I remember my mother reciting some of her favorite Rabindranath Tagore poetry when we were kids, most of which I didn’t really understand then. But now that I do, it is quite clear to me how Tagore’s writing had such tremendous influence on Bengali literature. Tagore’s brilliant word choices and smart word constructions (by joining two or more words in such a way that it perfectly expresses the emotion of the poem) have always made his poetry the most expressive and (at the same time) rhythmic it could ever get. The following is one of my (and I’m sure many of my fellow bangalis’) favorite poems of Rabindranath Tagore. Although any English translation can barely carry the flavor and feel of Bengali poetry because of the significant structural and cultural differences between the two languages, I’ve put here an English translation as well so that those who don’t know Bengali can at least get the basic idea of this poem.
Dui Bigha Jomi
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)
Shudhu bighe-dui, chhilo mor bhui, ar shobi gechhe rine
Babu bolilen, ‘bujhechho upen? e jomi loibo kine.’
Kohilam ami, ‘tumi bhu-shhami, bhumir onto nai –
Cheye dekho mor achhe borojor moribar moto thai’
Shuni raja kohe, ‘bapu, jano to he, korechhi bagankhana,
Pele dui bighe prosthe o dighe shoman hoibe tana –
Ota dite hobe.’ Kohilam tobe bokkhe juria pani,
Shojol chokkhe, ‘korun rokkhe goriber bhitekhani.
Shopto-purush jethay manush she mati shonar bara,
Doinner daye bechibo she ma-ye emni lokkhi chhara!’
Akhi kori lal raja khonokal rohilo mounobhabe,
Kohilen sheshe kruro hashi heshe, ‘achchha, she dekha jabe.’
Pore mash-dere bhite mati chhere bahir hoinu pothe-
Korilo dikri shokoli bikri mittha denar khote.
E jogote hay shei beshi chay ache jar bhuri bhuri,
Rajar hosto kore shomosto kangaler dhon churi.
Mone bhabilam, more bhogoban rakhibe na moho-gorte,
Tai likhi dilo bishsho-nikhil du-bighar poriborte.
Shonnashi beshe firi deshe deshe hoia shadhur shishsho –
Koto herilam monohor dham, koto monorom drishsho.
Bhudhore shagore bijone nogore jokhon jekhane bhromi
Tobu nishidine bhulite pari ne shei dui bigha jomi.
Hate mathe bate eimoto kate bochhor ponero-sholo,
Ekdin sheshe firibare deshe boroi bashona holo.
Nomonomo nomo, shundori momo jononi bongobhumi,
Gongar tir snigdho shomir jibon jurale tumi.
Obarito math, gogon-lolat chume tobo pododhuli -
Chhaya shunibir shantir nir chhoto chhoto gramguli.
Pollob-ghono amro-kanon, rakhaler khela geho –
Stobdho otol dighi kalojol nishith-shitol-sneho.
Buk-bhora modhu bonger bodhu jol loye jay ghore –
Ma bolite pran kore anchan, chokhe ashe jol bhore.
Dui din pore ditio prohore probeshinu nij grame –
Kumorer bari dokkhine chhari, broth-tola kori bame,
Rakhi hat-khola nondir gola, mondir kori pachhe
trishatur sheshe pouchhenu eshe amar barir kachhe.
dhik dhik ore, shoto dhik tore, nilaj kulota bhumi,
jokhoni jahar tokhoni tahar – ei ki jononi tumi!
She ki mone hobe ekdin jobe chhile doridromata
Achol bhoria rakhite dhoria folful shak pata!
Aj kon rite kare bhulaite dhorechho bilash besh –
Pach-ronga pata onchole gatha, pushpe khochito kesh!
Ami tor lagi firechhi bibagi grihohara shukh-hin,
Tui hetha boshi ore rakkhoshi, hashia katash din!
Dhonir adore gorob na dhore! Etoi hoyechho bhinno –
Konokhane lesh nahi oboshesh she diner kono chinho!
Kollanmoyi chhile tumi oyi, khudha-hara shudha-rashi,
Joto hasho aj, joto koro shaj, chhile debi – hole dashi.
Bidirno-hiya firia firia chari dike cheye dekhi –
Prachirer kachhe ekhono je ache shei am-gachh eki.
Boshi tar tole noyoner jole shanto hoilo betha,
Eke eke mone udilo shorone balok-kaler kotha.
Shei mone pore, joishther jhore ratre nahiko ghum,
Oti bhore uthi taratari chhuti am kurabar dhuum.
Shei shumodhur stobdho dupur, pathshala polayon –
Bhabilam hay, ar ki kothay fire pabo she jibon.
Shohosha batash kheli gelo shash shakha dulaia pachhe,
Duti paka fol lobhilo bhutol amar koler kachhe.
Bhabilam mone, bujhi etokhone amare chinilo mata,
Sneher she dane bohu shommane barek thekanu matha.
Henokal hay jomdut-pray kotha hote elo mali,
Jhutibadha ure shoptom shure parite lagilo gali.
Kohilam tobe, ‘ami tou nirobe diyechhi amar shob –
duti fol tar kori odhikar, eto tari kolorob?’
Chinilo na more, nie gelo dhore, kadhe tuli lathigachh,
Babu chhip hate parishod-shathe dhorite chhilen machh –
Shuni biboron krodhe tini kon, ‘maria koribo khun’
Babu joto bole parishod dole bole tar shotogun.
Ami kohilam, ‘shudhu duti am, bhikh magi mohashoy!’
Babu kohe heshe, ‘beta shadhu-beshe paka chor otishoy!’
Ami shune hashi, akhi-jole bhashi, ei chhilo mor ghote –
Tumi moharaj shadhu hole aj, ami aj chor bote ||
My Little Plot of Land
(From: The Daily Star, translated by Fakrul Alam)
Of my land only a little remained, the rest having been mortgaged away.
The zamidar (landlord) said one day, “Know what Upen? This too should come my way”.
I said, “O Lord, countless are the plots of land you already own,
But consider–I only have land enough to bury me when I’m gone!’
The zamindar brushed me aside saying, “Upen, I’m building a garden,
Your half-acre will allow me to design for it a lovely fountain–
You’ll have to sell it to me!” ……. I replied, tears in my eyes,
and hands on my heart, “Spare this poor man’s land, or else he dies!
For seven generations we’ve tilled this plot and it’s everything to me,
Selling it will be like selling my mother because of poverty!”
The zamindar reddened, kept mum for a bit, and then gave a peculiar smile
In a forbidding manner, he muttered under his breath, “we’ll see in a while!’
In six weeks I was forced out of my ancestral land and into the road
By a court decree. Falsely, it said I had defaulted on a loan and owed
The zamindar the whole lot! Alas, in this world those who have most want all
Even the king won’t stop until he has grabbed everything–big or small!
I consoled myself: God has decided not to confine me to this small plot of land;
Perhaps I am fated to roam far and wide and end up in some distant strand.
And so I became a mendicant’s assistant and followed him everywhere
Visiting shrines that were memorable and seeing sights that were fair.
But no matter whether I climbed high peaks or reached a remote river bend
The thing I could never forget night or day was my little plot of land!
And so I traversed country fairs, fields, and roads for fifteen years or so
Until homesickness made me feel to my country once more I must go.
I thought as I went: motherland Bengal–I bow to you lovingly!
Your exquisite riverbanks and gentle winds will surely revive me.
I’ll thrill at skies kissing dust swirling up from wide open fields,
I’ll seek in the sylvan shade of a tiny village an abode of perfect bliss.
Bengal’s shaded ponds will be calm and comforting to see
And surely I’ll delight at sweet village belles carrying water home daily.
Such thoughts of my motherland made me sad and tears welled up in me.
Two days later–at noon– I entered my village– oh so eagerly!
Past the potter’s shop and left of the field where festivals are held I sped
Leaving the fairground–site of all delight– and the temple ground,
I hurried to my homestead–thirsty, eager and completely exhausted!
Shame, shame, oh shame on you, my shameless little plot of land!
How is it that you yielded so easily to the seducer’s blandishment?
Don’t you remember how you once nurtured me with what little you had?
How you provided me with fruits, flowers and produce from your bed?
Who are you trying to seduce now in fancy and dazzling dresses?
Why deck yourself in alluring colors and flower-studded tresses?
It was for you I came back worn out by years of wandering
But you, wanton, are only bent on being coy and enchanting!
Riches enticed you and the landlord’s wealth made all the difference
Nothing remained of what you once were — a maiden in essence!
So bountiful and giving once, so caring, sweet and pleasant,
Seduce him all you can– once a goddess, now you’re a mere servant!
With a grieving heart I looked around and what then did I see?
Still erect where it always stood was my favorite mango tree!
I sat down and wept till tears doused the pain that was in me
One by one, images of childhood resurfaced in my memory.
How after summer storms I wouldn’t sleep at all,
Knowing I had to gather by dawn the mangoes sure to fall
I thought of still fun-filled afternoons when we played hooky
And I felt: what a pity that such days I will never again see!
Suddenly a gusting wind shook the branches of the tree
and two ripe mangoes fell on the spot where I happened to be.
Surely, I thought, my mother has finally seen her long lost son,
I picked up the mangoes she lovingly gave me on this occasion.
Suddenly, as if an angel of death, an Oriya gardener was in the scene
Hair in knot, this man swore and threatened in a way that was obscene.
I told him, “I gave up all years ago without protesting the court decree
Why fuss if I pick up two mangoes from what was my property?”
Unimpressed, the gardener seized me, directing his stick at my head.
Dragging me to his landlord, he complained to him about what I said.
The zamidar, egged on by his cronies, thundered, “You’re as good as dead!”
But his abuse was nothing compared to what his cronies had to say.
All I could say in defense was, “my lord, those mangoes fell my way.”
The zamindar said, “This scoundrel acts innocent but is a big thief!”
With tears in my eyes I laughed at being made the source of all mischief.
I laughed at my fate and at all those years I spent in grief
Indeed, he is the saint now and I am the thief!