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Poems by Mohammad Rafiq: I

Translated from Bengali by

Prasenjit Gupta

agun, jol

fire, water



in the sky, the clouds catch fire:

itís dawn in Kirtonkhola.


Bhikhu and Pachi, just awake, on the courthouse steps:

one rubs the otherís back.


how you did adorn the bridal bed, Behula,

Beguniís raspy voice tries to sing.

last night her new man gave her a bonus, two rupees.


a dog in the street sniffs a she-dogís rear;

tears sting an old manís eye as he watches,


standing on the sidewalk with a dirty begging-bowl.


at the tea-stall, Rahimís youngest lad

fans the reluctant oven.


murky tidal waters tug at reeds near the bank.

day broadens over Kirtonkhola.

Bhiku and Pachi are lovers in a Bengali tale.

Behula and her bridal bed figure in Bengali songs and folk tales. Her husband was bitten by the vengeful snake god on her wedding night.

Beguni is a prostitute in a Bengali tale.

(From Meghay Ebang Kaday [1991])


wedded bliss



you were faithless, you unchaste, says the breeze,


slowly the sunshine rises, soft warmth

on nose and mouth, some flies hover about them both

under two pairs of feet the dead grass is trampled down,

suddenly in a different voice the cockatoo calls from the jackfruit tree


and says, you are a liar and you are an actress sublime,


hand touches hand, eyes meet eyes speechless,

thorns and vines play with the long braid, with the edge of the sari,

someone else looks down, this dawn so prolonged, so . . .

looks to find the layers of sun-burnt mango blossoms,


you were a deceiver you cruel, says the fragrant bhuichapa,


a solitary long branch breaks and falls between them,

scorched and ragged, the falling kodom leaves surround them,

you are still faithless and you are still unchaste

says the breeze, says the bird, says this dawn, the wildflowers,


they think, this trudging weariness, long may it last



(From Dhulor Sangsare Ei Mati [1976])

nijaswo niyome

by their own rules



the shadow knows its own shadow

rain recognizes its kindred rain

sunlight falls within sunlight

wind fights wind


fire burns away in fire

the tree breaks the way trees do

the blue knows the extent of blue

water recognizes the cruelty of water


the earth knows how pure it is

the storm knows how much it crumbles

the flood comes with a floodís gestures

the snake bites by the snakeís rules


(From Dhulor Sangsare Ei Mati [1976])

majhi o tar brishti

the boatman and his rain



with its steel edge the raindrop slices flesh and sinew

head covered by palm-leaf hat       the oar and his naked arm


the boatman catches the fever of this lopsided race

the drunken speed of his flashing muscles       the roaring laugh of lightning


stinging his eyes, the boisterous wind and wet

the curve of water       the tongue of the licking waves


the scouring river rasps the boatís aged boards

with its steel edge the raindrop slices flesh and sinew




(From Dhulor Sangsare Ei Mati [1976])

majhi o tar din

the boatman and his day



his net at the ready, to catch those middling fish

his little dinghy swings to the slow soft waves


many mouths waiting, two wives and all the children

if fortune is kind, one or two silver ilish


and at sundown, rice in exact exchange

boat at riverbank       mending the net drying in the sun


tie it to a bamboo post, rope upon rope; sleepless

in the waning afternoon with the tiny stinking puti


many mouths at home, two wives and all the children

in his dream a watersnake that swallows all his fish



(From Dhulor Sangsare Ei Mati [1976])

majhi o tar dukkho

the boatman and his sorrow



suddenly the obstinate fish.    lightning sizzles through him

naked muscles strain       eyes steadfast, unblinking


splashing the waves break on       the dinghy rocks

thin loincloth torn       water dripping through


suddenly the obstinate fish.    lightning sizzles through him

sharp points of sunshine prick his burnt skin


stream of molten lead       splashes all around

by now the village marketís opened       barterís begun


by their own rules the banks break and rumble down

any fish, even the tiniest puti, makes a lucky evening


his rice served, his wife bubbling with gossip for him

under the weight of impossible wish the banks break and rumble down




(From Dhulor Sangsare Ei Mati [1976])

majhi o tar ratri

the boatman and his night



a splash near the deep black shaora bush

the darkness suddenly startled quivers and settles


the vultureís drowsiness vanishes at scull-stroke

it flaps its wings       terrified leaves fall


the dinghyís blurred shadow; rudder in hand, darkness on his face

a chunk of sand from the bank breaks and splashes down


the violent tug of the inky water       its obstinate current

darkness breathing quickly in the riverís chest


the fearful shadow in the dinghyís stern, eyelids drooping

from wave to wave darts the frenzied serpentís cruel flame


(From Dhulor Sangsare Ei Mati [1976])

© 2005 by Prasenjit Gupta

Published in Parabaas, January 15, 2005

Translated by Prasenjit Gupta [Proshenjit Gupto ]. Prasenjit Gupta is a translator and writer living in Iowa City. (more)

Illustrated by Nilanjana Basu. Nilanjana has been regularly illustrating for Parabaas. She lives in New Hampshire.

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