Return to homepage



Three poems by Sarat Kumar Mukhopadhyay
translated from the Bengali by Robert McNamara with the author.


How many things they say about you--
that you created the expanding universe,
or was it that the world's people
created you? Whose side do you choose?
The rich--who take more than their due
and toss scraps to the poor, and toss you, too?
Or the poor--who hope you'll turn things upside down
and so deliver them? But you never do.
In battle, you sit by the victor. 

Nietzsche says, you're dead.
Pascal says, we can't know whether or not you exist, but
it's worse to be fooled disbelieving. 

These are weighty and deep philosophical questions. I see
a forest behind me, a desert in front of me,
and man in the middle, in his encampments.
And bullock carts hauling heaps of beef everyday.


Birajmohan contemplates his futile life.
It's the dawn of July, the sky's glum,
the neem and raintree suspicious.
A solitary milkvan's on duty.
A crow caws there as always,
and in the adjacent slum there's continual coughing.
Birajmohan thinks, what he could get by force
he's gotten,
what had to be taken by cunning, one by one
he's seized subtly.
In the village fields, the rice is sown,
the cowshed's flush with cows and gamboling calves. 

Is this a time for questions! He wonders,
has he seen life?
has he looked at it closely?
Is there an old wound somewhere, lingering?
And righting his wrongs-- does he really need to? 

In the adjacent slum at dawn there's continual coughing.
Today, for the first time ever, Birajmohan
contemplates his life.


In my dreams I have a family. My mistress is quite plump. We have a number of children. We are a needy family. In small rooms. No furniture other than pinri and mora

I tell them I'm in a hurry, Shankar Prasad, but they don't listen. They weave club-talk around me. Tea comes and then an omelette the color of rolled gold on a chipped plate. I joke endlessly, Shankar Prasad, which without the necessary encouragement I can't do anywhere else. 

They laugh. I laugh with them. And without thinking I grab the omelette with my teeth, hear at once the growl behind it. I push away the plate, say I'm not hungry, so the dream won't dissolve. The children scramble for the food. My mistress, busy with housework, turns to scold them. She is spreading a white sheet on the bed, I see it from the corner of my eye. 

Awake, I have a small family. As is the fashion. Well-off and peaceful. We and our neighbours are considerate and adult. There's plenty of everything, but I don't desire it. 

We are creatures tied by tender attachments, we don't dare travel freely. Our scriptures say, love makes us free. I feel guilty in the family of my dreams. They ask me to stay. I get up from the seat, wash my feet and sit comfortably on the bed. I light a cigarette to relax, and convulse in a spasm of coughing. Lest they wake up, Shankar Prasad, I go to the bathroom, drink water, sprinkle it on my face and see my exhaustion in the mirror.