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Translated Poetry: A Dirge for Dead Poets

When Hindus die, the chief pallbearer circles the body seven times before setting it on fire. This is a secularization of that process of mourning
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When Hindus die, the chief pallbearer circles the body seven times before setting it on fire. This is a secularization of that process of mourning through a generous transcreation of the poems of seven dead poets. Let it be read as a long ‘stotra’ (Sanskrit hymn); each of its seven parts corresponds to each stage of the netherworld that the deceased must traverse.

Round One- for Rudra Mohammad Shahidullah (1956-91)

Leaving neither denotes an end, nor a closure
Nor does it imply grieving nights moist with tears
Once I depart, I will leave back
Something larger than my life to take over the void.


I know all of us must bow down to the ultimate truth
Life is beautiful
The sky, winds, oceans, and mountains are beautiful
Beautiful, the nature, forests, and trees
But what is truly beautiful is staying alive
Regardless of how ephemeral it might be
The horn honks, and my ride has arrived
Time to run off with a heavy heart
Suddenly I hear a cuckoo sing
Has spring arrived? Have the cherries bloomed?
This is what happens
This is how all of us must leave.

Leaving does not denote a separation
Once I am no longer, there will be
Something beyond me to fill in my place.

Round Two– for Tarapada Roy (1936-2007)

We will not meet for ages
Until we end up meeting one day
We will greet each other,
“Hasn’t it been long!”
And this is how days will pass
Month after month
Year after year
Until somebody informs
Or does not inform us
We will not be able to meet each other
ever again, in this life!

Round Three– for Arun Sarkar (1921-1980)

Where are you headed? I am driving straight
Are you taking right? Are you turning left?
Whatever route you take, we will surely meet
At the end of this freeway, under a huge banyan tree.
That will be when dusk sets in and the sparrows chirp back home
“I have seen enough”, I would confess
“So much has been experienced”, you would declare
Everyone else around would also agree
And thus finally, we will be past every conflict,
every squabble that we ever had.

Round Four– for Bhaskar Chakraborty (1945-2005)

Some of them love to escape, they leave a few messages
And make their run.
The hearse drives away empty
We wait under a tree. The funeral pyre refuses to die out.


So many different flowers show up on the branches every year
It is an indispensable truth, but do we pay heed?


Some of our friends depart without a warning,
Leaving us flabbergasted
But as we sit down
So new faces, the children of the morning
Pull our shirts and grin in innocence—teaching us
To titter, despite it all

Round Five– for Jibanananda Das (1899-1954)

Once this mortal body is left behind
Will I ever return to this planet?
If so, then may I be reincarnated
As the juicy flesh of a ripe tangerine
On a wintry night
Sitting in a basket on a table beside the bed
Of the debilitated friend I know
Infirmed, at a hospital.

Round Six– for Shakti Chattopadhyay (1933-1995)

Perhaps, it is smart to tailback now.


So much mud smeared for so many years
I have not thought of you
In a way, you would have liked


Nowadays, as I stand beside the cliff
The moon invites, “closer, come closer…”
As I stand half asleep beside the river
The waves summon, “come over, come over…”


I could go.
I could scram off wherever I desire
But why would I?

I would prefer to kiss my child on the cheek.

I will go, but no…this is not the time
Let me take all of you along with me
An untimely departure alone
Can never be my thing!

Round Seven– for Sunil Gangopadhyay (1934-2012)

Poets cannot simply disappear out of the blue
Though their muses can
I am not sure of others, but I have seen mine
Flash once in the sun and vanish
Just a few days ago, at the university crossing
Suddenly all the trees, traffic, buildings, and human beings
Dissolved in thin air, right at 16.45
That is how my muse enjoys my longing
The wind carried the frivolous echo of her laugh
I could not find my way back home
Flummoxed like a King, I stood on a chessboard
Nowadays, she loves to play these tricks on me
Her pranks keep increasing, what has happened to her?
I thought we were ageing, but she is getting younger
Lo and beyond how she just became a lavender
But there is no plant, only notes of the fragrance…
I remember how she once turned into a rock for a while
On the banks of the river Subarnarekha
I know none of you would believe what I am saying
Yes, that is how she is, unpredictable, miraculous!
She juggles every sight and image at her fingertips
And draws me like a magnet to the days we first met
And then, that is when even the Deity of Death
Folds his hands and begs for my pardon.

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