The “monkeys” of history: a Hindi poem

This moving poem was written by Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayan (1911–1987), a great modern Hindi writer who often used the pen name “Ajneya”, meaning “beyond comprehension.” It’s referencing the Ramayana, the great Hindu epic in which the vanara sena, an army of monkeys, builds the prince Rama a bridge to the island of Lanka in order to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana. The poet uses this episode to make a point about how we view history. I think it’s expressing a similar idea as the quote “until lions write their own history, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”, but through the idiom of Hindu mythology.

According to some retellings of the Ramayana, writing Rama’s name on the rocks allowed them to float and form a bridge to Lanka. (source)

जो पुल बनाएँगें
वे अनिवार्यत:
पीछे रह जाएँगे
सेनाएँ हो जाएगी पार
मारे जाएँगे रावण
जयी होंगें राम
जो निर्माता रहे
इतिहास में
बंदर कहलाएँगे

jo pul banaayenge
ve anivaaryatah
peeche reh jaayenge
senaayein ho jaayegi paar
maare jaayenge Raavan
jayee honge Ram
jo nirmaataa rahe
itihaas mein
“bandar” kehlaayenge

Those who build bridges,
Will inevitably be left behind.
Armies will cross,
Ravana will be killed,
Rama will be victorious.
But those who did the building
Will be known as “monkeys” in history.