Sukanta Bhattacharya’s Poetry in Translation

By Lopa Banerjee 

To My Lady-Love (Translated from his original Bengali poem ‘Priyatamasu’) 
Note: My humble tribute to the prolific poet, playwright of Bengal, Sukanta Bhattacharya (15 August 1926 – 13 May 1947), who happens to be one of the key figures of modern Bengali poetry. Research in his volatile, passionate body of literary works states that during his short life-span, most of his poems were not widely circulated, but after his death his reputation grew to the extent that he became one of the most popular Bengali poets of the 20th century, having a significant influence on some of the doyens of contemporary Bengali poetry, including Subhas Mukhopadhyay. Many of his popular poems have also immensely inspired renowned composer Salil Chowdhury.
The poetry of Sukanta Bhattacharya, though largely characterized by rebel socialist thoughts, patriotism and humanism, has significant streaks of romanticism embedded in its texture. One such poem is translated here.

Lopamudra Banerjee
I stand today, a watchman in the borders.
I stand here, crossing many gory paths on my way,
Today, I stumble upon the borders of my motherland.

From the grey lands of Tunisia to the serene, calm Italy,
To the rebellious France, I have run away, the fugitive,
From France to the neighboring Burma, my escapades
Continued, relentless. Like the bewildered destiny,
Struck by the stars, I have run away,
The invincible, the unvanquished rebel, armed with a rifle.

Today, I am still wearing the coarse soldier’s attire,
My hands still bear the weight of the rifle,
The rifle that has seen the ripples of victory,
The unbearable pride of power-play in the blood-drops it has shed.
Today, I stand, forlorn, the watchman in the borders.
I look at the clear blue sky, its invitation from up above.
The ardent air of my motherland, pregnant with pleas,
Opens up a green, verdant letter, dangling in front of my eyes.
I know not, how I will evade reading the letter.
My coarse soldier’s attire, a mockery of my own being.
The war is over now. In the war-stricken fields, peace sings
Its sweet refrain. The cool breeze of hard-earned peace
Hovers over my weary eyes.
My hand that has clutched the rifle tight, all this while,
Loosens its grip every moment.
The soldier’s attire, sitting tight in my body for all this while,
Like my second skin, wants to peel off, truant, defiant.
The moon croons in the night sky, I look at it, insomniac.

You do not know, beloved, how you have invaded my thoughts
In those countless days. How I craved for you
amid the endless waiting, trying to gauge the footsteps of my enemies.
How my mind longed for you amid the sound and fury of those explosive bombs.
You do not know, how my mind has rebelled, for you,
Amid the victories accomplished in the wars, how my charred heart has burnt
In anguish, in the flames of repentance, thinking how I have left you,
Abandoned you, amid daily ignominy,
How I have thrown you in the flames of famine,
How I have left you to die, in the darkest hours of storm and flood,
In the direst onslaughts of disasters.
How I have ignored you, unabashed, and ran away, from one war-front to the next.
I know not today, if you live still, I know not today, if our house still lives,
Or has the flood and famine taken you all?

I do not know then, why I am writing to you today, in an egoistic hope.
Time has come for me to return home.
I know, today nobody awaits my return, back at home.
Nobody awaits, with garlands or flags,
With lamps or the auspicious water-pot,
Nobody to felicitate me on my bravery, no jubilant voices
To celebrate my valor. But I know, one lone heart will long
To dance at my long-awaited arrival, and that is yours.

I do not long for any more wars, any more escapades,
For the war, now, is over.
I do not look forward to set my foot in Indonesia, or in any alien land,
But to return, backwards, to my abandoned home.
All these days, I have fought, relentless, for others.
Today, I long to fight for both of us.
You may ask me, what I have obtained, fighting for so long?
Well, my dear, I have gained victory in Tunisia.
I have gained the alliance of a vast community in Italy.
France gifted me with the mantra of freedom.
And our neighbor, the unopposed Burma gifted me
With the urgency to return home.

I feel like the man holding the lamp,
The loner, out on the streets in the eager evenings,
Igniting the lamp for the passers-by, while in his own abode
No lamp burns, as the unbearable dark engulfs his home.