Gods in Guwahati : Poems by Pranab Kumar Barman

Translator- Upasana Goswami

When you come to Jalukbari

Whenever you come to Jalukbari,
Do see me.
Knock on the closed doors of
RCC or AT houses, and ask
‘Does the lover bird stay here?’
My drunken friends will come out
And say ‘not here, not here
He lies in the midst of smoke and high,
The one reciting spring’s poems,
The one shouting slogans –
What are you scared of?
Who are you scared of?
If bordoisila wants to come
She surely will come;
It is in him there.

Whenever you come to Jalukbari,
Do see me.
I may recognise you, I may not.
Still we shall laugh
I shall ask how you are.
I will be glad if you are well
If not, I will share your grief.
Then we can talk about country,
King and sovereignty.
When the subject becomes toxic
We can come back to love.
If you don’t mind, we will drink
And blow out cigarette smoke,
Recite poems about light or life.
I will admit to you that
In this self-inflicted city exile
I am a totally unhappy man.

Whenever you come to Jalukbari
Do see me.
Do not go knocking for me
On the doors of RCC or AT houses.
The one whose looks burn
All Krishnasura trees,
The one who is lost in the
Evening market of girlie giggles,
The one who stands in the desolate bus stop –
Waiting for a dream to come by;
Ask him, ‘Are you the lover bird’?

Hazarat Mohammad

How he reached Lakhtokia from the Middle East,
I have no idea.
How did he undertake such a long journey?
Both his arms amputated at the elbows,
Leprosy-eaten toes on both his feet.
His eyes do not reflect the noon sun.
How did he come?
As he rolls over the filthy roads,
A TV shop flashes a birth-control ad.
Crowds throng the pharmacies
Looking for the string of life.
Caged chicken flutter in broad daylight.
He is the Hazarat of my dreams –
Born in Medina.

He covers one road after another,
A citizen doing the myriad tasks of life.
His Allah resides in his guts;
Under a moustache, the smiles build
The foundation of a famine-hit empire.
He cannot shun his empire –
He is both ruler and ancient citizen.
Lice roam his stench-filled body
Betelnut juice and sputum create
A multi-coloured masterpiece on it –
Pining to adorn some corner
Of a tasteful housewife’s drawing room.

Why does he roll on like this –
The world philosopher?
On Friday afternoons, when he sang ‘Allah, Allah’
It sounded like ‘hunger, hunger’.
As though he would run out to lay
Prostrate before the god of famine.
On his bare skin is etched
The long picture from Mecca to the dargah.
He crosses over the pitch-black tar and
Breaks the crowds with philosophical moves,
To rest like an eunuch by the shadow
Of a billboard, where a prostitute’s
Hair blows unfettered in the winds.
God hung himself from the sky;
Still Hazarat does not die.
Hunger increases his longing for life.
He traverses all those busy streets in Lakhtokia
‘Hindu or Muslim; the same Allah gives him!’
If you feel some pity,
Throw a coin at him.
He is the Hazarat of my dreams –
Born in Medina.


Let us assume he is Sankardeb –
Writing time’s Kirtan Ghoxa on xasipat.
The footpath is his xatra.
He is meditating,
Let us assume he is planning
To draw the heavens on a hoarding
Over a bus-stop in Panbazar.
You might ask, ‘How can that be?
That sunburnt body, the tattered coat,
Listless look, long hair and loin-cloth –
I do not believe you!
His swollen abdomen, tar-black body
His clothes made of gunny bags
His knotted hair and beard,
The stench from his body; his sunken eyes –
He cannot be, he cannot be… thoo!’

Imagine Sankardeb is six hundred years old.
While coming upstream from Kochbehar,
He saw victory and defeat in wars
He saw the fugitive king, the treaty of Yandaboo;
He saw Patharighat and Kushal Konwar’s hanging,
He saw the struggle for independence
And proliferation of opium.
He saw both the death of language and the birth of Jonaki;
Slavery of the poets and the language movement, the great depression
He saw rape, lathi-charge, gunshots and partition riots,
He saw corruption and the buying and selling of jobs.
The changing face of law in courts;
The ones without flesh, the ones without roots,
He even saw fashion shows and blue films.
Experienced hunger in Dhokuakhana
Saw long lists of martyrs’ names
And false reports of journalists.

Seeing these he went insane, dumb, deaf and blind.
He exiled himself to the footpath of Ashwakranta
Here he is Krishna, resting.
He became hungerless, above cold and numbness,
He became sleepless, derelict, beyond pain.
The history of six hundred years
Made him a god –
A wealthless god, a eunuch god.
You cannot say he is not Sankardeb,
It was he who gave you a lifetime’s beliefs.
You cannot despise his despicable living
As it was he who said, ‘Dog, fox, donkey,
All are manifestations of Ram’.
Let us assume he is Sankardeb –
Nobody stands to gain or lose.

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