Categories
Stories

Nazuk

By Syad Zahoor Shah Hashmi translated by Fazal Baloch

This is a chapter from Nazuk, the first novel written in Balochi language. It was first published in 1976 and has been translated into Urdu and Persian. It depicts everyday life and experiences of the people living around the coastal area of Makkuran especially Gwadar and its surroundings.

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The old man fell ill and stayed in bed for around eight days. He recuperated later, but remained quite frail and weak for a few more days. Nazuk looked after him like her father. Whenever she did him a favour, she would recall her father. But she was surprised to notice that sometimes the old man would slide into deep thoughts, and tears stream down from his eyes.

When he finally regained his strength, he expressed his desire to leave for his home but Nazuk did not let him go. She said: “Look uncle! I am a woman and alone with my two children. I don’t have anybody to chat with to while away the night. Ever since you have arrived, I feel like my father has returned. I would rather be glad to see you here. We would live like father and daughter and share our grief and sorrows with each other. From today onward you are my father and I am your daughter”.

The old man’s eyes welled up. He held and kissed Nazuk’s hand and broke out crying madly. Nazuk was astonished. After having consoled and comforted him she said: “Father! I am going to ask you something but don’t mince your words.”

“Come on my daughter. If I wouldn’t tell you the truth, then who would you think I am going to?”

“It’s alright. Whenever I speak to you, all of a sudden, your eyes well up. Why?”

“Yes my daughter. It is a long tale. I had a daughter whose name too was Nazuk. But she was pitilessly forced to die.”

“How did it happen?”

“Ah! I don’t know how to begin the story, daughter. Whenever, I look at you, I recall my poor daughter and can’t hold back my tears. I had never been as poor as I am now. Once I owned three boats. One I rowed myself and for the remaining two I hired two sailors. I was in fine fettle then. One night I was asleep when the anguished cries of a woman joggled me awake. It was coming from my neighbor’s house. I knew her husband had gone to fishing at sea. I jumped over the wall and found someone trying to make advances at her. It was dark and I couldn’t see his face clearly.

“I grabbed him from his waist and lifted him up and slammed him on the ground. He held his breath right there and I assumed he was dead but a moment later he beguiled me and sprinted out of the door. Some receding footfalls followed him. I knew he was not alone. I lit the lamp. The woman’s shirt was in tatters. I asked her about the man but she feigned ignorance. She also pleaded with me not to mention this incident to her husband otherwise he would divorce her. I assumed she knew the man but was afraid to disclose his identity. Till this day I haven’t shared her story with anybody.

“Six month later, one night, one of my sailors woke me up. He told me that he had docked my boat somewhere on the shore but it had disappeared. We went there and exhaustively searched for it but all our efforts ended up in smoke. Someone had stolen it. Six month later, they repeated the cycle and stole my second boat. Each time I went to village’s elder, Shugrullah. He was at a loss himself that nothing had been stolen from anybody but only me. His son Gazabek, who was sitting there, said: “You might have wronged someone and now they are paying you back.”

“I didn’t say a word. Nor I was offended by his remarks. But I lamented that I had been robbed of my two boats without any reason.

“A few months later Shugrullah’s brother invited all the sailors at the launching ceremony of his boat. One by one all the fishermen, were turning up at the seashore. Shugrullah’s son was lashing everybody with a whip to move quickly. He walked over to me and without any warning whipped me. And I without any delay lifted him up in the air and hurled him on the ground. For a moment he held his breath right there on the ground and a while later he sprinted off. I assumed he was the very man who had broken into our neighbor’s house on that distant night. When I grabbed him I felt the same plump body in my arms. His follow through further convinced me that he was the very man who had stolen my boats. Though I never accused him in public, between the lines I tried to throw hunches at Shugrullah. But as poor’s truth is always taken as a lie, everybody castigated me instead. Thus I kept quiet. It was followed by another tragedy. May God let nobody witnesses such doom. I wonder if you know, Gazabek enticed my young and innocent daughter Nazuk.”

“Father! Should I ask you something?”
“Yes daughter.”
“Well, what is your relationship with Zaruk?”
“Zaruk? Her aunt was my wife. But why are you asking this question?”
“It means your daughter Nazuk was Zaruk’s cousin who died at childbirth. It all happened because of Gazabek.”

“Yes, my daughter,” the old man broke into tears.

“Now I know it is the tragedy with your daughter that often makes you cry. From today onward I am your Nazuk, your daughter and you are in place of my father. No doubt God is great. Gazabek and his family will have to pay for the wrongs they have done to you.”

For a whole year the old man stayed with Nazuk. She looked after him like her late daughter. When the old man fell ill, he would anxiously grumble, “O God how long will it take your millstones to grind? The revenge you extract after I am dead will not bring me any relief.”

As luck would have it, the next day news spread that last night a thief broke into Gazabek’s house and cleverly left without leaving any trace behind. Next night everybody was on the alert yet he hoodwinked them and broke in again. When the old man received the news, he desperately called out Nazuk.

“Nazuk! Come on Nazal! Come on my mother!”

Nazuk hurried towards the old man and asked him anxiously: “Yes Abba I am here. Tell me what’s the matter?”

“Nazuk my daughter! I wouldn’t lament at all if God takes my life at any moment now.”

“What are you talking of? What happened?”
“Hey! Don’t you know what happened?”
“No. Tell me what is the matter ?”
“Daughter! Gazabek’s family has been dishonoured. A woman in his house is having a secret affair with a man.”

“That’s not fair father. The man who forced himself must have been only a thief.”
“No my mother! He was not a thief but a shrewd man and Gazabek was well aware of everything but lacked the courage to reveal anything. Indeed your millstones grind late but they grind fine. Thank you, O Holy Lord!”

A few days later the old man was summoned by God’s glory.

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Syad Zahoor Shah Hashmi (1926-78) is known as the pioneer of modern Balochi literature. He was simultaneously a poet, fiction writer, critic, linguist and a lexicographer par excellence. Though he left undeniable marks on various genres of Balochi literature, poetry remained his mainstay. With his enormous imagination and profound insight he laid the foundation of a new school of Balochi poetry especially Balochi ghazal which mainly emphasises on the purity of language and simplicity of poetic thoughts. This school of poetry subsequently attracted a wide range of poets to its fold. He also authored the first ever Balochi novel ‘Nazuk’ and compiled the first comprehensive Balochi-to-Balochi dictionary containing over twenty thousand words and hundreds of pictorial illustrations.

Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated several Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters in 2017 and Silence Between the Notes — the first ever anthology of Partition Poetry published by Dhauli Books India in 2018. His upcoming works of translation include Why Does the Moon Look So Beautiful? (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Naguman) and God and the Blind Man (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Minir Ahmed Badini).

Categories
Stories

The Awaited Mother’s Day

By Sandhya Sinha (1928-2016)

Translated by Ratnottama Sengupta

Surabhilata was beside herself with joy as she strode up the stairs of her elder daughter Anuradha’s residence on Park Street. Anuradha’s husband Soumendra was an eminent lawyer, good looking and well-respected. He lived in his ancestral house striking a happy balance with his parents. Anuradha cared for her in-laws, looks after their needs, and had taught her own children to love and respect their Dadu and Thamma.

Surabhilata entered the house to find a stellar congregation in the drawing room. Her younger daughter Bishakha was there with her just-returned-from-US husband Dibyendu. Surabhilata’s husband’s nephew, Aloke, is the bosom friend of Dibyendu – not so surprising that he had joined them with his chubby and cheerful wife Radhika, who happens to be the daughter of Surabhilata’s younger sister. What fun!

“You here all by yourself?!” Anu and Bishakha chimed in unison the moment their mother stepped in. “Didn’t bring Baba along?” Her sons-in-law were well aware that Surabhilata had a keen sense of self-respect and dignity. They cut in, “And why not? It’s so good that she’s come over today – when we are all here together!”

Bishakha and Radhika have both been raised by Surabhi like siblings. The two of them came over and sat down flanking her on either side. Short and plump Surabhi was used to covering most of her sojourns on foot. That day, as usual, she had alighted at the corner of Park Street and walked down this distance. But, that day, she was perspiring.

“Why didn’t you call up once?” the daughters complained. “We would have picked you up. So much trouble! Aren’t your son and daughter-in-law at home? Why didn’t they drop you?”

Surabhi replied that she did not inform Anup that she was going to visit her daughter. “And why fetter my freedom of movement!”

Surabhilata’s husband Shantimoy Sen was a highly placed Government Servant who was soon to retire from his job. Anuradha had been married for almost 15 years. Bishakha for about five years. Their only son Anup, second of the siblings, had been married for less than two years. Both Surabhi and Shantimoy adored on the daughter-in-law. The reason? Both her daughters were extremely good looking – they had taken after their father. Anup was a copy of his mother – perhaps that was why they had a tough time getting a pretty, educated, stunning- bride for him despite his academic qualifications and a well-paid job.

Surabhi and Shantimoy were on the verge of depression. Almost by a divine intervention a proposal came out of somewhere – and she was a dream come true. There was no question of dilly-dallying any more. Another six months and the younger son-in-law Dibyendu would have come back from the States but no, they did not wait for even that. In the midst of summer, they ceremonised Anup’s wedding with great fanfare. And the Trinity of father, mother and son seemed to find salvation in the newly wed Bride. Pray why not? Chandana was not only fair complexioned, she had light eyes that seemed to smile at you all the while. The slim and sunny girl won over everyone soon as she arrived. She was Shantimoy’s ‘Mamoni’ and for Surabhi she was ‘Gopal’.

“Whoever’s heard of addressing the daughter-in-law as Gopal? It’s a term of endearment for grandchildren,” said her sister Madhabilata to Surabhi. “Don’t go over the top even in showering affection,” she cautioned. “Excess of anything is bad even for the health of a relationship.”

Bishakha and Anuradha could not agree more. Both of them are married to only sons but their mothers-in-law still ruled over both their households, their wish continued to be the command for the sisters. “All the rules are only for us!” they whispered to each other. “How we feared Maa! Now, the bride has changed Maa’s personality…”

“What to do!” Surabhi would smile. “The minute I set my eyes on her, I noticed the mischievous smile in her eyes – and was reminded of the baby Krishna. That’s why I address her as ‘Gopal’. But dears, she takes no offence on that count. She is also a convent-educated, modern girl.  With her parents she has travelled through America, not once — but twice. If she has no problem with my calling her Gopal, why are you so bothered? She is so happy if you visit us and the children are so full of Mami, Aunty!”

In fact, Surabhi’s house was always filled with visitors, relatives and friends of every age and gender. Surabhi was soon to retire from her job, and so was increasingly busy with Women’s Welfare and Literary Circle. Every now and then she was occupied with penning her thoughts – if not a speech. Shantimoy was not too pleased with these ‘Social Welfare’ activities at the cost of familial welfare. “But what to do?” Surabhi had an infallible logic: “My children are all grown up, well raised and doing well on their own. I have fulfilled all my responsibilities. I don’t take any money from you nor do I waste money on any luxury. So why should anyone grudge my spending time in these activities?”

The sons-in-law fully supported her endeavours. Her daughters were also in her favour: “We have earned our various degrees but writing still doesn’t come easy to us. To top it, Bengali seems to be a particularly tough language to express ourselves in. So, if Maa is good in this, why object? Chandana is so keen about cooking, she’ll be able to handle the kitchen…”

Surabhi wasn’t exactly prepared for what this entailed. Chandana was keen to experiment in the kitchen but it all had to be organised by Surabhi, personally. “This is missing”, “how can it taste authentic without that” — each ‘lacking’ prompted Shantimoy to rush to the market. Every evening Anup and Chandana went out. “This is the age to enjoy, let them do so…” Surabhi and Shantimoy were in agreement on this. Dinner? Surely Surabhi could take care of that; she was not going out, was she?

But when Surabhi had to attend a Sahitya Chakra or some other literary meet? Or, perhaps a Ladies’ Circle gathering? Most of these were scheduled in evenings after the office hours and finished late. So invariably Surabhi would be back only at 10 pm, to find Anup-Chandana were yet to return. Or if they had, she was too tired to step into the kitchen. So Shantimoy has set the table for four and waited with a long face. On some days a kith or kin would drop in. If she asked her ‘Gopal’ to serve tea or sherbet, she would not pull a face as much as Shantimoy or Anup would. Surabhi would recite the lines from Tagore to herself: “The courtiers complain a hundred times more than the king himself…”

Chandana’s mother happened to be a very prim and proper lady. Ever so often she came to visit her daughter – accompanied by her Americanised nephew, Ratul. He had gone to the United States on some deputation or the other but the four months he spent there were enough to turn him into a Mr Know-It-All! Anything that does or can happen within the Americas – he knew all about it. Surabhi had yet to fathom how he managed to mutate himself in mere four months and replace every custom and behaviour learnt over 28 years with new ways, new likings, new lifestyle.

Still, Surabhi was pleased when they visit because her ‘Gopal’ was delighted, even if Anup was visibly discomfited. Just a day before Chandana’s mom and Ratul had terminated their week-long stay and gone back to Ghaziabad. Surabhi was too preoccupied with her chores to call up or chat with her daughters. She had overheard some whispering about going to some destination of her choice in order to celebrate her impending 60th birthday. Dilapidated remains and undated temples had always been of much interest to Surabhi. Panchalingeshwar in Balasore district of Orissa had a forceful rivulet running down a mountain slope. Under the waterfall in the midst of verdant green, you could reach out to touch the five Shiv Lingas that were supposed to be the icons of sage Parasuram in the distant past! Ever since she heard this, Surabhi has been lamenting that there had been no occasion for her to visit the site. And so Soumendra and Dibyendu had been planning to give their mother-in-law a surprise Birthday present — a trip to Panchalingeshwar. To plan that in secret, the fivesome had gathered that day. Surabhi’s sudden appearance led them to change the topic of discussion within the flutter of an eyelid.

Radha smiled as she enquired of Surabhi, “What have we learnt anew about the US of A, Mamoni?”

“Yesterday at the dining table Ratul spoke at length about Mother’s Day Celebration in America. Gopal let out, ‘What a coincidence? The 12th of May happens to be Mamoni’s birthday! So we will celebrate Mother’s Day on a grand scale. Don’t entertain any other programme that day Mamoni – I’ll be really upset if you do!’”

This was what had brought Surabhi rushing to Anuradha’s house. She would be the protagonist of that day’s celebration.

“It will be a day of all play. No work,” her Gopal had declared.  

Bishakha raised her arched brows on hearing this. “What are you saying Maa? A full day’s holiday? Your Gopal has not, out of sheer love for you, requested you to prepare a signature dish for her? I hope it won’t transpire that you refuse to join us on a special outing that day and ‘Mr America’ Ratul ensures that you get left out of Chandana’s ‘Mother’s Day’ do!”

Surabhi could not take kindly to Bishakha’s snide remarks.

“Why are you so full of negativity?” she asked.  “Only last night Chandana’s mother and Ratul returned to Ghaziabad. Is it likely that they will come back in five days flat?”

“What did your son say on hearing his wife’s plan?” Anuradha asked Surabhi.

She replied, “Gopal is quite naughty – she did not elaborate exactly what she plans to do, or where… ‘All in good time’- she kept repeating with a Monalisa smile. ‘Wait till 12 noon of 12th May – you’ll know it all.’ None of you ever celebrated a Mother’s Day – are you jealous because Gopal is planning one?”

“Why would we Moni? We’re happy so long as you are happy. Whether your Gopal has planned it or us is immaterial.”

“You know what,” Surabhi now shared what had been on her mind. “I am myself keen to see how Gopal celebrates the day centred round me. She has never had to take full responsibility of anything. She spoke with such enthusiasm in front of her mother and brother! How would she have felt if I had not accepted her proposal? So great was her excitement that Ratul burst out, ‘Oh Chandana, you are such a spoonfed silly babe! The Mother’s Day is for your mother.’ Gopal was furious, ‘So what?’ she’d asked.”

May 11 arrived. In the evening, on their way to Panchalingeshwar, Soumendra and company stopped at her house with a sari, a gold-covered nowa, the auspicious bangle for married women, and two kilos worth of Manohara Sweets. They pressed on the calling bell and got no response. They peeped in to see no lights were on, either on the ground floor or the one above; only a single lamp in the courtyard was keeping the darkness at bay. All of a sudden an unknown fear gripped Anuradha and Bishakha – they tugged at the iron grill and shrieked, “Maa! Maa!!”

Surabhi’s voice brought them back to normalcy.  She rushed out of the kitchen trying to hold up her pallu with pea-paste smeared hands and stopped short on seeing them. “What’s the matter?” they called out in unison.

 “No one at home? Where’s Raghua? Hasn’t Baba come home from office? Where’s Anup- Chandana? What are you doing in this darkness?”

Surabhi smiled to cover her embarrassment. “Won’t you come in? Or do you want to finish your interrogation at the gate? Raghua has been in bed with high temperature for the last three days. So I have sent him off with his brother to see the doctor. Gopal has gone out with your Baba to streamline her top secret arrangements for tomorrow. Anup had to leave for Pune this morning to attend an important conference. That is why you see no one at home. This past hour I have spent in grinding peas to make kachori – that’s why I could not switch on the lights. See how you’ve worked yourself up for no reason!”

“But why bother to make kachoris when Raghua is indisposed?” the daughters demanded of Surabhi. “What could I do?” she lowered her voice to explain. “Gopal was so keen, she said, ‘Mamoni your kachoris are to die for! Why not prepare about 100 kachoris and 50 banana-flower chops? Incomparable! Everything else I’ll manage!’ I couldn’t refuse her, you know! Everything’s ready, first thing tomorrow morning I’ll fry the chops and kachoris and store them away in a hot case. Dum Aloo is already done – why don’t you kids try some?”

Bishakha, being the youngest, still spoke to her mom. “Listen to me, I say; there’s still time for you to pack and come with us. This Panchalingeshwar trip was planned because you are so keen about the destination – and you want to spend your birthday in the kitchen frying kachori and Mochar chop! Make sure that you are not left at home while the others make a feast of these!”

“Don’t you dare to think evil,” Surabhi scolded her daughter. “Go on and enjoy yourselves without a single care. When you’re back I will tell you how I enjoyed Mother’s Day!”

They waited for another 15 minutes, but since Shantimoy and Chandana were not back, they set out just the way they had come, creating hullabaloo. Surabhi put the latch on the door and paused. She felt that she had unwillingly created a grudge in her daughters and sons-in-laws.

“What!” Shantimoy burst out when he heard about the Panchalingeswar trip. “You let go of such a golden opportunity?! hope you don’t have to regret this decision…”

But he just wouldn’t divulge what has been planned for the next day. He simply said, “I am honour bound not to utter a word about it. Have patience: it bears you the sweetest of fruits.”

On 12th of May Surabhi was up really early.

She had a bath, finished her prayers and entered the kitchen. She fried the kachoris and chops, and packed them neatly. The dum aloo and chutney had been already put away the previous night. Now she placed the box of sweets next to them.

Chanadana came down the stairs neatly dressed and holding a bouquet of flowers in her hand. She touched Surabhi’s feet, gave her the bouquet and said, “Mamoni I haven’t brought any sari or jewellery for you because I wish to give you what you will truly enjoy. Please don the sari that Didi has got you and be ready by about 1 pm. Baba will come directly from his office. I am going in your son’s car – someone will pick you up sharp at 1. I’m taking the food with me – they’ll all lick their fingers to the bones! I’m feeling awful that I could not help you one bit – I had to run around so much to arrange everything on a grand scale! You will see for yourself when you get there Mamoni.”

Chandana spoke at one go, picked up the car keys and left. Just as Chandana started the car the phone rang. Shantimoy called out – “Your phone, ducky!”

Surabhi noticed that Chandana stood at one corner of Shantimoy’s room and spoke into the phone, intermittently pausing to listen. Almost five minutes later she put down the phone and drove off. From the kitchen itself Surabhi could sense that something had gone awry with Chandana’s plans for the day…

“Who was that on the line?”  she called out to Shantimoy. “What were they talking about?”

“No idea.”

While leaving for his office Shantimoy told Surabhi, “It’s a red-letter day for you! Wish you the best of luck and many, many happy returns of the day. See you in the evening.”

“Where are we to meet?”

Shantimoy put a finger on his lips as he replied with a sly smile, “Top secret!”

In a flash Surabhi could almost see Shantimoy of forty two years ago – when they had just got married. She shut the main door and sat down on the cane chair in the veranda. She could see the years in her mind’s eye… So true! She would complete six decades! It seemed just the other day when she left her degree course incomplete to step into this household as a bride. Time, the Ultimate Helmsman, had rowed her life upstream, through every conflict and inclement tide…

Presiding on a pile of unleashed memories Surabhi had perhaps released herself into the past. She was forced to return into Time Present by her parakeet parroting, “Oma, where’s my food?”

Chandana, in her hurry, had probably left her pup locked in her room – that too was barking its head off. Surabhi was back on her feet with soaked gram for the parakeet. Soon as she let out the pup it started jumping around her feet, indulging in his favourite game of tugging at the end of her sari. She fed him with biscuits and milk, then entered her room to dress up for the day.

A glance at the watch startled her. It was 12 noon already! The car would be here at 1 pm to pick her up. Her heart was aflutter with anticipation and the uncertainty of it all. Still, she got dressed as fast as she could. At the stroke of 1 she locked all the rooms and came down to the ground floor hall with her vanity bag. Waiting for the car to arrive she took a deep breath. Waiting is one act that doesn’t let you rest in peace. Time does not wait for anyone, the watch tells us. Surabhi could not focus on anything and started worrying. Where was she supposed to go? Chandana had not told her anything, nor had Shantimoy. The surge of excitement she had been riding on these past few days was losing its sheen. A sense of disappointment was raising its head. To quieten it, she started leafing through 100 Images of Maa Sarada. Every time she read this spiritual biography she felt at peace with herself and the rest of the world…

Surabhi did not realise at which point she had fallen asleep. The relentless ring of the telephone woke her up. She sat up with a start, fearing the worst.

“Where were you all this while?” Shantimoy at the other end sounded extremely worried. “Listen, an unexpected situation has developed – and it’s rather disgraceful. Knowing that you would love to watch the solo ballet of Mamata Shankar, Chandana had booked four front row seats days in advance. I entered the hall at the start of the show and found Chandana’s mother and Ratul in the seats meant for you and Anup. They arrived in the afternoon, and that is why the car could not go to pick you up. I have no interest in watching this show but Chandana is feeling miserable. Tell me, what should I do? We are the elders – we must excuse them even their lapses, right?”

Surabhi wasn’t prepared for this. She could only think of a line from Mother Sarada’s biography: “If you desire peace in life, don’t find faults with others. Instead, look for the faults within you…”

Calmly she spoke to Shantimoy, “No, why will you come away without watching the ballet? But listen, you have the front door keys, please don’t wake me up as you come in.”

No matter how much she tried, Surabhi could not look for the faults within herself. The rush of ceaseless tears just would not let her do so. Her Gopal had already got an inkling of this on that sudden phone call, so why did she keep up the pretence? Was it because she is only her mother-by-marriage?

Sandhya Sinha resumed studies 17 years after marriage, completed her Masters in English, embarked on a teaching career and retired as a senior English teacher from the women’s college, Nari Shiksha Niketan.Many of her articles were published in the magazine of the Bangiya Sahitya Samaj in Lucknow, of which Sucheta Kripalani was a founder member. At the age of 75, she embarked on a career of authorship, having successfully played the roles of a mother, a social worker, mentor, community leader, spiritual aspirant. Through these years, in her free hours she would put her thoughts, ideas, convictions and experiences into short stories and essays. Now she turned her spare time habit into a full-time vocation of love and remembrance which she would gift to her children and grandchildren.

Ratnottama Sengupta turned director with And They Made Classics, on the unique bonding between screen writer Nabendu Ghosh and director Bimal Roy. A very senior journalist, she has been writing for newspapers and journals, participating in discussions on the electronic media; teaching mass communication students, writing books on cinema and art, programming film festivals and curating art exhibitions. She has written on Hindi films for the Encyclopaedia Britannica; been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. The former Arts Editor of The Times of India is also a member of the NFDC’s script committee. Author of Krishna’s Cosmos and several other volumes, she has recently edited That Bird Called Happiness (2018/ Speaking Tiger), Me And I (2017/ Hachette India), Kadam Kadam (2016/ Bhashalipi), Chuninda Kahaniyaan: Nabendu Ghosh (2009/ Roshnai Prakashan).

Categories
Poetry

The Girl Who Went Fishing

By Biju Kanhangad

(Translated by Aditya Shankar)

Beneath the blue waterline,

father’s catch basks in the sunlight: a fish.

The gray-black of crows shroud the pale oar.

Reddish crabs reach the shore, transcending

the festered basket discarded by mom.

In the houseboat, the yellow flowers on

the worn rouka* are still wet.

Unable to submerge the shark, remnants of

the blue spreads into the sky, bawls.

*Bodice in Malayalam, can also be used to see connections

Biju Kanhangad is a poet, painter and post graduation in Malayalam literature. In 2005, he represented Malayalam in the national poetry seminar conducted by Sahitya Akademi. He was awarded the Mahakavi P poetry prize (2013), Moodadi Damodaran prize (2015), Joseph Mundassery Memorial Award (2017), Thamarathoni Kavita prize (2020) and other awards of repute. Thottumumbu ManjayilayoKanhangdu, Azhichukettu, June, Ucha Mazhayil, Vellimoonga, Puliyude Bhagathaanu Njanippozhullathu, Ullanakkangal, Ochayil Ninnulla Akalam, Mazhayude Udyanathil are his anthologies of poems. Essays: Vaakinte Vazhiyum Velichavum, Kavitha Mattoru Bhashayaanu. His poems have been translated into English, Hindi, Kannada, and Tulu.   

Aditya Shankar is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominated Indian poet, flash fiction author, and translator. His work has appeared in international journals and anthologies of repute and translated into Malayalam and Arabic. Books: After Seeing (2006), Party Poopers (2014), and XXL (Dhauli Books, 2018). He lives in Bangalore, India.

Categories
Poetry

New York & more…

Poems by Pavol Janik, a virtusoso of Slovak Literature

(translated by James Sutherland Smith)

PAVOL JANIK | VIRTUOSO OF SLOVAK LITERATURE 


NEW YORK 


In a horizontal mirror
of the straightened bay
the points of an angular city
stabbing directly into the starry sky.

In the glittering sea of lamps
flirtatious flitting boats
tremble marvelously
on your agitated legs
swimming in the lower deck
of a brocade evening dress.

Suddenly we are missing persons
like needles in a labyrinth of tinfoil.

Some things we take personally –
stretch limousines,
moulting squirrels in Central Park
and the metal body of dead freedom.

In New York most of all it’s getting dark.

The glittering darkness lights up.

The thousand-armed luster of the mega city
writes Einstein’s message about the speed of light
every evening on the gleaming surface of the water.

And again before the dusk the silver screen
of the New York sky floods
with hectoliters of Hollywood blood.

Where does the empire of glass and marble reach?
Where do the slim rackets of the skyscrapers aim?

God buys a hot dog
at the bottom of a sixty-storey street.

God is a black
and loves the grey color of concrete.

His son was born from himself
in a paper box
from the newest sort of slave.


A DICTIONARY OF FOREIGN DREAMS


At the beginning it was like a dream.
She said:
“Have at least one dream with me.
You’ll see – it’ll be a dream
which you’ve never dreamt about before.”

Descend deeper with me,
dream from the back,
dream retrospectively
in a labyrinth of mirrors
which leads nowhere.

The moment you come to the beginning of nothing
you’ll dream an exciting dream.

Frame it
and hang it in your bedroom.

So it will always be before your eyes
because a dream which is removed from the eye
is removed from the mind
in the sense
of the ancient laws
of human forgetfulness.

Dream your own.

Dream your dream
which is reflected on the surface 
of a frozen lake.
A dream smooth and freezing:

Grieving keys,
a downcast forest,
curved glass.
The tributes of mirrors.

The rising of the moon
in a dream of water.

Recoil from the bottom
of the mirror’s dream.

In the gallery of dreams
then you’ll see
a live broadcast from childhood
fragments of long-forgotten stories.

Because our obsolete dreams
remain with us.

Don’t be in a hurry, dream slowly, completely
until you see the crystalline construction
of your soul
in which dreams glitter.
- intentionally and comprehensibly like flame.

Perhaps you’ve already noticed
that new dreams always decrease.
They wane.

Soon we’ll light up
in the magical dusk
of the last dream
the despairing cry
of a starry night.

Pay a toll to the dream’s
deliverance from sense.

You repeat aloud
the intimacies of secret dreams,
with the dull gleam
of your persistent night eyes
you explicate a mysterious speech of darkness.

You dream, therefore you exist!


UNSENT TELEGRAM


Inside me a little bit of
a blue Christmas begins.
In the hotel room it’s snowing
a misty scent – of your
endlessly distant perfume.
We’re declining bodily
while in us the price
of night calls rises,
waves of private earth tremors
and the limits of an ocean of blood
on the curve of a lonely coast.

*New York has been translated to 21 languages

PAVOL JANIK | VIRTUOSO OF SLOVAK LITERATURE 


NEW YORK 


In a horizontal mirror
of the straightened bay
the points of an angular city
stabbing directly into the starry sky.

In the glittering sea of lamps
flirtatious flitting boats
tremble marvelously
on your agitated legs
swimming in the lower deck
of a brocade evening dress.

Suddenly we are missing persons
like needles in a labyrinth of tinfoil.

Some things we take personally –
stretch limousines,
moulting squirrels in Central Park
and the metal body of dead freedom.

In New York most of all it’s getting dark.

The glittering darkness lights up.

The thousand-armed luster of the mega city
writes Einstein’s message about the speed of light
every evening on the gleaming surface of the water.

And again before the dusk the silver screen
of the New York sky floods
with hectoliters of Hollywood blood.

Where does the empire of glass and marble reach?
Where do the slim rackets of the skyscrapers aim?

God buys a hot dog
at the bottom of a sixty-storey street.

God is a black
and loves the grey color of concrete.

His son was born from himself
in a paper box
from the newest sort of slave.


A DICTIONARY OF FOREIGN DREAMS


At the beginning it was like a dream.
She said:
“Have at least one dream with me.
You’ll see – it’ll be a dream
which you’ve never dreamt about before.”

Descend deeper with me,
dream from the back,
dream retrospectively
in a labyrinth of mirrors
which leads nowhere.

The moment you come to the beginning of nothing
you’ll dream an exciting dream.

Frame it
and hang it in your bedroom.

So it will always be before your eyes
because a dream which is removed from the eye
is removed from the mind
in the sense
of the ancient laws
of human forgetfulness.

Dream your own.

Dream your dream
which is reflected on the surface 
of a frozen lake.
A dream smooth and freezing:

Grieving keys,
a downcast forest,
curved glass.
The tributes of mirrors.

The rising of the moon
in a dream of water.

Recoil from the bottom
of the mirror’s dream.

In the gallery of dreams
then you’ll see
a live broadcast from childhood
fragments of long-forgotten stories.

Because our obsolete dreams
remain with us.

Don’t be in a hurry, dream slowly, completely
until you see the crystalline construction
of your soul
in which dreams glitter.
- intentionally and comprehensibly like flame.

Perhaps you’ve already noticed
that new dreams always decrease.
They wane.

Soon we’ll light up
in the magical dusk
of the last dream
the despairing cry
of a starry night.

Pay a toll to the dream’s
deliverance from sense.

You repeat aloud
the intimacies of secret dreams,
with the dull gleam
of your persistent night eyes
you explicate a mysterious speech of darkness.

You dream, therefore you exist!


UNSENT TELEGRAM


Inside me a little bit of
a blue Christmas begins.
In the hotel room it’s snowing
a misty scent – of your
endlessly distant perfume.
We’re declining bodily
while in us the price
of night calls rises,
waves of private earth tremors
and the limits of an ocean of blood
on the curve of a lonely coast.

All these poems are excerpted from his book, A Dictionary Of Foreign Dreams

Mgr. art. Pavol Janik, PhD., (magister artis et philosophiae doctor) was born in 1956 in Bratislava, where he also studied film and television dramaturgy and scriptwriting at the Drama Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (VSMU). He has worked at the Ministry of Culture (1983–1987), in the media and in advertising. President of the Slovak Writers’ Society (2003–2007), Secretary-General of the SWS (1998–2003, 2007–2013), Editor-in-Chief of the literary weekly of the SWS Literarny tyzdennik (2010–2013). Honorary Member of the Union of Czech Writers (from 2000), Member of the Editorial Board of the weekly of the UCW Obrys-Kmen (2004–2014), Member of the Editorial Board of the weekly of the UCW Literatura – Umeni – Kultura (from 2014). Member of the Writers Club International (from 2004). Member of the Poetas del Mundo (from 2015). Member of the World Poets Society (from 2016). Director of the Writers Capital International Foundation for Slovakia and the Czech Republic (2016–2017). Chief Representative of the World Nation Writers’ Union in Slovakia (from 2016). Ambassador of the Worldwide Peace Organization (Organizacion Para la Paz Mundial) in Slovakia (from 2018). Member of the Board of the International Writers Association (IWA BOGDANI) (from 2019). He has received a number of awards for his literary and advertising work both in his own country and abroad.

Pavol Janik’s literary works have been published not only in Slovakia, but also in Albania, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Nepal, Pakistan, Poland,  the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Romania, the Russian Federation, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, the United States of America and Venezuela.

James Smith Sutherland is a writer, critic, poet and translator.

Categories
Poetry

Poetry of Jibonanada Das

(Translated by Suparna Sengupta)

BANALATA SEN

For a thousand years, am I trailing the paths of this earth --
From the oceans of Ceylon, amidst darkling nights, to the Malay seas
Much have I wandered; To Bimbisara and Asoka’s ghostly days
Have I been; even farther, to the distant dark Vidarbha wen;
I am a tired being, all around me foams life’s ocean,
A moment’s peace came only from Natore’s Banalata Sen.

Her tresses, dense and dark, unbeknown like Vidisha’s nights,
Her face, like Srabosti’s sculpture; in the seas distant,
Like the rudderless sailor, who loses way,
A land of green grass, in the cinnamon island, when suddenly he sights, 
So too, in the dark, I sighted her; She said, “Where, for so long, have you been?”
Like a bird’s nest, her eyes uplifted, Natore’s Banalata Sen.

At a long day’s end, like the drop of a dew
Comes duskfall; its sun-scented wings, rubs off the eagle,
All shades of earth dimmed, the manuscript prepares anew,
For then stories, like fireflies, glow and twinkle;
All birds come home--all rivers--emptied, all loss and gain.
Alone this dark remains, for a face-to-face with Banalata Sen.



      1946-47

Daylight casts thither on uncertain mortal racket;
On lanes-bye lanes, on broadways, tramways, footways;
Some stranger’s home will be auctioned right away—perchance,
At throwaway rates. 
Everyone tries to hoax to heaven
Beating everyone else, everyone you bet.

Many, perforce, rush breathless—yet
Those auctioned houses, those furniture—or what’s not for auction,
All those stuff --
Only a few, depriving others, can still purchase.
In this world, interests accrue, but not for all.
Doubtless, the treasury, rests with one or two.
The demands of all these lofty men, dominate
Upon one and all, women too left unsaved.
All the rest, in dark, like ceaseless autumnal fall,
Wishes to meander, somewhere to a river
Or maybe upon earth--within some germinating seed,
Themselves embedded.  Knowing this earth has had several lives, still
They return sun-scented, to dust, grass, to flowering elixir’s
Long-known bliss, to light, the humble heirs must reclaim them—

Musing thus, they submerge unto darkness. 
Disappeared thus, they are currently all dead.
The dead, to this earth, never come back.
The deceased are nowhere; are they?
Excepting some autumnal ways, some sauntering gentleman’s
Arterial trails, the dead might be nowhere else,
May be then, before death’s onset, light, life, liberty and love
With serenity, could have been better greeted.

Lakhs of Bengal’s hamlets lie drowned, hopeless, despairing, still and lifeless.
As the sun sets, a well-tressed night, as if
Comes to dress her braids—but by whose hands?
Vaguely, she stares—but upon whom?
No hands, no humans are here—lakhs of Bengal’s hamlet-nights, once upon a time,
Like hand-drawn designs, like vivid scroll drawings, had grown into 
Wide-eyed prophets—all extinguished.

Here, even the other day, new harvest they had scented;
Upon new-born paddy sap, sunbathed, so many crows met;
The flock from this hood replied to the chatter from that hood--
Airmailed they came, lapping up the sap.

Not a whisper now, even in those cauldrons;
Skulls and skeletons are not beneath human counting;
In Time’s hands, they are unending. 

Over there, on a full-moon night, in the fields, the farmers danced,
Drinking mystical paddy-sap, the majhi-bagdi’s
Divine daughter beside. 
Some pre-marital—some still extra-marital—presaging birth of a child.
Those children in today’s evil state, are muddled,
Drained, this society has stamped them out
Nearly dead; the predecessors of today’s rustic class,
In blissful ignorance, stacking the evil Zamindar’s
‘Permanent Settlement’ atop a charok gaach, have passed away.
Not that they were too well-off; still,
Today’s famine, riots, hunger and illiteracy
Have blinded the distressed rustic beings, such that 
A distinct, clearer world, in comparison, once there was. 

Is all in doubt today? To see through things, is quite problematic now;
In dark times, divulging half-truths
Has its own rules; consequent, in this murk,
Gauging the residue truth, is a practice 
That remains; everyone looks askance at everyone else.

Nature’s hidden truth seems malicious.
Nature’s hidden truths, in all our sincerity,
Draw upon the shadow of our own doubts, to 
Uncover our own pains. In Nature’s hills and rocks, in 
Her exuberant falls, have I discerned, how first waters flush red 
With a dead creature’s blood, thence the tiger hunts down the deer, even today!
Jibonananda Das

Often hailed as the most influential poet of the post-Tagore generation, Jibonananda Das remains one of Bengal’s most intimate and incisive observers. Born in 1899, at the cusp of change raging across India and indeed the world, Jibonananda started his poetic career as a Romantic celebrant of Bengal’s vast green fields, sun-dappled rivers, lush horizons, its minutest of elemental forces. As years rolled by, a variety of societal changes impacted this landscape and indeed his own life—colonialism, World Wars, the Bengal Famine, communalism and the dark days of Partition.  His poetry and sensibility gradually took a turn to the urbane introspection of existential loneliness, tradition and its clash with modernity, death, sickness, and the newly evolving concept of the nation. However, the theme that towered over his thought-process was the concern of human civilization, its evolution and achievements and the paradox of death, disease and violence that this civilization always was confronted with. Both the pieces translated, ‘BANALATA SEN’ and ‘1946-47’ capture these romantic/humanist approach. ‘BANALATA SEN’ is perhaps his most-quoted poem, where the enigmatic, eponymous damsel offers respite and peace to the world-weary traveller-persona. What is striking in this piece, is the catalogue of places that the persona travels to—all strung together by a distinct Buddhist civilizational motif. Perhaps, he is quietly reflecting on India’s departure from its ethos of non-violence, peace and tolerance, across ages.

BANALATA SEN

For a thousand years, am I trailing the paths of this earth --
From the oceans of Ceylon, amidst darkling nights, to the Malay seas
Much have I wandered; To Bimbisara and Asoka’s ghostly days
Have I been; even farther, to the distant dark Vidarbha wen;
I am a tired being, all around me foams life’s ocean,
A moment’s peace came only from Natore’s Banalata Sen.

Her tresses, dense and dark, unbeknown like Vidisha’s nights,
Her face, like Srabosti’s sculpture; in the seas distant,
Like the rudderless sailor, who loses way,
A land of green grass, in the cinnamon island, when suddenly he sights, 
So too, in the dark, I sighted her; She said, “Where, for so long, have you been?”
Like a bird’s nest, her eyes uplifted, Natore’s Banalata Sen.

At a long day’s end, like the drop of a dew
Comes duskfall; its sun-scented wings, rubs off the eagle,
All shades of earth dimmed, the manuscript prepares anew,
For then stories, like fireflies, glow and twinkle;
All birds come home--all rivers--emptied, all loss and gain.
Alone this dark remains, for a face-to-face with Banalata Sen.

GLOSSARY:

  1. Bimbisara: a 5th century BC king of the ancient kingdom of Magadha; remembered for his military exploits and his patronage of the Buddha
  2. Asoka: Celebrated as one of the greatest imperialists in Indian history, he is remembered in history for his dramatic conversion from an aggressor to a Buddhist who spread the message of non-violence and peace. 
  3.  Vidharba: The north-eastern territory of Maharashtra, on the banks of Godavari.
  4. Natore: a district in northern Bangladesh. Legend has it that a Zaminder was once travelling by boat looking for a suitable place to build his principal residence. While travelling through Chalan beel (lake), he saw a frog being caught by a snake. His astrologers interpreted it as a sign of the end of his search for a place of residence. The Raja called out to his boatmen: ‘Nao Tharonao’ as in, ‘stop the boat’. From a corruption of this exclamation, the place eventually came to be called ‘Nator’.
  5. Vidisha: Situated very to the Buddhist pilgrimage city of Sanchi, Vidisha was an important trade centre under Buddhist rulers in the 5th century BC.
  6. Sravasti: Currently in modern day Uttar Pradesh, the city is one of the premiere centers of Buddhism.

‘1946-47’ is a landmark poem on the history of violence and bloodshed that came in the wake of Partition. The poet is a chronicler of Bengal’s changing landscape, her ethos and values in the modern times. But above all, Jibonananda voices the subaltern, especially the Bengal peasantry, whose plight and suffering under colonialism is deeply etched on his mind.

GLOSSARY:

  1. majhi-bagdi: Denoting the caste of fisherfolk and tribal warrior communities of rural Bengal
  2. Permanent Settlement: A revenue agreement between the East India Company and Bengal’s landlords to fix taxes/revenues to be raised from land.
  3. charok-gaach: a maypole erected out of the stump of a tall tree during the season-end festival of the last month of Bengali calendar, Chaitra. On top of this tall maypole are tied bundles of jute and flags with which a merry-go- round is built. Congregants whirl around the top of the maypole, supported by the ropes and hooks.

Although he spent his early days in earstwhile East Bengal, yet he moved to Kolkata where he graduated with an Honours in English in 1919 and thereafter earned an M.A., also in English, from the Calcutta University in 1921. Following his tragic death in a road accident in 1954, a vast body of novels and short stories, written by him, were discovered. Throughout his life, he shied away from public attention as posthumously he emerged to be a modern poetic giant in the annals of Bengali Literature.

Suparna Sengupta lives in Bangalore, India and is a faculty, Department of English at the Jyoti Nivas College for more than a decade now. She has translated various poets from India and Bangladesh and has been published in literature magazines. Her translated poem has been published in “Silence Between the Notes”, an anthology on Partition Poetry (ed. Sarita Jemnani and Aftab Hussain). She also features in the Annual Handbook of “Words and Worlds”, a bi-lingual magazine (PEN Austria Chapter) as also in ‘City: A Journal of South-Asian Literature’, Vol 7, 2019 (City Press Bangalore).

Categories
Poetry

Poetry from Nepal: Eyes and tears

By Dr Sangita Swechcha

(Translated by Jayant Sharma)

Over the rim of the eyes

welled weary are the tears                                         

asking the eyes—

“Should I trickle or not?”

The poor couple oculus in utter surprise

responds in a staggering and gruelling shape—

“How do you yearn to roll down?”

The tears sob at the oddity of the question

and reply in a state of being offended and distressed—

“If you’re embarrassed to show up in open,

I shall glide my way inside.

If you are in solitude otherwise,

I shall spill out in surge.”

How wise the tears are—full of empathy!

To save the eyes from being abashed

ready they are to repress their outburst.

And to loosen up the eyes

they are all set to gush out

from creeks across the cheeks.

The eyes, meanwhile, are silent;

their heart already hard as stone.

And so retort—

“I get fused easily

even after countless fragmentation

only to be never fragmented again.”

Thus is the difference—

between the eyes and the tears.

The eyes fall to pieces many a time and get affixed

But the tears get dismembered many times only to be shattered again.

Hence—

The tears that once dropped off inadvertently in despairs

have started asking for permission nowadays

before making their way out.

And the eyes that were inept in giving consent before

have started giving permission these days.

Thus is this alchemy between the eyes and the tears—

The tears ask—

“Should I trickle or not?”

And the eyes respond—

“How do you yearn to roll down?”

Dr. Sangita Swechcha has been an ardent lover of literature from an early age. She has published a novel ‘Pakhalieko Siudo’ (Washed Vermillion) and co-authored a collection of short stories ‘Asahamati ka Pailaharu’ (Hoofmark of Discord) before the collection ‘Gulafsanga ko Prem’ (The Rose: An Unusual Love Story). Her second novel is under publication and her short story collection is being translated into English. She has many short stories and poems published in various journals and online portals including Radio Nepal, Nepal Television, Global Literature in Library Initiative (GLLI) – USA based site and Your2Read, a London based venture dedicated to short story genre.    Email: sangyshrestha@hotmail.com , Website: www.sangitaswechcha.com.


Jayant Sharma is the publisher and editor of an English literary magazine Sathi which promotes Nepali literature through English translations and the founder of translateNEPAL which is an initiative to represent Nepal to the global literary scene. As a writer and translator, Jayant also contributes to major national dailies and South-Asian journals regarding arts, literature, and culture.