A poem by Kashinath Roy
(Translated by Kaiser Haq)
squatting on the breast of sleep—
in the small hours
of last night
I lay watching:
churning the three realms
the deluge rises foaming and frothing,
and my terror-stricken homeland—
the raised paw of complete ruin.
Just then the great ark of Noah the prophet
comes caressing the despondent horizon
and lovingly docks at my head.
The mild instructions of ever-merciful Allah
resounded in my distraught consciousness.
In order to build a post-deluge community
I picked up
from Creation’s motley throng
one by one, in couples, whatever thrives
in our homeland’s discommoded soil:
peasants, workers, students, intellectuals
tycoons, merchants, grocers, ministers,
sentries, bureaucrats, officials,
newspapers and newsmen,
policies and policy-makers,
poets, artists, lovers;
with bated breath
I picked up a couple of country footpaths
and a couple of hamlets.
Heaving a sigh of relief, as I was about
to break into a song of regeneration
addressed to the future motherland,
the distressed conscience of the nation
broke through the waves and begged me
to restrain myself
with gaze fixed on the crowded heart of Noah’s ark.
Following that gaze my two eyes
abruptly staggered to a halt.
Both hands pressed to my head, I saw
a fatal illness curled around the breast
of my salvaged land, swinging merrily:
malnourished peasant, deunionized worker,
shortsighted students and intellectuals,
bogus industrialists, merchants, grocers,
thuggish minister, sentry, bureaucrat, official,
newspaper crushed under bad news,
newsman troubled by commercialism,
poet without prosody,
painter without form,
Even the carefree river is choked with sewage,
the footpaths bear chest wounds,
the hamlets are stricken with illness and sorrow.
Suppressing a cry of intolerable anguish,
one by one, I threw the wretched cargo overboard
into the omnivorous currents of the deluge,
and attempting to control a sigh
like a python’s hiss, my hand
falling on the chest gave me a shock:
other than variegated scars
and impotent rage
and the stifling pressure of faithlessness
it felt nothing.
Raising limp hands in prayer to Khuda almighty.
I begged forgiveness
and plunged into the turbulent waves . . .
Bearing a void in its heart,
Hazrat Noah’s hopeless ark
drifted towards an unknown destination.
[Reprinted with permission from Padma Meghna Jamuna: Modern Poetry from Bangladesh. Edited by Kaiser Haq and published by Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature, 2010]
Kashinath Roy is a poet and professor of English at Eastern University.
Kaiser Haq is a renowned poet, essayist and translator. Enlarged editions of his last two books of poetry, Pariah and Other Poems and Published in the Streets of Dhaka were released at DLF 2017.