On Behula’s Raft

Khondakar_Ashraf | 10 Jan , 2008  

(A part of Bangali mythology, the Behula-Lakhindar story is the reverse of the Orpheus-Eurydice myth: here the wife seeks to bring back her husband, who died of snakebite as a result of the wrath of a vengeful goddess, from the domain of death. Behula, the wife, floats on a raft with her husband’s deadbody along the rivers of Bengal and reaches the court of god Indra, where she pleads for her husband’s resurrection. )


Why did you touch me, Behula, my Bangladesh?
For an aeon I have been afloat on your raft
supine on my skeletal bed, nursed by your tears–
Why did you awaken me after all these years from my
long sleep
— Sleep, that enchantress wrapped in so much magic,
with so much effulgence in her folds!

Waking, I saw darkness dissolve like water around the oar
and you holding my head in your palms
amidst the ceaseless splash–
I didn’t greet you with ‘good morning’;
I rather hurled a curse at you like Durbasha, the sage:
“May blindness overtake you, may the showers of light
never impregnate you, may you lie on,
unconscious like all your rivers!”

At your touch my body now raises its cobra-like head;
In my veins the simmering heat of Jaishtha looks for
dry grass
As though it would kindle an immense bushfire from a spark
Or, in momentary rage break a big chunk from a boulder.

Why did you waken me?
Hearing million’s of Behula’s outcries I turned over my side
in bed; I didn’t mind the demon that trundled on
with the severed heads of a million babies;
When they burnt down temples and mosques,
I lit my cigarettes from the cinders;
Draupadi’s looted honour, her desperate moans
had taken me to the golden arbours of delight
They said, “Look at your mother’s image”:
I looked on without blinking, at the sight.

Then why did you waken me up after so many years?
What more do you want from me?
Do you beg a rose’s smile from an impotent seed?
Or want a waterless cloud to impregnate the womb of

Alas, why have you borne me for so long from ghat to ghat
seeking to revive me , resuscitate life in these
parched limbs;
You danced in Indra’s divine court, you wept, you played
a flute of reeds: people took you for Orpheus’s beloved.
A shameless villain of the town lured you to a deserted
and stuffed handkerchief under your blouse;
You made a diaphanous headscarf with my shroud-cloth;
laying me out naked on the sunlit pavement
begged for coppers and dimes from foreign traders.

Why have you wakened me at last?
I can hear now the onrush of water through my veins;
In the empty sockets of my eyes flushes the sun—
Just as tidewater carries away the boat,
Just as human corpses float belly down in the coastal
Just as youthful maidens sink in the rushing floodwater –

I am sinking, but still trying to raise my head
I am struggling to be on my feet again; my chest
expanding, the ribs have vanished under the muscles.
I now stand in the street
with rage pasted on my back and my chest:
I must be avenged for thousand deaths and denigrations.
I must have my revenge!
Blood for blood, life for life!
For millions of deaths and denigrations!

Is this the boulevard where once I had ridden the steed
of my thirst?
Is this where I walked with my beloved, hand in hand?
Is this where I decked my cummerbund with the wreaths of

You trees on two sides, have you forgotten the springtime
cuckoo’s calls?
Have you, O reverend trees, forgotten our loving eyes?

Ah, after an aeon I see you once again,
My beloved Bangladesh, my Behula, my dearest one!
I see you’re weeping, with penitence in eyes for the past;
With bowed knees, like a maiden, you’re begging
for the seed of life.
At last I give you a blessing, I greet you with ‘good
May you be fruitful again with the immense stroke of

May you and I stand up against the ruthless sun!


3 Responses

  1. Afifa Anwar Khanam says:

    I enjoyed this beautiful piece of art work. We can say Khondakar Ashraf Hossaion is a poet of unique power and formal skill. I am sure the enduring significance of his work has been acknowledged by each individual who claims to be a poetry lover. His startling pastoral imageries had created a poetic language of his own.I am fervently waiting to read the book ‘On Behula’s Raft’.

  2. farhan ishraq says:

    I’m tremendously moved at the synthesis of linguistic fabric and emotive splendor of the poem.

  3. Abdullah al Mujahid says:

    The fine translation done by our respected sir.

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