Assamese Poems

Farewell (Biday)

Translated by Lyra Neog

On the day our sister left our home

She left an unbearable emptiness there.

Because she loved to sing alone

A room of her own was built.

The sad resonance of her singing

Scattered in the room

Hurts us now and then.

With the boy she loved

She left us forever—that is the custom,

But not very easy to accept.

Because she loved the simalu* blossom

She never told a lie to the river.

And the day she sailed downstream

Her sorrow began growing.

————————

*A kind of tall tree with red flowers.

 

The Hands that will be Flowers (Hathor Phool)

Translated by Lyra Neog

Everyone in the world

Can raise his hand to the sun

With stretched out fingers.

Under the shadows of millions of hands

In the shady ground

Will grow out thousands of flowers.

The sun will be the flower

And none will have any hesitation

In plucking the flowers white and blue

Of joy and sorrow.

Men are trees

The hands are flowers

The multicoloured hands stretched out

Towards the sky.

You will see the hands become kites

Merging in the sky

Blue in blue.

 

Ninaam’s Dream

Translated by Pradip Acharya

The doves stuff their crops full

Of grain sown for us by Abutani.

Don’t you eat till your crops fill

It will stop Ninaam dreaming.

The midwife says:

“Your Ma is gone.”

“You’re some liar. I have just done

Sucking her breast.”

The midwife says:

“Your homestead is burnt out.

Your father left early in the morning

To watch over the field of grain.

He is not back as yet.”

She weeps.

The midwife says:

“Your father was swept away

While having a palmful of water from the Obnori

He was swept away.”

She cries, and crying,

Digs the dream.

Digs the water of the Obnori….

On the dugout boat the woodpecker made

Crossing the Siyang, rushing on to the Obnori

I’ll yet bring you back to life, our keeper, our father.

The deodhai will lift you from the river

Spanning it with dappled threads.

Here, look at this, don’t you see

Granny looking up at the sun

After beheading a chicken.

O lord of the waters, reach out for him

Grandpa has killed a hog and

He’s looking up at the sun.

O you, lord of the land

Reach out for him.

No grain, no rice

The doves ate all the rice

The eggs of the wild fowl Father brought

Lasted but two days.

It’s two days and nights since Father is gone.

O lord of the waters, do not keep Father

Wrapped in the bed of water.

O Father, our Father!

Brooks of water are the same as brooks of tears.

Come and comb my hair with the red comb

Come, weave me ornaments of birina grass

Come, climb the ladder to pluck me stars

I have roasted meat with fig leaves for you.

What fate does pull you so,

To the rhythm of layered and sliced currents.

Look! There are big waves and currents,

Don’t be afraid Father!

On the boat the woodpecker made

I will get you rowing upstream to Obnori

Digging through pebbles, waves and banks.

I’ll pay your debt, Obnori, when we have a good crop.

If there’s no rice, grandpa will make a bow

And get the grain from the doves’ crops.

Failing that I’ll keep lorises as pets

For incessant rains to fill your breasts.

Dear Obnori, Obnori dear!

You’re the sun’s daughter and so am I.

Don’t sweep Father far to the distant Brahmaputra.

Mother wails in the distance, grieving.

Obnori, take care of my father.

Prologue

Ninaam is under water crying.

She opens her eyes wide looking for the midwife.

The midwife:

“The Brahmaputra swept your father away today.

There’s no point crying.”

“But who told you?”

“It’s me, who else?”

“How far is the Brahmaputra?”

“Very far.”

“How deep?”

“Very deep.”

“And the currents?”

“All over. Lengthwise. Widthwise.”

“Then it is all right. It’s good, rather.”

“How, exactly?”

“Abutani says Father won’t die in rapids, nor in depths.

He’ll take the boat the woodpecker built.

Build a tidy hut by the Brahmaputra

And we will live there, you liar of a midwife!

I won’t be taken in by what you say….”

Prologue

Ninaam wakes up again

She smiles seeing the piglets play in the yard.

Her grandma puts down a piglet from her lap and picks her up.

She looks beyond the patch of pampas grass.

“What’s that river, grandma?”

Fire-eaters

Translated by D. N. Bezboruah

A group of men who swallowed fire is waiting

On the other bank, we have ashes and more ashes.

Overstepping the ashes and piercing the earth

Is a flower that has blossomed all alone.

There is just one flower amidst the ashes

A very bright, red one.

These days Spring doesn’t come unbidden

To sooth the minds of people.

Spring breaks all rules to arrive, at its own whim.

My sons, learn to swallow fire and live

Look there: a group is practising just that.

 

The Story of a Family

Translated by D. N. Bezboruah

A few poems are beginning to flower in the sun

But people haven’t realised it.

Suddenly a teenager sees the colours of the poems

And points them out to his parents.

The parents, failing to see any blossoms or colours

Rebuke the son sharply for fussing about pointless things.

But even the rebuke fails to dampen his spirit.

Instead, he keeps turning back to look at the flowering poems.

His parents quickly try to control him once again.

But he is heedless, and with his gaze fixed on flowers, butterflies,

Birds, trees, and woods,

His mind is getting estranged from his parents.

The couple think: even before his cells have matured,

This boy is squandering his precious time chasing mirages.

Will such a boy look after his parents in the years to come?

The couple’s worries about the boy deepen

Just as the boy’s worries burgeon over the flying poems.

A tug-of-war rages in the poor fellow’s mind.

At times his mind is overcast with smoke.

And at times it is cleaved like day and night.

In the distance, a group of roving workers

Raise waves in the river with their laughter.

In a flash, a peal of the boy’s laughter also raises a wave in the river.

The boy has gone mad!

“Boys of your age….”

Before his father can complete what he has to say,

A car whizzes past stirring the air.

A bit of happiness jolts the couple’s mind.

His mother cries out, “Look at its beautiful colour,

And how it gleams in the sun, my son!’

Not heeding his mother’s words

And wrapping a bit of sunshine in his mind,

He keeps walking quietly.

“My obstinate son,”

They cry out together.

A gust of wind blows away the cries

And wraps a bit of the dragon-fly’s chirp around it.

“My obstinate son!

Look at the car. Your peers are driving their parents

In their cars.”

He casts a quick glance at the faces of his parents

And lowers his eyes.

“Do you see now? Borua hadn’t spoken in vain:

‘There’s no point bringing up children anymore.’

Quite so. Borua was very right.

 

About the Poet

Jiban Narah – Life and Works

Jiban-Narah-PoetJiban Narah was born in 1970, in the remote Morangial village, in Golaghat district of Assam. He imbibed the Brahmaputra valley culture on which his native Mishing tribe, along with many other similar tribes, and the mainstream Assamese society have impacted in a major way. A riverine indigenous tribe of Assam, the Mishings are fiercely proud about their cultural identity, and Jiban could have been bound in by its particularity. However, crouching behind the limiting confines of his environs, Jiban has leapt across chasms, enabling his own unique self expression as a poet of national stature. Nevertheless, he kept his ties with his community intact at all times, and the result is that while establishing himself in the mainstream Assamese poetry, the spirit of Mishing tribal culture enlivens the core of his works.

At a very young age, he caught the imagination, not only of his native Assamese, but also of many other language communities of India where he reached through translations, like Malayalam into which the noted poet Anvar Ali translated him as early as 1997. His poems have been rendered also into English, Bengali, Tamil, Hindi, Marathi, Oriya, Gujarati and Manipuri. He has participated in major poetry reading events across the country, organised by Sahitya Akademi and other major literary organisations, over the last two decades.

Jiban Narah has six books of poems in Assamese, one novel, a collection of personal essays and a compilation of Mishing poetry translated into Assamese. His book of Mishing folk poetry translated into English, titled, Listen My Flower Bud: Mishing Tribal Oral Poetry of Assam (2008) was published by Sahitya Akademi. The Buddha And Other Poems (2009), English translation of his poems, was published by Monsoon Edition, Kozhikode.

Revered Assamese poets like Navakanta Barua, senior critics, academics and translators like Kabin Phukan, Hiren Gohain, Pradip Acharya, Geetashree Tamulay, Prabhat Bora, and the patriarch of Modern English poetry in India, Jayanta Mahapatra, have evaluated and recognised Jiban’s poetry as uniquely brilliant. Jiban’s poetry, much like the vibrant Chinese or Japanese symbolist poetry and unlike the obscure yet intense French symbolist poetry as opined by Kabin Phukan, has drawn from his native culture and arrived where it has, as his natural expression. However, Geetashree Tamulay likens the craft of his poem, “Colours” to that of the French Symbolist Rimbaud. Pradip Acharya remarkably notes that, “…the faith on nature-dependence nurtured by Jiban Narah in the mid-nineties is significant both for literature and society.” He further observes that this oneness with nature is the keystone of post-modernist literature as demonstrated by Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie and Orhan Pamuk. Jiban being credited with such an important role in Assamese literature by a venerable critic and translator like Pradip Acharya speaks volumes for the importance of this poet. Navakanta Barua says of his poetry: “Jiban Narah shows that the folk is part of us and folkways make direct inroads into modern poetry and inform his idiom which is regular and catchy…. He is a poet of distinctive character. He brought in a new sensuous quality to the otherwise intellectual modernity of many of his contemporaries.”(The Book Review, Vol.XXI.)

Poet Bio by A.J.Thomas, Poetry Editor, Y Blog