Translated from Bangla by Mohammad Shafiqul Islam
Lines from Exile
See, such a beautiful sparrow is
chirping so poignantly today in American language at
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 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
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
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.
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
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