Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh
You gave me a gold-plated fountain pen
And a cornucopia of writing equipment.
A small walnut-wood desk.
Letterheads in different designs.
Silver paper with an enamel finish.
Scissors, knife, sealing wax, ribbon.
A glass paperweight.
Red, blue, green pencils.
A letter must be written every
You ordained for me.
I finished bathing in the morning
So I could sit down to write a letter.
But I can’t decide on what to write.
There’s only one news —
That you have left.
This, you already know.
Yet, it seems like
You aren’t really aware of this.
So I think of letting you know —
You have left.
Every time I begin to write
Something tells me this isn’t easy news to share.
I’m no poet —
One who can give voice to a language;
Or vision to words.
The more letters I write, the more I shred them.
It’s ten o’ clock already.
Your nephew, Boku, is ready for school,
I need to feed him first.
This is my last attempt —
Let me write to inform you
That you have left.
The rest is only a jungle of
Doodles crowding the blotted ink.
পত্রলেখা দিলে তুমি সোনা-মোড়া ফাউণ্টেন পেন, কতমতো লেখার আসবাব। ছোটো ডেস্কোখানি। আখরোট কাঠ দিয়ে গড়া। ছাপ-মারা চিঠির কাগজ নানা বহরের। রুপোর কাগজ-কাটা এনামেল-করা। কাঁচি ছুরি গালা লাল-ফিতে। কাঁচের কাগজ-চাপা, লাল নীল সবুজ পেন্সিল। বলে গিয়েছিলে তুমি চিঠি লেখা চাই একদিন পরে পরে। লিখতে বসেছি চিঠি, সকালেই স্নান হয়ে গেছে। লিখি যে কী কথা নিয়ে কিছুতেই ভেবে পাই নে তো। একটি খবর আছে শুধু-- তুমি চলে গেছ। সে খবর তোমারো তো জানা। তবু মনে হয়, ভালো করে তুমি সে জান না। তাই ভাবি এ কথাটি জানাই তোমাকে-- তুমি চলে গেছ। যতবার লেখা শুরু করি ততবার ধরা পড়ে এ খবর সহজ তো নয়। আমি নই কবি-- ভাষার ভিতরে আমি কণ্ঠস্বর পারি নে তো দিতে; না থাকে চোখের চাওয়া। যত লিখি তত ছিঁড়ে ফেলি। দশটা তো বেজে গেল। তোমার ভাইপো বকু যাবে ইস্কুলে, যাই তারে খাইয়ে আসিগে। শেষবার এই লিখে যাই-- তুমি চলে গেছ। বাকি আর যতকিছু হিজিবিজি আঁকাজোকা ব্লটিঙের 'পরে।
What a beautiful thing it is to have loved.
To stand next to a Japanese maple tree slowly
dying and admire the burgundy stars
shimmering on its branches in sunlight.
To hold a father’s unsteady hands as the
breath ebbs out of him on an uncertain night.
To dig through rubble, fresh and still warm from
the bomb that fashioned it, for your daughter’s
missing doll. To chat with your friend’s
granddaughter over Whatsapp, epistles of
encrypted affection. To think of your daughter’s
face, now in prison, with a trembling heart and
a colourless smile. What if you don’t make it until
she’s freed? To let go. Of a withering Japanese
maple, your father’s sentience, the head of your
child’s lost doll, the hope to see your daughter again.
To have loved is to make peace with loss even though.
To have loved is to know the insolence of desire.
Copyright. Bhaswati Ghosh
First published in MONO
Chintan Girish Modi interviewed me about my debut novel. The most rewarding part of the interview was his reference to a blog post I wrote in 2011 regarding home and what it means for me. Read the interview in Firstpost.
Spring has lost its
Spring and doesn’t
spring anymore. It waits
a long time to
alight from behind a steely
Curtain. Politely, in slow
Overtures, with well-rehearsed
Once spring was rambunctious,
impolite. It burst open
Like a ripe wood apple
In summer, pregnant with
Spring lured us into sucking
a pit off its berryness.
Diving into a sea of
yellow, the colour
of sudden love. Faces were
Spring waited for no one.
It raced straight into summer.
Spring. Sprint. Vanish.
The ripening berries its
only remnant. As tart and
impolite as spring.
Calcutta |May 2, 1895
A nahabat recital can be heard playing somewhere today. A morning nahabat makes the heart quiver strangely. I haven’t been able to discern the significance of the unspeakable state that envelopes one’s mind when listening to music. And yet, every time the mind attempts to dissect that state. I have noticed that whenever beautiful music plays, the moment its intoxication hits the soul, this world of life and death, this land of arrivals and departures, this world of work, of light and darkness recedes into a distance — as if across a vast Padma River — from where everything appears as if it were only a picture.
To us, our everyday world doesn’t always appear to be the most well balanced. A tiny fraction of our life might seem disproportionately huge, our hunger and thirst, daily squabbles, rest and labour, petty annoyances besmirch the present moment. Music, with its beautiful intrinsic equilibrium, can, within moments make the world stand in a perspective where the small, transient imbalances disappear. With music, a whole, vast and eternal balance transforms the entire world into a mere image, and man’s life and death, laughter and tears, past and future land in the present to play in one’s ears as the meditative rhythm of poetry. With that, the intensity of our personal tendencies decrease, we become puny and immerse ourselves without strain into the immensity of music.
Small and artificial social ties are useful to function in the society, yet music and other evolved art forms instantly show us their insignificance, making every art somewhat antisocial. This is why listening to a good poem or song quickens our hearts, tearing asunder social formalities and igniting in the mind a struggle that seeks the freedom of eternal beauty. Anything beautiful stirs in us a conflict between the fleeting and the permanent, causing us a certain inexplicable pain.
Poona | May 6, 1895
Nahabat: A temple music tower. Musicians sit on the upper story and play during festivals and sometimes at the time of daily worship. (Source)
Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
September 5, 1894
After spending a long time on the boat, it feels wonderful to have suddenly arrived at the Shazadpur house. Light and air streams in unrestrained through the large windows and doors — wherever I look, I see green branches of trees and hear bird call. The moment I step out to the southern verandah, all the veins of my brain fill with the fragrance of Kamini flowers. All of a sudden I realize a hunger lurked within me for an expansive sky — being here has fulfilled it completely.
I am the sole master of four large rooms — I sit with all the doors open. The inspiration and motivation that I receive here to write is unlike that in any other place. A living essence of the outside world enters me unhindered through the open doors — the light and the sky and the air and the sounds and the smells and the waves of green mingle with the passions of my mind and create innumerable stories. The afternoons here, in particular, have a deep spell. The sun’s heat, the silence, the quiet, calls of birds, especially the crow’s and an extended period of leisure make me pensive and eager.
I don’t know why I have a feeling that Arabian stories are made of afternoons like these brimming with golden sunshine. Those Persian and Arabian lands of Damascus, Samarkand, Bukhara…those grape clusters, rose gardens, the nightingale’s songs, Shiraz wines, desert paths, rows of camels, horse-riding wayfarers, a clear source of water amidst a thick curtain of date trees…cities with narrow royal lanes festooned with awnings, a shopkeeper wearing a turban and comfortable, loose-fitting clothes — selling melons and mewa at the end of the street…a massive royal palace by the roadside with incense smell wafting out of it, a huge mattress covered with kimkhwāb placed by the window…Amina, Zubeidi and Sufi in zari footwear, wide pajamas and colourful corsets as they inhale smoke rising off a curled hubble-bubble near their feet, at the door, a habshi dressed in flashy clothes stands guard…and in this mysterious, unfamiliar faraway land, in a wealth-filled, spectacular yet eerie royal palace, thousands of stories — possible and impossible — are being created out of the laughter and tears, hopes and anxieties of humans.
These afternoons I spend in Shazadpur are fabled afternoons. I remember writing the story “Postmaster” sitting at the table fully engrossed right at this hour. As I wrote, the light around me, the breeze and the shivering tree branches all added their language to it. There are few joys that come close to creating something close to one’s heart by being immersed in one’s surroundings. This morning I became inclined to write something on limericks and could become thoroughly involved in it, which brought me immense delight. Like the world of clouds, limericks make for a free country unbounded by rules and laws. Unfortunately, the land that rules and laws dominate is never far behind to follow one. As I wrote, a sudden insurrection of officials stormed in, blowing to dust my land of clouds.
When that ended, it was time to eat. There’s nothing more sloth-inducing than eating a full meal in the afternoon. It overwhelms one’s imagination and the spirit’s higher callings. Bengalis are unable to enjoy the deep intrinsic beauty of an afternoon because of their predilection to eat sumptuous meals at that time and follow that by closing the door to smoke on tobacco and slide into a satiating slumber. This is what makes them hale and hearty. But nowhere do quiet, desolate afternoons spread over in the sweeping, silent manner in which they do over Bengal’s uniformly limitless, plain crop fields.
Afternoons like these have haunted me since childhood. Back then, no one used to be in the outer third-storey quarters; I alone sat in the angular couch with the door wide open and a warm breeze blowing in. My entire day went by in the company of vivid imagination and unspeakable desires.
September 10, 1894
Translation: Bhaswati Ghosh
Shilaidaha, June 16, 1892
The more you spend time on your own on a river or in an open space in a village, the more it becomes clear that nothing could be grander or more beautiful than to simply do your daily work with ease. From the grass in the field to the star in the sky, all things are doing only that. Because nothing is making a desperate attempt to cross its limits, there is such immense peace and beauty in nature; and yet, whatever each thing does isn’t all that valueless — the grass has to use all its energy to remain grass; it must engage the very end of its root to the ground to soak in the nectar. The earth is so resplendently lush only because the grass doesn’t try to overstep its boundary or ignore its routine work so it can become a banyan tree. In reality, it is through fulfilling daily small tasks and duties, not through grandiose initiatives or overstatements that the human society maintains its grace and harmony. Whether it is art or valour — nothing is complete in itself. On the other hand, even a small act of duty contains contentment and wholeness. To sit and continuously gripe, contemplate, consider every situation to be unworthy of oneself — all the while letting time and small and big obligations slip one by — nothing could be worse than that.
When one resolves to and believes in one’s ability to do all tasks up to one’s capacity with truth, strength and a full heart amid all pleasure and pain, one’s entire life is filled with happiness and all petty sorrows disappear.
June 17, 1892.
Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh
Do seeds talk to each other
as they gestate in the earth’s
deep, dark womb? Are there
secrets ripening with promises
that only unborn vegetables
can know — the alchemy between
trapped moisture and heat, between
fire and water, between desire
and drowning — before
the sapling cranes its neck
Is that how seeds find
their way inside chubby aubergines
and slender beans? Life bursting into life.
One unto a pod, a bed, a whole
Is that how, by
Multiplying, desire eclipses
A soothing sadness, the colour
of mellow afternoons, glides in.
Tears soak stationary hours
and passing cataclysms.
Annapurna’s and Ali Akbar’s fingers strum
gritty strings. Particles of bizarre
are spliced together in
a dystopian harmony. For now.
Negotiating years and terrains
Manj Khamaj keeps breathing.
A footsure confidant. In its
folds, wars lose their way.
The notes explode into a million
neurons. Flames of a ravaging fire,
accrued. The jhala races restlessly
like brittle rain swathing scars.