One of the principal poets of contemporary Bangla poetry in both Bengals-Al Mahmud-passed away on the night of February 15. Born on July 11 in 1936 in Brahmanbaria, he was an outstanding poet, fiction writer, novelist, essayist and journalist. His full name was Meer Abdus Shakur Al Mahmud. He started writing while in school and his poetry reflected the colourful life on the Bengal plains, the rural lifestyles, riverside habitats, flow of life on the 'chars' or shoals, and the eternal bonding and parting of men and women. His unique contribution was the spontaneous application of regional dialects within the framework of traditional Bangla. A self-educated man with scant formal education, Al Mahmud came to Dhaka after his schooling in 1954 and started writing for the then Bengali weeklies. Side by side, he joined the Daily Millat as a proof-reader. In 1955, he was appointed editor of the Weekly Kafela.
Mahmud participated in the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. Following the country's independence, he joined the mouthpiece of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) - the daily Ganakantha as its editor. But he was jailed for one year for write-ups critical of the then government. However, the then Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave him a job at the Shilpakala Academy in 1975 as an Assistant Director in the research and publication division. After serving the academy for many years, he retired in 1993 as a Director, and then once again renewed his journalistic career.
Al Mahmud's books of poetry included: 'Lok Lokantar' (1963), 'Sonali Kabin' (1973), 'Mayabi Parda Duley Otho' (1976), 'Bakhtiyarer Ghora' (1984), 'Arabya Rajanir Rajhansh' (1986), 'Praharanter Pash Fera' (1987), 'Doyel O Doyita' (1997), 'Kobita Samagra' (1997). He received the Bangla Academy Award for Literature (1968), Joy Bangla Sahitya Puroshkar (1972), Jibananda Das Smriti Puroskhar (1974), Bangladesh Lekhak Sangha Puroskhar (1980), Philips Sahitya Puroskhar (1986) and the Ekushey Padak (1987).
The following are a few poems written by the late poet (translated by this scribe):
Law of the Fish
It is a land of fishes;
Blacks, whites, golden and fair -
The fishes reign supreme
In canals, ditches, marshes and swamps;
We the fishes live by legally feeding
On the fishes with softer jaw bones than us,
We survive by eating fishes as per law;
We more or less swallow those fish
Who are smaller in size than us;
Those whom we swallow, they in turn do not spare
The fishes with softer jaws like the Anabas and Catfish,
These are the original rules of swallowing in rivers.
But however sweet the law of swallowing may be
For the waters flowing through the arteries of Padma-Meghna-Jamuna,
We are reminded by the 100-year long episode
Before the reign of King Gopala of the earliest Bengalees,
From Gopala to Mohipala lasted the rule of humans
Then it was once again the fishes.
In the jargon of political science
It is called the Code of the Fish,
Living by devouring the weaker ones without any hesitation;
Our Code says, if a thief is caught by chance
While stealing a ring at Shakuntala,
He would definitely be sentenced to six-months' jail,
He would undergo rigorous imprisonment
And be dubbed a thief;
But if a monstrous Shark swallows
The whole of Bangladesh as if it was a ring,
He would have to be called the revered King;
Salute him - this is called the Code of Fish.
But because of the twists and turns of politics
The monstrous Sharks cannot travel downstream,
They swim around with open jaws in the Ganges and Bhagirathi;
Through their grotesque runs in our sweet waters
They have poisoned with their saliva
Even the Ganges and the Bhagirathi.
The monstrous Sharks with strong jaws
Want a safe transit up to the Himalayas via the Padma and Jamuna;
But how is that possible without swallowing us?
Blacks, whites, fair and golden?
We however do not sleep at night
Trying to resurrect the hundred years before Gopala
In our rivers, canals, marshes and swamps;
But we have devoured a long time ago
The shoals of thorny fishes that could puncture
The strong jaws of the monstrous Sharks.
Coming Close to Destination
It seemed to me after crossing the river
All hostile words had left me.
With the ripples of waves, oar and water,
The protests that were raised till now
Were drowned in an amazing silence!
Even enmity is now such a green field?
As much as the eyes could see
Has hatred become the swaying of ripe paddy?
On seeing my toils, those who used to pronounce once
That I would reach my goal after crossing another river, another port;
Where are they now? Shouldn't this dispute over golden paddy be resolved?
May be, I didn't have too many friends.
But I am bewildered by the storms of enmity again and again!
Won't they pronounce a verdict on this infinite crop?
Plunder my golden rice? But I am ready for all kinds of robbery.
At least, human voices should resonate with anger, hatred and envy
Even if the sound of bullet doesn't pierce me!
If I have really come close to my destination
Why shouldn't I see that face of yours, that old posture of rejection?
In place of antagonism, why this evergreen adornment?
The paddy swings in the wind, but there is no arrangement
To pick up the crops;
There should at least be a friend or enemy for me!
I know that I have reached the final frontier
But how is it that there is no stock-taking of man's accomplishment?
Isn't there someone to rebuke, at least?
My lifelong hunger boils with the smell of safe paddy,
Now, who would place a plate of rice before me, and say 'Eat'!
Just because I wanted to win without understanding
Should my pitches, ports and prairies become infernos of affluence?
Valiant Witness of the Flag
Look, today is the day for watching this flag.
Start talking, spell out
The language of freedom.
Let me keep on gazing alongside you.
I stand beside you with my opaque tearful eyes,
How crimson is the circle
Sitting inside the green flag,
As if this sun has been painted with the red blood corpuscles
Of the freedom-seeking people of the world.
So many people speak out from within me
The bright gaze of so many aspirations, of those
Who never came back.
I recall one person. His camp was on the path leading to
Bamtia Bazar from Montala Station. While receiving training
There was a scar in his elbow because of bleeding.
He did not return. There was no language or words
In the Bangla dictionary to console his mother.
In response to my allusion while I stood before her,
The lady only looked up at the sky
With tearful eyes. As if she could see her son
Inside that spherical sun.
I knew another person
Who went to war from Cumilla. The bullet had
Struck her waist. I went to see her at Agartala hospital.
She could not walk anymore, though the doctors could
Bring out the poisonous piece of lead.
I took her to the celebrations of freedom
After putting her on a wheel-chair. Some drops of her blood
Lay on the red part of that flag.
As I look on, I recall her constantly.
It is amazing that the history of liberation war
Has been written by omitting her name;
She was the member of a Hindu family of Cumilla;
Her father's profession was music.
I bear witness to the red corpuscles of her blood
Which mingle in the red part of that flag!
Oh history, write her name.
Another boy had jumped into the fray
Beside the custom colony of Kushtia,
He attempted to wipe out an enemy jeep with bombs
But parts of his arms, thigh and back were torn away
By that blast. Hasibul Islam
Had launched that attack by uttering 'Allahu Akbar'.
His heart remains stuck on that flag
After flying out from his chest.
Write down his last words - 'Allahu Akbar'.
Oh the noisy mega-city of Dhaka
You have to write on that blood-drenched sphere
These extraordinary tales! You should observe
Who creates history? And who snatches away
The medallions of valour!
Look, today is really the day for watching the flag.
Speak out, pronounce the
Language of freedom;
Let me keep on gazing with you.
Translation: Helal Uddin Ahmed
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.
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