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RAHMAN, Shamshur



Mask


Shower me with petals,

heap bouquets around me,

I won't complain. Unable to move,

I won't ask you to stop

nor, if butterflies or swarms of flies

settle on my nose, can I brush them away.


Indifferent to the scent of jasmine and benjamin,

to rose-water and loud lament,

I lie supine with sightless eyes

while the man who will wash me

scratches his ample behind.

The youthfulness of the lissome maiden,

her firm breasts untouched by grief,

no longer inspires me to chant

nonsense rhymes in praise of life.


You can cover me head to foot with flowers,

my finger won't rise in admonishment.

I will shortly board a truck

for a visit to Banani.

A light breeze will touch my lifeless bones.


I am the broken nest of a weaver-bird,

dreamless and terribly lonely on the long verandah.

If you wish to deck me up like a bridegroom

go ahead, I won't say no

Do as you please, only don't

alter my face too much with collyrium

or any enbalming cosmetic. Just see that I am

just as I am; don't let another face

emerge through the lineaments of mine.

Look! The old mask

under whose pressure

I passed my whole life,

a wearisome handmaiden of anxiety,

has peeled off at last.

For God's sake don't

fix on me another oppressive mask.



Roar, O Freedom


What shall I do with the spring

when I hear only the cuckoo moaning

and cannot see gorgeous flowers blossom?

What shall I do with the garden

Where no birds ever pays a visit?

Oh, how rough and stony is this earth!

Skeletons of trees stand, row after row,

like so many desolate ghosts.


What shall I do with the love


that places on my head a crown of thorns

and hands out to me the cup of hamlock?

What purpose the road serve

On which no one treads,

Where vendors of coloured ice-cream

Or waves of city-inundating processions

are never seen?


I had called you, dearest

When we started our journey


With our face turned to the rising sun.


When the back-pull of bourgeois charm

Kept from your ears the soaring sound

of the people singing.

You are still prisoner under the claws

of a fierce eagle.

you cannot yet walk on a road

with the rainbow coloured carpet spread on it.

Oh, how tough it is to keep going

without you by my side!


A horrid monster comes, casting dark shadows

all around;

in a moment he crushes under his heels

the foundation of new civilization,

he hangs the full moon on the scaffold,

declares unlawful the blossoming

of the lotus and the rose.

He bans my poems, stanza by stanza,

quietly, without any fanfare,

he bans your breath,

he bans the fragrance of your hair.


By the bent body of the young girl

sitting on the lonely porch of old age.

waiting for the dawn of happy days.

By the long days and nights of Nelson Mandela

spent behind the bars.


By the martyrdom of the heroic youth

Noor Hossain,

O Freedom, raise your head like Titan,

give a sky shattering shout,

tear off the chain around

your wrists.

Roar, Freedom, roar mightily!


Translated by Kabir Chowdhury


For A Few Lines Of Poetry


I go to a tree and say:

Dear tree, can you give me a poem?

The tree says: If you can pierce

My bark and merge into my marrow,

Perhaps you will get a poem.

I whisper into the ears

Of a decaying wall:

Can you give me a poem?

The old wall whispers back

In its moss-thickened voice:


If you can grind yourself

Into the brick and mortar of my body,

Perhaps you will get a poem.


I beg an old man

Bending on my knees:

Please give me a poem.

Breaking the veil of silence,

The voice of wisdom says:

If you can carve the wrinkles


Of my face onto your own,

Perhaps you will get a poem.


Only for a few lines of poetry,

How long must I wait before this tree,

In front of the crumbling wall,

And the old man?

How long will I be bending on my knees?


Translated by Syed Najmuddin Hashim



Asad's Shirt


Like bunches of blood-red Oleander, Like flaming clouds at sunset

Asad's shirt flutters

In the gusty wind, in the limitless blue.

To the brother's spotless shirt

His sister had sown

With the fine gold thread

Of her heart's desire

Buttons which shone like stars;

How often had his ageing mother,

With such tender care,

Hung that shirt out to dry

In her sunny courtyard.

Now that self-same shirt

Has deserted the mother's courtyard,

Adorned by bright sunlight

And the soft shadow'

Cast by the pomegranate tree,

Now it flutters

On the city's main street,

On top of the belching factory chimneys,

In every nook and corner

Of the echoing avenues,

How it flutters

With no respite

In the sun-scorched stretches

Of our parched hearts,

At every muster of conscious people Uniting in a common purpose.

Our weakness, our cowardice

The stain of our guilt and shame-

All are hidden from the public gaze

By this pitiful piece of torn raiment Asad's shirt has become

Our pulsating hearts' rebellious banner.

Translated by Syed Najmuddin Hashim]


This City


This city holds out a wizened hand to the tourist,

wears a patched kurta, limps barefoot,

gambles on horses, quaffs palm beer by the pitcher,

squats with splayed legs, jokes, picks lice

from its soul, shakes off bed-bugs.

This city is a cut-purse, scoots at the sight

of a Policeman, looks about with eyes like the naming moon

This city raves deliriously, teases with riddles.

bursts into lusty song, sheds the sweat

of its brow on its feet in tireless factories,

dreams at times of cradles,

ogles the pretty girl standing quietly on the verandah.

In scorching April or monsoon-drenched June

This city put its mad shoulder to the wheels

Of pushcarts, makes for the brothel at nightfall,

Burning with desire to celebrate the flesh,

This city is syphilitic, it tosses and turns

between the white walls of a hospital ward,

This city is a suppliant at the pir's doorstep,

wears charms and talismans

on its arms, round its neck,

Day and night this city vomits blood,

never tires of funeral processions.

This city tears its hair in a frenzy, dashes its head

on the walls of dark prison cells,

This city rolls in the dust, knowing hunger

as life's solitary truth,

This city crowds into political rallies,

its heart tattooed with posters

becomes an EI Greco reaching for lofty azure.

This city daily wrestles with the wolf with many faces.