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Shakti Chattopadhyay

Walks Behind, Remains Remote

He walks behind me, from a polite distance,
Keeping his eye on me. I try to hide in a crowd;
He pretends his mind is elsewhere, or, at best,
He looks as if he is fooled and separates himself.

Still he follows. I move quickly, silently,
Behind a crumbling wall, its moss rubs off on my face
When suddenly I find him holding on to the other side,
Standing, keeping up an appearance of studied regard.

His eyes, expressionless, he keeps fixed on me
Yet, in fact, he may be looking upwards
Seeing a bird, the clouds' movements, or the old tiles
Of a primary school. When it begins to rain,
Unconstrained, he moves under my umbrella, like a snail
Drawn into its spiral shell. Nearing, he remains remote.

Translated by Sibnarayan Ray

Otherwise Why Should You Be Human

A group of mud-smeared dark boys

Their loin-clothes raised above their knees
Excitedly catching fish, as they plunge into the water
Beside the ankle-high ridge in the middle of the pool.
Over on the other side
Their loin-cloth pouches fill with little jiyal
Their hollow hampers full already
Draining away water from one side of the pool
Into the other half
So they can grab the fish with bare hands.
Before the rains
The earth dry and parched
The naked backs of the boys burning in the sun
Like the outside of earthen pots darkened
In the smoke of burning sawdust
While they desperately pat themselves on the back
With wet mud to bring down the summer heat
Trying hard ---
And later
Would come the inevitable rolling in the soft slime
For this was not the time to use the usual
Net-baskets of bamboo.
It's time now
Simply to run over the lowly varieties of fish
And seize them
And gulp the fish down, fried.
Even if no cooking oil is there.
And if one is lucky to catch any shol
Then, to roast this fish and take these
with a bowl of watered rice-
Enough if there is a little salt to go with it.
In the first rains
As mudskippers wriggle up with whirring noises
And streams rush down from high hillocks
To fill the pools, now clear and pellucid-
Delighted, the small fish rise
Erect with their barbed bodies
Becoming difficult to get a hold on them.
And bristles?
Yes, there are.
As there are ways and ways
Or else life can't go on.
It is the same everywhere in the world
It has to be caught the right way.
Otherwise it slips through your hands
And isn't there your loss or gain in this?
But, let things be as they are.
In the eyes of that man behind
One has to reach out for some such example
Of success, struggle or fear-
Otherwise why should you be human?
You could have been a shy mimosa creeper!

Translated. Jayanta Mahapatra

Abani, Are You Home?

Abani, are you home?

Behind locked doors, this block is sleeping tight
Someone came knocking, deep into the night,
"Abani, are you home?"

It rains here all year round
Like grazing cattle - the clouds soar,
Green stems of tall grass outbound
Press against the door,
"Abani, are you home?"

A searing pain into my half-awake heart lashes deep,
In its middle, as I fall asleep,
Suddenly came someone knocking, deep into the night,
"Abani, are you home?"

Translated by Arindam Basu

I can go, but why shall I ?

I think, I will rather turn back
So long,
I have smeared so much soot in my hands
Never thought of you as you are ---

Now, when I stand by the gorge at night,
The moon beckons, come on over ---
Now, when I stand mesmerized by the levee,
The pyre logs call, "come, c'mon over!"

I can go,
I can go in any direction
But why shall I go?

Got to kiss a long one to my kid
Will go,
But not right now
I will take you along as well
Won't go alone before time.

Translated by Arindam Basu

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