Poetry | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 29, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, December 29, 2018



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.  


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).

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