PRISONER'S POEMS

- by Taslima Nasreen. (Translated by Samik Bandopadhyay and Sujal Bhattacharya)

These poems were written while Taslima was forced to live in confinement in an undisclosed location in Delhi from 22 November 2007 to 19 March 2008.


The room in which I am forced . . .
The room in which I now live has a closed window,
A window that I cannot open at will.
The windowís covered with a heavy curtain that I cannot move at will.
I live in a room now,
Where I cannot open the door at will, cannot cross the threshold.
I live in a room, where the only other living inhabitants are
Two sickly lizards on the wall. No man or any creature resembling a man is allowed here.
I live in a room where I find it a great strain to breathe.
Thereís no sound around, but for banging your head against the wall.
Nobody else in the world watches, expect the couple of lizards.
They watch with eyes wide open, who knows if they feel the painóMaybe they feel it.
Do they too cry, when I cry?
I live in a room where I donít want to live,
A room where I am forced to live,
A room where democracy forces me to live for days unending,
In a room in the dark, in incertitude, with a threat hanging,
In pain, breathing with difficulty, democracy forces me to live,
In a room where secularism drains me away of life, drop by drop.
In a room my dear India forces me . . .
I do not know if all those over busy men or creatures that look like men will have a couple of seconds to spare to turn to
The lifeless lump that comes out of the room some day,
A rotten, greasy lump, a lump of bones.
Will death be release? Itís death perhaps that sets one free,
Free at last to cross the threshold.
The lizards will stare away the whole day,
Maybe they too will feel sad.
Someone will bury me, maybe a government man,
Wrapped in the flag of democracy, in the soil of my dear India .
Iíll find a home there at last, with no threshold to cross,
Iíll find a home there where breathing will be easy.
-----

Time
Iím no longer annoyed when I wake up at three in the night,
If you donít have a good nightís sleep, the day doesnít go well, people say.
How does it matter if the day doesnít go well!
Night and day, theyíre all the same for me.
Day, like day, sits at a distance, night acts like night.
When itís time to sleep, itís lying awake, curled up, face pressed in.
All this night and day, all this time, Iíve nothing to do with them.
When life and death become the same, thereís nothing to do about it anyway.
Now, with all my pleading, I canít separate life from death,
For the time being, I cannot lift death from life casually and put it away somewhere.
-----

Terror
Soldiers, rifles in hand, stalk about, all around.
I stand in their midst, unarmed.
The soldiers donít know me, they stare at the unarmed woman from time to time, with a strange look.
Nobody knows why Iím suddenly here.
A dirty body, grimy clothes, depressed unkempt hair,
I donít have shackles on me, but they are somewhere still,
They can sense it, they can feel it, I wonít be able to take a step in any direction if I so desired.
In their eyeballs I can see a dreadful cognizance.
The rifles, they know, are meant to strike terror
The bayonets, the boots, are meant to strike terror.
Theyíd be hurt awfully, if they canít strike terror.
I do not have the legal right to hurt anyone.
They could inform their superiors that this one refuses to be terrorized,
And tries to snap her chains relentlessly.
The superiors would certainly order me to be hanged.
Once the day and time for the hanging is fixed,
Theyíd feed me on fish curry, hilsa and shrimps.
Then if I say, I wonít eat!
If I donít let out a sigh on the gallows!
If I have the guts not to be terrorized even when theyíve put the noose on!
-----

Canít I have a homeland to call my own?
Am I so dangerous a criminal, so vicious an enemy of humanity,
Such a traitor to my country that I canít have a homeland to call my own?
So that my land will snatch away from the rest of my life my homeland?
Blindly from the northern to the southern hemisphere,
Through mountains and oceans and rows and rows of trees,
Blindly in the heavens, in the moon, in the mists and in sunshine,
Blindly groping through grass and creepers and shrubs, earth and mankind, I have gone
Searching for my homeland.
Once I had exhausted the world, I touched the shores
Of my homeland to exhaust my span of life,
Only to have the sense of security of an utterly exhausted thirsty soul
Brutally uprooted, and you throw away the little water cupped in my hand,
And sentence me to death, what name can I have for you, land?
You stand on my chest like an enormous mountain,
You stamp on my throat with your legs in boots,
You have gouged out my eyes,
You have drawn my tongue out and snapped it into pieces,
You have lashed and bloodied my body, broken both my legs,
You have pulverized my toes, prized open my skull to squash my brain,
You have arrested me, so that I die,
Yet I call you my homeland, call you with infinite love.
Iíve uttered a few home truths, hence I am a traitor to my homeland.
Iím a traitor because youíve chosen to walk shoulder to shoulder with liars in procession.
Youíve warned me with raised fingers to give a damn to humanity,
And whatever else I may have or not, I canít have a homeland to call my own.
My land, you dug into my heart and hacked out of my life my own homeland.
-----

Interned
Think of me, if youíre ever interned,
If your legs are ever chained.
If ever someone goes away
Having locked the room in which you are
From outside, not within, think of me.
Thereís nobody anywhere around can hear you,
Your mouth stuck, your lips stitched tight,
You want to speak, you canít.
Or youíre speaking, but nobody can hear you,
Or hearing, but only dismissively,
Think of me.
Just as youíd desire so madly that someone opened the door,
Free you from all your chains and stitches,
So has I desired too.
A month passed by, nobody came this way.
Theyíd thought who knows what might happen if the door was opened.
Think of me.
When it hurts you hard, think thatís how I felt too.
Even if one moves with caution at every step,
One can still get interned just like that, anyone, even you,
Then you and I are all the same, with not he least difference,
Then you are like me, waiting too for a man,
The darkness closes in, no man comes.
-----

For some years now
For some years now, I have been standing quite close to death, almost face to face,
Standing dumb before my mother, my father, some dear people,
For some years now.
For some years now I do not know exactly whether Iím dead or alive,
For some years now the distinction between living and death
Has gone on reducing till itís a thread now
Waving in emptiness.
For some years now the being that inhabits me within and without
Has been a horrible, dumb creature,
The last leaf long gone from its tree,
Spring gone forever from its life.
If I die tonight, donít speak a word,
Only bury an epitaph under a shiuli tree somewhere,
An epitaph Iíve written over some years now,
An epitaph neatly written in white on a white sheet.
-----

India
India is not just India , even from before I was born,
India has been my history.
My history, carved into two by daggers of animosity and hatred, running breathlessly towards uncertain possibilities,
with the terrible crack at the core,
History bloodstained, history turned death.
It is this India that has given me language,
Has enriched me with culture
And powerful dreams.
This India can, if it so desires, snatch
My history away from my life,
My homeland from my dream.
But why should I let it drain me dry only because it so desires?
Hasnít India brought forth those noble souls,
Who place their hands today on my tired shoulders,
On the abandoned shoulders of this helpless, orphaned soul?
These hands, longer than the land, stretched beyond space and time,
Gives me warmly cherished security against all worldly cruelties.
Madanjeet Singh, Mahasweta Devi, Muchukund Dubeóthey are my homeland today,
Their hearts my true country.
-----

CCU to CCU (Coronary Care Unit to Calcutta )
Away from home,
Away from my dear cat, my books and papers, my friends,
Away from my life,
With my face and head covered in a quilt stinking of uncertainty,
Lying for days on end
Lying one knows not where,
With the heart gnawed and clawed viciously.
Then when the heart stops, the inevitable CCU,
To draw life somehow back from the edge,
Back to throbbing, the heart would like to return, the sick body seeks home,
To return to the cat, to friends, to the cherished touch.
The mind journeys from CCU to CCU . . . !
Who cares to listen to the heart!
Picked up from the CCU, she is told,
In a voice severely sombre, that shakes you to the core,
Go to some other country, leave this land.
Where can I go? Iíve no other place to go,
When I die, bury me in this soil,
You can then tear up the soil to find my roots.
Who cares to look into anything?
Who cares to be miserable at a human being washed away in her own tears screaming for help?
From the CCU into exile,
They flung me once again like dirt into darkness,
They had washed their hands clean, the distinguished authorities,
I stood before them, with bowed head, and folded hands.
----


No Manís Land
If your homeland does not give you home,
Then tell me what land in the world will give you home.
After all, all the lands are more or less the same kind,
The rulers have the same appearance, the same character.
When they seek to persecute you, they do it the same way.
They pierce you with needles with the same glee.
They sit stony-faced before your crying, dancing all the while within.
They may have different names, but even in the dark youíll know them,
Their loudness, their whispers, their footsteps will betray them,
When they rush in the direction the wind takes,
The wind will tell you who they are.
Rulers are rulers after all.
The harder you try to persuade yourself that no homeland belongs to people, to those who love it,
The more you persuade someone that itís yours,
That you have cast it in your heart,
That you have mapped it with the brush of your labour and dreams,
Where will you go when the rulers drive you out?
What land opens its doors to shelter one whoís been driven out?
How can you think of any land offering you home?

You are nobody now,
Maybe not even human.
Whatever else is there for you to lose?
Drag the world into the open and tell it,
Let it give you a spot there to stand, to give you a home there,
From now on let the bit of unwanted piece of earth be yours
That remains as no oneís once the borders of a land close.
-----

The Safe House
Iím compelled to live in such a house
Where Iím forbidden to say íI like it notí
Though I feel aghast to live in here.

Such a safe house I live in
Where Iím destined to live and suffer
But cannot weep.
I must avoid eye contact with others
Lest I should expose my pains inconclusive.
In this house everyday at dawn
My longings are slaying and before evening descends
The pallid corpses are buried on its courtyard.

My deep sighs break the silence of the safe house
All other sounds are inconspicuous within and without the house.
Every night I go to bed trepidation,
And with the same feelings I wake up,
While awake, I subject my own shadow to a monologue.

Iím caught unawares by the invasion of a venomous snake,
Hurtling wrath and loathing, squirms all over my body
And hiss: Be off transcending boundaries
Hush-hush escape to a far off quaint land
Towards the impassable mountains.
While creeping around the shadow, the serpent demands:
Get lost forever.

Friends, do pray for me
For my safe exit, from the safe house,
Pray for my lucky sojourn,
Once in safety in an unsafe house.
-----

We
Last night a house lizard sprang up from nowhere and landed on me. Then it squirmed along the upper part of my being and came towards my shoulder. After getting past my shoulder, it scaled towards my head and hid itself into the bush of my hairs. From there, it kept gawking for a couple of hours at a second lizard and at dawn, sliding down by my ear, it ultimately remained squatting on my spine. The second one was lying prostrate on my right leg, around two inches below my knee. Throughout the night, none of them budged a little from their positions. Having failed to remove them, I did what I normally do. I kept lying with my eyes first closed. Silently I counted reverse-from one hundred to one, copiously. Though thereís no rationale behind this reverse counting.


My bed is a confounded mess of dirty clothes, used trays and bowls with leavings of meals; notebooks for scribbling, old newspapers that have turned brown because of stains of tea; one or two combs with traces sticking in them; one or two stray puffed rice that have lost their crispness; scattered strips of pills and phial of potions; inkless pens etc. etc.


For some days more than two hundred black ants, very large in size have occupied my bed. They have girded up their loins to build their new home on my bed. Gradually theyíre holding their full sway over me. Theyíre too tiny creatures. Shrivelled in fear, for days on end, I myself have become as tiny as the ants. Iím stunned at their meanour. Theyíve been performing dance programmes in classical form on the surface of my being but not for even once have I been bitten by one of them, even by mistake. I believe theyíve taken it for granted that I also belong to them.

PERHAPS IíM SAFER IN THE COMPANY OF THE INSECTS THAN THAT OF PEOPLE.
-----

My Bengal
My Bengal has ceased to exist,
My Bengal has now eroded,
Her body has rusted away.
The east and the west are mixed up.
Today she's a confounded mess.


The fanatics brandish their sceptre,
While cowards walk out with bowed heads.
Surely this age belongs to headless demons,
Courage and honesty being banished.
Bengal is in the clutch of intriguing rulers,
My Bengal abounds with flatterers;
The rest of the populace comprise:
The self-centered, inert and rubbish.

I weep over my Bengal to exhaust my tears.
May one day her soil be fertile,
May true humans sprout on her soil,
May the ill-fated Bengal habitable for humans.
-----

A Query
When I die, leave my corpse there.
There where they vivisect dead bodies,
In the mortuary of the Medical College.
For I've vowed to donate my mortal frame there.
So leave me after death at Kolkata.
The city has willed to disown me in life,
Will she accept me after death?
-----

Not my City
This isn't the kind of city,
Once I called my own.
The city belongs to foxy politicians,
Unscrupulous traders, flesh racketeers, pimps, loompens, rapists,
But this cannot be my city.

The city belongs to mute witnesses,
To rape and murder but not to me,
The city belongs to hypocrites,
Feigning nonchalance to the sight of destitute,
At slums and beggars dying on the avenues of the rich.
This is the city of the escapists,
Who at the slightest premonition of a peril,
Make the hastiest retreat.
This is the city of the spooks
They stoically sit on the piles of injustice;
Here they go into rhapsodies,
Over the question of life after death.
This is the city of the soothsayers,
Agents of self-aggrandizement, opportunists.
I can never call it my own city, never.
Liars, cheats, religious bigots abound in here;
In this city, we're a handful of men and women
Armed with logic, liberal thoughts,
Voice against injustice,
Live in beating hearts.
Not my City
-----

Some tit-bits of my life in captivity

Bathing
Day after day I donít take a bath.
Months roll by, pungent smell wafting out of my body.
Yet, I feel no urge for a bath.
Why should I? Whatís the use of a bath?
An inexplicable apathy for a bath engulfs me.

Swallowing
A man comes,
Thrice a day,
To offer me food.
It matters little,
If I enjoy it or not,
But I must swallow it.
Were I able to live without eating!
Then I could have said to them:
Give me whatever you intend,
Except the stuff called food.

Sleeping
Before I lull myself to sleep,
I suffer from a constant phobia:
If something devilish befalls meÖÖ.
If I fail to wake up again!
If I fall asleep
Startled, I wake up, repeatedly,
As though one suffering from sleep apnea.
I look around to ponder:
Is it my own bed-room?
No this isnít the room I own.

Banishment is merely a nightmare,
It cannot be the part of the verisimilitude.
As long as Iím awake during the daytime
Banishment dwells on me like a nightmare.
Sleep! I take a fright at you,
Lest you should vaporize my dubious reverie.

Movement
The room I inhabit is rectangular
Captivated within its four walls,
I just stalk from one corner to another.
If Iím so zealous to stalk at all;
The order from the top, I must oblige.
The room lies detached from me like a frigid partner,
I, on the other corner, lie prostrated,
By the order from the top.
In stark silence, I wonder:
Is it the same good, old earth,
I knew so vast and generous once?
Since when has it become so parsimonious?

Meeting
Even in the prisons,
They honour some rules,
The permission to meet visitors,
Being one of the impositions.
Iím a prisoner
Compelled to be a non-conformist.
Without friends or relatives.
I send petitions daily
To be favoured like a prisoner,
The Government of India is reticent.
-----

So let them rule the world!
So let them get the license,
Let all the doors of arsenals opened for them,
Let them wield the swords and hang the rifles from their waists,
Grenades in hands and the inspiration of Dar-ul-Islam in mind,
Let them go out on the streets and behead the infidel, torture women unto death,
Wrap the women with bowed heads with veils,
And confine them in the penthouses,
Let the rapists go berserk door to door to copulate,
And beget male babies to crowd the world.
Let all the males become Talibans overnight,
Let them grab the world from Argentina to Iceland,
From Maldives to Morocco, Bahama to Bangladesh be their citadel.
Let the mass leaders stoop down on the sacred land of Islam,
Let them crown the heads of the terrorists, one by one.

Let the leaders apologize with folded hands for their misdeeds,
And drink the Charanamrita of the fundamentalists to earn their grace.
-----

Sans people
Will you let me have a glimpse of people?
People on the streets? People sauntering by, people smiling.
People intending to take a right turn,
Suddenly changed the mind and took to the left.
People across the meadows,
Past the shops, cinemas, theatres, Opera houses,
People racing down, people in the cars, bus, tram, train.
How I wish to have a glimpse of them, the procession of people!
Will you let me have a glimpse of them-
Men, women and children in the houses?

Am I to live only with the fluky glimpse of a strip of cloud
Or the streak of sun, penetrating through the chinks of my window?
People, they said are barred out,
I've to live the rest of my life sans people.
-----

Freedom
Let all of you together find a fault with me,
at least a fault you all jointly work out,
or else, a harm shall befall you.
Let you all combine speak out why you've sent me in exile.
Say: Taslima, you're at the root of a pestilence, infant deaths
or you've committed as atrocious a crime as rape or genocide;
Say something like this, at least two or three of the stigmas to substantiate my banishment.
Until you detect a suitable blemish in me,
until you make me stand in the witness box,
to raise your accusing fingers in spiteful wrath at your black sheep,
how can you pardon yourselves?
Had you been able to say where I'm wrong,
the pangs of banishment wouldn't have engulfed me so harrowingly.
I'm eager to see you detect my wrong,
so that I can embrace you as my well-wishers.

Name my fault that made you ostracize me,
specify at least a loophole in my character.
By apportioning a blame on me,
you ensure your own acquittal.
Why should you let the history frown at you?
Why have you eclipsed the light of civilization,
by rooming with the darkness of medievalism?

Establish a cause for your action,
and if you can't,
then set me free,
not to save me,
but for your own survival.
-----

What a Country!
For more than an era,
my Country relished the pains I suffer,
watching my banishment in alien lands.
When the vision is blurred by distance,
they spy me through the hole of a binocular,
and roar in peels of laughter;
one forty million of them relish my own holocaust.

Never had my country been like this before,
She had something called Heart,
teeming with humanity.
Now she ceases to be the country I knew.
Now she is all some decrepit rivers only,
some hamlets and towns,
here and there some vegetations;
Some houses, markets and on the grey meadows,
some people who just resemble humans.

Once my country throbbed with life,
My countrymen recited poems.
Now none thinks twice before banishing a poet,
Now at dead of night, the whole country feel free to send a poet to the gallows;
one hundred and fifty million of them,
derive a lucretian pleasure
out of a poet's execution.
Once the country knew how to love.
Now She has learnt violence and frowning.
Sharp swords at her disposal,deadly weapons
tucked into her waist, fatal explosives in hand,
no longer can She sing a song.
Over an age, in search of a country,
I've been ransacking the globe;
Without a wink of sleep, decade after decade,
In my maddening pursuit of a country.

Reaching on the edge of my own country,
I wait with arms outstretched for her.
Alack! I've heard them say:
If my country ever gets me in her grip,
She'll build my sepulchre there.
 

Taslima Nasreen

Taslima Nasreen (born 25 August 1962 in Mymensingh, East Pakistan) is a Bengali Bangladeshi ex-physician turned feminist author who describes herself as a secular humanist. From a modest literary profile in the late 1980s, she achieved a meteoric rise to global fame by the end of the twentieth century, for her criticism of Islam and of religion in general. As return to Bangladesh was not possible, Taslima settled in Calcutta, India after long stay in Paris and Stockholm. In 2007, in the teeth of social protest, the government of India kept her in confinement in an undisclosed location for several months under tight security cover. Suffocated, she decided to quit India and eventually relocated to Sweden once again. Nevertheless, she continued to urge upon the Indian government for return to India. Finally, on 08 August 2008, she again landed in India. She is reported to be staying with an ex-Swedish diplomat in the suburbs of Delhi at an undisclosed location.