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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.

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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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