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Noah’s ark

  • Published at 04:49 pm September 8th, 2018

A poem by Kashinath Roy

(Translated by Kaiser Haq)

My nightmare

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—

my Bangladesh—

cowering beneath

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,

unprincipled policy-maker,

poet without prosody,

painter without form,

passionless lovers.

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.