In Lieu of an Introduction
This is a collection of English translation of selected poems by Muhammad Samad (of Bangladesh) who has earned considerable fame here over time for both his poetry and various sorts of activism. As we know well, these two have their markedly separate domains, but are generally found to originate from common source-points, of passions, and to proceed interactively. That means these tend to influence each other. As a result, there’s a risk of one’s performance in both these areas suffering. Readers in Bangladesh have been keeping watchful eyes on Samad’s poetry, and now they feel relieved that his poetry has emerged as a rich volume.
As I myself perceived the situation, Samad’s activism, at least in the part of Jatio Kabita Parishad (an anti-autocracy movement and organization of poetry in Bangladesh), etc., rather exposed him to quality poets and their poetry. And, he rather learnt for sure that poetry and organizational activism cannot take each other’s place. Or, they haven’t got much to do with each other. Poetry has to be written in its own age-old ways of deep brooding, intense contemplation and technical perfection, etc., and activism cannot help one out in all these. It may rather create distraction and easy-sailing attitudes. Muhammad Samad pursued his two careers—of a poet and an activist—with equal attention, and thus gained in competence in both. His activism in liberal politics and culture, by honing and strengthening his passions, contributed to his poetry. Reversely, poetry contributed to his activism in some mysterious ways. Finally, ours is no loss in either area; we mark gains in both. Muhammad Samad from Bangladesh constitutes one rare instance of success in striding two boats or horses at one time. Sufficient awareness of the difficulties involved, passionate commitment to the two callings, which may have a unique meeting point in a person, etc., have already led to remarkable achievement for Samad and signal much more.
All these I mention; for, they are unforgettable in Muhammad Samad’s case. And, because one may feel shy of mentioning them for the particular time we are passing through. Now is the time in Bangladesh of turning your eyes in poems away from people or popular causes, of attending only to technicalities of perfection, being more wordy and less meaningful, and being ‘post-modern’ in some such ways. These are issues of later-time theory/ies, and Muhammad Samad, who started writing poems in the nineteen-seventies, appears to have cared little for them. His poetry crosses subtleties of theory-debates, and proves an orientation to what might much afterwards be called romantic revolutionism. And, Samad’s and many others’ kinds of poems prove theories, of any kind, redundant. They prove that creative works can do well by responding firsthand to life and by disregarding ideology or theory as compulsive or circumscribing guidelines. As Samad casually and frequently places so many myths from the Buddhist and Hindu puranas in his poems, to compare, evoke or explain, we get marks of his close acquaintance with popular life here, history of Bengal and the particularities of civilization here, much before we get his secularism or pluralism.
Then I, the son of Shuddhvudhan, will go to the forest,
to the bank of the river, Niranjana,
Shady places under the peapul,
Altar of black stone.
Cooking frumenty of your own hand
with milk, water, fruit,
treading on stormy forests
you will awaken me on the night of full moon of Baishakh
Then I shall become Bodhisattva, you, Budhagaya—Village Urubela;
Every one will come to know, the pretty daughter of the Milkman is another Sujata.Samad however proves enough knowledge of post-modernism, etc., and in a remarkable poem, “Crow”, hints at how the “theories” are rather imposed for Bangladesh’s poetry at present:
I find it difficult to make out the behavior of the crows of Ted Huges
They are anyhow post-modern
The crows of Bengal are eternal like my simple mother
All along they talk about our good and bad
Hold meetings for freeing the world from garbage,………………………………………………
All morning-crows are my younger sisters
They awaken my daughters and seat them at reading-tables
They send my father to the eastern sky with plough
and call my mother to bow in prayer
And, shout out to the world and say…
Sister, get up and keep well – our throats are about to
burst crowing, right now those will bleed!
Proper sensitivity of a poet makes Samad not only modern or liberal; he proves the balance of an opposition to fundamentalist violence in Bangladesh and imperialist menace in Iraq also. In a moving poem about Ali Ismail Abbas, an Iraqi child who has lost both his hands, Samad carries all the wind from the sail of the American war in Iraq; let me quote a portion:.
this picture of a boy with his two hands chopped off, his body burnt,
his face distorted by pain; this picture is Ali's. What’s his fault
in the eyes of Bush and Blair? Why did they cut off his hands?
Maa, how will Ali now ride his bicycle?
How will he hold the stick on his ice-cream?
How will he enjoy the ride on the merry-go-round at the Children's Park?
How will he embrace others on the day of the Eid?
Or cut the cake on his birthday?
During the Puja or Christmas or the summer fair of Baishakh, Ali will
no more be able to go about holding the hand
of his parents and look for toys...
In translation, Samad’s original line-lengths and stanza-schemes have been kept in tact as far as possible. As his are poems rooted in Bangladesh’s age-old civilization, references and allusions are not few, requiring notes which have been placed in a glossary. And, this has been placed at the starting pages, for readers’ convenience. As a fellow poet from Bangladesh, I feel honoured in writing this prose-item which is never an Introduction proper; this is a friend’s contribution that began with translation of some of the poems.
Muhammad Samad (1958 ---)
Muhammad Samad, a leading poet and social scientist was born in the district of Jamalpur, Bangladesh in 1958. He did his PhD on People’s Participation in Rural Development from the University of Dhaka.
His poetry books include: Ekjan Rajnaitik Netar Manifesto (Manifesto of a Political Leader, 1983); Ami Noi Indrajit Megher Adale (I Am Not Indrajit Behind the Clouds, 1985); Porabe Chanda Kath (Shall You Burn the Sandal Wood, 1989); Cholo Tumul Brishtite Bhiji Let Us Go and Be Soaked in Rains, 1996). English version of his major poems entitled as ‘Selected Poems’ appeared in 2008.
He is currently professor and director at the Institute of Social Welfare and Research in Dhaka University.