For a Dead Friend

This time our tranquil celebration
Has no chair earmarked for you
This time beneath the arjun or the teak
There lies only an ancient destruction
That the terracotta of the lowered face
Would break this way was not what you had imagined
That you’re not here today is natural
That you were here once, is unbelievable.
Picking up the potsherd with both hands
Can even turn the sky into stone-writing
Time comes to a halt near the heart
Half the evening languishes on the ground
Take our pauperised memories at that hour
Just the way we want to give them to you
That you’re not here today is natural
That you were here once, is unbelievable.

The Master and the Disciple

(Two people converse as they walk)
2 | ... and those who wish to talk excessively? Who speak on every subject?
Should we sentence them to imprisonment for life, covertly?

1 | Never. Absolutely not. Draw them to yourself instead with love and gentle words
Intoxicate them with an avalanche of gifts. Overwhelmed,
They will have a substitute for speech
Even if they speak, it will be to themselves.

2 | And those who openly oppose us?

1 | Opposition? Why should you have one in your transparent kingdom?
In your flourishing kingdom...

2 | Flourishing?

1 | Is it not? Remember, my acolyte...
A flourishing state exists in the world of words, in metaphor. Nowhere else.
A mere mathematical term. Sand drips from statistics. And so
Your courtiers will tell you what you wish to hear
If anyone doubts what they say, train your eyes on him
And draw him away from others’ eyes.
For this, no explicit insinuation
Must weaken your royal administration. With enticement in one hand
And terror in the other, now overt, now covert –
There is no other history worthy of worship.

2 | Then democracy...

1 | Democracy? It is only a rule, the people only for show
Your unique radiance alone can give it impulse.

2 | Still I see people of my own class turn reckless...

1 | Those are internal matters.
Remember, memories are shaky by nature, who seeks consistency in words?
Everyone lives on what is recent.
They all love crowds from afar. No one fears the solitary man.
Make your followers companionless, one by one
And then see how many are still courageous
They will be one another’s slayers – solitary,
They hang from strings you hold. Almost human in appearance
Personal pleasure and unknown fear will make them accept any injustice...
(As they converse, they walk, both of them with their fingers on triggers.)


For speaking in a low voice
He was given
Life imprisonment
Three bears pounced on him
Not exactly bears, sentries
Not exactly sentries either, to tell the truth, lords and masters
Plucking the flesh off his spine
They said, don’t you dare
Look around, just keep shouting till you’re hoarse

Advertisements Hide My Face

All alone I wait for you
In the lane I find my place
I think of giving you a glimpse
But advertisements hide my face

I think I’ll signal with my eyes
A simple truth or maybe two
They glitter in the gaudiness
Of advertisements coloured blue

It’s hard to tell how one man sees
The other one - with love or scorn?
But oh my exaggerations
But oh the land where I was born

Once my eyes were locked with yours
But now my glances have been sold
The neon creates commodities
Of private stories never told

All the things I meant to say
Are in that lane now, languishing
But my mask, so exhausted,
Dangles from the advertising

Babar’s Prayer

Here I kneel towards the west now
Spring has arrived empty-handed today
Destroy me if your will so desires
Let my descendants remain in my dreams.
Where has his transparent youth vanished
Where does decay gnaw away furtively
Abject defeat in the corner of my eye
Pours poison in my arteries, lungs and veins.
Let the azaan from a grey emptiness
Awaken the extremities of the city
Turn me to stone, make me quiet, still
Let my descendants remain in my dreams.
Or is there no relief for the future
In the germs of sin that my body bears?
In celebrating my own barbaric win
I summon death to my own house.
Or do the flashing lights in the palace
Burn all my bones, even my heart,
And allow a million foolish moths
To find a home deep within my frame?
You have endowed me with many things
Where will you put me when I’m in ruins
It’s better that you destroy me, oh god
Let my descendants remain in my dreams.

The Poet In Italy

The train is running from Florence to Turin
The year is 1926, the 18th of June
At Milan station a duke appears, saying softly
‘What you see is not all there is. All I can say
Is that it’s best not to talk politics.
Speech has no freedom here. And all these murders...’
Abruptly the train leaves. Creases on the poet’s brow.
Has there been an indiscreet mistake, after all?

He seemed a worthy leader, energetic, devoted to the nation
He seemed an artist too, the kind seen in artists’ eyes
All true. Then why does Benedetto Croce slink home furtively at dawn?
Why is there suppressed fear on so many people’s faces?

After Turin the poet visits Rolland at Villeneuve
His friends silent, Rolland wonders: Is it possible?
From him we want to hear of liberated thought
Of the independence of reason in our work
Can he be so blind?

The poet must broadcast how the historian Salvemini lives abroad
Why, for that matter, the exiled Salvadori languishes in Zurich
The gash of protest splitting whose face is woven in blood
Terror and tyranny across the country behind closed doors
He must explain that this is a time of existence
When the leader crawls in public before the lumpen’s raised finger
That this is a time when
Decibels alone can turn blatant lies to immaculate truth
This is a time when
In a lawless land the only law is the dictator’s wish
This is a time when
Killers consign innocent flesh to sacrificial flames in every home
You have not seen all this, poet
You have only seen a festive, cheering, resplendent, bejewelled Rome

Rolland was silent, silent his aggrieved friends
Listeners frowned. He must have made a mistake then
He had to tell the world of his change of vision
With pain and shame the poet took his pen up again

The Dream

There will be no birds in the world except in twelve cities.
This is the dream I wake up from
In a sky packed with saffron the red soil or a cell is on fire
The murder of all the birds smears my eyes with black
Roasted feathers drift in the wind
Only the unsheathed sword glints in the sun
All three points of the trident are embedded in the Himalayas
Snails, snails, nothing but their shells all over the land
From the source to the mouth murky water flows, a vortex
Ecstatic vultures screech deafeningly
Yeh toh pehla jhanki hai
This is just the first act
Acts fly in the air, on the ground prowls the jaguar
In my dream our dream of India fights someone else’s war


Make him a little more drunk
How else will he
Bear this world easily.
He’s still young, lord!
Age him now, then –
How else will this
World bear him easily.


“Let some doubt remain, too much certainty isn’t right”
With these last words you left for the uncertain world.
Since then, out of natural doubt over what you told me
Can I have my original certainty back once again?

Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha.