Four Untranslatable Poems on Hindi Orthography

1. Ooh, Oooh!
Ode to an Untranslatable Poem about Hindi Orthography, in three parts

ullu u uu

Illustration by Daisy Rockwell


I. Indologist Style

The word karunā means ‘compassion’ and is quite long
As you can see, there’s a short ‘u’ in it, not a long one
Don’t forget that the ‘u’ is nestled inside the ‘ra’ *

The word rūṛhi means ‘tradition’ or ‘custom’** and is rather short
All the same, this word has a long ‘ū’, not short, as you might think
As with the above, make sure it is nestled right alongside the ‘ra’

Those who are not aware, i.e., jāgarūk***
Mistakenly insert a short ‘u’
alongside the ‘r’ of jāgarūk

But being aware is really so very important!
And the way one begins
is by making sure that’s a long ‘ū’ snuggling up to the ‘ra’****

And once you’ve made this necessary beginning
You must remember that in the word shuruāt, ‘beginning’
There are no long ‘ū’s
And that in the word zarūrī, ‘necessary’, the ‘ū’ nestled with the ‘ra’ is actually not at all short

* In the Devanagari writing system, the letters for u and ū are both written along the right side of the letter for ‘r’, rather than beneath the consonant, as is normally the case.

** NB: If the suffix -vād (-ism) is added to rūṛhi, it takes on the meaning ‘conservative.’ The poet may be subtly pointing toward a critique of conservatism even as he ostensibly takes on the misplacement of long and short ‘u’s.

*** The poet is likely referring slyly to political awareness here.

**** I.e. not a short one, as in the previous verse.

II. Google Translate Ishtyle

Compassion is a very big word
But the volume of his ‘r’ in the
Small ‘h’ sounds the same

The word dogma is very poor
But the volume of his ‘r’ in the
Big ‘ugh’ looks

Who are not aware
They are aware of the ‘R’ in
Small ‘h’, attaches

But awareness is vital
And it begins
Aware of the ‘R’ in the big ‘F’ planting

And once it became necessary Introduction
Then start ‘R’ in
A big ‘F’ does not
Nor necessarily the ‘R’ in the small ‘u’

III. Freestyle

Compassion is a mighty big word
But it comes with a shhh
Such a tiny sound

The word conserve is quite ambiguous
If you don’t add an -ative
You might end up with jam

Those who are not woke
Would cross out the ‘o’
And add two ‘a’s—awake

But it’s very important to be woke, not just awake
And for starters
One needs to know the word woke does not begin with an ‘a’

Once you’ve got that first letter nailed down
You must remember there are two ‘t’s in letter
And to hit a nail
you need a hammer, with two ‘m’s

2. Sub-Editrix

She’s always asking me—
Is there a ‘t’ in ‘often’?
She makes me totally confused
Are there two ‘l’s in ‘totally’, or just the one?

Often totally
Totally often

3. News Editor

Iraq ends in a ‘q’
And Iran in an ‘n’

Some things are timeless, they never change

a scene of destruction

4. Communalist Statement

I always write communalist wrong
and statement too

Communalist statements I write wrong

I’m wrong to write communalist statements


Avinash Mishra

Avinash Mishra is a poet and critic. His writings have appeared in a number of well-known publications. He’s published no books and received no prizes.

Daisy Rockwell

Daisy Rockwell is a painter, writer, and Hindi-Urdu translator living in New England.

u, ū. upasampādikā. samāchār sampādik. sampradāyak vaktavya. Copyright (c) Avinash Mishra, 2015. English translation copyright (c) Daisy Rockwell, 2016.