own ends in the Sathyawada sisters’ poetry. Sawhney’s view of love is:

is like the Sun
preening itself
at the
high-point of sky.

reflects on love as a journey, traveling like the Sun, sky as the perpetual space. Sawhney’s writings show that, journey is about being in world from home. Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay’s poem "Mrs. P's House" shows how the house is going to be demolished soon yet

And listens to the trapped sounds, always too familiar—
Of ghostly footsteps or running rats, it alone can hear,
Then tries to ignore their running about, digging floors
While preserving frozen sounds behind its doors.

The house is in ruins, yet the echoes travel through, similar to the chosen poetry of Indian disabled poets, voyaging towards return. They travel through the home in their imaginary or real connections, world and it’s cartographies as fixed and static geographies for example with the writings of Sathyawada sisters, shutting down the possibility of articulating language other than their mother tongue directly connected to their inability to travel outside the home, visual as in the verses of Sawhney, wide as in the poetry of Mukhopadhyaya.





Jyothsnaphanija is a PhD research scholar in English literature at EFL University, Hyderabad, India. Her poetry has appeared in IthacaLit, Melusine, The Nervous Breakdown, Muddy River Poetry Review, Coldnoon, The Thumbprint Magazine and others. Her short stories have appeared in eFiction India, Thickjam, research articles in Subalternspeak, eDhvani, Wizcraft, Barnolipi and in several books. She blogs at phanija.wordpress.com.