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Translation of ‘The First Chapter’ By Fahmida Riaz

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These verses from Fahmida Riaz’s poem Pehla Baab (the first chapter) have been translated by Tahira Naqvi. In this poem, Fahmida explores the various societal pressures including censorship due to which poets and dissenters often have to hold themselves back from expressing themselves. Though frustrated by the hurdles, she vows to ignore the naysayers and keep fighting the fight by using the power of pen. It goes without saying that much of it remains relevant even today.

 

 

“The First Chapter”

 

Today a metaphor has died inside me just from weariness

The words stand around in amazement

And rhyme has shrugged off my hand and departed

 

 

The earth has become barren

And meter … it has fallen on its face

Where along the way

Did my melody get lost?

 

Will you too …

My poetry, will you too?

Turn away from me? Avoid me?

 

Will you also present in engraved bowls of counsel

A well-balanced diet of shamelessness and rape?

Like my well-wishers my sympathizers

Who in this blistering afternoon

Are resting comfortably in their cool rooms

Who have wearied of the drama of this long and monotonous struggle,

And now want to drop the curtain …

They say

“The body is a guest chamber

After twenty years, twenty-five years

Someone comes to reside here

To take on the accounting of loss and profit

And cancels every sale that incurs loss”

Doubtless they may be right

But alas, helplessness!

 

My previous soul has taken over my body

I cannot kick her out

She fastens herself to my pores

Wrangles with me

Shakes me up and throws me to the ground

Until I laugh and give up

And I say in a tearful voice

“All right, you win, you wretch …”

 

My soul is unbending, how can you fit her into a crooked mold

 

I cannot twist her around

She keeps me faltering forward, alert

Pushing my body on the merciless avenues

Like a nail in a broken shoe

She talks to the soles of my feet

On the wide avenue of the city

In front of the  grand American Embassy

Where there is the shade of rows of trees

She makes me walk in the blistering heat between them

I keep walking , carrying the weight of my fracture

Dashing my head against the walls of my era

I keep walking drenched in my own sweat

Walking in the sun I make a pledge to myself

I will write an epic poem

Booming with the beating of the hooves of martial riders

Thundering with the force of violent storms

Thrashing about whips of lightening

Containing the jingling of bloody swords

Raining flames and fire

 

My pen will sing it

And the poem

Colored with the angry blood of my thousand rebirths

Turning into the Red, red flag

Will wave in the air far, far on the roads

My epic poem will turn into a thousand bombs and explode

Its debris will spread all over the earth

There will be dust blowing everywhere

The stones in the tall arrogant buildings will fall in prostration

And in those tall many-storied structures

Bedecked on foam cushions these straw puppets

Will be buried in the dust forever

Even their shreds will not be found

And they are shreds even now

Tied to chairs

Every morning a hand grows out of the wall

Polishes to a shine their chairs

And then ties them back again

So that they may keep slithering and hissing all day

Right on your face

Their filthy and tiny selves

Deviously enter into your desiccated throat

To stifle you

Slithering … Slithering !

 

Until you go mad

They crawl over your body

Like red ants

Croaking like frogs

They leap and dive in

Conversing in some non-human speech

It is some non-human matter

That they impart to me again and again

How can I believe it?

I cannot even understand it!

 

 

I keep going

Chewing my intentions between my teeth

Drawing together my dispersed being

Which is warped and bent again and again

To turn into a knot on my forehead

 

I had left in the early hours of dawn

And now

The day is about to end

Look … I did not stop anywhere to catch my breath

I did not sit in the shelter of compromise

When I miss a step, I stagger

I repeat my pledge

The promise to write a song about gunpowder

But …

My friend,

I do get tired!

Does hearing me say this disappoint you

No, no, my companion

Let me speak truthfully

Don’t let me conceal anything

Everything … the whole truth

Don’t be afraid, the whole truth is not ugly

Whatever is misshapen in it

Is like the blemish on the moon

Will you not gaze at the full moon?

 

Have you ever seen the face of fear?

… Perhaps no one has ever seen it

His face is always covered in white bandages

And there are always mysterious directives in his hands

And when these are carried out …

It’s like a frightening dream

Disconnected and vague

He can never be seen

When the moment of contest is a reality

And you clench your teeth and wrestle with this moment

Sucking in every single drop of your rage

Fix your gaze on the eyes of the ghastly moment

And spit on his face

Filling your mouth with the contempt of a thousand rebirths

At that time … he hides behind the door

This is much later

Long after the police investigation

Some single moment of rest

A minute of peace

Then on tiptoe he sneaks out from his hiding place

Before the eyes drowsy from fatigue

Suddenly shuddering

He places an icy hand upon your breast

And your heart jumps into your throat

 

Just a sudden footfall

And the brain became the scream of a siren

Police!

And …

After this …

Every knock on the door

The sound of every step on the stairs

Every footfall on the street

Conveys just one thought to the throbbing head

Police … Police … Police!

This is called tyranny

You are fortunate if you understood the symbols

These pills, the tranquilizers, are useful

To rid you of dread!

But what is this?

Your restless limbs

Had not yet absorbed

The kindness of the doctors

When suddenly one day

Thak Thak Thak!”

And at the door

Is dread again wearing the despicable uniform of reality

Let it be Doctor sahib

What can pills really do!

The cure for this disease

Is not in these pills

Have you ever sat at a table

And had tea with an official informer?

When he also knows

That you know

That which you can’t speak of

And which he can hear

Then what’s with these cups of tea?

Is it a chunk of ice

That has to be swallowed

Continue a conversation flippantly

And he poor fellow, driven by necessity

He too is laughing in embarrassment

He appears more disturbed than you

Perhaps he is not that well-trained!

O God, for the training of informing

On honor and disgrace

How much time is required?

One year, one day?

Or one moment, weakened by pressure?

Was it not possible

That you would not have recognized him?

Would that not have been much better?

But now, laughing pretentiously

Blinking his sad eyes

He keeps talking, keeps talking

Until your restlessness

Would be immobilized by weariness

And you would start weeping

And your hands would tremble

Ill-fated!  Ill-fated!

 

But then on the way home

At every street corner

At every crossing

You don’t turn to look back

To see if anyone is pursuing you

If anyone is keeping an eye on you

A medicine for relief of bodily pain?

More pills?

All right, my friend

But it will not be possible to repeat again and again

The mistake of thinking it is dread

Why do we lower our eyes

Whenever your roaring truck filled with khaki uniforms

Crosses our path

 

Why do our gazes sink into the earth?

O Earth, give us an answer

We have looked at you through the screen of tears

The truck filled with khaki uniforms is passing

Honking the horn of satisfaction

 

In one heart …

In a defenseless heart

A madness is awakening

An expectant stone lying on the ground is seen

Should someone pick it up?

Hurl it really hard at the uniform-filled truck?

Perhaps, in them

Inside some shirt

There might be a heart

In which a tinkle will echo

In one heart

In a thousand hearts

In numerous hearts

Beating in a million hearts

Stuck in the windpipes

But still alone

Helpless! Helpless!

No, there’s no heart inside this truck

There are only guns in it

And their bullets strike hearts

The sounds are not heard

For these have been fired to kill the sounds

 

A lone, defenseless desire is stirring

And is on its last breath

Until this truck passes

You will have to walk like this

Dragging your gaze on the ground

 

Why do people go mad

While they are explaining this to us

It does not pass with a “zun

It does not disappear from your sight

It moves slowly without a care

Taunting those who walk nearby

Passersby helplessly move out of the way

The public that is dressed in auctioned garments!

Helpless, defenseless, and hence lowly

Why, what else can it do!

 

At the paan-beeri shop

Hangs a thread-like burning string

The coughing, wheezing sickly old man

Has lit his cigarette with the tip of the string

And turning, he spits

 

The Earth

Protector of her children’s secrets

Earth, dear mother

Breaks into a smile, laughs

Through the screen of tears I saw this laugh

Mother!

You understand every gesture of your mute child

You smile

So here,

My tears have also turned into a smile

Because in my country

Yesterday a ban had been placed on weeping openly

But today it is forbidden also to laugh openly

 

And we …

Who cannot cry and cannot laugh

And can only see you

You who are our confidante

O you Earth of my land!

 

 

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