Categories
Poetry

Nazrul’s Poetry: Purify My Life

A translation of Kazi Nazrul Islam’s Shuddho Koro Amar Jibon by Shahriyer Hossain Shetu

Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) Known  Bidrohi Kobi, or “rebel poet”, Nazrul was born on 25th May in united Bengal, long before the Partition. Nazrul is now regarded as the national poet of Bangladesh though he continues a revered name in the Indian subcontinent. He was a Muslim, married a Hindu and wrote songs mingling Hindu and Muslim lores. In addition to his prose and poetry, Nazrul wrote about 4000 songs. He was charged with sedition by the British for his fiery writing and jailed repeatedly.

Purify My Life

Purify my life, like dawn let me rise

anew each morn.

Let me be the sunrise,

redefine my life; make me thrive

I’ve been like a depressed widow, a hurtful drop

from Bakul.

Place your hand of blessing on my head

so I grow like a verdant tree when the summer rain

pours on my bosom.

Purify my life like sunrise,

so I become the waking sky.

Turn me into every child’s book of first letters,

and the song of early birds.

Purify my life, so that I

become an island;

Or, childhood, or a new stream of rain;

I’ve drowned in pain and loneliness

And stood like a debdaru.

Purify my life like a fresh blooming flower

so I wake up like a morning’s sleepy eye.

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*Bakul and Debdaru are both trees that grow in Bengal. Bakul bears flowers that are fragrant and white.

Shahriyer Hossain Shetu is a student in the Department of English & Humanities, ULAB. First Published in Daily Star, Bangladesh.

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Categories
Poetry

Before my Curtain is Drawn

By Tasneem Hossian

Tasneem Hossian
Before my Curtain is Drawn


Do not shed tears when I am gone.
Give me a moment now, before my curtain is drawn.
Stay with me for a while,
Sit silently by my side.
Take my hands in your hands,
Let me rest on your shoulder.
Talk to me with your sweetest words.
Smile at me with your eyes, twinkling stars.
Let me listen to your whispering heart, 
Engraved will remain these moments. 

If you cry, when I am gone with
My life’s curtain already drawn,
What meaning would it hold for me?
How will I know that you cared for me?
How will I tell you what you meant to me?
Let these moments of love be an eternity.
 
Come sit beside me and love me now.
If you love me, then make me this vow:
You won’t cry when I am gone, 
For you will never be alone.
I will be with you -- very near,
Wiping away all your tears.

Do not shed tears when I am gone.
Give me a moment now, before my curtain is drawn.

Tasneem Hossain is a multilingual poet, columnist, op-ed columnist and training consultant. She is the Director of Continuing Education Centre, Bangladesh.

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Categories
Slices from Life

Pohela Boishakh: A Cultural Fiesta

Sohana Manzoor shares the Bengali New Year celebrations in Bangladesh on April 14th, pausing on the commonality and differences with Poila Baisakh, the Indian version of Pohela Boishakh celebrated in the Eastern part of India

Happy & Prosperous New Year or ‘Shubho Nabobarsho’ in Bengali script

“Shubho Nabobarsho” (happy and prosperous new year) is the traditional greeting for the Bengali new year. The upcoming April 14 will herald the beginning of the Bengali year 1428 in Bangladesh, but in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Odisha and parts of Assam it will be the 15th of April. In Bangladesh, Pohela Boishakh is one of the biggest occasions of celebration, next to perhaps the two Eids.

Whereas the celebrations of Pohela Boishakh is now a regular thing, its history is somewhat unclear. According to most historians, the Bengali year or Bangabda was introduced by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. In those days, agricultural taxes were collected according to the Hijri Calendar. But then the Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar and naturally, it did not coincide with the agricultural year. The tax collecting time was not a time when the peasants and farmers could pay the taxes. It only added to the confusion of the people who tilled the land in various capacities. To streamline the tax collection, Akbar ordered a reformation of the calendar. As a result, in 1584 Bangabda was born. But the year started from 963, the Hijri year it was modeled on. According to some historians, however, it was adopted by another Muslim ruler called Hussain Shah of Bengal. There is yet another group that alludes to Shashanka, a seventh-century King of Bengal, for inventing Bangabda. It is quite possible that it existed before Akbar’s time and the Mughal Emperor reinvented it with the help of his royal astronomer and other pundits of his court.

An interesting aspect of Bangabda is that the names of the months were different in those times. The story of how the months of Farwardin, Urdibahish and Khordad became Baishakh, Jyoshthyha and Ashar is lost to us. But we do know that just as he had helped in modernizing the Bengali language, Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah helped in modernizing the Bengali year. Partially accepting his reformative suggestions, the Bangla Academy saw that the first six months had thirty-one days each and the last six, thirty. Hence there is no further confusion about which day of the Gregorian calendar Pohela Boishakh coincides with. In Bangladesh, it is always 14 April. But in West Bengal and other parts of India, it can be either 14 or 15 of April.

When the Bengali new year was first introduced, the most important activities on the first day of the year involved halkhata, opening of a new book for zamindars who would treat their tenants with sweets. On the last day of the old year, there would be Chaitra Sankranti, a day celebrating the end of the year. Actually, in rural areas, this day was more colourful than Pohela Baishakh. Charak Puja, a Hindu festival honouring the god Shiva is central to this celebration. The actual puja used to take place on the midnight of Chaitra Sankranti, and it was a very special kind of ritual and not too many people even know about it anymore. The preparation would start a month ahead of the actual puja and a total of twelve devotees would take part in it. There would be different kinds of festivities through the day, and snacks like puffed rice, ground gram called chhatu,  dry sugary sweets like khoi, murki, batasha, kodma, and many varieties of leafy vegetables would be available. In today’s Bangladeshi scenario, Chaitra Sankranti has almost disappeared except in some distant villages. Only lately, some initiatives are being taken in Dhaka to reintroduce the fair, even though it looks like any other fair and very different from the original Chaitra Sankranti.

With urbanization, the more secular Pohela Boishakh became popular. However, some elements from Chaitra Sankranti have been integrated in Baishakhi celebration. For example, there are fairs that still showcase puffed rice, khoi, murki, batasha and kodma. There are products made by rural artisans. Performances on musical instruments like ektara, dotara and dhol by rural artists are show cased. Riding the nagardola (a mini and wooden version of the Ferris wheel, reminiscence of the charak) is a central attraction of the fair.

It is impossible to conceive of any Bengali festival without food. The first food item that comes to mind regarding Pohela Baishakh, is hilsa fish. Different preparations of mouth-watering taste are prepared with hilsa. Then there are panta bhat (fermented rice) with green chili, all kinds of bhartas (mashes) starting with potatoes to tomatoes, sweet pumpkins, lentils, beans, shrimps and different types of fish, chutneys, shutki (bitters), authentic Bengali sweets, savoury snacks like fuchka, chotpoti and even traditional ice-creams, kulfi. Bigger cities find fairs and programmes in almost every locality.

Chhayanaut, an institution devoted to the propagation of Bengali culture, started celebrating the Bengali Nababarsha under the Ramna Botomul (a historic banyan tree) in 1967. Since the Liberation War of 1971, Pohela Boishakh has grown into a national festival for all Bangladeshis irrespective of religions. In Dhaka, the Pohela Boishakh procession begins from the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Dhaka. The students start taking preparation for the procession from days ahead. They make masks and banners and wear elaborate costumes. This is known as the festive Mangal Shobhajatra, translated procession showcasing good fortune. In 2016, this festivity organized by the Faculty of Fine Arts was listed as UNESCO cultural heritage. Specific roads around Dhaka city are decorated with white and red alpanas, elaborate designs made with rice flour mixed with water.

At the break of dawn on Pohela Boishakh, people gather at the Ramna batamul festival ground. The day starts with singing the famous Tagore song, “Esho he Boishakh*” along with many others. The whole day is spent in celebration. Radios and TV channels air special programs on the day too. People dressed in white and red and other colourful attire flock around the city. It is also observed as a national holiday and a fun-day for everybody.

Sohana Manzoor is an Associate Professor of English at ULAB. She is also the Literary Editor of The Daily Star.

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Categories
Poetry

Birth of an Ally

Smoke and Fire by Alia Kamal

By Tamoha Siddiqui

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Yesterday I heard the sound of colourful feet

to Indonesian beats, in the middle of Michigan:

white, black, brown, all were one

pitter-patter paces in a conference hall.

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You thought I wasn’t looking, but I was.

You were smiling a late November sun

stubborn in joy, fresh in giving;

a horizon broadening in deepening twilight.

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Your grey hairs picked up the song, 

The music bent down for a kiss.

Immigrant spices dissolved

ladling a new tone on your tongue

As you threw up your pink arms

And danced.

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Somewhere, your soul alighted;

Moonlight on a tulip,

Wind on the sand dunes,

Mellow in a melting of colours,

You danced.

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Tamoha Siddiqui is a teacher-researcher and poet from Bangladesh. She’s a Fulbright awardee currently housed at Michigan State University as a graduate student.  In 2018, Tamoha founded a bilingual poetry collective in Dhaka, working as a performer, organizer, and facilitator of local poetry shows and workshops. Furthermore, she debuted as a performance poetry artist in America in 2019 through events hosted by the The Poetry Room, Michigan. Her work has been highlighted in a number of Bangladeshi newspapers and anthologies.

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Categories
Stories

House of the Dead

By Sohana Manzoor

When Shefa Nanu died, I was about fourteen years old. It was an awkward age to be honest. I was neither a woman, nor a girl. When people said, “O my, isn’t she all grown up,” I felt awfully conscious of myself. Sometimes I wished to be invisible, and half the times I didn’t want to go visiting. But Shefa Nanu’s death was an unavoidable occasion and I had to tag along with my mother and grandmother.

Shefa Nanu was my maternal grandmother’s first cousin. She was also the widow of a well-respected lawyer and the mother of an important political figure. I had been to their large house in Elephant Road many times. Even though she was the mistress of a very busy household, she always had time for my Nanu. They were not merely cousins but bosom friends as well. I used to play with their two cats, Abby and Minnie while the two grandmothers chatted away like teen-age girls. Shefa Nanu was the only person alive who could call my Nanu by her first name. I would feel guilt-ridden if I did not go. So, I braced myself for the inevitable.

You can only guess that my Nanu had cried her heart out by the time we reached the two storied house near Mallika Cinema Hall at Elephant Road. Shefa Nanu had died in the middle of the night and it was around 9:30 in the morning when we reached the house of the dead as they call it. The entire house was full of people and I could not spot one face that looked familiar.

This is one reason I hate visiting the dead. There are always too many people; all the forgotten and half-forgotten relatives and friends turn up when someone dies. Suddenly, a woman in shabby brown threw her arms around my mother and cried, “O Runu Apa, you’ve come at last! What will happen now that Amma is gone?” At her wailing I realised it was Shefa Nanu’s daughter-in-law, Naina Auntie. I gaped at her in surprise because she was all covered up. A well-endowed lady, she had always shown too much skin. Shefa Nanu was forever criticising Naina Auntie’s ways, while Auntie too was always complaining against her mother-in-law. But why was she crying like this? Didn’t she want to go away from this hell-house and live elsewhere?

Then I saw Lubaba and Shababa, her two daughters. Shababa was about eight years old and Lubaba was slightly older than me. Both of them were attired in old, wrinkled clothes and I was even more surprised because Naina Auntie always made a point to keep them spotless and well-dressed in company. What had happened to them?

I was about to ask something when Lubaba motioned us all to go inside. We learnt that the body was in the freezer and not inside the house. They would bring her in as soon as Shefa Nanu’s eldest daughter and youngest son arrived. I remembered Shefa Nanu’s youngest son Tushar Mama quite well. He went abroad to pursue higher studies and among his six siblings he was the only one not yet married. So, he was flying in from the US and Samina Auntie from Australia. Both were supposed to be coming in by mid-noon. They had boarded the planes as soon as they had heard about Shefa Nanu’s hospitalisation.

Lubaba whispered to us that Tonuka Auntie wouldn’t make it as she was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. Her husband would not allow her to travel all the way from New York. I saw Tuhin Mama and his wife greeting the guests. They seemed composed even though I could see that both of them had been crying.

As we occupied three chairs in the room adjacent to the drawing room where the men were seated, my eyes fell on a tall woman dressed fashionably in a black lace saree. She had sharp features and a complexion too white. Did she put on make-up? I had never seen anyone wearing make-up when they attend funeral or visit a house where someone has died. I could not help staring at her when I heard a most interesting thread of conversation.

A fat lady in pale green shalwar-kameez started to prattle, “I don’t know why Shakil is still missing and why Naina is putting up all that show of grieving. She must be awfully relieved that her mother-in-law is gone.” Then she lowered her voice and asked another lady sitting right beside her, “Did you hear, by the way, about Shakil’s affair with that other woman? … the young widow of Pintu Shikder? Now that his mother is not there anymore, I wonder ….”

“Shush,” replied the other lady, “Don’t talk about these things now.” She paused and said rather philosophically, “But what will happen, will happen.” Then she too lowered her voice and whispered loud enough for me to hear, “I doubt Naina has anything to fear right away. The elections are near, and he won’t get nomination if he divorces his wife now.”

My mother and Nanu were too stricken to pay attention to any of these. But I was gobbling up the bits of gossip round-eyed and wondered how much truth they contained. My still young heart could not fathom why Shefa Auntie would stop her son from getting married to another woman when his current wife was a wicked one. Suddenly, we heard some male voice wailing in the next room, “O Bubu, my sweet Bubu, why did you leave me like this? I am a useless creature—who will feed me now? (Sound of sobbing) My children and I will perish in the streets… O Bubu…”

I sat astounded. Now, who was that? Then I remembered that Shefa Nanu had a younger brother called Shamsul, who was the black-sheep of his family. He had gambled away his share of the property inherited from his father. Shefa Nanu provided his family a regular allowance to save them from destitution. He even lived in the apartment Nanu had got as her share in her father’s property. What a scumbag!

At this point, several ladies entered the room where we were sitting. They had prayer beads in their hands, and they were asking people how many times they had recited the Darud Sharif. The women stopped whispering and started nudging each other and speaking in more audible tones. A young woman with downcast eyes was writing down the figures. When she left the room with another woman, my mother asked, “Who’s she? I don’t think I’ve seen her before.” 

“Oh that?” A lady in hijaab replied, “That’s Tultul’s wife.”

“Tultul’s wife?” echoed both my mother and Nanu. “And who’s Tultul?”

Suddenly, people around us looked confused. Nobody seemed to know who Tultul was. Someone muttered, “Well, she introduced herself as Tultul’s wife. And since nobody objected, I assumed everybody knows Tultul.”

An old lady in white said, “Probably, he is one of the distant cousins. What does it matter? She is very helpful.”

Then we heard fresh commotion outside. Someone screamed, “Samina has arrived. Ah, Sami — your ma is no more. You’re all orphans now…” A fresh bout of wailing started and in the middle of all the hubbub, the lady in black asked, “Is there a landline somewhere? I need to call my husband in Chittagong. My cell-phone charge is gone.”

The way she moved and spoke, out of the blue I was reminded of a snake. This woman could easily be dubbed as Rupashi Nagin (beautiful snake woman). Then suddenly, my eyes fell on her wrist: a tattoo of a green snake in the shape of a bangle entwined one of her wrists, and on the other was a fat red frog. This time, my jaw dropped, and I could not take my eyes off her tattoos.

Then someone showed her a land phone hanging on the wall in the far-end of the room. There she continued to talk oblivious to her surroundings.

I frantically wished I could go home. I never liked being in the house of the dead, but it is one of those responsibilities one cannot avoid. I wondered miserably the point of attending such a farce where most people were actually acting crazy. Around 2:30 we were all ushered in a large room near the kitchen and had lunch that consisted of khichuri (porridge of dal and rice) beef, salad and fried eggplants. Someone was sniffing, “Khala (aunt) loved fried egg-plants. She just loved to eat and she had to be diabetic too! She suffered so much!’

A wave of hysteria was bubbling inside me when someone cried, “Tushar is home. Ah, Tushar, your mother missed you so much….” I wondered if I was going crazy too like the rest.

So, everybody that was expected to arrive, had come. I felt tired and down. I could not understand why people acted so strange under these circumstances. Someone announced that the dead body was brought in and my Nanu and mother went to see her for one last time. I shook my head and went to stand in the veranda. I was feeling really sick.

As I watched the crowd, as I saw the ridiculous way people acted, I did not know how to react. I felt awkward and out of place. But as I kept on looking, suddenly, a strange idea came to my mind.

I thought I could discern how death was one phenomenon nobody really knew how to deal with. I felt awkward and out of place. We were so afraid of death, of the unknown, we just acted strange. Our regular thoughts went awry, and we did weird stuff. We talked of scandals, weddings, regular activities that we engage in everyday. Those regular everyday things seen from perspective of the death, verged on the border of ridiculous. The normalcy disappeared. And yet, wasn’t everyday life bubbling around the corner?

 I spotted my grandmother standing on one side of the yard, crying silently, holding on to my mother. I felt like hugging her, but I was rooted to the spot with the knowledge that someday in near future, I will lose her too. The world became hazy and I, too, started crying.

Sohana Manzoor teaches English at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.