SADIQUL ISLAM translates Harekrishna Deka’s Assamese poems into English
POETRY EDITOR ANANYA S GUHA WRITES:
Harekrishna Deka is a doyen of contemporary Assamese poetry. His poems are fragmented pieces, like a dream or reverie. They are vigorously exploratory of realities that impinge the mind. These could be impending violence or disaster, nature’s streaking colours, children oblivious of the coming disaster etc. Each poem relates to the inner self in an unique way. There is compassion, vision in these poems. Not a word is wasted, there is no overstatement, yet each thought echoes a worry, something intangible and maybe even sanguinary. This generates tension in these poems of great beauty and unfettered lyricism. The translations are exact and precise.
Return of the Fiends
Hearing the splash of the shoal of fish
coming out in flood water
the fiends have returned again.
Spears and lances in each hand.
No one has perceived their fiendish speech.
While going to the other side through the death door
they didn’t think
the fiends would come back here too.
Stink and stench in the tepid blood in their mouths.
Annihilation is the need of the hour, they’re shouting.
The guards are too in sleep now.
Ripping the bosom of night the scream of terror
is raising a tumult in the air.
He is sleeping in the castle.
In his dream he is thinking
everything will be safe and well
with the passing of time.
Bewildered is the time
at the swaggering dance of the fiends.
For smashing down
the moth-eaten trees and palsied houses
a storm is swelling up somewhere.
Countless shimmering hands!
Whose hands are these
in the body of the storm?
Countless raising hands
from amid the long and unbending processions.
The pitch covers
countless faces blossomed on the road.
Where is the storm swelling up?
The rainy days have gone past
as every year.
There quivers on top of the trees and houses
the canopy of its crystal light.
When, upon the dais, you raised your hand
The open field in front of you roared with of bustles.
In every hand of the reveling multitude
The flag of ecstasy fluttered like waves of liberation.
You looked so high from my range,
As if a huge statue.
Sphinx came to my mind. But
Your face was not mysterious. The confidence of smile
Descended on it as the light of promises.
A baby wore a mask on its face.
In shrill voice it said ‘I am you’.
It waved its hands in delight.
When a frown seemed to appear on your brows
You covered it with a smile.
The ardour of the people was infectious.
One proposed, others clapped.
And they really erected a statue
For their hero.
I only thought of the damaged roads
The tottering wooden bridges, the filthy
Houses sunk in despair, fallow lands
Arsenic-polluted water of the wells. And
The hungry faces, sickly babies
The pale faces of young mothers with sunken eyes,
A hushed ambience.
You said, ‘All these will change’.
We walked some distance together.
Then I lagged behind.
There was the speed of wind in your steps.
Nothing has changed.
As if the wind has frozen.
Even on the hard stone lips of the statue
Words are petrified.
But something has changed.
An arm of the statue is broken
Its nose is torn
By the hit of stones
pelted by hot-headed boys.
Still people pass by the statue
Without recognizing it.
No, the birds recognize it.
They sit on its leaning head.
They eat the seeds of trees.
Defecate on it,
After twittering in delight
The whole day.
Pecking on its shoulders
They cleanse their beaks.
This morning we are waking up again yawning anew.
We are taking a long breath after stretching.
We are talking and smiling a little.
There is day-break at the twitter of birds.
Our youngsters are pelting stones.
They will pull down ripe fruits.
The stones are dropping on our houses.
We are screaming out,
‘Sonnies, pelt stones carefully. Don’t drop them on us’.
Their voices have turned angry. They are threatening.
The angry voices of the youngsters are bursting under the children’s feet.
They are proclaiming ‘We shall eat the ripe fruits.
We shall pelt stones’.
If the youngsters turn self-willed
A few stones will surely hit us, it can’t be helped.
I’ve told them ‘While looking ahead, don’t forget the step behind you.
Don’t set fire to your houses while making a far-flung road’.
Yet today I am talking and smiling.
Here still there is day-break at the twitter of birds.
Tomorrow our lips will be sewn up.
Our ears will remain open.
Words as heavy as lead will be poured into them.
The words with the wind of freedom will blow into our bosoms.
Tomorrow our fingers will be bruised.
The words of sewn up lips may come out through the bruised fingers.
They have warned us today itself.
Tomorrow morning we will be given a new sun.
Its crimson hue will dazzle our eyes.
We will see nothing.
Tomorrow there will be no dawn
At the twitter of birds.