Shaheed Quaderi is a distinctive voice among the major Bangladeshi poets. Though he has published only three collections and has been self-exiled for over a quarter century, his poetic stature remains unassailable. He lives in New York with his wife. For some years now, since a sudden kidney failure, he has been on regular dialysis. His unpublished and uncollected poems should make up another substantial volume.
Sudden panic sends colourful homebound crowds –
Even the drowsy ones among them –
Scuttling like scared red roaches every which way
As if someone with a cold forbidding voice,
Tolling familiar bells,
Had come to warn of imminent plague,
Emptying all homes and city squares.
A flying lance of lightning rips through
The rotund whale’s belly of the sky.
Thunder and hail and rain:
Deafening the ear
As if circular saws had roared into ceaseless motion
While a million lathes set off a tormented whine.
Dusk brings on an electric storm –
Nervy and peevish – and more
Clouds and water and wind –
– Wind with a peacock’s rainbow scream –
How imperilled our dwellings –
Doors and windows desperate to spread wings –
This old house heaves Eke a tyrannosaur –
Flash floods sweep through crowded neighbourhoods
And gleaming but abandoned avenues
And swirl around the city’s knees.
Through the dusk – rent by apocalyptic winds –
As if the wind were Israfel’s OM! –
Rain falls aslant on parked cars –
The passengers sit quietly, heads bowed
In anxiety and apprehension, and suddenly startled,
Look up and see
Swift and fierce,
And willy nilly hear
The sound of lamentation
In their own hearts
And in this weird and vagrant monsoon’s sterile dithyramb.
Tonight in this rain, on city thoroughfares,
Tramp and drifter, homeless youth and lifelong beggar,
Spiv, thief and the half crazed
Come into their own,
Theirs is the kingdom
In the rain tonight.
The revenue collectors
Always to be seen carefully counting
The money they pocket every day,
Have fled in terror.
They burst into lusty song – dark
Festive auditorium and drunken placard swinging from the wall,
Twisted telephone pole at whose tip swings
An old, dented, signboard blown thither by the wind
While the city’s countless shutters keep time
With a relentless clatter,
For the constable on the beat,
The sentry and the taxman
Have all fled in terror.
And these too – the wise and the wealthy
And all their sidekicks and sycophants –
They too have slipped away unnoticed –
The torrent has washed away all footprints
And will only carry a few miserable mementos
As it rushes, merry as a civic procession,
Towards the cascading town drains:
A cigarette tin floats by with a sound like tambourines,
And broken glass, torn wire, envelopes,
Blue letters, yellow laundry slips,
Doctor’s prescriptions, white medicine box,
A broken button from a favourite shirt
And miscellaneous keepsakes
From the varicoloured days of civilized existence.
O Lord, amidst the lightning lit deluge
In this dark city, barefoot and alone
In tattered pantaloons, inside
A shirt billowing like a sail,
I am like a shiny little ark –
In the lonely turmoil of my flesh and blood existence
Smolders Noah’s restless red hot wrathful soul
But not a single creature – man or beast –