And more …


Everyone must fight their battles themselves

You must win your battle yourself

With your blood and your marrow

You must forge your sword and shield yourself


The real unjustness

Is someone fighting your battle

The real injustice

Is someone making you your sword and shield


Always your battles were fought by others

Begging you

They crafted battle-codes for you

Drawing you to their hearts

They framed principles for you

Bullying you

They bore arms for you.


Even if it means defeat

Everyone must fight their battles themselves

If they win the battle for you

You’ll be engulfed

Defeated forever.

— Sudha

(The original in Telugu here.)

This poem was first published in the Telugu daily Andhra Jyothi. It is now part of an anthology of women’s poetry titled Neeli Meghaalu (“Blue Clouds”, published 1993) compiled by the well-known Telugu writer P. Lalita Kumari who writes under the pen-name Olga. Unfortunately the book carries little biographical information about Sudha, other than that she lives in Hyderabad.

I will refrain from commenting on the poem itself because I think its message is universal enough to be appreciated. But a note, instead, on translation troubles. Telugu is a highly inflected language, unlike English which is weakly inflected. (In this sense Modern English is distinctly different from Old English, or the language of the Anglo-Saxons, which was highly inflected.) What this means for translation is that while in Telugu you can deftly change form and meanings by changing word-endings,  translating such terse, pithy lines into English requires ungainly prepositions and determiners. Which is why the English version doesn’t sound quite the same as the Telugu. The difference in ‘sound’ is probably also due to Telugu being a syllable-timed language, unlike English which is stress-timed. Form, I think, is the toughest thing to translate elegantly.

Oh and my son liked this poem, which pleases me enormously. Though I have a vague feeling that I should be worried — swords and shields and making them yourself and fighting your own battles ….


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