The Young Man’s Bath
Clattering down the dilapidated steps the boy has gone to take his bath. Some instrument plays in the highland passageway, from the uterine interior of the trees colored sparks of fire fly up, showering into the fountain.
He rolls down shivering in the current suddenly released, a bow’s luminous taut string.
Enchanted youthful water comes flying and shatters him, carries him off in fragments like the white stones’ natural handiwork. One of the sleeping thighs pulls the distant mountain’s birthplace into the stunned womb.
Sloth and the memory of that sun mingle with the clouds of deep forests covered with leaves.
(Translated from the Bengali by Carolyne Wright with Paramita Banerjee)
The Absolute Artist
From the lotus pond’s edge, the calming lake, he brought clay. Straining drop by drop the Subarnarekha’s stream he fashioned that festival’s idol. On the fast-flowing Ganga’s bank, alone, he dug into the breast of the earth toward the primitive red-hued god whose distant myths are heard in the blood, Fleeing deliberately, in silence, from the think of things, infatuated with hell’s bitterest enchantments, he immersed himself and brought up thick muddy silt.
Or else he looked on astonished as the casts of hot soft wax were hardening and his mother’s flawless lover’s face came into form in his hands. Sweating from head to foot, did he sort out metals the color of stone and bring them up from the blind quarry to make puppets with excessive care? After two million years, meteors shower unearthly fire of stone onto the roof— like the artist’s greatest masterpiece there’s no space for any more creation in his work. The artist owes no explanations; why should he?
(Translated from the Bengali by Carolyne wright with Paramita Banerjee)
(Note: The Subarnarekha is a river flowing through the eastern part of the state of Bihar. Santal tribesmen living in the area used to pan for gold in it.)
Light doesn’t enter air doesn’t bend, But this is a holy room. Here are Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara. Every day, in this corner, for a little while, This spare time of a penitential cat. Lord, Your whip has been raised To strike me.
I washed my hands took away my plate But the plate was laid again and again, In order to feed the destitute. My caste is gone My belly filled, Evil days, famine, catastrophe. Lord, let Your mighty hands Give the almighty blow.
(Translated from the Bengali by Carolyne Wright and Mithi Mukherjee)
Something Within Me
There’s something within me, its color deep red, A ferocious noon. A priceless lightning bolt Goes on tearing my heart, trying to run out And strike at someone with its sharpened powers. How strange, All these leopards in my own heart’s cage.
All these I must arrange with my own two hands to make a spotless morning; Tufts of green grass — slender young blades. Maybe then, in cities and ports, I’ll find someone I know; With exceptional love perhaps, the ineffable God Will write in a legible hand, the boldly lettered address of the star.
(Translated from the Bengali by Carolyne Wright with Swapna Mitra-Banerjee)
Kolkata: Seven Days and Nights
No tears in anybody’s eyes? Fire blazes on the lamp-posts.
In and out of the bridge, water, only filthy water, futile, stupefied water; overhead sits a lunatic, his administration leaves Kolkata in disarray. No tears in his eyes, fire blazes on the lamp-posts—
Kolkata’s last shadowy bakul-tree is burning to the ground, the tree that brought a torrent of fragrance in the restless southern breeze. One day, at the ferry station in the dunes, in some loud lament, that day of ours has drifted away in tears. Ravi Shankar’s crescendoes no longer in ragas Megha and Puriya Kalyan; no more Malabika, or looking up to the face of the sky in Suchitra Mitra’s song, “Since you’ve given no love to my soul.”
Today there’s no love in the soul, fire blazes on the lamp-posts…
Now, like a Greek tragedy, the atmosphere is claustrophobic, equivocal life’s profound defeat in the choral voice. Blind alleys block the way, nemesis lurking in the wings like a hawk suddenly raking at the heart with its claws. Those who play match-the-suits in the dark, evading the night patrol, the nayantara blooms die from the jerkings of those lunatic hands. The last shadowy bakul-trees wilt and burn down to ash.
No love in anybody’s soul, the dawn-sky’s song is lost…
The mother who comes back from the maternity ward with empty arms, the sky’s light looks as destitute, weary, mute as she. Only indifference overhead; and below, on the twelfth-floor terrace the woman laborer sings on the century’s heap of ruins. This eclipsed building is in the heart of Kolkata now. The baul-singer’s one-stringed gourd strums on concrete trodden by the sentry’s booted feet, “Since you’ve given no love to my soul” keeps burning on the lamp-posts!
This is the lamp-post around which lies the way to Kolkata. The marauder in the jungles of Govindapur and Sutanuti suddenly crossed the robber-gang evening with unbeatable bravado, extinguished the widow-burning pyres by dousing them with tears, and reached the shadow-realm of Hedua to become an astounding dawn. Not some attraction based on looks but the joining of two lives. The twin-bridge Jorasanko opens on the tidal river of consciousness, to let the sunlight in to Kolkata’s human forest and flowering grove.
The heart burns alive, fire blazes on the lamp-posts…
Is it a sin to lose faith? Is there anyone left without this final sin? for when I stretch out on the park’s grass, there’s not a bit of grass left anymore — blackened in the poison of acid bulbs. There’s no heart lively enough to cause a massive explosion, the black van speeds away with all the explosions, the one-stringed gourd plays on and off: “Ay, who will stay in this alien land?”
In this alien land, does the buffoon drum a beat on the Monument? Is another buffoon busy guarding the safety-lockers? And do some others raise those rifle barrels to children’s throats? Over here, the hearts of the lovers Rohitashwa and Shaibya melt on the burning ground; the amnesiac pyre-tender pretends not to know them, standing forsaken on the Kirtinasha’s banks, shouting “Spare change!” Who will pay such a price? Does the watchman not bound by his final sin
kill himself, when fire is on the lamp-posts?
The very last believer’s doubts press upon the clouds, a monstrous hornet stings the soft face of the night. On this side of the field, rows of jackals descend with their faces burning; the Bay of Bengal collapses under pressure with a crash. The watersnake crawls up at midnight to coil around the body; in minutes, fire on all the lamp-posts in Kolkata. Will sky-splitting rain put out the rib-scorching crematory blaze? The rows of jackals with burning faces laugh and watch for their chances…
Then day in, day out, the mindless teleprinter mixes the fleeting autumn clouds in its teacup: One or more persons crossed the knee-deep water in the dead of night, not through the cow pasture, but through jungle beyond the rail-yard, strangled a duckling and sucked its blood. One or more persons crossed the floodwater in the dead of night and scorched a black calf to death in a darkened barn. One or more persons in the dead of night crippled the blind ascetic and robbed him of the begging bag full of his last alms. Did one or more persons in the dead of night, one or more persons in the dead of night, one or more persons in the dead of night cross the forest? Rows of jackals with burning faces laugh brutally in the endless desolate field…
In the midst of it all, Kolkata’s lamp-posts burn down alone to ash. Who will shelter anybody’s fears here? There’s no one so close.
Some say, “Wait, wait! Throw away your bows, don’t shoot your arrows!” They cry in nasal voices in Valmiki’s forest that crowds onto the stage, but no tears in their eyes for the blazing lamp-posts. That’s why, with torsos curved and hips swinging in their crazy hunter’s dance, they can mingle so freely with the procession that immerses the goddess. Bears dance in Bengal, parrots jabber over the wires of Tass: Enchant us with your looks, two lives that never really joined…
The bakul‘s ashes fly into the beat of the hunter’s dance: Who will shelter your sorrow here? There’s no one so close.
No one? Hasn’t even my own man returned with his all-healing heart, to this moment in which civilization ends? It’s nearly time now, wait, my friend, in your reckless doomsday dance; won’t you still embrace me with both arms in the dark? Bereft of their nests, anxious birds from the lightning-singed past fly away, flock after flock, through the great sky of Kolkata. “It’s all a lie! Why don’t you die, Aparna?” Saying this, will you also go away, your heart full of wounded pride and drifting in suicidal blood? If all the ten directions awaken like ten doubts, the heart’s tree that bears fruit once and dies will surely burn with the sin of losing faith.
In the broken stalk of the flowering kurchi-plant a blade will slash deep scars, twilight will build a pyre with the bakul‘s half-burnt branches. Then evening will skin a pig alive and the whole planet will flood suddenly with the stench of uncured hide. The ancient Ganga will be erased, and only a canal in the heart of Kolkata will gradually bring pity to the rotting corpses’ faces. A pyre-tender moon will show up to adorn the burning ground. In the jungles of Govindapur and Sutanuti, the marauder’s nights will come back in the shattered conch-shell bangles on the sati-victim’s wrists. When the lamp-posts are extinguished, this is the night that will descend!
The fragrant night-queens trampled by the storm last night; at the end of the rains, glowing crimson clouds ripped open to the heart. In whatever little light descends, I’ll see how the distraught Bihari village chief lies dead on the municipal street with the country girl’s face in his memory. At the moment of death he dreamed of going home to his village across the fields of linseed while his daughter, full of wounded pride, had taken off her bracelets and gone away through field after field of lentils. By now, the fires on Kolkata’s lamp-posts are extinguished. Spring ending on the tarmac in so many Bihari headmen’s blood. I’ll watch Jaysingh with his all-healing heart emerge from the temple courtyard to go travelling far and wide, his strange faith born again as faith. “Say something, Aparna,” he says, as he stares strangely at her!
And what can Aparna tell him — when the lamp-posts have burnt down to ashes? When at the end, Aparna sits alone, pondering through her tears.
(Translated from the Bengali by Carolyne Wright with Paramita Banerjee)