Nixon’s Ships

Ships as fast as Brojen Das, the swimmer,

are charging like ferocious whales in sea-water

Trisia, you please call back your ships.

You don’t know how dangerous these ships are:

they can go straight through my bosom.

You don’t know how dangerous these ships are:

they can go straight through the golden crops

as beautiful as your golden hair.

You don’t know how dangerous these ships are:

they can go straight through the Bengal-sky

filled with the white throng of mystic clouds.

Trisia, you please call back your ships.

What a conspiracy for getting me killed!

What hated arrangements!

In America’s secret ports five ships have

loaded themselves with arms and ammunitions.

Like Brojen Das, the ships are charging forward

in the ocean-water, to kill the Brojens.

Being charged by the open-teeth whales,

I’m feeling the possible subjugation in my heart,

the stubborn shadow of death in my bosom.

Like your hair, my motherland

is trembling in the gaping jaws of a shark.

Trisia, tie up your ships in your silky hair.

Translated by the poet

Fire of Faith

I am not afraid of darkness.

Those who are returning home

lighting a fire from the skirt of stars

will show us the way, I know.

If we can’t have fire by rubbing stone

against stone

we shall ignite one,

extraordinary and unique,

or, we shall pick up a stone

and throw it against another.

We shall hurl our love there

and it will start a fire

making the whole sky glow

             a brilliant red.

We are not afraid of darkness;

caressing its cheek we shall descend in a band

and luminous faith will come, greet us,

and lead us to our dreams.

O mother mine,

I have come lighting a clay lamp.

I have come in the dark

at this midnight hour

lighting the fire of faith

from the coloured edge of the stars.

The bangles around your wrist

will sparkle in affection.

Your son is coming back home.

One can clearly see his footprints

on your prayer mat.

Drawn by the flames of candle light

your prayers too will gradually grow

bright and radiant

like those hidden interior threads.

Look, mother, today the skulls

of a million dead sons

give a lovely light like those

beads of rosary in your hand.

Mother mine, don’t be afraid of the dark

We are returning home,

lighting a fire in our lungs,

rubbing stone against stone,

rubbing heart against stone,

rubbing heart against heart.

Translated by Kabir Chowdhury


You too had fear of the Razakars, Pak-soldiers

and of men of immoral character.

You used to hide your golden youth every moment

like a cat hiding her new litter,

and call me near you,

afraid of their chance arrival.

Your face, panic-stricken, had turned

suddenly towards me.

Fear’s traces were around your arms,

in your hair and nails,

upon the yam-green colour of your sari’s end,

everywhere you would tremble in fear

for their coming upon you by any chance.

It was as if, having reached the dearest age of

mankind, your aging had halted in fear.

Then, for those few days,

it was I who surrounded you as your only courage.

Ah, what freedom! War, death,

or its oblivion—what clusters of lovely,

cherished experiences !

You were my lover as long as the war lasted.

Today, how bold you are,

how inordinately courageous!

Effortlessly you can traverse

hundreds of miles, thousands,

without any fear.

Your only fear now is not of wars,

nor of those others,

but of my coming upon you by any chance.

Translated by Farida Majid

Killing Story 1975*

All through a shadow of grief

whispers among birds and roses,

(Innalillah ……… .. rajiun)

who else had been killed

in a brutal way such as this?

Everyone gets up from sleep.

Only the poet with the loving face

is lost in a slumber deep.

*August 15, 1975, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, was assasinated.

Translated by the poet

I haven’t come today to ask for blood

Like everybody assembled here

I too am greatly fond of roses.

Yesterday as I walked past the Racecourse

a rose from among all those roses urged me

to speak of Sheikh Mujib in my poems.

I have come to speak of him.

Yesterday a blood-spotted brick that fell

off the Shaheed Minar

urged me to speak of Sheikh Mujib in my poems.

I have come to speak of him.

Like everyone assembled here

I too am greatly fond of the palash.

Yesterday as I went past the Samakal office,

a freshly blossomed palash whispered into my ears,

and asked me to speak of Sheikh Mujib in my poems.

I have come to speak of him.

The swirling fountain at Shahbagh

begged me in a stricken voice

to speak of Sheikh Mujib in my poems.

I have come to speak of him.

Like everyone assembled here

I too am partial to dreams,

in fact, I am in love with them.

A bold dream that I had in the small hours

of last night urged me to speak of Sheik Mujib

                                                         in my poems.

I have come to speak of him.

Let these grieving people assembled

at the foot of the banyan tree be my witness.

Let these dry broken unready Krishnachura

buds hear this with all the secret warmth

of their heart. Let this black cuckoo know it

at this moment of gathering dusk.

With my feet firmly planted on this sacred soil

I am doing today what the rose urged me to do;

I am doing today what the palash asked me to do,

I am doing today what my dream urged me to do.

Today I haven’t come to demand anybody’s blood,

I have come only to speak of my love.

Translated by Kabir Chowdhury

August, the mourning-month

Weeping days have come, weep;

O you Bangalees, weep.

You had no right even to weep

for many days, I know.

O the wretched people of Bangla,

I know, you could not weep for

the last twenty-one years.

Weep today. Today you weep.

You weep to your heart’s content.

Weeping days have come.

Today you pay off the frozen debt

of grief for the last two decades.

Pay off your mourning dues

in endless weeping.

Let this pent up emotions

released from your bosom

drown this island of Bengal.

Men know not how charming

the choric weeping of men can be.

Let all know today.

Let the world listen to your

clamorous sounds, like the sounds

of the weeping crickets

coming up from the underground.

Weep, so that the earth trembles.

Deprived of the pleasure of weeping,

O the wretched people of the holy land,

you weep like hungry babies who have no milk;

you weep like a lone sister who lost her brother;

weep like a loving daughter who lost her father.

You weep like the empty people after a tidal bore,

you weep like a mother of a still-born baby,

Lying on the courtyard you weep like the father

who has just laid his son in the grave.

You weep in helpless grief and pain,

as you could not weep when you wanted to.

After twenty-one years, today the Mujib-Sun

has risen piercing the clouds of the Bengal-sky.

Not in elation, but with the auspicious sound

of crying you welcome the sun today.

Weep, O the people of Bengal, weep.

The weeping days have come back in this land,

in this free land of Bengal without Mujib.

Today, like the sticky juice

             from the torn-off banyan-leaves,

let your tears roll down your cheeks.

Today let your frozen tears ooze

like the warm juice from date-trees

             into the earthen jars.

After twenty-one years, August comes again.

August is the cruelest month.

August is the month of mourning,

              cruel and brutal, sunk in sins.

Free her by weeping and weeping.

Translated by the poet

Independence how this word became ours

A poem will be written.

The rebel audience of millions have been waiting

in the park-shore of the ocean of people,

with eager excitement since morning:

‘When shall the poet arrive?’

This Children’s Park was not there;

this floral park was not there;

nor was there such a bleary afternoon.

Then, how was this drowsy afternoon?

Then, how was that special afternoon?

How was the heartland of Dhaka, now hidden

among the trees, flowers and benches?

I know, dirty black hands are about to rub

those memories out,

and thus we see in this wasteland:

Poets stand against poets

Meadow against meadow

Afternoon against afternoon

March against March…

O the unborn babies,

O the poets of tomorrow,

one day you will see and know everything,

sitting on this coloured cradle of the park.

Keeping you all in mind, I am leaving the story

of that splendid afternoon, the best of ours,

when this garden looked different with no park,

no flower… but only an endless meadow,

                                       covered with green grass

Like an endless undivided sky, in that afternoon

the greenery of our freedom-loving hearts

merged with that green of the meadow.

Wearing red headbands,

iron-built workers rushed to this meadow:

Peasants came with their ploughs and yokes;

snatching arms from the police

came the fiery youths ;

with death in the hands and dream in the eyes

rushed the middle-class, lower middle-class,

sombre clerks, women, old people, prostitutes, vagabonds

and little leaf-gatherers like you too in clusters.

A poem is going to be read out in today’s meet.

What an eagerness all around!

‘When will the poet arrive? When shall he?’

Leaving behind years of struggles and rebellions,

walking like Tagore in strong steady steps,

at last the poet arrived to deck the People’s stage.

In the twinkling of an eye, roaring water jumped up

on the boat, hearts of the masses got stirred,

the ocean of people roared in tidal waves,

windows were opened one by one.

Who dares to resist his thunderous voice?

Rocking the sunny stage of people

the poet enthralled them with his immortal poem:

      ‘Struggle this time is the struggle for freedom.

         Struggle this time is the struggle for independence.’

Since then, the word ‘Independence’ has been ours.

Translated by the poet

Illustration : Najib Tareque

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