Three poems from Me Migrant, a new book of poetry by Md Mukul Hossine, transcreated by Cyril Wong with the help of Marc Nair, and translated from Bangla with help from Fariha Imran & Farouk Ahammed. The book launch in Singapore takes place on Sunday, May 1, 2:30 pm, at The Arts House.
by Md Mukul Hossine
Thousand thousand miles away
Dawn to dusk then dawn again
Bearing sighs and a cry
Love, compassion, kindness
Lose their meaning
Be careful: no one here
To see and know such pain
Outside from you
by Md Mukul Hossine
My grandmother used to take my hand and lead me beneath the kadam tree
She would make me a garland of Spanish cherries around her neck.
Every morning she would wake me up
Come, precious grandchild, the puffed rice treats are almost ready
In the afternoon, when I returned home after playing outside
My grandmother would feed me until my belly was full
When night fell and the fireflies lit up, my grandmother would carry me
To see the firefly fair, how they danced about
Late at night, she would pat me
And sing me to my castle of sleep
Today, my grandmother is far away, we cannot meet anymore
She rests beneath the ground, we cannot meet anymore
No one plucks a kadam flower for me like before
The Spanish cherry tree has now died out
No one is there to wake me up in the morning
No one tells me to come quickly, the puffed rice treats are ready
I spend the afternoons with great difficulty and loneliness
I cannot fill my stomach with food when I think of my grandmother
Those fireflies at night do not seem to dance about anymore
They are no longer my friends, they fly away when I reach for them
by Md Mukul Hossine
Does the fragrance of Hasna Hena
arise from the garden at night?
O darling, do my words
glide through your heart?
Is the rose tree enlarged
by its own branches?
Do you feel
my touch from the touch of another?
Does the pine tree near the gate
Open your eyes, look upon me,
does my image sail on your raft?
Do you sit by the pond
to see me?
Does a teardrop fall from your eye
when I become sad?
Do you still think about
moving up in life?
Do you apply henna like me
on someone else’s hand?
Will you eat neither this nor that
and does another say now?
Do you still bear the news
of how I am surviving now?
by Cyril Wong
“Me Migrant” was a title that I created not just for one of Md Mukul’s poems, but also for his entire manuscript. In rewriting and editing the rough translations of what were essentially raw but passionately honest versifications, the colloquial directness of “Me Migrant” kept coming back to haunt me (a poem whose translation was in no small part shaped by how I heard Mukul speak the first time we met). It was clearly a blunt and emotional centrepiece that would inform the way in which I would adjust every other poem, in terms of its diction and tonality. What I hoped to retain in my adjustments throughout was the poet’s keen sense of isolation and plaintive mode of protestation, simultaneous with a longing for loved ones and homeland in that general tendency to praise the past when facing the difficulties of the present.
The life of a migrant worker has its certain challenges. To his credit, Mukul had striven to leave out their more predictable banalities and focused on poeticising emotions or projecting them into the realm of the mythic and the imagined universal. I have done my best to mirror the intriguing combination of Mukul’s unpretentious voice and his artistic aspirations through my transcreation. My frequent meetings and conversations with Mukul were essential in helping me decide not only how the translated poems might read or sound, but also how they should flow into each other. Lastly, the warm, trusting and garrulous aspects of his personality probably influenced the overall manner in which I edited his work, in ways I didn’t intend (not at all a bad thing, I believe).
Here, a note of thanks to Marc Nair, who helped with the editing of a few poems in their earlier versions.
Reprinted by permissions of author, translator, and publisher, the poems and editorial note appear in Me Migrant by Md Mukul Hossine (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2016)
Md Mukul Hossine was born in Patgram, Bangladesh. He came to Singapore in 2008 to work in the construction sector and has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences. Mukul writes poems, novels, and short stories. His novel Buker Simanaye Sukh (Happiness at heart’s edge) and his poetry collection Apurna Vasana (Unfulfilled desire) have been published in Bangladesh. His work has also been featured in four other anthologies. Mukul often spends entire nights writing poetry. His favourite poet is Rabindranath Tagore.
Cyril Wong is the Singapore Literature Prize-winning author of poetry collections such as Unmarked Treasure, Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light, The Dictator’s Eyebrow, After You and The Lover’s Inventory. He has also published Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me and Other Stories and a novel, The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza. A past recipient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award for Literature, he completed his doctoral degree in English Literature at the National University of Singapore in 2012.