Translated by Kaiser Haq
In Manzur Elahi's garden
amidst gathering shadows at dusk
several of us sat
talking about this and that,
some mentioned Bangabandhu
and in this connection
others brought in Allende's assassination
and the history of Chilean's coup.
Needless to say, Iran and Iraq came up too.
The uncertain future of Cuba
after Caestro; the domination
of the world by crooked businessmen;
the helpless people of Bengal,
always underfed—we talked of all this
as we munched cashew nuts
and sipped coffee. Slowly
night descended like a black cat
on silent feet. Around our table and chairs
fireflies began to glow—it seemed
they'd do so till eternity. We rose
to go in for dinner. Manzur Elahi
said once more: “Power comes
out of the barrel of a gun; equality of classes
cannot be achieved without bloodshed.
No one voluntarily gives up class privileges.”
I looked out the window
and noticed that Manzur Elahi's garden
had been completely taken over by fireflies—
without firing a shot, without shedding a drop of blood.
TOWARDS A SINGULAR CENTURY
I know I won't live to be a hundred. Still,
in the twilight of my own century, like you
I too am forward-looking, while observing
the decline of human values.
The ones who will make it to the new century,
eyes bright with dreams—are they related to me,
are they my siblings? I don't know. But my sterile sky
ceaselessly lights up with electric flashes, dreams.
True voyagers set out with hearts light as balloons:
This astute remark from a lonely, bohemian
Absinthe-drinking, opium-smoking nineteenth-
century poet remains stuck in my memory
like a maxim.
Who then are the true voyagers to the new century?
The penniless, despair-stricken, dream-deprived,
politic elders? Or youths ignorant of death's dark artistry,
who had dropped from their fathers' fecund kisses
onto maternal wombs like blossoming lotuses,
and will soon scatter in every direction?
Or is it you? Me? Our combative, loquacious leaders?
Or the modern heads of state, heedlessly setting up
nuclear reactors in country after country, whose
shadowy allies are peripatetic arms dealers?
Just as layers of clouds linger after the rains
in the skies of the familiar world, those of us
who are hanging around the colorful ruins
of our spoiled desires in this weary, dreamy century,
carry like a deer carcass on our bowed backs
the materialist interpretation of history.
We're dressed in the tattered motley
of a people's democratic shirt. Even now
our fondness for equitable distribution
of wealth is blind faith glittering like rows
of chandeliers at a celebration, And even now
television rubs salt in the wound when it shows
the obscene exultations of western intellectuals
at the sight of Lenin's toppled statue.
The present intentions of those once united
By the ideal of a classless society
in the dream-inspired Soviet sphere
are hard to fathom; they dip their hands
in each other's blood and are indistinguishable
from the brilliant colors of a seemingly serene sunset.
Our own century is tinted by the blood
of two world wars; my homeland is still soaked
in fraternal blood, not to mention neighboring India,
while civil war threatens eastern Europe
and virtually the whole of the old Soviet Orient.
(Maternal tears, torrents of kinsmen's blood, are in vain.)
Tell me, where shall we stand today with our wasted
golden youth? We've lost faith in our decadent democracies
and my dream for the present have been spent along the way
like loose change; so I can only say over and over
I don't want my gory footprints on your singular century.
Kaiser Haq is a poet, translator, essayist, critic and academic. Currently, he is the Dean of Arts & Humanities at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB).