New Poems in Bengali
1. prem korcho, koro
Following is a sample of Taslima's work. She writes in Bengali, and her work has been translated by Carolyn Wright and others. Warren Allen Smith has edited each of the following, which may not be used without requesting permission from the publisher or the author.
The Dodge Poetry Festival, the largest poetry event in North America, returned to its birthplace - beautiful Waterloo Village, a National Historic Site in Stanhope, New Jersey. Taslima is reading her poems in front of 17,000 people.
PRISONER'S POEMS the poems Taslima wrote when she was forced to live under house arrest
IT'S YOUR LOVE! OR A HEAP OF TRASH! translated by Niharika Mishra
the poems she wrote when she was in love
You Go Girl !
They said—take it easy…
They said—sit down….
Said—bow your head…
Said—keep on cryin', let the tears roll…
What should you do in response?
You should stand up now
Should stand right up
Hold your back straight
Hold your head high…
You should speak
Speak your mind
Speak it loudly
You should scream so loud that they must run for cover.
They will say—'You are shameless!'
When you hear that, just laugh…
They will say— 'You have a loose character!'
When you hear that, just laugh louder…
They will say—'You are rotten!'
So just laugh, laugh even louder…
Hearing you laugh, they will shout,
'You are a whore!'
When they say that,
just put your hands on your hips,
stand firm and say,
"Yes, yes, I am a whore!"
They will be shocked.
They will stare in disbelief.
They will wait for you to say more, much more…
The men amongst them will turn red and sweat.
The women amongst them will dream to be a whore like you.
My mother's eyes became yellowish, egg-yoke like.
Her belly swelled out rapidly like an overly full water tank
ready to burst at any moment.
No longer able to stand up, or sit down, or even move her fingers, she just lay
At the end of her days, she did not look like Mother any more.
Relatives appeared each morning, every evening,
telling Mother to be prepared,
telling her to be ready to die on the holy day, Friday,
uttering la ilaha illallah, Allah Is One!
They warned her not to disappoint the two angels---
Munkar and Nakir.
The relatives wanted to make certain that the room
and yard would be clean
that the perfume surma and the blue eye shadow atar
would be present when Death would finally arrive.
The disease had nearly devoured her entire body;
it had stolen her last remaining strength;
it had made her eyes bulge from their sockets,
it had dried her tongue,
it had sucked the air from her lungs.
As she struggled to breathe,
her forehead and eyebrows wretched with pain.
The whole house demanded--- shouting---
that she should send her greatest respects and reverence
to the Prophet.
Not one doubted that she would go to Jannatul Ferdous,
the highest level of heaven.
Not one doubted that she would soon walk hand-in-hand
with Muhammed, on a lovely afternoon,
in theGarden of Paradise…
No one doubted that the two would lunch together
on pheasant and wine.
Mother thus dreamed her lifelong dream:
She would walk with Muhammed
in the Garden of Paradise.
But now, at the very time that she was about to depart from this Earth, what a
Instead of stepping outside, and entering that Garden,
she wished to stay and boil Birui rice for me.
She wished to cook fish curry and to fry a whole hilsa.
She wished to make me a spicy sauce with red potatoes.
She wished to pick a young coconut for me
from the south corner of her garden.
She wished to fan me with a silken hand-fan,
and to remove a few straggly hairs from my forehead.
She wished to put a new bed sheet upon my bed,
and to sew a frock with colorful embroidery---
just for me.
Yes, she wished to walk barefoot in the courtyard,
and to prop up a young guava plant with a bamboo stick.
She wished to sing sitting in the garden of hasnuhena,
"Never before, had such a bright moon shone down,
never before, was night so beautiful.. ."
My mother wanted so desperately to live.
There is, I know, no reincarnation,
no last judgment day:
Heaven, pheasant, wine, pink virgins ---
these are nothing but traps
set by true believers.
There is no heaven for mother to go.
She will not walk in any garden with anybody whatsoever.
Cunning foxes will instead enter her grave;
they will eat her flesh;
her white bones will be spread by the winds…
do want to believe in Heaven
over the seventh sky, or somewhere---
a fabulous, magnificent heaven---
somewhere where my mother would reach
after crossing the bridge,
the Pulsirat--- which seems so impossible to cross.
And there, once she has passed that bridge
with the greatest ease,
a very handsome man, the Prophet Muhammed,
will welcome her, embrace her.
He will feel her melt upon his broad chest.
She will wish to take a shower in the fountain;
she will wish to dance, to jump with joy;
she will be able to do all the things
that she has never done before.
A pheasant will arrive on a golden tray.
My mother will eat to her heart's content.
Allah Himself will come by foot into the garden to meet her;
he will put a red flower into her hair,
kiss her passionately.
She will sleep on a soft feather bed;
she will be fanned by seven hundred Hur, the virgins
and be served cool water in silver pitcher
by beautiful gelban, the young angels.
She will laugh,
her whole body will stir with enormous happiness.
She will forget her miserable life on Earth…
How good I feel
just to imagine
somewhere there is a heaven
"Taslima Angers Hasina With Poem." in Mid-Day, 16 April 1999
A letter to my mother
How are you
Many days, many thousand of days I don't see you ma,
Many thousand of days I don’t hear your voice,
Many thousand of days I don’t feel your touch.
You were here, but never knew you were hear.,
As if you were made to be here for as long as I am
You filled my needs like a magician
When I got hungry., when I was thirsty,
When I wanted to play, when my heart opened, when my heart closed,
You knew before I knew.
You brought forth all my wishes
You remained behind in the shadows.
I took all the pleasures for myself by having u out of my sight, out of my mind
No one gave you anything, no one loved you, not even me.
I never considered you as human
Were you , were u a human being?
You were a slave for my happiness
Like a magician you gave anything and everything whatever I wanted
Near my hands , near my feet, near my mouth,
You gave even before I wanted
You never received any single smile.
You were behind, u were out of the party,
You were under a tree, alone in the dark.
Were you at all a human being?
You were nothing but a pawn.
Not a human being.
You were the cleaner, the cook, the one behind the smoke
You alone bore all your pain,
You cried alone with your misery
No one was there for u, no one was there to hold you , not even me.
You cured other’s diseases like a magician,
No one cured you, not even me.
I killed you before you knew that I was killing you. .
You are not here,
Suddenly I feel through my spine inside my veins, that you are not here.
You are not anymore.
When you were here , I did not know that you were here
When you were here, I never wanted to know how you were .
My pride is barred under the stone of your intolerable absence
I want to bear the same pain as u once bored
I cant, I could not,
How is it possible?
I am not a kind like you, I am not a human like you.
Last night a lizard sprang up from nowhere and landed upon me. It squirmed along my arm and then climbed upon my shoulder before inching toward my head and hiding itself into the disheveled bush of my hair. Resting upon the back of my aching head, it kept gawking for a couple of hours at a second lizard. Then at the stroke of dawn, it slid next to my ear, deciding to squat upon my spine.
The second lizard lay frozen upon my right leg, around two inches below my knee. Neither budged from their positions the entire evening. Having failed to remove them, I did what I normally do. I kept lying with my eyes firmly closed. Silently—and even if there’s really no rationale whatsoever for counting in reverse— I counted from one hundred to one, repeatedly.
My bed is a confused mess of dirty clothes, used trays and cracked bowls with leftover meals; notebooks for scribbling, old newspapers that have turned brown because of tea stains; one or two combs with pieces of hair sticking to them; one or two stray puffed rice crackers that have lost their crispness; scattered strips of pills and phials of potions; inkless pens etc., etc., etc.
For a number of days, more than two hundred black ants have occupied my bed. They have girded up their loins to construct their new colony upon my bed. Millimeter by millimeter, they have begun to take full control over me. They’re very tiny creatures. Shriveled in fear, for days on end, I myself have become as tiny as these ants.
I’m utterly stunned at their demeanour. They’ve been performing ballet programmes in classical styles upon the surface of my body— but not once have I been bitten, even by mistake. I believe they’ve taken it for granted that I belong to them. And I’ve also begun to consider that I, perhaps, just perhaps, am actually safer in their company than that of humans…
So let them rule the world!
Just let them be free to do as they please…
Let all the doors of the world’s arsenals swing open for them…
Let them wield their swords and hang rifles from their waists…
Let them clutch grenades in their fists…
And with the grand inspiration of Dar-ul-Islam in their minds
Let them go out onto the streets and behead the infidel…
Let them torture women until death,
after wrapping their obedient heads with veils,
and confining them to their rooms…
Let the rapists go berserk door to door
to copulate in their erect hysteria,
so that they can beget male babies to overcrowd the world.
Let all the men become Talibans overnight…
Let them seize the entire planet
from Argentina to Iceland, from Maldives to Morocco,
from the Bahamas to Bangladesh…
May the whole universe become their citadel…
Let the leaders of the world bow down
upon the sacred land of Islam…
And let them crown the heads of these terrorists, one by one.
Yes, let the world’s leaders apologize with folded hands
for their own cruel misdeeds…
Let them together imbibe the holy water—
the filthy liquids of these true believers—
so as to be blessed by their grace.
If you tell the truth, people get angry,
don’t tell the truth anymore, Taslima
This time is not the time of Gallelio.
This is twenty first century,
but society would outcast you if you tell the truth,
Nations would force you to leave their land,
The State would put you in prison,
Don’t tell the truth, .
Say the sun is revolving around the earth,
Say the moon has its own light, like the sun.
Say the mountains are nailed to the earth, so that the earth
does not fall off the empty space.
Claim the women are made out of the ribs of men,
Insist one neck-bone of women is crooked,
Vouch all men and women would suddenly wake up from their graves
and rise from the ashes in their youthful splendor,
And that from here, they would go to heaven or hell for eternity
Just lie Taslima.
Say stars, planets and satellites, universe and
Gravity are thunderous lies. Also say, men never landed on moon. Simply lie.
If you lie, you would no more be in exile.
You would have a country of your own, you would get friends.
Will be free from your chains, you will see light and the sky.
Nobody will throw you inside the dark, inhuman, dungeon of death,
So never tell the truth, Taslima,
THE UNRUNG RING
So many things ring,
the cells of the body,
the ankle bells as they dance,
the silver wrist bangles.
As the monsoon rains fall on the window
the glass panes musically ring.
As clouds clash with clouds
lightning rings out.
Dreams ring, keeping time to their beats,
and, making a havoc internally,
Only an intimate bell on my door does not ring.
You're a girl
and you'd better not forget
that when you cross the threshold of your house
men will look askance at you.
When you keep on walking down the lane
men will follow you and whistle.
When you cross the lane and step onto the main road
men will revile you, call you a loose woman.
If you've no character
you'll turn back,
and if you have
you'll keep on going
as you're going now.
My life, like a sandbar,
has been taken over by a monster of a man
who wants my body under his control
so that, if he wishes,
he can spit in my face,
slap me on the cheek,
pinch my rear;
so that, if he wishes,
he can rob me of the clothes,
take my naked beauty in his grip;
so that, if he wishes.
he can chain my feet,
with no qualms whatsoever whip me,
chop off my hands, my fingers,
sprinkle salt in the open wound,
throw ground-up black pepper in my eyes,
with a dagger can slash my thigh,
can string me up and hang me.
His goal: to control my heart
so that I would love him;
in my lonely house at night
sleepless, full of anxiety,
clutching at the window grille,
I would wait for him and sob;
tears rolling down, I would bake homemade bread,
would drink, as if they were ambrosia,
the filthy liquids of his polygynous body
so that, loving him, I would melt like wax,
not turning my eyes toward any other man.
I would give proof of my chastity all my life.
So that, loving him,
on some moonlit night
I would commit suicide
in a fit of ecstasy.
Why wouldn't Eve have eaten of the fruit?
Didn't she have a hand to reach out with,
Fingers with which to make a fist?
Didn't Eve have a stomach for feeling hunger,
A tongue for feeling thirst,
A heart with which to love?
Well, then, why wouldn't Eve have eaten of the fruit?
Why would she merely have suppressed her wishes,
Regulated her steps,
Subdued her thirst?
Why would she have been so compelled
To keep Adam moving around in the Garden of Eden all their lives?
Because Eve did eat of the fruit,
There is sky and earth.
Because she has eaten,
There are moon, sun, rivers, seas,
Because she has eaten, trees, plans and vines.
because Eve has eaten of the fruit
there is joy, because she has eaten there is joy.
Eating of the fruit, Eve made a heaven of the earth.
Eve, if you get hold of the fruit
don't ever refrain from eating.
Women spend the afternoon squatting on the porch,
picking lice from each other's hair.
They spend the evening feeding the little ones,
lulling them to sleep in the glow of the bottle lamp.
The rest of the night
they offer their back to be slapped and kicked by the men of the house
or sprawl half-naked on the hard wooden cot.
Crows and women greet the dawn together,
the women blowing into the oven to start the fire,
tapping on the back of the winnowing tray with five fingers
and, with two, picking out the stones.
Half their lives women pick stones from the rice.
All their lives stones pile up in their hearts,
no one there to touch them even with two fingers.
THINGS CHEAPLY HAD
In the market nothing can be had as cheaply as women.
If they get a small bottle of colour for their feet,
they spend their nights sleepless for sheer joy;
If they get a few bars of soap to scrub their skin
and some scented oil for their hair,
they become so submissive
that they scoop out chunks of their flesh
to be sold in the flea market twice a week.
If they get a jewel for their nose,
they lick feet for seventy days or so,
a full three and a half months
if it's a single striped sari.
Even a mangy cur of the house barks now and then,
but over the mouths of women cheaply had
there's a lock,
a golden lock.
Human nature is such
That if you sit, they'll say, "No, don't sit."
If you stand, "What's the matter? Walk!
And if you walk, "Shame on you, sit down.!
If you so much as lie down, they'll order, "Get up."
If you don't lie down, no respite, " Lie down."
I'm wasting my days getting up and sitting down.
If I'm dying right now, they speak up, "Live."
If they see me living, who knows when
they'll say, "Shame on you. Die!"
In fear, I secretly go on living.
Let the pavilions of religion
be ground to bits,
let the bricks of temples, mosques, guruduaras, churches
be burned in blind fire,
and upon those heaps of destruction
let lovely flower gardens grow, spreading their fragrance.
let children's schools and study halls grow.
For the welfare of humanity, now let prayer halls
be turned into hospitals, orphanages, universities,
Now let prayer halls become academies of art, fine art centers,
scientific research institutes.
Now let prayer halls be turned to golden rice fields
in the radiant dawn,
Open fields, rivers, restless seas.
From now on, let religion's other name be humanity.
They have made Noorjahan stand in a hole in the courtyard.
There she stands submerged to her waist, her head hanging.
They're throwing stones at Noorjahan,
stones that are striking my body.
I feel them on my head, forehead, chest, back,
and I hear laughing, shouts of abuse.
Noorjahan's fractured forehead pours out blood, mine also.
Noorjahan's eyes have burst, mine also.
Noorjahan's nose has been smashed, mine also.
Noorjahan's torn breast and heart have been pierced, mine also.
Are these stones not striking you?
They're laughing aloud, laughing and stroking their beards.
Even their caps, stuck to their heads, are shaking with laughter.
They're laughing and swinging their walking sticks.
From the quiver of their cruel eyes,
Arrows speed to pierce her body,
My body also.
Are these arrows not piercing your body?
THE GAME IN REVERSE
The other day in Ramna park I saw a boy buying a girl.
I‘d really like to buy a boy for five or ten taka,
a clean-shaven boy, with a fresh shirt, combed and parted hair,
a boy on the park bench, or standing on the main road
In a curvaceous pose.
I’d like to grab the boy by his collar
and pull him up into a rickshaw -
tickling his neck and belly, I ‘d make him giggle;
bringing him home, I’d give him a sound thrashing
with high-heeled shoes, then throw him out -
‘"Get lost, bastard!"
Sticking bandages on his forehead,
he would doze on the sidewalks at dawn,
Mangy dogs would lick at the yellow pus
oozing out of the ulcers in his groin.
Seeing them, the girls would laugh with their tingling sound
of glass bangles breaking.
I really want to buy me a boy,
a fresh, nubile boy with a hairy chest -
I’ll buy a boy and rough him up all over.
Kicking him hard on his shriveled balls,
I’ll shout, "Get lost, bastard!"
AT THE BACK OF PROGRESS
The fellow who sits in the air-conditioned office
is the one who in his youth raped
a dozen or so young girls,
and, at cocktail parties, is secretly stricken with lust,
fastening his eyes on lovelies' bellybuttons.
In five-star hotels,
he tries out his different sexual tastes
with a variety of women,
then returns home and beats his wife
because of an over-ironed handkerchief or shirt collar.
In his office Mr. Big puffs on a cigarette,
shuffles through files,
rings for his employee
and returns to writing people's character references.
His employee speaks in such a low voice
that no one would ever suspect
how, at home, he also raises his voice,
is vile to his family
but with his buddies on the porch or at a movie
indulges in loud harangues on politics,
art, literature, and how some female -
his mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother -
Bidding goodbye to his buddies,
he returns home,
beats his wife
over a bar of soap
or the baby's pneumonia.
Next day, at work, he pleasantly brings the tea,
keeps the lighter in his pocket,
receives a tip of a couple of taka,
and tells no one that he divorced his first wife for her sterility,
his second for giving birth to a daughter,
his third for not bringing a sufficient dowry.
Now, with wife number four, he again has someone:
To beat over a green chili or a handful of rice.
A two-faced man is more venomous
Than the snake with two fangs.
Bitten by a snake.
One can withdraw the venom.
Bitten by a man,
That’s the end.
In the instinct of no-creature-of-Nature
the birth of a female is considered undesirable.
Only humans consider it strange.
Since she has been born,
let her stay in an obscure corner of her home
and learn to survive.
Keep your hair in a tight knot.
Don't let your eyes wander here and there.
Hide carefully your swelling breasts.
Women, we know, need to be kept in chains.
At best they can be allowed
to move about in the precincts of the home, that's all.
Men look for fresh virgins
so they can maul and tear them,
some on the plea of love,
some of marriage.
The tight smooth skin is full of wrinkles.
The menstruation pain is gone forever.
The thread of the tale told again has snapped.
We are well rid of nuisance.
In the instinct of no-creature-of-Nature
is the death of a female so desirable.
As much as I had thought of him to be a male,
That much he is not;
Half-neutered he is,
Half a male.
A life goes by,
And you may sit and lie with a man,
but how much can you come to know a real man?
He whom I so long thought
I knew –
He whom I know is nothing like that,
In fact, he’s the one I most don’t know.
As much as I had thought him to be man,
That much he is not:
Half-beast he is,
Half a man.
GIRL FROM SWITZERLAND
At the dinner party everyone
Held a glass of champagne or
White wine in their hand.
All in a row, the big guys came up
To shake my hand and greet me.
Some came to hear about my experiences,
How I came out alive
From the troglodyte’s den.
Some came to get my autograph,
Some to look at me with wide-eyes admiration,
Some to kiss, some to offer flowers.
In the midst of all this
A girl with golden hair came up.
Not extending her hand.
Not wanting to hear my sad stories,
She said she had come
Just to weep with me for awhile.
And I felt that the entire Bramhaputra
Was rising in my eyes, eroding
The embankment of my heart.
I. from the east,
and she, from the west,
had pains that were equally deep.
I was dark, she a rosy white,
But our sorrows were equally blue.
Before we wept we did not have to
Hear about each others experiences.
We knew them too well.
A pack of dogs is after you.
A pack of men is after you.
I’m going to move ahead.
Behind me my whole family is calling,
My child is pulling my sari-end,
My husband stands blocking the door,
But I will go.
There’s nothing ahead but a river.
I will cross.
I know how to swim,
but they won’t let me swim, won’t let me cross.
There’s nothing on the other side of the river
but a vast expanse of fields,
But I’ll touch this emptiness once
and run against the wind, whose whooshing sound
makes me want to dance.
I’ll dance someday
and then return.
I’ve not played keep-away for years
as I did in childhood.
I’ll raise a great commotion playing keep-away someday
and then return.
For years I haven’t cried with my head
in the lap of solitude.
I’ll cry to my heart’s content someday
and then return.
There’s nothing ahead but a river,
and I know how to swim.
Why shouldn’t I go?
You are my love's granary,
I pour out my water-steeped fertility
unstintingly, to stop does nor occur to me.
Suddenly I see you've slipped away,
I search for you, my heart-usurping boy, then
find you've fled, there was a ladder in back to step down.
I don’t believe in God,
I look upon nature with wondering eyes.
However much I move forward grasping the hand of progress
society’s hindrances take hold of my sleeve
and gradually pull me backwards.
I wish I could walk all through the city
in the middle of the night,
sitting down anywhere alone to cry.
I don’t believe in God.
From house to house the religion mongers
secretly divide us into castes,
segregate the women from the human race.
I too am divided,
defrauded of my human rights.
The crafty politician
gets loud applause when he rails about class exploitation,
But he cleverly suppresses all the terminology
of women’s exploitation.
All those people of supposed good character, I know them.
Throughout the world, religion has extended its eighteen talons.
In my lone brandishing, how many of its bones can I shatter?
How much can I rip discrimination’s far-spreading net?
WOMEN AND POEMS
With as much pain as a human being becomes a woman,
That much pain makes a woman a poet.
A word takes a long year to be made,
a poem an entire life.
When woman becomes a poet, she is totally a woman.
Then she is mature enough to give birth from her suffering heart,
Then she knows how to care for a word.
You have to be a woman first if you want to give birth to a poem.
A word without any pain is fragile, breaks when touched.
Who knows more than a woman all the lanes and alleys of pain!
(A woman without man is like a fish without a bicycle.)
A woman can't live without a man?
Ha, what logic, the logic of a ghost! Bah bah!
Throw the ball,
Don’t let orchids embrace you at all,
Don’t go to poisonous ant bushes.
Push yourself into sensuousness.
You have the bow, you have the arrow.
Do it girl, masturbate.
THE WOMAN BREAKING BRICKS
The woman, breaking bricks and sitting on a sidewalk,
wears a red sari as she breaks the bricks, under the burning sun, breaks the bricks,
the bronze coloured woman breaks the bricks.
Twenty-one? But she has seven children back home, looks forty up,
and all day for ten taka, not enough to buy food for one, let alone seven,
she breaks the brick. every day, breaks the bricks.
Seated beside her, resting under an umbrella, a man is breaking bricks,
all day long breaking bricks,
a shaded man who earns twenty a day breaking the bricks.
Of what does he dream, the man breaking the bricks,
the man sitting under an umbrella, breaking the bricks?
And of what does she dream, the woman breaking the bricks?
She has a dream, a dream of having an umbrella,
of breaking the bricks veiled from the sun,
of becoming a man one fine morning,
earning double for breaking the bricks.
Her dream is her dream,
but in the morning she is still a woman breaking the bricks,
no umbrella, not even a torn one, breaking the bricks under the burning sun.
New roads and tall towers are built with the bricks she broke,
but the roof on her house was blown away in last year's storm,
the water drips through her tent, and she has a dream about buying a tin roof.
Her dream is her dream,
but in the morning her tent is soaked with water.
So she shouts out to her neighbors, to the world,
I have a dream, I have a dream. But still no umbrella, still no tin roof.
Look, neighbors spit on her and say, her seven children are hungry,
she needs oil for her hair, powder for her face !
Her skin colour darkens daily,
her fingers harden, harden like the bricks they are breaking.
So with her hammer she continues, continues breaking the bricks,
becoming herself a brick, a brick that cannot be broken
by the sun's heat, an underfed stomach, a dreaming heart.
The garment girls, walking together,
look like hundreds of birds flying in Bangladesh’s sky.
Garments girls, returning to their slums at midnight,
are met by street-vagabonds who grab a few takas from the girls,
pushing their bodies into the girls bodies,
stealing the night's spoils.
Despite sleepless night, before dawn the girls again walk together,
men's mouths getting watery when they pass and spit,
the girls avoiding as many as they can,
eating nobody's food, wearing nobody's clothes, walking, walking on.
Like blind bullocks, they trudge ahead,
have-nots dependent upon the haves,
forbidden to enjoy the sky's rainbows,
fated to be thrown around, fingered, raped in darkness and fear
instead of bathing joyfully in the moonlit night.
Like hundreds of Bangladesh flying in the world's sky,
the garment girls walk on, walk on.
Poem for Taslima Nasrin
Information from Wikipedia: “Where they burn
books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.” (“Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man
auch am Ende Menschen.”) One century later, Heine's books were among the
thousands of volumes
that were torched by the Nazis
in an outburst that did, in fact, foreshadow the blazing ovens
Information from Wikipedia:
“Where they burn
books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.” (“Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man
auch am Ende Menschen.”)
One century later, Heine's books were among the thousands of volumes that were torched by the Nazis in Berlin's Opernplatz in an outburst that did, in fact, foreshadow the blazing ovens of the Holocaust.
Taslima, your image floats across newspapers and magazines
like smoke from a distant blaze:
a sooty whisper, an SOS signal
-or the last gasp of a funeral pyre?
Taslima, your image floats across newspapers and magazines
“Don’t read that book”* said the man at the café,
“it’s all lies and filth about violence and rape”.
He wasn’t talking about the pages in my hands.
Those pages mentioned rape, among many
but the main thing I read was a story,
a story about a young man,
an idealistic young man who died
not physically, but within himself,
who turned to religion because he’d lost all faith,
who burned his books and with them his humanity,
who became extremism, became all the things he’d feared.
The young man’s father died too
when he agreed to leave the land that was his life;
his mother of slow suffocation,
forced to change her name, her style of dress,
in brutal silence, unable to muffle out her most basic of desires.
The young man’s sister was
her physical death presumed, never confirmed,
never given a shape, weight nor colour,
no date to mark and mourn.
In this sense she was the only one who
did not die,
but passed into a state of limbo
-not gone, just missing-
in this death she became more than life; she became hope,
the only one the family had.
Not gone, just missing: the same lie they whispered about themselves.
The family were called Hindus
though this was not what they called themselves.
They called themselves human before all else
and offered the same compliment to those who would not take it.
The family could have easily have been called Muslims or Christians
or Jews or Blacks or Women or Men or Un / Educated or Poor
because it was not a story about any of these things
but about extremism: one path given many names by those who tread it.
Religion is to faith as flames to a glacier.
Taslima, Kolkata is burning;
Buddha-Nero pats his belly and dreams of oil.
The heat makes my head heave, my lungs seize
as truth burst open like a Nandigram sunrise.
I choke on the stench of books
burning, bodies burning.
Meanwhile, empires are built with bricks of charred bone
and I wonder, at what temperature does human blood boil?
Now it is you who has been chained
up inside names,
you who has been kidnapped, severed
from your land, your language, your life,
you who is forced to fight slow suffocation.
You are dangerous, Taslima, so
you who have fired not one gun,
set not one fire. Those things are trifles
in comparison to what you’ve set alight:
all the weapons on earth cannot shoot down an uprising in thought.
Taslima, I was a traveler, choking
on the strangeness
of this charred city. Starved and disorientated,
I drank your words like the purest, coolest water:
honest words, brave words, unembellished, unrefined,
written not for glory but from throbbing, explosive need.
Let literature be the mother river
that floods out all flames of extremism;
that nourishes cracked, drought-stricken minds and makes them lush.
Let words of all languages be the oceans,
streams and tributaries that join
us all over this earth;
books, magazines and translations the boats
in which we sail to trade not material wealth but culture, philosophies and thought.
Taslima, you are neither missing
you have written yourself upon me like a tattoo, a life-saving scar.
You remind me of what I have not lost, but could,
what I have not achieved, but could;
remind me I am human, before all else,
remind me why I read, why I dream, wake, walk, breathe,
why I pick up this pen.
A ragged wren: black gone grey,
tangles and tears
it sports not as marks of shame, rather trophies
of how far it has flown – and through what storms!
Ordinary kite, extraordinary
It must have been a child’s
toy, seemingly destined
for parks on sunny weekends, the cupboards otherwise;
for clear skies, a charted course, string held taught,
no suggestions of grey.
But at some point, somehow,
or forced this kite to cut its own string; to jettison the green
of parks and weekends and cupboards; to soar beyond
beyond; to become a sculptor, carving nude forms in the air.
Such a small kite, such infinite
sky, yet it danced
a dance none had dared dream possible,
built its new home on a gust of defiance, romanced cyclones,
turned tempests into art.
Painting shapes of pure
motion-emotion, arching like flesh,
spinning stanzas of idealism like gold from gall, this kite
sewed the severed patches of
humanity’s truth into a quilt
so hideously beautiful it burned the eye.
Now it is caught again, snagged
yet with what small string it has it keeps on dancing,
keeps on daring; even in breezeless moments, it jiggles
its head as if to say no, as if to laugh.
It will not stay trapped long,
will not wither like the leaves.
Any moment, this kite will corkscrew up!up!up!
will dance more wildly than ever before,
carve its gleaming red stanzas into the pale blue flesh of thought.
Lines scribbled on 21st February in remembrance of a banished writer...........
special supplements, rallies and processions....
Hush! Eulogy for a trusted pen forbidden,
Languishing in safe house
or the dungeon of darkness?
Breakfast, lunch and supper
soaked in tears of solitude.
Ban food for thought
Next, freedom of expression.
Heark! The starving soul whispers
Long live democracy, long live secularism.
(for Taslima Nasrin)
“Ring O ye tongues of the world for their woe
Ring out ye voices for Love we don't know
Ring out ye bells of electrical pain
Ring in the conscious of America brain”
-Allen Ginsberg, September on Jessore Road
Upon my own free will I enter
a tiger cage with a wild Bengal tyger
who’s been forced out of the wilderness
chased far from her beloved Bangladesh
no longer permitted freedom
to roam within her own native home…
A Bengal tyger pacing her cage…
A Bengal tyger roaring in rage…
She’s a tyger who speaks without trepidation
when bearded outlaws in flip-flops hunt her down…
torches blazing… just for citing Red Rosa quotations….
as if she— alone— had devoured sheep of entire towns!
A tyger who dares protest against gangs of poachers
who work long hours for foreign speculators
helping them to plunder medicinal lotions
from the disease ridden bodies of endangered species
for the profit of their own vainglorious salvation…
Yes, she’s a tyger who mocks the most holy of holies—
The most absurd of absurd superstitions!
Roving make-shift bands
of white smock fanatics
wish to string her neck
high upon the scaffold
after ramming the heretic’s
iron pitch fork really deep
into her soft purring jowl—
as if it were still days of old—
like the Christian Inquisition
or else the strange fruit
of Ku Klux Klan lynchings.
Cousins of four messianic flyers—
true believers in a counterfeit Apocalypse
who crash commercial passenger jets
in the NYC Twin Towers and Pentagon—
these cowardly gangs continue to assault
tourists, travelers and workers defenseless—
ordinary people from all the planet’s religions
in what is claimed “an eye for an eye” but
which makes the whole world even blinder—
and who seek to appease their callous conscience
for what is really slaughter indiscriminate
in a pseudonym of blessed martyrdom:
A perversion of Islamic faith from love to hate…
Unreal horrors of bodies in metros exploding …
Now all the world’s cities in fear… quaking:
Paris, Bali, Madrid, London, Kolkata
Baghdad, Kabul, Moscow, Beslan, Casablanca,
Islamabad, Mumbai and Dhaka!!!
“Through learned and laborious years”
these bearded outlaws
(calling themselves “students”)
“set themselves to find
fresh terrors and un-dreamed of fears
to heap upon mankind…”
in Kipling’s prophetic lines…
Her lustrous eyes straight facing me—
with her shiny coat of orange fur
black stripes crafted like daggers….
this tyger tyger burning bright…
now paces in her homeless plight
in the midst of an urban menagerie—
far away from bleak forests of the night…
But not once did she stretch out her razor sharp claws
Not once did she reveal her deadly fangs and roar
Not once did she crouch in elephant grass ready to strike…
Eye to eye I hold out my palm gently
with nothing to proffer but lines of poetry …
She requests that I recite Ginsberg verse—
that horrific taxi ride of September 1971—
those millions of helpless souls forlorn
upon Jessore Road hungry, homeless …
those hopeless millions turned to ghost…
Those days of her girlhood when the beaks
of vultures spread the smell of rotten flesh
and the sound of bullets echoed in the restless
fluttering of pigeon wings…
I then remember that Beatle mystic
who pleaded in mantras for America—
as urged by the sitar of Ravi Shankar—
to help those impoverished and lost:
But the promise of ten million greenbacks
for humanitarian aid and human rights
raised from that concert for Bangladesh:
All screwed up in a struggle with the IRS
over non-profit taxes and copyrights!!!
My own heavy voice bleeding hoarse,
I too ring in the darkest sub-sub-conscious
of America’s schizoid— really bipolar— brain
in hallucinations of parachuting clandestine
behind the northwest frontier lines—
killing outlaws with dum-dum bullets once again…
I envision America’s toy-like cluster bombs gyrating—
the Circle and Cross with the Green Crescent clashing—
eradicating whole families in the midst of weddings—
the collateral damage of high altitude bombings…
The great Eagle- leader of the world’s nations- now balding,
giving free license to techniques of interrogation enhancing….
Swearing vengeance, those bearded outlaws appear returning
with their ghostly women in armored Burkas cowering—
while Indra and Allah seek revenge in brandishing
sabers of radioactive thunderbolts and lightning…
She then toasts to that
with a forbidden glass
of that most revered of Saints,
A Bengal tyger pacing her cage…
Declared Public Enemy No. 1,
she is banned from her own home
for lecturing upon the writer’s podium
for daring to speak against acid throwers…
for daring to denounce professional liars…
She’s even rejected by officials in New Delhi —
that very hope of Confederal World Democracy—
as a way to divert political attention from land
expropriation and the violent repression
of those poor villagers protesting construction
of a petrochemical complex in Nandigram….
Though fierce and defiantly independent,
it seems incredulous that she— and she alone—
could strike so much trepidation
beneath the skull caps of such flea-bitten spirits
whose ‘mind forged manacles’ have led them
to distort such a noble and tolerant religion
and to make of her such an obsession…
Once again, as Kipling had so shrewdly written,
The lesson is certainly manifest: The female
Of the species must be deadlier than the male…
It must be true, for far from her beloved Bengal—
and though still held tight in foreign captivity—
it seems so incredible, if not impossible,
that her tiny frame could actually be capable
of striking such dreadful nightmarish fright
into those hearts with hardening arteries.
Her real crime: To critique men in authority
who literally cower at her very sight!!!
A Bengal tyger pacing her cage…
A Bengal tyger roaring in rage…
Yes, a Bengal tygress defiantly tracing her pen:
Yet one more creature, fierce and unrepentant,
not willing to kowtow before a single person…
Now resisting a plot of extinction!!!