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Introduction by Rajiv Mohabir:

The poems that follow are from a forthcoming manuscript. These poems are a type of translation of a Caribbean chutney song called “Na Manu” by the Surnamese singer Bidjwanti Chaitoe Rekhan in the early 1960s.

The song “Na Manoo Na Manoo Re” from the 1961 Bollywood film Gunga Jamuna in which Lata Mangeshkar sings a song of similar lyrics may have been an inspiration to the Sarnami Hindustani song of Bidjwanti Chaitoe Rekhan. 

Still, adding more layers and complications, is this song, remade by Babla and Kanchan– a duo from India who took Caribbean songs and remade them for worldwide distribution in the 1980s– that was very popular in my family and the community of Guyanese and Caribbean Indians that we interreacted with in Orlando, New York City, and Toronto, so my move to translate them is one that is intimate given my own linguistic history of erasure and reclamation. This is the version that I grew up dancing to, knowing it intimately in the twisting of my body in feral dance.

What is remarkable about each remake and each rebranding is the change in lyrics and instrumentation, translated each time to fit the contexts of the viewers/singers/dancers/audience. To start with the Surinamese version, the regularization in Rekhan’s lyrics allows for a predictable structure that is easily replicable, though it maintains the play and irony of the original. I keep the play and irony of the original in mind as I work through the various pieces in this section of the translation process I am presenting here.

The process that I use to translate this song I’m calling “deviant:” these are deviant translations. I want to destabilize language and the ideas around final realization and “arrival”, in order to resist stasis and provide space for all of the queer slippages of language and their worldviews in their very particular speech communities. When I was younger these songs in Hindustani would be translated into a Creole iteration with a different poetic orientation. The English interpretations were up to me. All of the poems are retranslations of retranslations of retranslations in and out of Guyanese Hindustani, Guyanese Creole, and English. In this way I envision each incarnation as a possible emanation from the text as even the idea of primacy and the original are dubious. I approach each iteration with a different idea of what I want to communicate: what affective dimension is available in the language that has similar resonances throughout while not always being literal. What are the affective hauntings of these lyrics, languages, and musics? This is the central question driving my experiment.

I’m also obsessed with Creole and Bhojpuri indeterminacies in English and the ways these languages use grief, humor, and joy in differing ways. Using Guyanese Bhojpuri, English, and Guyanese Creole, the deviant translation is nonbinary and ever migrating. (In live performances of these songs, performers sing as the spirit moves them with lexical fluidity an incarnation of their own creative magic). What results are translations that are not translations as such in that there is no resting place but rather motion with the deviant driving the multiple crossings.

From “Swaggerman, Fly-mouth” A Deviant Translation


       Swaggerman, fly-mouth
       what is true?

       I take in the raven moon’s glow
       so when you deny me 
       I’m still opalescent.

       Why veil this shine
       for a liar’s night, a mind
       wipe serum?

       My churas are not shackles—
       It’s morning and I’m gilded.


Things Not to Forget in the Morning (Liar Though You Be)

       moonlight moonlit night full moon light

       my veil with kinaras of gold


       my silver bera



a song from laborer to recruiter is that why it is so sonorous and resonantly all these years later summoning the ghosts of tide and bond how even as the language receded from us like a tide coolies couldn’t release still can’t let fly this story or rather it possessed us in the dance halls as soca chutney a music salve for the pain of forgetting for getting into the boats and we are haunted by the memory of a promise of return but it wasn’t about the physical return but a return to wholeness-as-India that our masters and owners reneged on denying generations any passage not rum-doused and sun-scorched is this why we dance so fiercely in the moonlight is this


What part of me is memory?
The skin and muscle, 
neuron and fat—? 

Don’t believe in god.
It’s a mean lie to lay you down
to strip you of cloth and gem. 

You are not headed any place
but into the ocean as cremains

and pearls of bones
not quite machine smashed.

Did you forget? Is it beautiful
this morning where you think you are?


       चूड़ा बीढा काढ़ा

       काँगन बाँगल जिंगल

                  चान्दी की चान्दनी जइसन

       दुपट्टा चुनरी ओढ़नी

       निक़ाब परदा रूमाल

                 बदन की बदनिया जइसन


       Look. Wha’ me know me go tell yuh
       De man come 
                   an’ tief all me ting dem

       ‘E come cana me 
       an’ talk suh lie-lie talk
       an’ me been haunted

                   fe lie dung 
       whe’ ‘e put de ordhni

       But wha’ matti hable see a night?

       Come daylight 
       ‘e na remembah

       me na me bangle, 
       how de moon a shine,

       O gas—
             how de moon been a shine


       Sugar floss melts in dew
       forgets its thread’s any spun yarn

       So what thing is moonlight
       who deposits amnesia

       for even a woven veil
       to dissolve from your memory

       despite my ornaments
       exquisite and golden forged

       all lost in the ephemeral jewels
       globes of hundreds of tiny suns 

       bending grass leaves
       into pranam which is both 

       greeting and leave taking