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
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
O Freedom, raise your head like Titan,
give a sky shattering shout,
tear off the chain around
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
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 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.