Categories
Tagore Translations

Autumnal Songs Translated by Fakrul Alam

These are songs of Tagore centred around autumn, a season that is split into two parts in Bengal. Early autumn is called Sarat and late autumn Hemonto. The first two songs are descriptive of Sarat and the last one of Hemonto.

Autumn: Art by Sohana Manzoor
SAY WHAT YOU WILL (Tomra Ja Bolo tai bolo, written in 1921)

Say what you all will, I don’t mind
My time flies, and hours pass, aimlessly
The wild wind stirs me to a song
And spreads its tune across this deep-blue sky.
That song has stuck in my mind.
What nectar do I seek in the humming of bees?
Whose sky-pervading gaze seeks me out
And settles on my sight thus this day?
Shiuli flower that bloom in autumns in Bengal. Courtesy: Creative Commons
THE HEART WAS AWAKE (Hridoye Chheele Jege, written in 1921)

You were wide awake in my heart 
But I see you in autumnal clouds this day!
How was it you stole so quietly away at dawn,
Letting only your dress’s borders caress the dew?
            What song is it that I should sing?
            I simply can’t find words for it now!
They lie scattered with shiuli flowers under forest canopies
They’ve flown away with the gusting winds in sudden showers.
                        ***
Shiuli-Jasmine
Flowering Kash grass. Courtesy: Creative Commons
AUTUMNAL NIGHTS (Himer Raate, 1927)

On such cool autumnal nights
Hemonto hides heaven’s lamps with its cloak.
To every house it gives this call,
“Light festive lamps, make bright the night,
Shine your own lights, illuminate the world.”
Gardens are flowerless now; cuckoos sing no more;
Kash reed flowers keep falling by riverbanks,
But let go of darkness, despair and misery; light festive lamps-- 
Shine your own lights and proclaim the triumph of light
The gods look on — sons and daughters of earth, arise,
Illuminating the night,
Darkness may descend and day end but light festive lamps,
Shine your own light and triumph over this dark night
                         ***
Hemonto-Late autumn
Kash-Long grass

Below is a Youtube upload of Autumnal night or Himer Raate sung by the legendary singer Debabrata Biswas (1911-1980)

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibonananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

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Categories
Nazrul Translations

Kazi Nazrul Islam’s Patriotic Poems

Translated by Professor Fakrul Alam

Courtesy: Creative Commons
ARISE, ARISE, O PATRIOT!

Arise, arise O patriot
India wants you — O endearing hero
Above funeral pyres and prison-shackle free, O hero arise
Shelter us, O one worth commemorating eternally! 
Saintly one, arise in a haven of pollen dust
Let your booming message ring across the heavens
And let your mantra of self-sacrifice reverberate
India cries out in boundless grief
Arise from your everlasting sleeplessness
Stirring beyond death, bring ambrosia to our souls 


HELMSMAN ATTENTION!

Travelers, take care, in thick darkness you must traverse
Rugged mountains, dreary deserts, and turbulent oceans.

The boat rocks, the waves swell, the sail are torn apart,
The sailor veers off course, who’ll take over, who has the guts?
Who has the gumption and can dare — the future summons!
Through this storm, you must steer, and row your craft home!

The night is dark, sentinels of the motherland, be on guard!
The pent-up desires of countless years hurl you forward!

Stirred by pain the neglected heart must now play its part. 
Bring all along, make them your own, give everyone his start! 

Hapless nations drown, ignorant of the art of survival,
Helmsman — redeem this day your pledge to free the motherland!
Who dares call out, “Are you Hindus or Muslims?” 
Helmsman — claim the drowning as the same mother’s offspring!

There is panic in the pass, travelers take fright, the sky quakes
The ones in the rear are full of fear and wary of what lies ahead.
Helmsman — halfway down the path can you forsake them?
Let them squabble, you must carry on, and bear your burden! 

Helmsman! Ahead of you lies the battlefield of Palashey*,
Where Clive’s sword crimsoned with the blood of Bangalis.
Nearby in the Ganges India’s sun set, seemingly forever.
Surely that sun will rise soaked in blood once again.

Those who sang songs of life’s victory even on the scaffold
Have come unnoticed to see us sacrifice ourselves in turn.
This day our nation must pass the test of redemption
Now is the time—the boat rocks, the sea swells, helmsman attention!


*Battle of Plassey, 1757
'Helmsman Attention!' was first Published in Daily Star, 2006

Born in united Bengal, long before the Partition, Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) was known as the  Bidrohi Kobi, or “rebel poet”. Nazrul is now regarded as the national poet of Bangladesh though he continues a revered name in the Indian subcontinent. In addition to his prose and poetry, Nazrul wrote about 4000 songs.

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Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibonananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

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Categories
Tagore Translations

A Monsoon Song by Tagore Translated by Fakrul Alam

Tagore’s Mono Mor Megher Shongi translated as ‘My Friends, the Clouds’ was first published in the spring of 1939 and is now a part of Gitabitan. It has been translated by Professor Fakrul Alam for us.

Megher Songi or Cloud Companions, Art by Sohana Manzoor
MY FRIENDS, THE CLOUDS

My mind keeps company with clouds
And soars with them in all directions.
To the pitter patter pitter patter of sravan showers,
My mind swerves towards infinite space.
Flying on the wings of swans and cranes,
In startling, dazzling flashes
Accompanied by ringing, clanging sounds of fiery delight,
In murmurings, rumblings and then incessant downpours,
Clouds usher in cataclysmic sounds and sights.
The wind blows from the eastern sea
Making the river water sparkle, surge and ripple.
My mind flows forward overwhelmed with joy,
Past palm trees, groves and forests,
All astir, keyed up, excited!

Here we have the song presented in Bengali by a legendary singer, Hemanta Mukherjee (1920-1989)

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Stories

The Magic Staff

A poignant short story about a Rohingya child by Shaheen Akhtar, translated from Bengali by Arifa Ghani Rahman

Shaheen Akhtar

Musa was born in the year when the girl child in his region was allowed to live and the sons were being killed. Dadi, his father’s mother, Bismillahjaan, had named him. There were no celebrations, no events to mark this ceremony, and not even an insignificant penny was spent on incense. However, as a tax for the arrival of a child into this world, a fat sum had to be donated to the nearby police station. That is how Dadi Bismillahjaan described the heavy term ‘birth registration’ used by people.

And Musa had landed on this side of the Naf River last night without that Dadi. He did not know at the time that his grandmother was not on the boat. She had paid for both their passages with six thousand kyat[1]. Then ensued the hullabaloo as people vied to get on the boat under cover of the darkest of nights.

A stream of salty tears ran down Musa’s cheeks as he stared down the endless river. Had his lungi been tied to his Dadi’s Thami,[2] he would never have let her float away. God forbid! Why would the old woman have floated away? She probably had not boarded the boat in the first place. She had ensured her grandson’s passage and quietly withdrawn from the back.

That was what Bismillahjaan had wanted from the very beginning. Musa was the sole heir to his family name, she used to say with every breath. If he survived in any corner of the earth, at least his bloodline would live on. And so, she had pulled her old, skeletal body across the hills and through the jungles. In all this time, she had held on to the enamel pot in which she cooked rice. Along the way, she had boiled whatever leaves she could gather and served them to Musa.

Musa had not paid attention to this at the time. His eye had been on the mountain along their path – perhaps he might see the light of God, the light which burned the mountain, but not Musa, the prophet. But none of these mountains were named Sinai. He had found a staff on the way though, and he had tied the bundle of clothes and the cooking pot to one end.

When Musa’s caravan arrived at the sandy banks of the Naf, he had relieved the stick of its burden. The sandy banks were like Karbala – with no water to drink nor food. The salty water where the river and the ocean met only made them vomit, cry, and struggle. In the meantime, when one woman gave birth, Musa, the learned student of the village religious school, was summoned to sound the azaan, the call for prayer, in the baby’s ear. Two days and two nights passed. There was no boat in sight. The Burmese army was hunting them down like the Pharaoh’s soldiers. Secretly, Musa had extended his arms once towards the river but to no avail. So, under cover of the night, he had thrown his staff into the water. This too was fruitless. The stick was swept away by the current. But at that moment, an engine boat puttered over from the other side and stopped at the bank. It was in that boat that Musa had piled in to arrive at this unknown destination last night. In the midst of this, he had lost Dadi, Bismillah.

How would Dadi traverse that long road again? Where would she go? What would she eat? Home burnt, fields burnt – their land had been destroyed by the ruling goons. If the family graveyard was still intact, she could probably find shelter in a foxhole. This must have been her plan all along. Musa’s sleep-deprived, numb, dizzy brain now recalled the rambling hints she had dropped about this. Five years ago, Bismillahjaan’s only son, Musa’s father, had been laid to rest in that graveyard. Musa had been a child of eight then. As he watched the gravedigger shovelling in the earth, he thought about the ancestors that were lying there. Baba had suffered much in life and his death had been worse. The military junta soldiers had shot him in the chest and then his throat had been slit by the monks. As he lay in his grave, Baba would tell of his travails to his dear ones who had led comparatively peaceful lives.

Musa wiped the tears from his eyes and sat on the rocks of the dam. He was closer to the water’s edge from here. Countless people stood squashed together on this side of the Naf, their eyes trained on the other bank. As darkness descended, a lantern or two lighted up on the river, and there was the occasional flicker of a flashlight. Musa drew in his breath sharply. Did the battery-operated lights belong to the military junta?

Perhaps there were still thousands of people waiting on the tarpaulin laid out on the sands he had left behind yesterday. Some would be giving birth; some would be dying – their bodies burned or maimed by bullets. There was no medicine, no proper food. For what sin were they suffering this hell on earth? Was Dadi still burning in the hell at the sandy banks?

As soon as a fleet of boats docked along the bank, Musa jumped into the water. He could not move forward as the crowd shoved through the neck-deep water from the opposite direction. He did not even have a light to shine on the faces of the swarm of people to find Dadi’s. Whatever light there was on this side came from the flash of cameras or the flashlights of the BGB[3] or the coastguards. They were using their flashlights to search through the refugees’ belongings that had been dumped on the banks – their plastic sacks, cooking utensils, urns, broken wall clocks, solar panels, and piles of quilts and pillows. At that moment, lightning in the sky heightened the tremors in Musa’s heart. What if Dadi drowned in the middle of the river in a storm? Raindrops fell on Musa’s head while he was still chest-deep in the water. In the meantime, boats docked relentlessly, as countless as the waves in the sea, compounded by the lapping of the water on the bank and the ear-splitting noise of their engines.

When it began to pour, Musa took shelter in the barn, or rather, a goat shed, of a nearby house. The shed shared a wall with the hut and was covered by the Nipa palm leaf with the other three sides open. In this tiny space stood two closely tethered goats. Musa crowded in with them. Who knew how late it was now. The homeowners must be sleeping soundly. He thought he would leave when the rain eased off but just then, the thunder clapped and he grabbed one of the goats around the neck and sat down. It was a familiar touch after so many days and the smell was exactly the same. When lightning struck a little later, he looked timidly, for the first time, at any creature from this unknown land. It did not look unfamiliar though. In fact, the eyes looked as tender as his pet goat’s. So what if Musa was a scholar in the maktab[4], at heart he was a shepherd – of a pair of golden buffalos and two goats with four or so kids. How much pain those goats must have suffered when they struggled in the fire that engulfed them!

Before the army set fire to their homes, the buffalos had been set free and Dadi had taken refuge in the forest with twelve-year-old Musa. Perhaps she had thought nothing would happen to a woman, child, and a few innocent goats. What Bismillahjaan did not know was that the tyranny of the army had heightened by the day. Even the girls were not spared. These tyrants used to rape before, but now they resorted to spilling blood. When Musa returned home two days later, all he found were ashes and destruction. They had taken shelter in Dadi’s sister’s home a little to the south that day and that is where they stayed for a full year prior to their migration.

When Musa thought of his mother, he recalled a woman sprawling on the front yard with a child in her lap. The child’s pigeon-like pink feet hung over one side of Ma’s lap. Where were his young siblings now? His mother? Musa was awoken by his own cries. He found himself lying curled up on the straw in the goat shed, the pair of goats standing next to him. Someone had wrapped his entire body with a torn quilt – just as his mother used to silently cover him up during the heavy monsoon or winter nights. Even so, Musa left the shed before the first light of dawn. He did not return to the dam. Instead, he began to wade through the muddy path in the opposite direction.

The marketplace ahead was already buzzing at this ungodly hour. City dwellers, alighting from the intercity buses, rushed to the stalls for breakfast, their bags hanging from their shoulders. Aromatic smells filled the dawn air. As hunger pangs rose in Musa’s empty stomach, he began to loiter around the stalls.

When someone came out of a stall and aimed a camera at him, Musa took shelter behind the stall. The camera was a lure – this person was actually a kidnapper, thought Musa. He hissed inwardly like a snake. When the same man, however, returned with a plate of food from inside the stall and called to him, Musa dragged his feet forward. Then he wolfed down the food. He cared nothing at all for the number of clicks the camera made or how many pictures were taken of his starved face. As he burped after polishing off the plate, Musa thought that he would be willing to allow photographs if it meant meals twice a day. He was actually waiting to find a staff that would transform magically into a snake. This was now his aim in life.

With his life’s goal determined, Musa could now afford to look around casually. The place may not have been a township but it was quite busy regardless. There were some paved stores. A schoolhouse stood nearby, some mud-splattered sleeping people crowding its veranda. In the middle stood a pile of their dirty household belongings. When someone emerged from behind a plastic sack of this rootless group, Musa was taken by surprise. Was this boy his twin or was he looking at himself in the mirror? The only difference was that the boy had a white clay mark of Thanaka[5] on his cheek. He was dressed in light blue denim shorts chopped off at the knees. With these and some other differences, the two of them stood in the shade of the stall, next to each other. Neither seemed to have the strength or the inclination to speak.

Children with Thanka on their face. Courtesy: Creative Commons

When the cameraman appeared with a local in tow, Musa quickly turned his back on them to face the wall. Why was this man so overenthusiastic? Wasn’t he satisfied with the bunch of photos he had already taken of his starving, beggarly face? But this time it was not the click of the camera, but the man’s words that drew attention. Musa realised he was taking interviews. In the beginning, the boy next to him also stood silently. Perhaps he was mute, deaf. But the next moment, he began to stammer. Musa felt goosebumps. Did everything become topsy-turvy when doomsday loomed? Was Musa glib of tongue and Harun a stammerer? Of course, he had no idea if this boy’s name was even Harun.

‘So many murders, rapes, arson – did you see these with your own eyes?’ The local translated the cameraman’s words into Rohingya.

What could be the answer to this question? And how could it be described? Did the kid next to him stammer so he did not have to answer such questions? Musa’s heart was in a turmoil. To save the boy who looked like his twin, Musa turned his face away from the wall.

Holding his Dadi’s hand, he had been escaping – Musa began to pour out his story in Rohingya. There was black smoke and fire behind, the sound of screams and bullets chasing them. Body after body lay dead along the road. Bullet-ridden. Throats slit. Then the thunder of the ocean. It seemed to be howling, wanting to divide itself into two. But the stick in his hand did not have that power.

The two men, like the Pharaoh, looked at Musa in disbelief. But the twin-like kid was happy, even though his name was not Harun, but Shah Alam.

As they walked towards the schoolhouse, Shah Alam said that they had crossed over on a raft the night before from the village of Fatongja in Maungdaw. Shah Alam’s father was missing and his older brother had been murdered. His three other siblings were with his mother.

“With Musa, you are now four,” said his mother to Shah Alam as she sat on the veranda and rolled up a plastic mat. A truck was due to arrive shortly and they would be transferred to a nearby refugee camp. Musa felt suffocated. The air was moist and heavy like a full mashk[6]. Dazed people walked around, vacant looks in their sleepless, tired eyes. No face reflected any sign of joy at the prospect of a new life. Did Musa’s face show any sign of delight? He did not want to live the life of an insect in a camp.

When the convoy of trucks arrived in the marketplace, Musa ran the other way as fast as he could. Government forces of this land chased him back. Shah Alam was standing in the truck and sucking his thumb. His mother had let out a cry as if a child of her own womb was running away. Standing in the open truck like cattle, Musa growled in anger. He was more upset with Shah Alam’s mother than with the authorities here. Musa did not want an adoptive mother or brother – he wanted a staff, one that would magically turn into a snake.

“You must not take the words of the Book literally, Musa!” Bismillahjaan came into Musa’s dreams that night. “It is foolishness to do so. Forget about me. Your entire life awaits you. Go forward on your own.”

“Where will I go, Dadi?” Sad and angry, Musa asked in a teary voice. “I want to go back – to that graveyard where you are headed to take shelter in a foxhole.”

Musa shut up when he heard someone groan in their sleep. He began to sweat profusely as he lay under the tarpaulin. His stomach had encountered some rice after many days, refugee rice – and he had not been able to digest it properly. Yet, the day before, a lot had been accomplished. The authorities had done a family headcount and provided ration cards. They had collected and brought their rations of rice, lentils, sugar, and oil to their tarp-covered shelter. Shah Alam’s mother had instantly set up house and Musa had become a part of the family. He was now spending his nights under the same tarp.

Chores were distributed in the morning. Shah Alam’s mother and siblings would stand in line at the ration shop while Musa and Shah Alam were responsible for collecting firewood from the forest and water from the pump. “Don’t fight like Habil and Qabil,[7] my dears,” Shah Alam’s mother poked her face through a hole in the tarp as they walked toward the jungle. “Be good brothers like Musa and Harun.[8]

Musa’s heart danced with joy when he heard the names Musa-Harun pronounced together. He immediately wanted to address Shah Alam’s mother as Ma, but he suppressed that desire by turning to look at Shah Alam. What a fool! He did not look like he could be good for anything other than gathering firewood. Anyhow, going into the forest did not just mean collecting firewood for the stove – it also meant that he might find the staff he had been searching for. By Allah’s infinite mercy, Shah Alam’s mother had not made him stand in line like a beggar with a bowl, waiting for handouts of food. Moreover, he did not have to remain confined to the camp.

Besides going into the forest, Musa also climbed the mounds around the camp with the others when he heard that the Burmese military had yet again set fire on the other side of the Naf. His people howled, the women wailed and beat their chests. Musa joined them: “Oh Dadi! My heart aches for you!” Sometimes, he cried in tune. “How will I live without Dadi!” When his tears dried up, there was fire in his eyes.

When he received news that a boat had sunk on the Naf, Musa rushed to see. He went close to the dam and sat on the stone slab to stare out into the river. In his hand was a branch of the gojari tree he had found in the forest. He muttered to himself as he struck the water with the branch.

What sort of justice was this? No one would remain – no father or mother, sister or brother, no home or land, no country, no earth. What was his fault? Why did he have to spend his life at a camp – like a cockroach under a tarp? And then there were other troubles. Young girls kept disappearing. As soon as their wounds healed, the young men plotted evil deeds while the police invaded at odd hours of the night. Children cried, old women lamented. Was there no way out of this hell?

“Of course, there is! There is only one route out of this place,” said a trafficker to Musa one day by the riverside. Musa could test his fortune by crossing the river like Sindabad the Sailor. There was a boat nearby and he would not even have to pay for passage.

Musa had no desire to test his fortune. He did not care either about the camp’s development like the light-skinned men who rolled in on expensive cars to find fault. He just wanted to return to his own land. For that he needed a magic staff that would turn into a snake and chase his enemies away. He wanted to see the land overrun with frogs, lice, and locusts that would put fear into the hearts of the Burmese soldiers and drive them out of Rakhine. Or blood would flow in the river instead of water, just like it did when his people were tortured by the commanding forces on his land.

The idea of blood flowing down the river appealed to the militant who waited by the mound everyday for Musa. He had no beard on his face or cap on his head and Musa had no idea where he came from or where he lived. Perhaps he hid beneath the grass like an insect or burrowed into the dark trunk of the enormous banyan tree. But no matter where he lived, the militant ignored the staff in Musa’s hand. As he stood on the mound and looked out onto the fire and smoke on the other side of the Naf, he said to Musa, “If you want blood to flow in the river, you must be trained in arms. It is not possible to do it with a mere gojari branch.”

“Who said this is merely a gojari branch?” Musa questioned. He had no use for an AK-47, grenades, or bombs. He wanted to tell him about the magic staff that would instantly turn into a snake and save his people.

The militant grew quite angry with Musa. He said, “Listen, O Musa, doomsday is near. Bullets and guns are the final answer.”

Musa felt helpless. Couldn’t he show the militant even a little bit of magic now? Like a tiny frog? Musa opened up his palm. Instead of a frog, his palm felt the brush of the breeze.

But neither of the paths suggested by the trafficker or the militant appealed to him. What would he do now? Musa wanted to howl. In anger and frustration, he flung away the branch in his hand. Instantly, it turned into a snake and disappeared into the wilderness around the mound.

(First published in Bengali in Prothom Alo on July 15, 2018)


[1] Kyat is the currency of Myanmar

[2] A sarong-like piece of clothing worn by the people of Myanmar

[3] The Border Guard Bangladesh

[4] Islamic elementary school

[5] Thanaka is made from barks of trees and used like Sandalwood paste to decorate and protect people from sunburns

[6] A traditional water carrying bag made from goat skin

[7] The Quranic equivalent of the Biblical Abel and Cain

[8] The Quranic equivalent of the Biblical Moses and Aaron

Shaheen Akhtar is a notable Bangladeshi short story writer and novelist. She received the Bangla Academy Literary Award (2015) for her contributions to literature and the Asian Literary Award (2020) for her novel The Search.

Arifa Ghani Rahman is Associate Professor and Head of English and Humanities at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, Dhaka. In addition, she is a freelance editor and translator.

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Categories
Poetry of Jibananda Das

Shorter Poems of Jibananda Das

Translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam

TO A PAINED ONE

Now late at night you have a bed,
A quiet and dark room,
Placidity and silence.
Think of nothing more.
Listen to no one speaking,
Just wipe your bloodied heart clean
And tucked like the tuberose,
Go to sleep. 
   
CITIES

My heart, you’ve seen many big cities
Cities whose bricks and stones
Accents, affairs, hopes, frustrations and terrifying deprivations
Have turned into ashes in the cauldron of my mind.
Nevertheless, I’ve seen the sun amidst thick clouds in a corner of a city
I’ve seen the sun on the other side of the river of a port city
Like a love-struck farmer, he bears his burden in the tangerine-cloud coloured fields of the sky;
Over the city’s gaslights and tall minarets, I’ve also seen—stars—
Like flocks of wild geese heading towards some southern city.

DAYS AND NIGHTS

The whole day went purposelessly.
The whole night will pass miserably.
Full of frustrations and failures,
Day in, day out, life is drudgery
To be wasted away.
And yet the phanimansha’s thorns we see 
Daubing the dew delightfully; not one bird in the sky
All knowingly guilty birds in their nests now lie.

(These translations are from Jibanananda Das: Selected Poems with an Introduction, Chronology and Glossary, translated by Fakrul Alam, published by The University Press Limited, Dhaka, 1999. Republished with permission from the original publisher.)

Jibananada Das (1899-1954) was a Bengali writer, who now is named as one of the greats. During his life he wrote beautiful poetry, novels, essays and more. He believed: “Poetry and life are two different outpouring of the same thing; life as we usually conceive it contains what we normally accept as reality, but the spectacle of this incoherent and disorderly life can satisfy neither the poet’s talent nor the reader’s imagination … poetry does not contain a complete reconstruction of what we call reality; we have entered a new world.”

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

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Categories
Poetry of Jibananda Das

All Afternoon Long

Poetry of Jibananda Das, translated by Fakrul Alam

ALL AFTERNOON LONG
All afternoon long I saw Bashir inside the paddy field.
All through the afternoon the skeleton of that three-storied red brick building
Besides the paddy field was being set up.
				(Everything is turning urban!)
Who owns that building? Why is it being built?  
	In the minds of the birds perched on this shore in fading evening light, 
		Or unlike the birds, or the boatmen in the boats plying here or the other shore
With their usual outcries,
The blue sky looked on impassively, its mind vacant. 
	In my dream at night, I saw Kolkata’s tram company getting ready to be here as well.
		Bashir’s bullocks twain out in this day’s sun look for a break  
As domesticated quadrupeds of the world will.
		Which country’s what animals’ and which tribes’ sketches will they resemble
		In becoming museum tales for the high-born and in being immortalised?
						The truths about them will be lost steadily!
			And yet in this land of museums, in the soundless but open room of one of them,
Could it be they would go up in flames without making civilisation any poorer
				Despite its stupendous piston?
Here the only story everyone still knows is of the jackdaw and the fairy tale princess, Shankhamala!
There are innumerable bird, nests and eggs on treetops here but still they haven’t been able to build
 this day a scientific poultry shop!   

(These translations are from Jibanananda Das: Selected Poems with an Introduction, Chronology and Glossary, translated by Fakrul Alam, published by The University Press Limited, Dhaka, 1999. Republished with permission from the original publisher.)

Jibonanada Das (1899-1954) was a Bengali writer, who now is named as one of the greats. During his life he wrote beautiful poetry, novels, essays and more. He believed: “Poetry and life are two different outpouring of the same thing; life as we usually conceive it contains what we normally accept as reality, but the spectacle of this incoherent and disorderly life can satisfy neither the poet’s talent nor the reader’s imagination … poetry does not contain a complete reconstruction of what we call reality; we have entered a new world.”

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Tagore Translations

Tagore Translated by Fakrul Alam

Rabindranath’s Oikotan (Harmonising) was first published in 1941. It has been translated by Professor Fakrul Alam specially to commemorate Tagore’s Birth Anniversary.

Courtesy: Creative Commons
HARMONISING

How little I know of this immense world,
Of its countless countries, cities, capitals,
And the never-ending deeds of its peoples
As well as its rivers, hills, deserts and seas
And innumerable animals and strange trees—
So many things fated to be forever unknown
Such a vast assemblage
And yet my mind has to be content with only a corner!
Frustrated, I read as many books and travel tales as I can
With boundless enthusiasm.
I pick up too vividly written accounts I come across
With never-diminishing eagerness,
Satiating my knowledge deficit
With treasures I’ll gather by scavenging for them!
    
I am the world’s poet. Whatever of its sounds I hear
I try to reverberate in my flute later
But though this may be my intent
Many of earth’s notes still elude me
For despite my efforts, gaps remain!
I intuit earth’s amazing harmonies
Through leaps of my imagination
On many an occasion intense silence fills my soul
Notes sounding across remote snowy mountains
And the azure stillness of the sky too
Invite me to commune with them again and again!
The unknown star at the apex of the south pole
Reigning illustriously	through long nights
Illuminates my sleepless eyes on midnights.
Distant waterfalls cascading down
With immense force, flooding everything in sight,
Transmit their harmonies to the innermost me.
I connect intuitively as well with poets everywhere
Contributing to nature’s harmonies
All keep me company and give me immense delight
I receive offerings of lyric notes from the muse of songs
As well as intimations of the music of the spheres.    

The outside world can’t fathom fully
The most inaccessible of being residing in us
For He is in our innermost part
And only when one enters it
One gets to know the Being who is truly Him
But I can’t find the door with which to enter there
Since I’ve erected fences in pathways everywhere!
Farmer who keep tilling the soil
Weavers threading yarn and fishermen casting nets—
Varied professions having far-reaching impact
On them all depend whole families and lifestyles.
But the honour due to them is confined
To people of the top tiers of the society I live in
We can only peep at them from narrow openings! 
At times I’d take paths fronting their neighbourhoods
But never ever was resolute enough to enter inside!
If one can’t connect one’s life with another’s though
The songs one composes can become cumbersome
And so, I concede to charges levelled against me
And admit my own songs’ limitations.
I know my verses may have traversed varied paths
But they haven’t reached everywhere!
The one who can share a peasant’s life
And whose words and deeds are kins
Is the one who is truly close to the soil
And I’m all ears to listen to that kind of poet.   
I may not have created a feast of literary delights
Yet, what I couldn’t attain I keep questing for
Let what I discover ring true
And let me not mislead others’ eyes with fakery
It’s not right to earn fame without paying its true price
It isn’t right at all to indulge in any kind of foppery!

Come poet, retrieve as many as you can
Of those voiceless ones whose minds are unheard
And relieve those nurturing deep hurt inside
In this land lacking spirit
Bereft of songs being sung on any side,
A land which has become an arid desert
For want of joy and the strain created by neglect
Fill with the essence of everything beautiful
And untie the spirit residing in one’s innermost being
 In literary festivals and musical concerts organised,
Let those playing the one-stringed ektara be duly feted.
And the muted ones who can’t express either joy or sorrow
And those whose heads are bowed and voices silent
While facing the world—
Oh gifted one,
Let me hear them all—near or far
Let them partake of your fame
As for me—
Again and again, I’ll pay homage to you   

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Tagore Translations

Endless Love: Tagore translated by Fakrul Alam

Veiled Woman: Painting by Rabindranath Tagore. Courtesy: Creative Commons
ENDLESS LOVE (Anonto Prem)

It is as if I’ve loved only you,
Hundreds of times, in hundreds of forms
In life after life, age after age, again and again!
Forever, and with an enchanted heart,
I wove necklaces of lyrics
Which you’d wear beautifully,
Accepting my gifts gracefully,
Life after life, age after age, again and again!
The more I hear stories from far away times
Of agonies lovers endured in ages long past,
Of tales of unions and separations
And whenever I look at events of days of yore,
Piercing the veil of darkness of times past
They appear in the form of an eternal star
In your visage.
The two of us float forward
In the current of a union
Emanating from eternity.
The two of us keep frolicking
Amidst millions of lovers,
Whose eyes moisten with tears of separation
Or light up with bashfulness as they meet—
In a love transcendental but in a guise all new
In love everlasting, but of this very day and age! 

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Nazrul Translations

Manush: Nazrul’s Lines for Humankind

Translated by Professor Fakrul Alam

Born in united Bengal, long before the Partition, Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) was known as the  Bidrohi Kobi, or “rebel poet”. Nazrul is now regarded as the national poet of Bangladesh though he continues a revered name in the Indian subcontinent. In addition to his prose and poetry, Nazrul wrote about 4000 songs. ‘Manush‘ or ‘Mankind’ was published in Nazrul’s collection called Sanchita.

MANKIND

Of equality I sing.
There isn’t anything greater or nobler than a human being.
Wipe all distinctions based on country, period and situation. 
Let all religions and countries be one.
In all nations, ages, and homes let God be your companion.

Arising from a dream, a zealous priest opens the temple door and exclaims:
“Devotee, open doors, 
The God of Hunger stands outside; time now to pray to Him.”
Surely, he thinks, God’s Grace will transform him into a King!
Wearing tattered clothes, emaciated, and voice enfeebled by hunger,
A wayfarer pleads: “Open the door, I’ve been hungry the whole week.”
Instantly, the door is shut, the hungry one is turned away.
In the darkness of night his hungry eyes glare all the way.
The beggar mutters, “Lord, the temple seems to be his, and not yours!”

Yesterday the mosque was full of sweets and meat and bread,
This day the sight of the leftovers makes the Mullah glad!
Just then a hungry man comes in, sores on his skin,
He says, “Sir, for the seventh day I’m starving!
Enraged, the Mullah exclaims, “So what, if you are hungry?
Go and lie down where carcasses of cattle are cast away!
By the way, do you pray?” The wayfarer confesses, “No Sir!”
The Mullah swears, “Swine, time then for you to scram!”
Picking up all leftovers, the mullah the mosque gate slams!

The hungry one turns back, muttering, “I can claim,
Eighty years I survived without ever invoking your name
How come, from me, Lord, you never withdrew your bounty?
Should I conclude mosques and temples are not for me?
That Mullahs and Brahmins have shut their doors to the poor?
Where are you, Chengiz, Mahmud of Ghazni, and Kalapahar?
Storm all doors of these so-called houses of prayer!

Who bolts the House of God? Who locks its portals?
All doors force open, smash ’em with hammers and crowbars.
Alas House of Prayer
Aloft on your minarets charlatans flaunt themselves, 
Disdaining mankind!
Who could these people be, loathing man,
But kissing ostentatiously the Vedas, the Bible, and the Quran?
Snatch from their lips all the holy books.
Don’t forget their originators perished in the hands of such crooks!
Hypocrites always prosper thus! Listen all you fools,
Men brought books into being; books didn’t create men!
Adam, David, Moses, Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed,
Krishna, Buddha, Nanak, and Kabir are our ancestors.
Their blood course through us, we are their successors,
We are their kin; our bodies are like theirs.
It is possible that one day we will achieve their statures!
Don’t laugh, friends. My self stretches to infinity,
None -- not even I -- knows what greatness lies within me.
Perhaps within me is Kalki, in you Mehdi or Jesus,
Who knows where one begins and ends; who can limit us?
Why loathe the man so, brother, why kick him at will?
It could be that even in him God keeps vigil!
Or even if he is nobody, no one exalted or great,
See him as a man besmeared and completely shattered.
And yet no house of worship or sacred book on earth
Can measure up to that small body’s worth!
It could be that in his humble hut one day will be born
Someone who in his unique way the world will adorn!
The message the world awaits, the superman not yet glimpsed,
Perhaps will appear in this very hut someday soon!

Is he untouchable? Does he put you off? But he isn’t reprehensible!
He could be Harishchandra or Lord Shiva!
An untouchable today could be Emperor of all Yogis tomorrow.
Tomorrow, you will eulogise him, will praise him to the skies
Who is that you call a rustic, who is it that you despise?
It could be Lord Krishna in a cowherd’s guise!
And what if the one you hated as a peasant so
Was King Janaka or Lord Balaram incognito?
Prophets were once shepherds, once they tilled fields,
But they brought us news of eternity—which will forever be.
Male or female, you kept refusing all beggars every day  
Could it be that Bholanath and Girjaya were thus sent away? 
Lest feeding a beggar makes you feast less,
Your porter punished the beggar at your door,
What if you thus drove a deity away?
What punishment will lie for you then who can say?
What if the goddess thus insulted never forgives you?
If your heart wasn’t so greedy, so obsessed with only what you need,
Friend, you would see that in serving you the gods became impoverished!
Beast that you are, will you abuse the God within your heart
To swallow the nectar distilled from human misery and hurt? 
Will that drink make you happy? Will that satiate your lust?
Only your evil angel knows what food will please you most.
One your evil angel knows how you can self-destruct best!
Through ages, beast, know that what thrusts you to death is lust! 

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Poetry of Jibananda Das

Leaving the World behind

Poetry of Jibananda Das translated by Fakrul Alam

Painting by Sohana Manzoor
Where Have All These Birds Gone	

Where have all those birds gone now—and those horses --
		And the women in those white houses?
Wet with the fragrance of acacias-tinged with golden sunlight
Those birds—and those horses--have left our world behind;
My heart, tell me where -- where have they all gone now?
		Darkness, like that dead pomegranate—silence.


On the Pathways for Long…
(Prithbir Pothe Aami Bohu Din from Ruposhi Bangla)

Having lived in the world’s pathways for a long, long time
I know many stressful, hidden tales of the heart now.
In forests, branches and leaves sway -- as if
Djinns and fairies conversing! On greying evenings
I’ve seen on their bodies a drop or two of rain dripping down.
Like parched paddy will. White specks of dust soften in rainwater.
A faint scent suffuses farmlands. From frail bodies of Gubur insects
Indistinct, melancholy sounds dip into the dark river water;

I’ve seen them all -- have seen the river immerse in the sloping dark;
Shapmashis fly away; In Asuth tree nests, ravens flutter their wings
Incessantly; someone seems to be standing in the lonely, fog-filled field.
Farther off, one or two straw-roofed houses lie scattered.
Why do the frogs croak on in Nolkhagra forests? Can’t they not stop?
Freshly laid crow eggs slip and slide into the Sheora bushes. 

(These translations are from Jibanananda Das: Selected Poems with an Introduction, Chronology and Glossary, translated by Fakrul Alam, published by The University Press Limited, Dhaka, 1999. Republished with permission from the original publisher.)

Jibonanada Das (1899-1954) was a Bengali writer, who now is named as one of the greats. During his life he wrote beautiful poetry, novels, essays and more. He believed: “Poetry and life are two different outpouring of the same thing; life as we usually conceive it contains what we normally accept as reality, but the spectacle of this incoherent and disorderly life can satisfy neither the poet’s talent nor the reader’s imagination … poetry does not contain a complete reconstruction of what we call reality; we have entered a new world.”

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL