“Shravan clouds crowd the azure
In the dark lightning sparks again and again.
There are no friends nearby, nor is peace;
Cruel memory befriends hundreds of skulls.
The slain father, Agamemnon, lies in his grave.”
Shamsur Rahman's “Song of Electra,” is a poem about a daughter lamenting her father's inopportune death. He is really none other than the father of our nation who was snatched from us one dark August night in 1975. Some thirty years later, on another August day, the poet himself left the mortal world. But decades ago the poet, a confrere dreamer, didn't hesitate to narrate what he had dreamt of about the ones who had also gone by then. What he dreamt of was as follows:
“Bangladesh dreams of a bronze-statue, huge and still,
Blowing the ground that wakes up at the dead of night.
The statue craves to say something, trying to knock
the silence, his voice gone with the winds.
His hands perhaps, are holding something from the past.
The Bronze-Statue: a question mark with no answer…”
In the poem we have then a long list of names of men and women who were killed in the August massacre—among them the outstanding athlete Sultana Kamal, a newlywed, a mother-to-be, who lost her life along with her child in her womb. Rahman was haunted by the very thought of such a death and portrayed the torment of that August massacre in his own grieving, eloquent manner thus.
“Bangladesh dreams of a doe deer in a burnt forest.
Thirsty, thirsty she runs here and there, but by a water body
embraces the terrible burns of deserts. In her own
Flesh and bones
She sleeps peacefully ...
Bangladesh dreams of the dead child floating in the clouds, implacable,
From under the carpets, the heavy window-curtains,
From the telegrams and bunch of old letters,
And from the tummy of fishes women and children come floating,
From the heap of henna leaves, the bunch of balloons
Women and children keep coming floating,”
Isn't August the cruelest of months for Bangladeshis? Surely, it is: so many of its august ones left it in this month. Tagore had gone long before Bongobondhu. The rebel poet Nazrul Islam left us all next; years later they were followed by the great poets of the second half of the twentieth century: Shamsur Rahman and Shahid Qadri. These exceptional poets would become companions in the other world of the greatest poet of our politics, Bangobondhu, who through his one single composition made all our dreams come true as well.
“This fight is for our freedom,
This fight is for our liberation!”
He had declared and a spell was cast on his people immediately. Later Nirmalendu Goon, another outstanding poet wrote aboht these lines, “from that very moment, the word 'Liberation' became our own.” People of Bengal had been waiting for that one single poem for hundreds of years, and finally the new poet could emit his magic words to transform the fate of his people. But August would soon cast its death spell on our spell-binding orator as well.
The next August snatched away Nazrul from us. The poet had appeared like a comet and had faced royal wrath and was arrested by the colonizing king's men. In response and in court the rebel poet had said, “I am a poet to reveal the veiled truth, … A royal-translator of the king had translated the words but failed to present its life. His loyal translation aimed to please the king, but my words are there to express the truth, its sparks and soul ... I am the aqua of truth - the tear of God's eyes.” And God's teardrop too, would leave us all in another August.
And Tagore too had departed in August. Tagore, our everyday companion, the one who has shaped our music, language, literature, almost everything! Tagore was the forerunner of today's global notions about the duties of the world's poets. Fearless Rahman, the prime poet of his time, never hesitated to give voice to our socio-political aspirations and was not spared by cruel August either .
I have wondered at times—was it mere coincidence that all had fallen in late monsoon, in August? But then what is 'Death'? A 'Slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, that causes us to sleep' … that causes permanent departure. But does it? 'The secret of death lies in the heart of life' and 'our illimitable life is enshrouded by death.' (মৃত্যু-মাঝে ঢাকা আছে যে অন্তহীন প্রাণ)
Life keeps dancing, death too follows dancing (নাচে জন্ম, নাচে মৃত্যু পাছে পাছে)
“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.” that is the joy of eternity's flow. Whether we lament brood, complain, people die every day and every month of the year. Why blame August?, For sure some deaths are different like some lives are … Still, as in the light of the vastness and enormity of the universe, death is not a cessation but a part of the eternal l flow. Let's thus keep pondering the legacy the dead ones have left on the ones who are living and vow to get the best out of our existence. August, I choose to ignore you, and there ...
“We have to cross this fire, though we
Do not know how,
There is none here in this region who may
Give us the mantra to cross the fire today.
There is no one today whose magic wand
May readily transform the engulfing flames
To serene saplings of a flowerbed. In fact,
Now there is no one
Who may face this inferno
And in unshattered voice
May say afresh:
Don't be scared, this fire doesn't have the strength
To burn your limbs, but Fire, you will be blown away.”
Suborna Chowdhury works for the GOB and is addicted to music and poetry.