Kite & Other Poems: Bijoy Sankar Barman

An accomplished Assamese poet and translator, Bijoy Sankar Barman (b.1980) already has nine published books on different genres to his credit. The recipient of the prestigious Munin Barkataki Award in 2007 for his debut collection of poems Deo, Barman received the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar in 2013 for his second collection of poems Ashokastami. Barman has been recognized by Indian Express as one of the ten ‘Best Young Writers’ of India in 2012. A post-graduate in English Literature and Sociology, Barman is pursuing a PhD on the gender perspectives in tribal mythology of Assam from Gauhati University, and presently studying in University of Tartu, Estonia as visiting Doctoral Student. Besides publishing three critically acclaimed collections of poems Deo (2006), Ashokastami (2011) and Barnamukti (2015), his other published books include Kurundoheir Kabita (2014), the first-ever Assamese translation of the ancient Tamil classic Kuruntokai, Rupiabathanor Kabi Prantikor Kabita (2008), a bilingual collection of his selected poems, Kabyacharcha (2012), an edited anthology of poems by contemporary young Assamese poets, and so on. His poems have been translated to Estonian, Bengali, Hindi, Kannada among others. He represented India in the SAARC Festival of Literature in 2013.


Kite
With a tenuous thread

you’ve tied me

to the temple bell

on the lonely hill

And you

are flying above

 

The bell is swaying

in the wind blowing from the west.

Like the first shower of summer

I have fallen

on the heart of grass

 

Where are you

 

Behind the bare trees

on the hill top

the sun goes down

grazing his heart on she-oaks

 

The night is waiting

 

You too have lost your way

flying away

Or fallen

on the bamboo patch

 

unnoticed

 

Fire

Lulled by darkness

the hamlet on the hill

burns in my heart as a lamp

 

The moon comes up

Whose grief makes

the moon and light burn

 

The cold wind of autumn

whips up

the faces of the sleeping children

 

The lamp blows out

In the smell of the smoking wick

I cannot find

 

the way back

to the hamlet


 

Fear

Breaking the nest

of the potter wasp

on the wall of the stilted hut

you said

It’s no use

After being smashed the nest will rise again

as the cracked field

gets sun-burnt after the paddy is over

 

The blazing fire

melted in darkness

through the conch bangle you’ve seen

a man going

along the dark tunnel

and in the palm of the scraggy hand

your dark face

 

Dew drops fall from the devil tree

On the hilltop is burning a lamp

Is the lamp

moving towards me

or am I

going towards it

 

One day I felt like this

while trying to get at

a vermillion-hued mango with a crook

in the haunted wood by the backyard

*          *          *          *          *

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Winter

Shrouded in fog

the distant red hillock

a tree

leaning over the river

 

Canoes glide over the rapids

Night buries the sighs of dust

 

In the lonely house

emptied by the last autumn wind

an old violin has so long remained

covered in dust

 

Last night

after the rain I saw

a shadow lying at my head

on the floor

 

Was it mine

 

The dreaming fingers

(in the palm of the blind girl)

1

Ten fingers

came up over the water

 

In the soft whiteness like clouds

hid the moon

 

Since then nights

have gleamed

in the shells of sea snails

 

 

2

Pick up the broken necklace

in your palm

 

From the fingers

sacred grass has grown

So soft are the fingers

 

that burst into sobs

as I wanted to clasp them

 

Wet with hot tears

my fingers put out shoots

 

Whereabouts

Like this

pass

autumn winter

and spring

 

The first shower of summer

scatters again

the seeds of summer flowers

in my garden

 

Throughout the summer season

the rain comes

only to water them

 

Unknowingly

the rain dropped

in my heart too

a seed of a red flower

 

I soaked in my tears

all night long

 

The wail of ripe leaves

… death before his birth

The upstream current eddies

around sprouting water weeds

 

There goes down the silver boat

of the prodigal son

 

Tossing

the run of reddish pink fish

that pull the god

get enmeshed in your intoxication

 

When the sun sets

the god is wrapped

in mosses and lily roots

 

The god goes to sleep

 

The first hours of night

Who is that beauty passing quietly

looking her face on the mirror of water

 

Groping in sleep for the dambaru

the god turns over

 

The second hours of night

 

The god is awakened

by the splats of baank

crazy for raw fishes

 

… Sati

after a long time

suddenly Sati

comes to mind

 

The third hours of night

 

Slipping

in the deeps

Parvati looks for

her husband god

 

At a loss in the dark

she weeps

and at last

finds the god amid

tossing fishes

 

The fourth hours are far

from being over

 

Perched on the broken light post

an old owl

 

tilting its head

is all ears

for it

*          *          *          *          *

baank: an evil spirit with long, twisted arms and legs, crazy for raw fish. It follows fishermen at night.


Spook

Fries were leaping

in the braky waters

 

 

On the other side my baan

the light of two eyes

pierced the darkness

 

Mud swelled against the baan

What were the small holes looking for

like the sockets of the man blind at birth

 

Waiting

beside the baan

I had a cramp in my back

 

The braky waters were astir

 

As I rose to go

Lightning flashed across the sky

 

a fish came up from the heart

and was swimming at the shoal of my lips

 

Once again fishes were on the run

Lightning lit up the sky

in the flash I saw

a burst of fishes big and small

over the baan

 

A heavy downpour

 

A khalihana fish

missed the mud

and was tossing beside my feet

 

As I stooped down to pick it up

the lightning lit up the sky

and one more eye shone

in the palm of my hand

the scaly fish leaped suddenly

 

And I couldn’t find it

 

My rib bones in the back shuddered

Something scratched them

like a thorn apple

 

Was it a dream

Under the castor plants

a small crab halted

and scuttled away

 

Next day

small bones got stuck

in the swab of my moppet’s mom

*          *          *          *          *

baan: a fence made of split bamboo sticks for enclosing or catching fish

khalihana: a small flat scaly fish

swab: a swab has no handle in a traditional Assamese family


Mom

So funny

My aged friend

one day

while shopping at the evening market

asked me

Bijoy

What’s the shortest poem in the world

 

This sudden

unexpected knock

on the top of my knowing head

 

I opened the doors

pulled back the curtains

removed the cobwebs

threw open the windows

 

What   What is it

Who wrote it

The Mahabharata is the longest poem

But the shortest one

 

Myself a poet

(Once made a name

as a quiz master)

I still don’t know

the shortest poem

 

That day there was no power supply

the dancing flame of the wick lamp

at our evening market teased me

A tengra fish has three stings

So herons do not eat it

What a poet   our poet

who can’t get at things

 

That night there was no power supply

In the dancing flame of the wick lamp

at our evening market

my friend counted and dropped

four coins in the egg seller’s hand

He put with care the eggs in his bag

and with a proud smile in the corner of his lips

said

Couldn’t answer

Ha       ha        ha

Listen

Just a lone word

…   …

            Mom


My Home          

A tower has come up

on the right of my home

 

On the left

in the marsh

are wallowing bull buffaloes

 

Sitting on the wicker stool

in the verandah

I’m reading your poems

 

The winter has set in

blocking the pale sunlight

 

The mist over the eyes

is spreading

like a white cloth

 

I can peer

 

You’ve written about a bird

I’m jealous of you

your easy journey

at this age like a bird’s

 

I’ve looked up at the sky

No not a single bird is flying

 

Only on the top of the tower

has perched

a black bird

it’s beak tucked in the wing

 

The mobile tower has scrapped

the sky

The sky the bird

or the tower

something has pulled me

 

Voices are roaming in the ether

Nothing I have heard

Someone from a distant place is calling

Someone at a distant place is listening

Nothing I have heard

 

Like the Siberian birds

they have rested on the round rim

of the tower

 

The coming and going

of endless words around me

 

Nothing I have heard

 

But I have heard

the swishing

from the marsh

pulling me

The little splats of fish

have pulled me to the water

The water has pulled me

to the eyes of the scrawny man

 

His home was not there

amidst hyacinths

in water

On the edge

was lying the biriya

 

O poet

like you

I’m also looking for

an unfenced home

 

I cannot fly

The man

the memories of that man

have tied me down

 

The pair of eyes hidden

in the hairy roots of hyacinths

 

That day

it was noon

in the Kanaikhanda runnel

biriya: a flat piece of polished bamboo about five feet long used for carrying loads across the shoulder


Bapa, the stone blind

Bapa   my neighbour   forty-two years old

stone blind

yet he doesn’t lose his way

 

I’m twenty-six   sighted

I can see

For the last twenty-six years

I’ve seen Bapa

I’ve known Bapa

But I hardly know

the corners of Bapa’s world

 

42 – 26 = 16

Those sixteen years

Had Bapa’s world remained all the same

I can’t simply guess

 

Bats are nocturnal   almost blind by day

keep hanging upside down

flap around only at night

Opposite is the case with diurnal creatures

People also can’t see at night

Yet

the number of nocturnal people has gone up

What is more convenient for Bapa             Day or night

Day or night

Does it make any difference for Bapa

I find it ticklish

 

I’ve been timid since childhood

afraid at night

Hiding my face under the quilt I thought

Bapa is better off

He does not see spooks

baank   dot   kandha at night

Where is the fear

if he doesn’t see them at all

 

One evening of the new moon

it was Bapa

who was coming back along the village lane

with a kerosene lamp in hand

 

Hello Bapa

What   with a lamp

(Maybe you can see in the lamplight)

 

Oh   it is not for me

in this darkness

but for you people

 

And one late afternoon

of the last month

Bapa returned as usual

that day also from the market

with a bottle of blue kerosene

forty rupees a litre on the black market

clasping the greased catch

around the bottleneck

He was feeling his way

 

Hello Bapa   Coming back

Where are you coming from

this evening

 

Eh   What to say

So much bother last night

 

What   what happened

last night

 

Oh no

No power supply

No kerosene

Had to sit up throughout the night

in darkness

 

couldn’t get a good sleep

dot and kandha: different types of evil spirits in Assamese demonology


Sagun

At the prize-giving function of the M V School

though anybody hardly laughed

at the ‘bhal Sir’ joke

of two green comedians of us

our shame giggled

 

Suddenly

while reading the story of ravishing Sakuntala

I groped for the meaning of Sakuntala

and I came across you

O Sagun

 

So I thought

Let me do a nasty thing

Let me write a poem

in your name

 

Not just a hundred

but countless

virtues you do have

Also abuse and sayings

 

At the sight of a vulture

flying off towards the western sky

a faceless grandma of the old-age home

feels a shiver down her spine

O Sagun   do not fly over there

My son’s home is over there

O Sagun   do not perch on his housetop

So helpless is my son

Fly back O Sagun

land on my breast if you like

 

Having seen a vulture

soaring over his housetop

Ponakon calls out Madhuri

Looking up

they pray on the sly

O Sagun   sea of virtues

Throw up

throw up from there

What if it falls

on our face

 

Can this Sagun curse others

Does an old bullock die

because of its curse

I don’t know

But those who are in the know

say that the unusual deaths of vultures

are on the rise because

they eat carcasses

Victims of diclofenac

(What a joke)

 

It is heard

once

in a remote hamlet in a hill

livestock died of some unknown disease

in the field

The common vultures were

looking at the king vulture

 

Two days ago

in the wee hours of the morning

guns fired in the village

Another flock of vultures

devoured a village

The brother from the hill went missing

 

Whose was the body

surrounded by vultures

in the field

 

We had no way to suss out

Like other days

that day also

covering with their wings

the vultures were

devouring the body

‘Bhal sir’ joke: It is a well-known joke among school children. The joke runs like this: Once a school inspector visited a school, and in a class put a question. ‘What is the English word for ‘Sagun’? When the brilliant boys failed to answer the question, the inspector asked a back-bencher, a real dunce. ‘What about you?’ The back-bencher blurted out, ‘Bhal sir’(meaning ‘OK sir’). Impressed, the inspector declared that he was the only brilliant boy who knew the English word ‘vulture’ for our Assamese word ‘Sagun’.


Streaming tears of Ketetong

Bulging clouds are hanging

 

Amid the silvery clouds

sitting somewhere

you shed tears

 

And the Dehing flows on

 

In the burnt-out coals

on the black hillock of Ledo and

in the darkness in a half-burnt shoe

 

or

in the brown cocoon of a butterfly

on a dry twig of a siris tree

Death laid eggs

 

The streaming tears of Ketetong

that scour me

 

Oozing out of the waterspout

of the Patkai hills

was the water

that filled the sacred ponds of Angfew

 

And there

a yellow butterfly

was peering at its image.

All the poems above are translated by: Nirandra Nath Thakuria

Ketetong   : a village near by Margherita, a township in Assam

Angfew     : Angfew Ningkhee, a rare personality who died from cancer in 2008


Day Never Breaks at Crows’ Cawing

Although the crows flew over

the meji of Magh

I have seen it burning

Even after leaning

the half-burnt bamboo of the meji

against the coconut tree of the orchard

I have seen squirrels

gnawing into the coconuts

I have seen them

fall off

 

“Come on, oh, come out”

At the deafening call

I have seen

people coming out

The fire in their eyes

The fire in their heart

I have seen

the houses of night

turned into ashes

 

And shouting in unison

“The fire is raging

is raging

will rage again”

I have seen

the fire dying down

in the smoke

somehow

secretly

 

I have seen

a thousand and one

red horses of yesteryear

sleeping

standing

munching grasses

In front of me

I have seen

the horses

sloughing skins

like snakes

 

Eight hundred and fifty

drops of tear

and the river of blood

I have seen

drying out

with the crows’ cawing

silently

Photo Courtesy: Poet
Translated by: Poet

Note:

meji –a rick, inside which bamboos are pitched to form a conical structure, which is burnt as a ritual during Magh Bihu

Magh – a month in the Assamese calendar, in which the traditional festival Magh Bihu is celebrated in mid January every year

About author

Nirendra Nath Thakuria
Nirendra Nath Thakuria 1 posts

Nirendra Nath Thakuria (b. 1960-) translates Assamese literature into English and his translations have appeared in Kavya Bharati, Chandrabhaga, Indian Literature, Yaatra, The Oxford Anthology Writings from North-East India, Poetry and Essays, and Dancing Earth: An Anthology of Poetry from North-East India (Penguin Books). Mr. Thakuria worked as Associate Editor of Yaatra and as Literary Editor of Assam: Land and People. He edited Democracy of Umbrella, a collection of English translations of Anubhav Tulasi’s Assamese poems. Mr. Thakuria teaches at Pragjyotish College and at present Head of the Dept. of English.

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