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All this talk is like stamping new coins
out of seized treasure.
You melt it down
to obliterate all previous signs of ownership,
but mark it with this word, and that face,
some hoary symbol held as sacred by us, the folk
whose hubris you have chosen to invoke
to legitimize appropriation of wealth
held once, in common.

Next, you inscribe values —
of course advantageous to yourself —
making sure you ascribe them to the gods
who rule the market place.
To us, the dispossessed, you drive home the point
that it’s this transition time that’s out of joint.
That no one’s to blame, that you’re as much
sinned against, as sinning.
Guilt makes no sense
in the face of forces which everyone knows
are faceless — indifferent alike to predator and prey.

“It’s all just structural adjustment, anyway.
The real sin,” you explain, “is social subsidy today.
It’s politically incorrect! Unworkable! Absurd!
All good pragmatists must kick it into oblivion.
That’s what we should all be working on!
The quaint notion of the welfare state has lost the race,
A burnt-out sputnik drifting in the junkyard of space!”

And so we sign on the dotted line.
You’re formally absolved of all
inconvenient instrumentality.
Globaliser, you are free!
To walk in at your pleasure, take our measure!
And turn around our oh-so-grateful economy!
Plot and plan acquisitions, mergers, future ventures!
Accumulate stocks, shares, debentures!
We’re commodified at last.
Our fate is sealed.
Of course it must be as you say –
That this is not hell but only purgatory,
a temporary karmic lavatory
on the way to heaven’s level playing field
where everything is always all okay.

Now you’re safe, globaliser, to count
your gilt-edged dividends
while the real work is done
by us, digging in the ground
mining the common metal.

Vasantha Surya moves between journalism (over 300 articles and reviews), poetry (A Word Between Us, The Stalk of Time), children’s writing (Mridu in Madras,Eklavya) andtranslation, Contemporary Tamil Short Fiction, EastWest Books,republished by Penguin asA Place to Live is an anthology of her translations of outstanding short stories. She has translated six Tamil novels (the latest being Koogai by Cho Dharman, Oxford University Press), and poetry for Tamil Dalit Writing, OUP, as well as from Nammaazhwaar’sThiruvaimozhi. She has done some translations from German into Tamil from the poets Rilke and Brecht. The Ballad of Budhni (Writers Workshop) is her translation of a full-length folk narrative poem from Bundeli Hindi.

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