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



Epaar Bangla, Opaar Bangla:  Bengals of the Mind

Asad Latif

By Asad Latif 

If nations are imagined (but not therefore imaginary) communities, Bengal is a nation. The reality of nationhood rests on the quality of the imagination that goes into it. 

Calcutta, where I was born in 1957, provided me with a cartographic point of entry into the imagined geography of Bengal. My Bengal began with West Bengal, within which lay a rough face-to-face society rich in visual and oral provenance. The everyday homeliness of rural thatched mud huts were reflected in the high gabled roofs which contoured the spiritual skyline of Dakshineswar. Minstrel bauls walked through the soul, half-starved on their way to seeking salvation for everyone. The very soil of Bengal broke out in bhatiali song. The chau dancers of Purulia dramatised Hindu epics in a language emotively accessible to all. The energy of santhali dances invoked the performative agency of a tribal culture that refused to let pre-industrial and pre-state time lapse into contemporary irrelevance.   

Agricultural West Bengal encompassed the legacy of a land whose grasp was much longer and larger than the social circumference of middle-class life in Calcutta. In my own ancestral village in Hooghly district, a short train journey from Howrah station, boys my age could climb trees and run barefoot and naked across scorching soil, outpacing the shy urbanite in me. Young women, taught to avoid the roving gaze of male strangers, lowered their eyes to the ground in modest contemplation when men passed by. Farmers could bend unbearingly long to till the land, standing upright for only a few minutes before they resumed their toil. No one spoke English. No one needed to. No one needed me. I needed them.

To the west of West Bengal lay the rest of India. The “rest of the Indians” were decipherable. In Bihar and Odisha, once a part of Bengal Presidency, rump Bengal lived on in the linguistic and cultural traces of the colonial past. Farther west, West Bengal vanished into an eclectic Indian nationalism. I must say, though, that on a long train journey from Calcutta to Cochin in Kerala as a teenager, I thought (rightly or wrongly) that the particular shade of green found in the vegetation of West Bengal was lost till it was found in Kerala again. The renewed connection between Calcutta and Cochin made it possible for me to extend my Bengali-ness vicariously all the way to Kerala, making me quite a pan-Indian Bengali, I suppose. The connective nationalism of Indian Railways (like that of the State Bank of India) plays no small part in protecting the unitary reality of contemporary India. 

Farther to the west of the rest of India lay the lands of Islam. They began with forbidden territory: Pakistan. Pakistan embodied the Partition of India, the departure of space from Indian time. For me, West Pakistan was unknown terrain: No one I loved or hated lived there. But if, indeed, there was an “Islamic world”, then I certainly inhabited it subliminally. I was (and am) a Muslim. I belonged to the global efflorescence of a great faith that had spread into my birth and self-recognition. West Pakistan had nothing to do with it. My mother was a practising Muslim (after a fashion), my father was a practising atheist. As a five-day-old, I had been “adopted” by a childless Hindu couple who lived in the same block of flats as my parents. Nilima Kurup (née Bose) took me to temples, and Parameshwara Raghava Kurup, well-versed in the Vedas, stayed away from the Puranas. But no one made me anything but a Bengali indebted forever to the Islamic religiosity of South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and beyond. Certainly, I belonged to the lands of Islam. There was nothing vicarious about this. It is just that West Pakistan had nothing to do with my identity. I respected its existence even as it stayed indifferent to mine (since it had no idea that I existed). That was all.   

East Pakistan was different. I had relatives there on both my mother’s side and my father’s. I remember a childhood visit to my paternal uncle’s home in Narayanganj. It was raining. Unlike West Bengal (where rain falls on people), the people of East Bengal fall on the rain. A female cousin, all of six years old, made an excuse of going to the bathroom: instead, she took a bath in a roomful of rain as wide as the skies outside, within sight of the elders, dancing with the abandon of the water that flowed through her tresses, kissed her eyes, drenched her frock, and caused an uproar that led her to be dragged back to lunch, laughing unrepentantly. Meanwhile, her elder brother wanted to go to the “bathroom” as well. He was held back by his hair and resisted violently, raining cries of recrimination on everyone. Watching my wild bangal (native East Bengali) cousins in righteous ghoti (native West Bengali) awe, I decided that East Pakistan was too Bengali for me. 

But it was not to be. 


Baker-ul Haque came to live next door to our flat in Nasiruddin Road, Park Circus, Calcutta, in 1971. A year younger, he caught up with me in historical time with vivid stories of how he and his family had escaped Bogra, trudging through forests as the Pakistani air force strafed fleeing civilians, people fell dead on the left and the right, his mother held on his elder sister’s hand, he grasped his younger siblings firmly, his father led on, and all of them made their way — to me. I doubted specific details of his heroic journey, but not his visceral courage. I witnessed it when my pet dog chased him to the fourth-storey terrace, he climbed on to the parapet and kept walking on it calmly, I held the dog back, and I implored Baker to climb down. He smiled at me insouciantly. It was only when he saw tears in my eyes that he relented. Once he was safely down, I wanted to give him a hearty kick, but settled for a rib-shattering hug instead. Epaar Bangla[1]wins when Opaar Bangla[2]is safe. 

Baker and his family lived next door, in the third-storey flat which the writer Syed Mujtaba Ali had occupied briefly earlier. Given his literary reputation, I stayed away from him, but he was rather fond of me, and I invaded his rooms whenever I found the door ajar. The family which stayed with my own family was that of Lutfar Rahman, an Awami League Member of the National Assembly from Khulna. Chachaji[3] smiled a lot but was fierce, chachiamma[4] was benign to a fault, their elder son Ornob took after his mother and their younger son Tulu (his pet-name) took after his father. Both brothers, who were much younger than I was, became mini companions on laughing excursions to the same terrace on which Baker had reduced me to tears.         

The liberation of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971 (which happily and sadly soon saw Baker’s and Lutfar Chacha’s families returning to Bogra and Khulna) was my rebirth as a Bengali. I had been born into the bifurcated mythos of Bengal, which was first partitioned administratively in 1905 in an act rescinded in 1911, and then partitioned along national lines in 1947 to produce Pakistan. The partition of that Pakistan in 1971 produced an independent Bengali nation called Bangladesh. It is only in the years to come that I would understand the reasons for the ontological security of Bangladesh: it is a sated or satisfied nation because its borders guarantee the two conditions of its existence — that it be Bengali and Muslim in co-determinate measure — with provision being made for the rights of non-Bengalis and non-Muslims within its borders. Indeed, so successful has Bangladeshi nationalism been that its majority population finds it unnecessary to seek links with West Bengal to achieve cultural completion. That attitude is reciprocated in West Bengal, whose incorporation into the Indian ethos makes Bangladesh its closest neighbour, but a neighbour nevertheless. 

Yet, to look across the border within Bengal, to see its integrity, is to un-see its divisions. Bengal is named ground: To walk on it, even vicariously, is to recover the insights of Walter Benjamin [5]on his visit to Moscow. Benjamin’s delineation of Russia as named ground (in his Reflections) leads him to proclaim that “you can only see if you have already decided… Only he who, by decision, has made his dialectical peace with the world can grasp the concrete. But someone who wishes to decide ‘on the basis of facts’ will find no basis in the facts”. The facts are always too many. The facts are contested. The facts might not even be facts. But Bengal is decidedly one — not because of its successes but because of its vulnerabilities. 

The Refugee Within

The fragile figure of the refugee straddles the two Bengals. Achintya Kumar Sengupta’s[6] poem, Udvastu[7], rendered unforgettably in the recitation by Kazi Sabyasachi[8], is a part of an aural tradition without which it is impossible to re-imagine the Bengal that existed once. What makes the refugee central to the idea of Bengal as a state of mind is that she embodies the land’s biological unity and integrity in the very act of losing her place in its stolen geography. Bearing the scars of uprooting, dispossession and exile, the refugee socialises the pain which lasts long after the immediate displacement of enforced migration has passed. To seek refuge is to pass from basha to bariBasha is a temporary place of residence, no matter how long that temporarity lasts. Bari is an inherited abode which is both ancestrally personal and nationally interchangeable with desh, the native land. The udvastu or vastuhara[9] from East Bengal seeking refuge in West Bengal since 1947 had to contend with what Nilanjana Chatterjee calls “epistemological denial in India”, wherein those who had crossed the border were treated as an economic burden. 

The epilogue to the story of the refugees of 1947 was written in 1971, when it was the turn of Bengali Muslims from East Pakistan to join Bengali Hindus in seeking refuge in West Bengal. While the vast majority of refugees spent months in harrowing conditions, professional and other middle-class families were often hosted by middle-class families in West Bengal who could afford to do so. It was not unknown for the family of a Bengali Hindu, who himself had come from East Bengal in 1947, to share its basha with a Bengali Muslim family. The Bengali Muslim knew that he would return home if Bangladesh won the war. His Hindu host kept dreaming of a bari relegated forever to the nostalgic lay of a lost land. 

My family was more lucky. Our first trip to Bangladesh was to Lutfar Chacha‘s home in Khulna across the land crossing in Benapole. Of course, I enjoyed the royal spreads at breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. But what filled my eyes was the sight of Ornob, Tulu and their little sister (by then), strutting about their home as if it was theirs. It was theirs. Bangladesh restored in me my extended sense of myself, my identity as a resident of Epaar Bangla who sought completion in the autonomy of Opaar Bangla. Soon after, I visited Baker in Bogra. At one dinner, his mother sat down just the two of us together. Naturally, I got the larger piece of fish in a bowl. I cooked up an excuse for Baker to go and look for something. I exchanged the bowls. He returned to eat. When we began with the vegetables, he exchanged the bowls. That insouciant smile again. I hate him. He has outwitted me always inspite of being a year younger.     

The refugee is the first citizen of imagined Bengal. She will also be the last. That is, without Bangladesh and West Bengal being the ultimate refuge of the transitional Bengali self, there will be no Bengal.  

There will be no me.

Birth matters. No one can be born in two places.

In his essay, “Englands of the Mind”, Seamus Heaney[10] registers the birthing role of place in the “interlacing and trellising of natural life and mythical life”; what a land does is to afford a man “nurture that he receives by living among his own”. Bengal forms a similar geography of the mind. It received me among my own. Life was material, which is to say that it veered from the banal to the brutal, but it was redeemed by the furtive companionship of the imagination.  The trellising which Heaney notes does not have to be idyllic. It rarely is. Australian writer Dorothea Mackellar’s[11] poem, “My Country“, written while she was homesick in Britain, captures the native lore of a land that her ancestors supposedly discovered for her. She writes: “I love a sunburnt country,/ A land of sweeping plains,/ Of ragged mountain ranges,/Of drought and flooding rains.” Australia is nothing without its enervating drought and its equally uncaring rain. Mackellar dismisses the pastoral epiphanies of a promised expatriate land, particularly “When sick at heart, around us/ We see the cattle die”. Natural disasters provoke her to reclaim art from nature. She redeems a wayward landscape by offering it refuge in her lines.

I am no Heaney or Mackellar. Bengal has no need to find refuge in my words. May these English words of mine find refuge in the lap of Bengal from which I sprung into life.  

[1] Epaar Bangla: This side of Bengal (West Bengal)

[2] Opaar Bangla: That side of Bengal (East Bengal or Bangladesh)

[3] Father’s younger brother is chacha and ji is an honorific in chachaji

[4] Father’s younger brother’s wife

[5] Walter Benjamin, German-Jewish man of letters and aesthetician (1892-1940)

[6] Achintya Kumar Sengupta (1903-1976), writer and editor in Bengali language

[7] Refugee in Bengali

[8] Kazi Sabyasachi (died 1979), a Bengali Elocutionist, Nazrul’s son

[9] Dispossessed in Bengali

[10] Seamus Heany, 1939-2013, Irish writer

[11]  Dorothea Mackellar, 1885-1962

 Asad Latif is a Singapore-based journalist. He can be contacted at badiarghat@borderlesssg1


Nazrul Translations

Rebel or ‘Bidrohi’

A translation of Nazrul’s Bidrohi (written in 1921, published in 1922) or ‘Rebel ‘ by Professor Fakrul Alam

Kazi Nazrul Islam in 1921. 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 Rebel 

			Proclaim O hero
		Proclaim My head will be held high!
		My head will tower o’er the snow-capped Himalayas
		Proclaim O hero
	Proclaim piercing the infinite spaces of the sky
	Going beyond the sun, moon, planets, and stars
		Plunging through earth and the heavens
			Bursting through God’s very seat
		I’ve come—the wonder of the universe!
	On my forehead blazes God’s fiery mark—the regal sign of victory! 
			Proclaim O hero—
		My head will be held forever high!
	I’m forever indomitable, imperious, and remorseless,
	My dance is cataclysmic, I’m tempestuous, and I’m the destroyer,
	I’m terrifying; the curse of the earth
 				I’m irrepressible
		I smash everything to smithereens.
		I’m undisciplined, I’m wayward,
	I crush all bonds, trample on all bans, rules, and restrictions,
				I obey no laws,
     I sink heavily laden ships, I’m a torpedo, a deadly floating mine.
  I’m the destructive Dhurjati, the disheveled sudden storm of Baishakh.
	I’m the rebel, the rebellious son of the Creator of the Universe.
                        Proclaim O hero—
		Forever my head will be held high.  

 		 	I’m a cyclone, a whirlwind,
		I pommel all that lie in my path,
		I am a dance-driven swing,
	I dance to my own beat, I’m a free spirit, high on life.
I’m the musical modes Hambeer and Chayanot, the festive swing of raga Hindol,
		I’m all hustle and bustle, 
		On the road I’m all twist and turn,
		I sway back and forth,
		I’m an ever oscillating, lightning fast swing.
		I do whatever I please
		My enemies I embrace, with Death I grapple.
			I’m insane, I’m a hurricane.
		I’m the plague, the terror of the earth.
		I squash all tyrants, I rage restlessly.
				Proclaim O hero
			My head will be forever held high.
		I’m forever frenzied and intoxicated,
 I’m irrepressible, my soul’s beaker bubbles over with the liquor of life.
I’m the sacrificial fire, am Yamadagni, the keeper of the sacrificial fire   
		I’m the sacrifice, the priest, the flame too!
I’m Creation and Destruction, I’m human habitation, and the cremation ground.
		I’m the Conclusion, the end of night! 
I’m the son of Indra, the king of gods, moon in hand, the sun on my forehead,
On one hand I hold love’s slender flute, on the other the trumpet of war.
I’m Shiva, my throat blue, I drink poison churned by creation’s ocean of pain,
I’m Byomkesh, I hold the freely flowing Ganges in my ethereal locks.
				Proclaim O hero
			Forever will my head be held high.

		I’m a solitary Bedouin, I’m the capricious Chenghiz
		I defer only to myself and bow to none.	
		I’m a thunderclap, the OM resounding from Ishan’s horn
			I’m the blast of Israfil’s trumpet,
  I’m Shiva’s bow-shaped drum, the trident, and gong of the god of death.
	I’m Chakra’s ring, a strident conch, I am the primal scream!
	I’m a whirling dervish, a devotee of the sage Vishyamitra,
		I’m a raging fire, I’ll consume earth in my flames!

I’m carefree and full of glee-- the enemy of creation, the principle of destruction.
	I’m the demon eclipsing the sun and ushering in the day of doom.
  I’m sometimes placid--sometimes torrid, sometimes unbelievably wanton,
	I’m a hot-blooded youth, I’ll even humble God’s pride!
 I’m the exuberance of a gust of wind, I’m the mighty roar of the ocean.
		I’m resplendent, I am radiant,
I’m a rippling-bubbling brook—the splash of the wave—the sway of the swing! 

I’m the unbraided flowing hair of a maiden, her glowing ravishing eyes.
I’m the sixteen-year old’s love-stricken heart, wayward with passion, I’m bliss! 
	 I’m distracted, indifferent to the world,
I’m the grief-choked heart of the widow, I’m the despair of the depressed.
I’m the piled up pain of the wanderer, the forlornness of the homeless,
`	I’m the agony of the insulted, the tormented heart of the jilted!
I am the anguish of the heart-stricken, I feel the pain of unrequited passion,
I’m the tingling sensation of the maiden’s first caress, the thrill of a stolen kiss!
I’m the startled look of the secret lover, the glance forever stolen,
I’m the fluttering heart of the restless girl, the jingling of her bangles.
		I’m forever the child, forever the adolescent,
	I’m the cloth covering the budding youth of the village belle.
I’m the north wind, the breeze from Malabar, the wanton southern stream of air. 
I’m a minstrel’s soulful tunes, the songs played on his flute and lyre.
	I’m the parched throat of mid-day, the flaming, glowing sun.
I’m a softly flowing desert stream, I’m a shaded green sylvan scene!
	I rush forth in a frenzy, I’m frantic, I’m insane! 
I’ve discovered myself all of a sudden, I’ve burst through all bonds.

I’m the rise and the fall, I’m consciousness issuing out of the unconscious,
I’m the banner of victory at the rampart of the world, the flag of man’s triumph.
		I’m a storm reverberating through heaven and earth.
Lively like the horse Borwak, swift like Indra’s winged steed Uchaisrava,
			Spirited and neighing my way through!
I’m a volcano flaming in earth’s bosom, the mythical sea-horse spouting fire.
I’m a fire coursing through the netherworld, uproarious, tumultuous.
	I’m lightning, speeding past, skipping and leaping forth in joy.
	I’m an earthquake striking suddenly spreading panic everywhere.        
			Grabbing the hood of Vasuki, the snake-god,
	Grappling with the fiery wings of Gabriel, messenger of heaven,
			I’m the God-child, vivacious,
	I’m impudent, I bite into the borders of my earth-mother’s dress.

			I’m Orpheus’s flute,  
			Lulling the restless ocean to sleep,
With the caress of soothing sleep I bring calm to a fevered world,	
				My flute’s melodies enthral
				I’m the flute in Lord Krishna’s hands.
	When angry, I rouse myself and dart across the boundless sky.
Cowering, the fires of the seven hells flicker with fear and fade from my sight.
	I carry the message of rebellion all across earth and the sky.

			I’m the monsoon deluge of Shravan,
Sometimes making earth fertile, sometimes causing massive destruction--
	I snatch from God Vishnu’s bosom his two paramours.
	I’m injustice, an evil star, malevolent Saturn 
	I’m the blistering comet, the venom-filled fangs of a king cobra!
I’m the blood-thirsty goddess Kali, I’m the marauding warlord Ranada,
I sit in the midst of hellfire and smile with the innocence of a flower!

	I’m made of clay, I’m formed of the Supreme Being,
	I’m ageless, immortal, and imperishable, I’m indomitable!
	I’m what humans, demons, and even gods dread,
	I’m invincible in this world,
I’m Lord of the gods of the Universe, the Ultimate Truth of Being!
	I dance, frisk and gambol through heaven, hell and earth!
		I’m insane, I’m insane!!
I’ve discovered myself all of a sudden, this day I’ve burst through all bonds!

		I’m Parashuram’s hard-striking axe,
I’ll rid the world of warmongers and bring peace and harmony to the universe.
		I’m the plough on Balaram’s shoulders,
I’ll uproot earth to its foundations, delight in the joy of reconstruction. 
			A mighty rebel, weary of war,
                                   I’ll stop creating a stir, 
Only when the cries of the wretched of the earth will stop renting the skies,
Only when the oppressor’s bloody sword will cease smearing battlefields,
			A rebel, weary of war,
			Only then I won’t stir.

I’m the rebel sage Bhrigu, on God’s very bosom, I’ll stamp my footmarks,
I’ll slay the Creator, I’ll tear apart his indifferent whimsical callous chest.
I’m the determined rebel, on God’s very bosom I’ll stamp my footmarks,
			I’ll tear apart the Creator’s whimsical chest.

			I’m the ever-rebellious hero--
	Soaring over the world, all alone, head forever held high! 

Recitation of Bidrohi by Nazrul’s son, Kazi Sabyasaachi.

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



Nazrul Translations

The Equaliser

A Translation of Kazi Nazrul Islam’s poem “Samyabadi” by Shahriyer Hossain Shetu

Samyabadi recited in Bengali by Kazi Sabyasachi, Nazrul’s son
I sing the song of equality --
Where all obstacles have become one,
To unite Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians.
I sing the song of equality!
Who are you? -  A Parsee? A Jain? A Jew? A Santhal, a Bhil, a Garo?
Confucius? Charbakh Chela? State, state again and again.
My friend, regardless of what you want to be,
Whichever scriptures or books you carry on your stomach, back, shoulders, brain --
Read as much of Quran-Purana-Veda-Vedanta-Bible-
Tripitaka-Zendabesta-Granthasaheb as you can.
But why would you carry these burdens that only hurt?
Why bargain at stores when fresh flowers bloom in your path?
You have all the books, the knowledge of all ages,
You will find all the holy texts if only, my friend, you open your life!
All religions and eons reside inside you,
Your heart is the abode of all the Gods.
Why search for the divine in dead scriptures and skeletons?
He smiles within the immortal nectar that lies concealed in  your heart.

My friend, I am not lying,
This is the place where all royal crowns bow down.
This is the heart where can be found Nilachal, Kashi, Mathura, Vrindavan,
Buddha-Gaya, Jerusalem, Madina, Kaaba-Bhaban,
Here are the mosques, the temples, the churches,
Here Jesus and Joshua were introduced to the truth.
On this battlefield, the youth who played the flute chanted the great Geeta,
Shepherds and prophets met God on this field as friends.
Here is the heart that made the Sakyamuni meditate,
Discarding his kingdom for the cry of suffering humanity.
In the mountainous cave, the beloved son of Arabs heard his calling
To recite the verses of equality in the Quran.
I haven’t heard a lie, my friend,
No temple or Kabah is bigger than this heart.

Shahriyer Hossain Shetu is a student in the Department of English & Humanities, ULAB.