Translated from Bangla by Mohammad Shafiqul Islam

Lines from Exile

See, such a beautiful sparrow is

chirping so poignantly today in American language at

this overcast

endless noontime! O sparrow,

in appearance you’re just like the Bengali sparrows.

Does this pale, foreign language of the whites suit

in your tongue, dear ?

Rather come to me, I teach you

O-A-Ka-Kha

O sparrow: speak, speak Bengali.

Bengali, I’ve found

all its beauty

in the sound of river water, in the bicker of stream,

in the eyes of hilsha and trout, in the verses of Gitabitan

and in the black hair wafting in the air of an ever familiar woman,

                                                            in her eyes and cheek.

O crow, the black crow! From where have you suddenly come

to this racist country ? You know well, this land doesn’t respect

the non-whites;

then why here ? Why in a foreign land ?

Go, if you can, fly to the land of Bengal

where your silky-smooth-black wings suit better.

No complaint at all if you go to Africa,

Asia’s sibling, our brother

but what you’re doing at my cornice!

What sort of awkward and ugly style ? Why these cha-cha,

twist, hula-hoop dances ?

Don’t you know Kathak or Kathakali dance ?

Then you’re an American citizen ? O crow, you too ?

But you completely look and sound like a Bengali

as black as koi and catfish.

O clouds, the cumulus clouds! Will you also deceive,

you, the traveller to the unknown ?

We can’t trust anyone in this unfriendly foreign land.

Still I say: if you can,

O glorified clouds, come down.

More dense and deep, you come down in a stream of compassion

with the incessant downpour of Shravan month, my dear, beat

                                                                           this endless exile.


Towards an Independent Century

I know I won’t live a hundred years. Still,

like you I move forward towards twilight of

my own century, also seeing

the dying humanity.

Among us those who will reach the new century

with dream-filled eyes—are they my close relations,

or am I their siblings ? I don’t know. But my wasted sky

is glowing with dreams and electric flashes.

Those who have light minds like balloons are true travellers—

this subtle assertion of a wine and opium taking, crazy

and lonely nineteenth-century poet is still fresh in my memory

like infallible words.

Then who’re the true travellers ? The wretched, frustrated,

dream-deprived, and erudite elders ? Or the novice youths

in the dark about the land of death, now falling creatively,

like bare lotuses, from fathers’ love into mothers’ wombs ?

And those who’ll scatter soon here and there ?

Or you ? Or me ? Or our garrulous leaders ? Or

are the modern state premiers are sowing nuclear reactors

unhesitatingly country after country ? And contractors of war weapons

accompanying them around the world?

After rain, as clouds amass in clusters in the skies of

the familiar world, we, like them, are standing today

by the colourful rubbles of despoiled desires of this dream-struck

exhausted century; on our stooping backs lie, like dead deer,

the unbiased interpretation of history.

We’re wearing a colourful, tattered, democratic

dress. Still, upon a stupid faith, our yearning to equal distribution

of wealth is shining like the lanterns

adorning festivals. And still we feel salt

to our injuries when western intellectuals

revel in ugly celebrations watching Lelin’s

fallen statue on the television.

Inspired by classless ideals those who were once united

are indefinable in the dream-prone Soviet syndicate, their

intents too.

They’ve soaked their hands with each other’s blood

and got one in apparently charming and colourful

lustre of sunset.

With the blood of the two world wars, our century has

turned red; and still is soaked my country with our brothers’ blood;

besides, civil war is imminent in our neighbouring India,

eastern Europe and former Soviet countries.

(Futile is the flow of mothers’ tears and blood stream of kinsmen.)

With misspent golden youth, where shall I

stand today ? I don’t have confidence on flagging democracy anymore.

And like coins, my present dreams have

frittered away along pathways, here and there.

So over and over I tell you—don’t let my red footprints

fall on your independent century.


Flesh

I never find the rose

that can adorn my life. Then how, when, and whom

shall I approach ? Only at dusk,

everything glows like heroic bright faces.

My youth wasn’t colourful, but I know,

have seen too, red drops ooze from the sharpness of a knife.

Should I put my hand on the edge of the knife, then ? Green and fresh—

a dazzling silver is glamorous but infelicitous;

it’s only flesh, flesh, and flesh. Inside the flesh,

like a serious surgeon in the operating theatre,

I have to grope all the colourful days of life.


The Evening Song

I don’t know if

there was any other sound

in the stream of evening river

than agitation of exhaustion—

someone unknown articulates

like incantations

the long forgotten name.

                              Still, like God, ancient deodar

trees disperse incantations!

Once I go back and then

return to the boddhovumi, slaughterhouse, once more—

the killers walk on assured footsteps,

trampling on my afflicted songs. And all of a sudden

                              an unknown bird

circulates in the world

and the empyrean

over and over

my submissive fallout,

my dark end!

Mohammad Shafiqul Islam : poet, translator and academic, teaches English as Associate Professor in the Department of English at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Sylhet 3114, Bangladesh

Illustration : Najib Tareque

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