Poems

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. )

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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
earth?

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
alley
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
bores;
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
desire?

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
morning’–
May you be fruitful again with the immense stroke of
light…

May you and I stand up against the ruthless sun!

chairengdu@yahoo.com


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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