Categories
Nazrul Translations

Ring Bells of Victory!

Nazrul’s poetry translated by Professor Fakrul Alam

Kazi Nazrul Islam. Courtesy: Creative Commons

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.

THE FRENZY OF DESTRUCTION

Ring bells of victory!
Ring bells of victory!
Summer’s storm flutters the flag of the New!
Ring bells of victory!
Ring bells of victory!

He who was to come is coming,
Dancing as if possessed and bent on destruction!
Crossing Oceans, storming the Main Gate, smashing portals, 
Into the dark hole of death
In the guise of the eternal executioner—
Through smoldering smoke
Lighting the lamp of lightning
The Violent One comes,
Bursting with glee!
Ring bells of victory!
Ring bells of victory!

Locks swaying in the overcast sky, He makes the sky flare,
Forcing even the fiery all-consuming comet’s tail to tremble.
In the very heart of the Creator of the universe
Like an unsheathed sword the blood sparkles
Roll and sway!
His loud laughter stuns the universe into silence—
Look how stunned the universe is!
Ring bells of victory!
Ring bells of victory!

A dozen suns’ rays stream fiercely from His eyes
The sorrows of the world stick in His disheveled hair.
Every teardrop falling from His eyes 
Makes the seven seas roll and swell
His cheeks flush and glow!
Hugging mother-earth in His huge arms,
He thunders, “Let destruction triumph!”
Ring bells of victory!
Ring bells of victory!  

Take heart, take heart, cataclysms shake the universe,
The sluggish and shrunken, the dying and decrepit,
Hide and flee because of the coming catastrophe.
Cheerfully, compassionately,
The infant moon’s beams will shine in the sky’s unkempt locks.
Light will flood your home now!
Ring bells of victory!
Ring bells of victory!

The eternal charioteer comes, lashing his bloodied whip,
His horses neigh out; their cries resound in thunder and rain.
Their hooves spark off stars and scatter them across the blue sky
In the covered well of the dark dungeon
The gods are tied up in sacrificial stakes
And heaped in cold stony pillars.
Time for Him and His chariot to shake the earth.
Ring bells of victory!
Ring bells of victory!

Why fear destruction? It’s the gateway to creation!
The new will arise and rip through the unlovely.
Hair disheveled and dressed carelessly
Destruction makes its way gleefully.
Confident it can destroy and then build again!
Ring bells of victory!
Ring bells of victory!

Why fear since destruction and creation is part of the same game?
Ring bells of victory!
Wives, hold up your lamps of welcome! 
The Beautiful comes in the guise of the Violent One

Ring bells of victory!  


(First Published in Daily Star, 2007)

 

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).

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

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Categories
Nazrul Translations

Why Provide Thorns

Kazi Nazrul Islam’s Keno Dile E Kanta translated by Professor Fakrul Alam

Nazrul: Courtesy: Creative Commons

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.

WHY PROVIDE THORNS

Why provide thorns as well as flowers?
Wouldn’t lotuses bloom if thorns didn’t prick?

Why must fluttering eyes become moist with tears?
Why provide hearts if hearts won’t unite?

Why do cool wet clouds allure the swallow
Only to greet it with thunder and lightning?

Why allow buds to blossom if flowers wither?
Why stain the moon’s brow with a frown?

Why must desire for beauty be mired in lust?
Won’t faces look beautiful without the dark mole?

Poet, keep imaging bliss in this bower of thorns,
While restraining yourself within your moist eyes.   

(First published in the Daily Star, 2007)
Keno Dile E Kanta renderred in Bengali by Dhanajay Bhattacharya (1922-1992)

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).

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

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Categories
Poetry

Rows of Betelnut Trees by My Window

Written by Kazi Nazrul Islam in 1929 in Chittagong, translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam

Areca nut or betel nut trees. Courtesy: Creative Commons
Farewell, neighbours of my nightly vigil, 
Standing aloft next to my window,
Companions, the night of parting elapses.
From this day ceases our secret exchanges,
From this day ends our quiet conversations....

Putting its worn forehead on the porch of the setting sky
The moon cries, “Traveler awake, night is all but over”
Night spreads across the forest deep; overcome with sleep,
It glances back, clasping in its hand its dark disheveled hair!

Startled, I wake up, wondering: whose breath brushes my forehead?
Who fans my warm forehead, who wakes up by my bedside?
I rise seeing by my window the sentinel of my dreams,
Companions of my dark nights, the row of betel nut trees!

Hadn’t we once viewed each other through fluttering eyelids?
Friends, I recall what we said to each other all night long!
When tears flowed from weary eyes beginning to burn,
Your leaves appear to me to be like the cooling palms
Of my beloved. The rustling of your leaves reminded me
Of her plaintive voice, calling out mournfully.
I saw in your leaves the kohl-dark shape of her eyes.
Your bodies in silhouette suggested her slim shape.
The gentle breeze wafting by evoked her delicate air.
Your branches seem to be draped with her sari’s borders.
And you fanned me as tenderly as she did with her hands!

These thoughts troubled me as I entered sleep’s domain.
As I slept, I felt the frill of your dark blue dresses lying
Unfurled besides my pillow. I saw in my dream you entering,
Furtively and fervently kissing my warm forehead.

Perhaps in the dream I extended my hands to touch you
Only to touch the window. Then I clasped your hands shyly.
Companions, now that window will have to be shut.
The path beckons, fellow travelers shout, “time to depart!”

This day before I take my leave
I feel like revealing myself to you as well as knowing you.
I feel close to your feelings; yet why does my insatiable mind
Yearn to hear from you the thoughts lodged in your bosom?
I know—we will never get to know each other physically,
Our hearts will only keep playing a tune of pain mournfully! 
 Perhaps I’ve seen a vision of you that is not like you at all.
But how can that harm you, if it does enough to swell my heart?
If my tears transform you into a thing of beauty,
If I can build a monument stirred by love of someone
As the Taj Mahal was built from the pain of losing Mumtaz,
Tell me, what harm will that do to anyone?
I won’t adorn my room with you, won’t create a paradise.... 

Perhaps birds never lighted on your branches,
In your bower, amidst your foliage, cuckoos never sang. 
Looking up to the heavens in exaggerated appeal
You kept vigil in the dark, though none stayed up
To open the window. But I was always the first to arrive,
And look at you in rapt attention in the dark. Departing lovingly,
On your leaves I wrote my first letters of love.
Let that be my consolation, whether I meet her or not....

Companions, I’ll never wake up again to look at you
I won’t interrupt anyone’s trance after a tumultuous day.
Silently, all alone, I’ll burn the incense of my suffering.

I shouldn’t ask, but can’t help doing so before leaving today—
From behind your wooden screen, did you view me lovingly too?
Did you also take a look at me when I opened the window?
Was it the wind or my love that made your leaves sway?
When behind your green borders, the moon will go to sleep,
And I will have to repress all happy feelings—
In your joyous moments, will you recall this passerby’s brief visit?
Will your voice resound in this empty room in loud lamentations?
Will the moonlight become insipid in your vision then?
Will you open shutters and look at the formless world outside?
Or will you keep standing rapt in your thoughts all day long?

Tied to exhausted earth, you’ve become a row of helpless trees,
Your feet are soiled with dust, your heads enveloped in emptiness.
Your days scald in the sun’s heat, your night’s chill in the dew,
You lack the strength to cry, you seem to be in a deathlike stupor.
If your problems fail to arouse you, companions, and stir you,
What can I hope to gain by burdening you with my gift of pain?...

*                  *                  *                 *                 

If I come to your mind by mistake, try to forget me,
If by mistake my windows open again,
Please shut them again.... Don’t look out in the dark at all
Through your wooden screen—for the one no longer on earth

The poem recited by Nazrul’s son, Kazi Sabyasaachi, in Bengali

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.

.

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).

.Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

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

Categories
Nazrul Translations

Daridro or Poverty

Written by Kazi Nazrul Islam in 1926, translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam

Nazrul’s statue in Bangladesh: Courtesy: Creative Commons
POVERTY

Poverty, you’ve empowered me,
Endowed me with Christ’s dignity
And adorned me with a thorny crown,
Ascetic one, you’ve inspired me
To speak out and eye the world boldly 
Deliver messages as incisively as a knife;
Your curse has made my veena a sword!

Arrogant hermit, your scorching flame
Has shorn my golden visage of its glitter,
Shrinking its sap and drying the soul early, 
When I try grasping with emaciated hands
Beauty’s bounty, O Impoverished One,
You step forward and lap it up. 
A forlorn desert is all you leave
For my imagination to play with.
My eyes blaze at my own beauty!

My desires, tinged with pain-yellow buds,
Would rather bloom like the soft, white,
Fragrant shefali flower.  But Cruel One,
Like an unfeeling woodcutter, you break
All branches and destroy all blossoms,
My heart glistens like an autumnal dawn, 
Wet with dew shed by sympathetic earth.
 
You are the sun -- your heat dries up
Every dewdrop of pity. I shrink
Inside the shade that earth affords.
Dreams of Beauty and the Good shatter. 
Pouring liquid poison down the throat
You ask, “What good is nectar now?
There is no parching sensation,
No intoxication, no madness.
Weakling that you are, not for you
To seek manna from heaven
In this sorrow-laden world!
You are a serpent, in birth singed
By pain! In a thorny garden you weave
Garlands. On your forehead
I leave this mark of woe!”


I sing songs, weave garlands, and feel my throat burn,
Snakebites have left their marks all over my body!

Like unforgiving Durbasha*, you wander
From door to door with a beggar’s bowl.
Even as newlywed couples embark
On their night of Happiness, you cry out:
“Dumb ones, Listen: this world
Is no bower of bliss but full of sorrow,
Of want and the pangs of parting,
Of thorns that underlie bridal beds
And are embedded even in the Beloved’s arms,
Take your fill of them now!”
Instantly, cries of anguish overwhelm,
In that bower of bliss light fades,
And dreadful night overwhelms!

Exhausted, worn out by hunger, you peer,
Surveying earth with knotted eyebrows
When, suddenly, something strikes you,
And your eyes dart out fiercely.
Whole kingdoms are devastated then
By Plagues, Famines, and Cyclones,
Pleasure Gardens burn, palaces topple—
The only verdict you know is death!

You never stoop to modest displays,
But revel in revealing yourself naked.
You know no hesitation or shame
But raise the heads of those bent low.
At your wish, people condemned to die
Tie nooses around their neck gladly.
Despite burning in the fire of penury daily
They embrace death with devilish glee.

From goddess Lakshmi’s head you snatch 
Her crown and throw it to the dust.
O Champion, what tune do you strum 
So deftly on your veena? All I hear is lamentation!

Yesterday morning I heard the shehnai wail
A melancholy note, as if a dear one
Hadn’t returned home yet. The shehnai
Seemed to cry out to him to come back.
Some bride’s heart wafted away with the tune
As if searching for her beloved.
Her friends wondered why she should cry,
And let her kohl dissolve with her tears....

Even this morning I woke up to hear
The shehnai call plaintively: “come, come”
Sad-faced, shefalika flowers drop off—
Like a widow whose smile keeps fading—
Their delicate fragrances overwhelm
Butterflies fluttering on restless wings,
Intoxicated with the scent of flowers
They kissed! Bees yellow their wings 
With pollen and wet their bodies with honey.

My soul overflows in all directions!
Unconsciously I sing out welcoming songs
Happily! My eyes fill with tears unaccountably
Someone seems to tie the knot,
Uniting me with earth. With hands full of flowers,
Earth appears to step forward with its bounty.
It is as if she is my youngest daughter!
I wake up suddenly in wonder! Alas, my child
Has been up all night and is crying in my home,
Famished and hands full of soot.  O Cruel One,
You’ve brought perpetual tears to my home!
I haven’t been able to give my dear child,
My loved one, a drop of milk! 

Familial duty is no delight! Poverty is intolerable,
As it cries endlessly as one’s son or wife
Clasping one’s door! Who will play the flute?
Where will one get radiant smiles of bliss?
Where will one taste a rich bouquet of wine? 
Rather swallow a glass of the poisonous dhutura
To make the tears flow....

Till this day I hear the shehnai’s overture wailing
Seemingly saying: nothing, nothing has survived!

*Durbasha: A legendary rishi who was revered but was rather hot tempered

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.

.

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).

.

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

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).

.

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

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.

.

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).

.

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

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).

.

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.

.

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

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).

.

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

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).

.

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