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Debjani Chatterjee, Kazi Nazrul Islam

1st Prize – Debjani Chatterjee: Tr.of Kazi Nazrul Islam (Bengali)

Excerpt of Nazrul Islam's original poem in Bengali

Poems translated from Bengali by Debjani Chatterjee

We Are Two Flowers On The Same Stalk 

We are two flowers on the same stalk - Hindu and Muslim.
The Muslim is the jewel of its eye, the Hindu is its life.
In the lap of Mother Sky
we swing like sun and moon;
we are the same blood in the same throbbing vein beneath the same chest.
We breathe the same land’s air, we drink the same land’s water;
we are the fruits and flowers that bloom on the same mother’s breast.
On the same country’s soil we find our final rest:
some in burial grounds and some on funeral pyres.
We call our mother in the same tongue, we sing the same tune.
Not recognising each other in the night’s darkness, we come to blows;
but in the morning we shall know each other as brothers.
We will weep and embrace each other, 
we will ask each other’s pardon.
On that day our Hindustan will smile with pride!

Hey, Ferryman Across The River! 

Hey, Ferryman across the river! Pray take me to Medina. 
Brother, be my guide and show the way, for I am a stranger here.
My beloved Lord is there. Brother, they say he sleeps there. 
I can’t bear existence so far from his presence, 
so far from my Lord’s presence. 
They say that land has no river, but if you don’t take me there, 
I shall weep such floods of tears that I will cause rivers to flow there.
With Medina’s dust I’ll cover myself and cry ‘O Mohammed’ over and over, 
I’ll cry like the lady Sakina when she wept at Karbala. 

The ‘beloved Lord’ refers to Mohammed and ‘the lady Sakina’ is Mohammed’s daughter. Karbala was the battlefield where her sons were martyred. 

I’ve Ink On My Hands

Oh Mother, I’ve ink on my hands and on my face!
Looking at my inky face, the neighbours just laugh.
Since I haven’t any learning, Mother, I see
only my dark Mother when I view the letter ‘M’.
When I see the letter ‘K’ I call out ‘Kali’
and I dance to the clapping of my hands.
When I see the black multiplication signs, Mother,
it is only my tears that multiply in streams.
I could never learn the alphabet of colours
since your dark shade was not among them, Mother.
But all that you write on forest leaves, sea-water,
the sky’s book – that writing I can certainly read.
So what if people label me ‘illiterate’!

In the Bengali original, there is a pun on the word Kali, which is not only the name of a goddess, but also means ‘ink’ and ‘black’.

The Rebel

O rebel-hero, speak.
Say: I tower over the highest peak!
In my presence the snow-topped mountain bows its head!

O rebel-hero, speak.
Say: I tear the fabric of the universe,
I outrun the moon, the sun, the planets and the stars.
Beyond the throne of God Himself
I rise, a perpetual wonder!
I am the lustre of victory on the sun-god’s brow!
O rebel-hero, speak.
Say: I tower over the highest peak!

I am untamable, savage, indomitable,
the bringer of apocalypse, the cyclone’s fury, I am annihilation!
The ultimate terror, I am the curse of the Earth,
I am inevitable, irresistible,
I crush all, I destroy everything!
I recognise no constraints,
break all ties, know no bondage of rules!
I obey no laws,
I drown the loaded boats, I am a torpedo, a volcanic mine!
I am Shiva at the end of time, the sudden shock of summer storms, 
I am a rebel, born of a rebel - I am invincible!
O rebel-hero, speak.
Say: I tower over the highest peak!

I am a hurricane and a tornado,
I demolish all that I find in my way!
I am in the delirium of the dancer’s drum;
dancing to my own rhythm, I am life’s exhilarating freedom.
I am melody, euphony and symphony;
life’s restless vivacity and sparkle,
the sudden marvel that one meets along the way,
I trigger the leaping spring in one’s step! 
I am the enticing invigorating pulse of music!

Brother, I do whatever whenever my spirit urges:
I embrace my foe, I arm-wrestle with death,
I am insane, I am turmoil!
I am the great pestilence, this earth’s dreaded terror.
Nemesis of tyranny, I am justice; I burn with an ever restless flame.
O rebel-hero, speak.
Say: I tower over the highest peak!

Forever impassioned, I am irrepressible;
my life’s cup is ever full to the brim and overflowing!
I am the flame of sacrifice and its divine guardian,
I am the sacrifice and the priest, I am fire itself! 
I am creation and destruction, the dwelling and the cremation ground.
I am the end and also the end of the night!
I am Indrani’s son, the moon sits in my hand and the sun on my brow.
My one hand holds a melodious bamboo flute, the other a bugle of battle.
I am the ‘blue-throated’, poisoned when drinking from the ocean of pain!
I am Bomkesh and hold the free-flowing Ganges in my matted locks. 
O rebel-hero, speak.
Say: I tower over the highest peak!

I am an ascetic sage and musician.
I am a prince; my royal attire is of dullest saffron. 
I am a Bedouin, I am Chengis.
I salute none but myself.
I am thunder; I am the sound of OM in Ishan’s conch.
I am the mighty call of Israfil’s trumpet;
I am Pinakapani’s hand-drum and trident,
the sceptre of Dharma, God of Justice.
I am the chakra and the mighty conch,
I am the tremendous primeval sound.
I am Durbasha, Vishwamitra’s furious pupil.
I am a raging fire that will burn down the earth!
I am the unbridled laughter that petrifies creation,
I am the eclipse of a dozen suns on Doomsday.
Sometimes serene and sometimes frantic, I am most wilful.
I am the new blood of youth; I humble the pride of Destiny!
I am the tempest’s raging wind, the ocean’s thunderous roar.
I am luminous and resplendent.
I am the lap-lapping and slapping of water,
the rhythmic music of waves!

I am the maiden’s free-flowing hair, the sparkle in her eyes.
I am sweet sixteen’s first blossoming love, I am bliss itself!
I am the distressed mind of the despondent,
I am the widow’s mournful sigh, the torment of those without hope.
I am the misery of all who are homeless,
the pounding pain of the mortified,
poison’s sting and the lovelorn heart’s distress. 
Ever-proud and disappointed, my mind wells in an agony of despair.
I am the virgin’s first hesitant kiss!
I am a moment’s fleeting look,
the sidelong glance of the clandestine lover;
I am the love of a restless maid, the tinkling of her bangles!
I am the eternal child, the eternal youth,
I am the modesty and restraint of the country maid.
I am the North Wind, blowing about; and the careless eastern breeze.
I am the street minstrel’s ballad, his flute, his lute and song!
I am the unquenched thirst of summer, the sun’s blazing blistering heat,
I am a gently flowing desert brook, and the green and shaded oasis!
I run in wild abandon; what madness is this? I am insane!
Of a sudden I have recognised myself, all my blinkers are shed!
I am the rise and also the fall, awareness in the unconscious mind,
I am Victory’s banner, humanity’s triumphant call.
Tempestuous, I rush through Heaven and Earth;
the great Borrak and Uchchaishraba are my mounts,
neighing like thunder!
In the earth’s bosom I am an erupting volcano,
a fiery ocean below the earth.
Sitting astride lightning, I click my fingers and leap,
spreading panic and upheaval with fiery earthquakes.
I grab the Serpent Vasuki’s hood,
I clutch the blazing wing of Heaven’s Messenger Gibrail!
I am the divine child, mischievous and unruly:
with my teeth I tear Mother Earth’s sari-cloth!

I am the flute of Orpheus,
I lull the heaving ocean;
the kiss of my music soothes
the restless world to sleep! 
I am the flute in Shyam’s hands.
When I traverse the skies in fury,
the fires of seven hells and of Habia, the most hellish hell,
flicker in fear and are extinguished.
I am the rebel-messenger on earth and in the sky.

I am a mighty monsoon flood:
sometimes I am a blessing to the earth,
sometimes a devastating curse.
I will tear away the twin maids from Vishnu’s chest!
I am oppression, I am a meteor and I am Saturn;
a fiery comet, a venomous cobra!
I am beheaded Chandi, the destroyer Ranada.
Seated in the fires of hell, I laugh the laughter of a flower.
I am composed of both earth and spirit,
resolute and immortal, I am imperishable, immutable.
The scourge of humans, gods and demons,
I am disaster for all eternity.
I am the truth at the core of divinity.
I roam where I will on Heaven, Earth and Hell,
all fury let loose, I am insane, insane!
Today I know myself; I have broken every chain!

I am the terrible axe of Parashurama
and will rid the world of warriors to wrest a perfect peace!
I am the mighty plough of Balarama
and will smite the tyrant to furrow a new world cycle.
Battle-weary, I am the arch rebel of life.
I will not rest, I must engage in constant strife.
I will not have the screams of the oppressed rend the air,
I will not have the Earth cry out from the tyrant’s sword. 
Battle-weary, I am the arch rebel of life.
I will not rest, I must engage in constant strife.

Rebel on a precipice: I plant my footprints on God’s chest,
I challenge the despot; I will rip out the fickle heart of Fate!
Rebel on a precipice: I will plant my footprints on God’s chest,
I will rip out the fickle heart of Fate!

Alone I stand, in the wide world I tower.
I am unvanquished, an arch rebel forever.

Shiva is the third god of the Hindu trinity of Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. 
Bomkesh is one of Shiva’s many names; it means ‘the one whose hair is the sky’. Shiva is said to have broken the fall of the Ganges when she descended from Heaven by catching her in his matted locks. 
Indrani is Indra’s wife and queen of the gods and goddesses.
Pinakapani is another name of Shiva. Shiva is said to carry a small hand-drum (dumaru) and a trident.
Israfil is one of Allah’s angels; his trumpet will announce the end of the world.
Chakra is the wheel or discus used as a weapon by Vishnu to punish evildoers.
the mighty conch is a reference to the conch shell that Vishnu holds aloft in one hand. The sound of a conch is used by Hindus in worship, and was used in ancient India to signal the start of battle and to signal victory at the end. 
Chenghis was the Mongol emperor Chenghis Khan or Genghis Khan (1162-1227).
Durbasha was an ascetic known in Indian legends for his quick temper.
Vishwamitra was a famous sage in the Ramayana, and the Guru of Rama and Lakshmana.
Ishan is another name of Shiva; it also means the north-east direction.
OM is the mystic sound which represents Deity; the origin of all sound.
Borrak is the heavenly horse that carried the Prophet Mohammad to Heaven.
Uchchaishraba is the heavenly horse on which Indra, king of the gods, rides.
Blue-throated is a reference to Shiva. When the serpent Vasuki’s venom poisoned the ocean, Shiva rescued the world by swallowing the poison, thus earning the name Neelkantha or ‘blue- throated’.
Vasuki was a giant serpent in Indian myths.
Gibrail is one of Allah’s angels; he is called Gabriel in the Bible.
Orpheus was a musician of extraordinary power in Greek mythology; he could charm all, even trees and mountains with the magic of his music. 
Shyama or ‘the dark one’ is another name for Krishna.
Vishnu is the second god of the Hindu trinity of Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. Vishnu has incarnated himself many times, Rama and Krishna being among the most popular avatars.
Saturn is the Hindu god Shoni who is also a planet of malevolent influence. 
Habia is the worst of seven hells in Islamic mythology. Hindu mythology too speaks of seven tiers of hell. Nazrul may also have known of Dante’s various hells in Inferno.
Chandi is another name for the Goddess Kali. In one of her manifestations, that of Chinnamasta, she is beheaded and carries her head in her hands.
Ranada is another name for the Goddess Kali.
Parashurama was the sixth avatar of Vishnu, his name means ‘Rama with the axe’. He had taken a vow to rid the world of Kshatriyas, the warrior ruling caste.
Balarama was Krishna’s older brother. An agricultural hero, his weapon was the plough.


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