In 1927, Oscar Hammerstein II Originally wrote the song Ol’ Man Missisippi for a musical ‘Show Boat’. The song is famously, but wrongly, credited to Paul Robeson who sang the song in the film based on the musical.
Dere’s an ol’ man called de Mississippi,
Dat’s de ol’ man dat I’d like to be,
What does he care if de world’s got troubles?
What does he care if de land ain’t free?
Ol’ Man River,
Dat Ol’ Man River,
He mus’ know sumpin’,
But don’ say nothin’;
He jes’ keeps rollin’,
He keeps on rollin’ along.
He don’t plant taters,
He don’t plant cotton,
An’ dem dat plants ’em
Is soon forgotten,
But Ol’ Man River,
He jes’ keeps rollin’ along.
You an’ me, we sweat an’ strain,
Body all achin’ and racked with pain.
“Tote dat barge! Lift dat bale!”
Git a little drunk,
An’ you lands in jail!
Ah gits weary,
An’ sick o’ tryin’,
Ah’m tired o’ livin’,
And skeered o’ dyin’,
But Ol’ Man River,
He jes’ keeps rollin’ along!
Bhupen Hazarika wrote an Aahomia song inspired by Ol’ Man Missisippi in which Hazarika alludes to river Brahmputra. (For more on Bhupen Hazarika and his Paul Robeson connection, click here ).
I present here Hindi version of the song written by Hazarika himself addressed to river Ganga, followed by my rough translation in English. The version is set around the belief in river Ganga’s cleansing powers as well as Ganga as a character in the epic story of Mahabharata.
Ganga baheti ho kyun?
Vistar hai apar, Praja dono par
Kare hahakar, Nishabdha sada
O Ganga tum, Ganga baheti ho kyuin?
Naitikta nashta hui, Manavata bhrashta hui
Nirlajja bhav se baheti ho kyuin?
Chorus: Itihas ki pukar, Kare hunkar
O Ganga ki dhar
Nirbal jan ko
Sabal sangrami, samagra gami
Banati nahi ho kyuin?
Anapadh jan, akshar hin
Anagin jan, khadyavihin
Netravihin dekh maun ho kyuin?
Vyakti rahe vyakti kendrit
Sakal samaj, Vyaktitva rahit
Nishpran samaj ko, Chodti na kyuin?
Shrutasvini kyuin na rahi?
Tum nischay chetan nahi
Prano mein prerana perti na kyuin?
Unmat avani, Kurukshetra bani
Gange janani, Nava bharat mein
Bhishma rupi, Sut samarajayi
Janati nahi ho kyuin?
Ganga why do you flow?
the spread is immense and
subjects on both banks are in turmoil
always quietly O Ganga, Ganga why do you flow?
morality stands destroyed, humanity stands corrupted
Why do you flow shamelessly?
Chorus: The call of history, roars
O stream of Ganga
turn powerless people into forceful strugglers
Why don’t you?
illiterate people, unlettered
innumerable people, without food
sightless, why are you silent seeing this?
individual stays self-centered
entire society characterless
lifeless society why don’t you abandon?
Why aren’t you the listener anymore?
you are definitely not animate
why don’t you fill inspiration in life
exhilarated earth has become Kurukshetra (a battle ground)
Ganga, O mother, in modern India
Why don’t you give birth to
a victor, a son like Bhishma (whose loyality lay with the state)
The song, also sung by Hazarika, is really rousing and reverberates in heart for long. I am personally, a little disappointed in the last lines and of course, Bhupen Hazarika’s political u-turn a few years ago has taken some sheen off the song. But again, like I said in an earlier post, the work of a poet is much more than the poet himself/herself and their unexpected, irrational political swings.