August 18, 2006

Farewell, the civic poet

Shamsur Rahman (77) was one of the most acclaimed poet of Bangladesh. With more than 60 books to his credit, he was the most popular contemporary poet and nicknamed the civil poet. To know Shamsur Rahman’s poetry is to know his people and his country. He started at age 18 and was a career journalist in some of the leading Bangla newspapers.

He was vocal against the religious fundamentalists of the country since long which had cost him a failed assassination attempt by the bigots in 1999. But he had to go this time because of kidney and liver failures. Yesterday he died and no state funeral was given as he was not well in terms with the government for their partnership with the religious parties. But Bangladesh will remember him always. Here is one of his poems:

Before the Journey

I'll soon be gone, quite alone
And quietly, taking none of you along
On this aimless journey. Useless
To insist, I must leave you all behind.

No, I'll take nothing at all.
On this solitary journey, you're stuffing
My bags for nothing; don't squeeze my favorites books
Into that beer-bellied suitcase.
I won't ever turn their pages.
And let the passport sleep on in the locked drawer.

Only let me have a look at the harvest
From my ceaseless toil, the quietly ripening fruits
Of my talent. But what on earth
Are these wretched things you bring?
Did I lie drunk with smugness in my little den
At having produced this inert, unsightly crop?
My soul screams in mute desolation
At the thought of carrying this sight with me,
I beg you, don't add to the burden of this journey.

Translated by Kaiser Haq


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