(Translated by Arjumand Ara)
God does not give sufferings
Greater than the broadness of one’s bosom.
But in my heart He has put the vastness
Greater than the earth and heavens.
I do not complain, nor do I reproach You.
Like You, I too, have written stories, pure in nature.
I have carved characters, blameless and innocent.
Then instilled in them the sorrow of failures, unfulfilled desires,
Punishments and disgrace, as You did.
Sometimes, I crucified them upon the cross of guiltlessness.
Sometimes, I pushed them into the blind caves of solitude.
Sometimes I imprisoned them in the prisons of their own existence.
I pushed through their bosoms the daggers,
The wounds of which will never be healed.
But – what else could I do?
To make a story out of a story
One has to accomplish all these things.
Your limitations – who else, if not I, would understand.
I know, the way you have written me, as story
You did it, excellently!
OCEAN, O OCEAN!
Ocean! O ocean!
This dreadfulness of your streams,
These whirling vortex and roaring storms,
May only be a way of your flowing waters!
But – the straws?
They are facing gusts of the billowing waves,
Nobody knows, as to where they helplessly flow.
You are grand and magnificent – your depths are fathomless.
The surges of your waves are all boundless.
You may not know the pain of being fragile and helpless.
You may not have experienced all this,
As the roaring of boundless waves is always carefree and mindless;
To storm and surge is just a habit of flowing waters.
But these defenseless straws do always bear the brunt,
Of your flowing waters, of the storm of vortex.
If these straws get drowned, nothing would happen.
Neither your surges would be subdued nor your greatness would be questioned.
But when will end this pain of being wasted?
Ocean, O ocean!
There are several ways of committing suicide.
She may choose any of them.
She may die by consuming poison,
Or by setting herself afire – after dousing kerosene.
By jumping from the seventh floor,
Or by throwing herself before a running train.
By hanging from a roof, or a ceiling fan,
Or by drowning herself in an ocean.
There are several ways, indeed.
Each of them more horrible than the other – and easy too.
But the most horrible is – to die while living.
In this, nobody can notice – that a person is dead.
This is no innovation –
Many have tried this before me,
And have succeeded.
And the best thing about this
One takes no chance of being saved.
TREACHERY OF THE LAND
In fact, the land does not own any thing.
She is owned by one who gets her registered.
Before she bears fruit, she is divided among the owners;
Distributed in small patches.
One who owns one of her patches, has the right
To decide whether to cultivate
or not to cultivate her.
She is dug and beaten
Yet she yields the dues to those who are called her claimants.
The land – is always very faithful.
But there remains in her – something from being shared.
Otherwise, how do there grow
These wild cacti – boorish celsia.
These illegitimate, yet very own, children of the Land.
MELON AND KNIFE
Either a knife falls upon a melon, or a melon upon a knife,
It causes no harm to the knife.
Which, that gets cut, is always the melon.
The knife remains, as always it is, sharp and shining –
Prepared to cut another melon!
A hoodlum whistled while passing from her street,
Seeta no longer steps out her home – she is forbidden from going out.
A neighbour began to peep about – my brother sent his wife to her parents.
After being raped, Savitri died, committing suicide.
Yes! – a knife falls upon a melon, or a melon upon a knife,
Melon has to get cut.
Is there no difference between a woman and a melon?
What a great shock! Banu was not such a woman.
It is already past twenty years
When she first stepped into this house.
And during these twenty years – she did not utter a single word
(of dissatisfaction) to anybody.
– Neither a complaint, nor reproach.
She used to be busy in everyday chores, day and night.
Poor woman – she didn’t find time even to have a chat.
She used to live on – whatever was left from others consumption.
What about her desired articles? She was such a woman,
who did never change her clothes even on a festival!
She used to serve her mother-in-law, bear the whims of her sister-in-law.
For her brothers-in-law, for her father-in-law,
for her husband – for all – she was ready to sacrifice her life.
During these twenty years – she did not go to her mother’s house, even once.
From the day when she stepped down from her bridal palanquin
She did not cross the door of her husband’s house.
What happened then to such a woman?
Why did she consume the poison of rats? Who knows – why!
What a great shock! Banu was not such a woman!
The darkness prevails only because
You did not light a candle, yet.
Do no sit idly
Light a candle – see for the fuse
Possibly, the electricity has gone
Because the wire is fused.
Then – change the fuse-wire.
If you do not know, how to make fused-wire – then
Sit frightened in this dim light of a candle
And pray for the morrow to come.
Sit for all night in this darkness.
Do remember – the darkness is
Only a name of no light.
Bring light and see – where does the darkness go?
GOOD WIVES – A SERMON
Dear good Ladies!
A woman is blessed with the promise of Heaven who
Adorns herself before her husband comes back to home,
Decorates her hair with strings of beads;
And keeps ready the odorous dishes of appetizing food.
Keeps ready fresh hot bread and soft bed;
Puts warm and cold water in two separate jugs –
(Yes, who know if he would like to use cold or warm water!
One cannot anticipate his desire.)
So that when her demigod, her master comes home,
He gets everything ready he needs, without demand.
And yes, dear ladies!
Do not forget to keep ready
A cane-stick, quite strong –
Who knows that the tired soldier, coming from the battle-ground of troubles,
Might be returning with injuries of failures.
When he comes back – he does not take the trouble to search for it.
He may push down with the help of this cane-stick
The colourful silken robe from the shoulders of his virtuous wife,
And Sprinkle the blood of his failures on her tender body;
So that he is able to sleep a blissful sleep.
(Yes, he is your metaphorical God. Were you allowed to worship someone other than God, its he, your husband. He saves you from the burning sun of the world, inside the secure walls of his house. Your subsistence depends upon the earnings of his hard work.)
Therefore, my dear ladies!
A woman is blessed with the promise of Heaven
Who spends her life as her husband willed.
If he calls the day night, she says it night.
She keeps herself alive for him, even if dying.
And she dies for him.
She would be sent to the Paradise, directly.
She would not be questioned for her sins,
They all will be pardoned.
In her sermon,
The preacher thus spoke, and then kept quiet.
She just announced the good news of deliverance of a pious wife.
But where will such a husband go?
– about this, she did not utter a word.
O God! O God!
For generations, in long queues, these are worthless maids!
Do instill in them a sense of being themselves.
No doubt – this is your house.
Your wealth was spent in its building.
It was your hard-earned money.
Your name is written on every brick.
But my blood – ? My toil – ?
What became the kneaded clay for these bricks – was my blood.
The walls of your house are raised over the base of my hard work.
How can you drive me out of this house?
I too, have written my labour,
With the ink of my blood, over each brick.
Do not give, if you don’t want to,
My right, my share, in this household.
Return it, as my wages.
I absolve you from paying back
My blood, which was spent on its building.
Bilquis Zafirul Hasan (born on September 1, 1938) is an Urdu poetess based in Delhi. Her first collection of poems Geela Eendhan (Damp Firewood) was published in 1996. Her second collection Sholon ke Darmiyan(Amidst the Flames) appeared in 2004. She writes short stories as well, and her only collection Weeraney Aabaad Gharon ke (Deserts of Inhabited Homes) was published in 2008. At first glance the mainstay of Bilquis (both in poetry and prose) seems to be the sufferings of woman. While writing on woman as mother, wife, beloved, or just a woman as opposed to man, we see her standing forlorn, unheard, neglected, abused and exploited in every role. However, the beauty of Bilquis’ narration lies in her moderate voice and subtle use of irony to drive home her point. She stands beside all, exploited and humiliated. Woman being the greater victim of injustice and abuse, she naturally walks to the centre of her poems. Besides woman, she is concerned with war, abuses of power, communal riots, besieged identities in a hostile environment, displaced and homeless people (see her poems on trampled Iraq, victims of Gujarat riots etc.). All the poems translated here are from Geela Eendhan.
Arjumand Ara is a prominent Urdu scholar, translator and activist. She is an assistant professor at the Delhi University, and is associated with the progressive writers movement. Recently, she translated the autobiography of Ralph Russell, a prominent indologist and Urdu scholar, who died in 2008.