[Shamsur Rahman, who lived in Bangladesh, was one of the finest Bengali poets. He was also an important voice of reason in Bangladesh, and once suffered a near-fatal assault by Muslim fundamentalists. I sent this translation to him, seeking his permission for publishing it. But when I wrote to him, I didn't know he had gone into a coma. He died a week later, on 17 August, 2006 at the age of seventy-six.]
I never heard my mother singing.
Did she ever sing a lullaby as she tucked me in
In those far-off childhood nights?
I wish I could remember …
Even before her figure reached the fullness of spring
When she was closer to the season of
Picking up mangoes scattered in a storm
In lonely afternoons, evenings,
No tune ever grew up on her like a silent creeper
Lest the elders should hear …
And even in her husband’s home, my mother
Remained far too silent, far too much in the shadows,
And so far as I know, never fell for music.
In between chopping fish or grinding turmeric
Or perhaps in the afternoon, after swabbing the courtyard
And scrubbing bell metal plates sparkling bright
Bending down on the sewing machine, darning a torn shirt,
Hanging clothes on a clotheshorse,
After sending me off to playground with a kiss,
In her moments of solitude, as she pretended to do her hair,
Did she ever hum a tune?
Such a long time I lived with her, but never found out …
It’s as if throughout her life she stored all her songs
In a wooden chest that reminds us of our sorrows.
Presently from its dark inside exudes but rarely,
Not tunes, but the pungent smell of naphthalene. Y