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‘Blood Is But Blood: When Sahir Ludhianvi Honoured Congo’s Patrice Lumumba

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The 20th century history of Africa is drenched with the blood of revolutionaries who were assassinated by imperialist powers with the connivance of local functionaries. The great Congolese patriot Patrice Lumumba, who led Congo to independence from Belgian colonialism was one of the first African leaders to be assassinated, 60 years ago today. Needless to say, Congo especially, and Africa by extension, never recovered from Lumumba’s loss, as Congo descended into the kleptocracy of Mobutu Sese Seko’s dictatorship supported by the West for the next three decades; even a protracted guerilla involving Che Guevara wasn’t able to dislodge Mobutu until Che’s Congolese ally, a guerilla leader Laurent Desire Kabila was able to make a triumphant return to Kinshasa in 1997. Despite a promising beginning, Kabila was too beholden to his other African allies, who had helped him come to power, as well as to power itself. He was eventually assassinated by his own bodyguards on January 16, 2001; but not before founding his own dynasty.

Yet had Lumumba been allowed to live, Congo could have become the lodestar of the African continent with its vast riches and great size similar in importance to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt. The brutal assassination of Lumumba in 1960 created quite a stir in South Asia. In Pakistan, beset by the dictatorship of Ayub Khan, and a left divided between its allegiances to Moscow and Peking, a student protest in solidarity with Lumumba in Lahore quickly became a rallying cry against the Pakistani dictatorship. This protest propelled a young Tariq Ali into the front ranks of the anti-Ayub student movement and later among the leading 1960s radicals in Europe.

Next door in India, the murder of Lumumba led its Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to remark, ‘A dead Lumumba is many times more powerful than a living Lumumba.’ This remark piqued the 39 year old revolutionary poet Sahir Ludhianvi – who will be celebrating his birth centenary on March 8 this year – to pen his famous dirge Khoon Phir Khoon Hai (Blood Is But Blood) with the opening lines:

Zulm phir zulm hai badhta hai to mit jaata hai

Khoon phir ḳhoon hai tapkega to jam jaega

Sahir’s poem is presented here in English translation following the original Urdu text below both as a means to remembering the glorious memory and legacy of Lumumba’s brutal murder on its 60th anniversary and also as a tribute to Sahir in his birth centenary year:

Zulm phir zulm hai badhta hai to mit jaata hai

Khoon phir ḳhoon hai tapkega to jam jaega

 

Khaak-e-sahra pe jame ya kaf-e-qatil pe jame

Farq-e-insaaf pe ya paa-e-salaasil pe jame

Tegh-e-be-daad pe ya laasha-e-bismil pe jame

Khoon phir ḳhoon hai tapkega to jam jaega

 

Laakh baithe koi chhup-chhup ke kameen-gaahon mein

Khoon ḳhud deta hai jalladon ke maskan ka suraagh

Sazishen laakh odhaati rahen zulmat ki naqaab

Le ke har boond nikalti hai hatheli pe charaagh

 

Zulm ki qismat-e-naakaara-o-rusva se kaho

Jabr ki hikmat-e-parkaar ke iima se kaho

Mahmil-e-majlis-e-aqvaam ki laila se kaho

Khoon deevaana hai daaman pe lapak sakta hai

Shola-e-tund hai ḳhirman pe lapak sakta hai

 

Tum ne jis ḳhoon ko maqtal mein dabaana chaaha

Aaj vo koocha-o-bazar mein aa nikla hai

Kaheen shola kaheen naara kaheen patthar ban kar

Khuun chalta hai to rukta nahin sangeenon se

Sar uthaata hai to dabta nahin aainon se

 

Zulm ki baat hi kya zulm ki auqaat hi kya

Zulm bas zulm hai aaghaaz se anjaam talak

Khoon phir ḳhoon hai sau shakal badal sakta hai

Aisi shaklen ke mitao to mitae na bane

Aaise shole ke bujhao to bujhae na bane

Aaise naare kei dabao to dabae na bane.

(Oppression is but oppression, it increases and sometimes it does not

Blood is but blood, it will drip, then it will clot.

 

It clots upon the dust of the desert, or the hand of the assassin

Upon the head of justice or the chained feet

On the sword of tyranny or the slaughtered corpse

Blood is still blood, it will drip, then it will clot.

 

However much someone hides in the lairs

Blood itself tracks the abode of the executioners

However much conspiracies cover the veil of darkness

Every drop sets out with a lamp on the palm in earnestness.

 

Say to the futile and humiliating fortune of oppression

Say to the prodding of the wisdom of the compass of coercion

Say to the mistress of the seat of the assembly of nations

Blood is crazy, it can seize the hem

It is a violent flame, it can spring upon the harvest.

 

The blood which in the slaughterhouse, you sought to quell

Today has come out in the street and bazaar to tell

Becoming a flame here, a cry there, a stone somewhere

Running blood cannot be stopped with bayonets

It cannot be pressed with mirrors upon raising its head.

 

Oppression is insignificant, it has no position

Oppression is but oppression from beginning to its conclusion

Blood is still blood, it can change many a form

Such forms that even to erase it, it will not conform

Such flames that it is impossible to extinguish

Such slogans that it is impossible to relinquish)

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