Tuhin Das reflects on a writer’s struggle against censorship in Bangladesh and the power of words and empathy in difficult times.
Listen to Tuhin Das reading "The Assassin" in Bengali.
I give you these lines
For you deserve them
Many years later you will come to know
Someone wrote these for you one day.
I write when a dark night
Has gathered over Bangladesh
My writer friend is afraid
A mournful clock by his bed
Rings out suddenly
He wakes up
His eyes bulging in terror
One word escapes his lips, "assassin."
Yet he is a poet or novelist
He could have spoken of the stars
Which show us the way even in the dark,
He could have spoken of a singing bird
Nesting in a tree by his house
Who's singing in search of a companion,
Of the moon which showers resplendent beams at night,
Or of the lover who waits somewhere far away.
He didn't speak of any of these
All he said was, "assassin."
For he had forsaken the soul, spirits and divine messengers
He had summoned god to the courtroom as the accused
To declare, not all emptiness creates space
I had heard
The sound when he slammed the door
On the face of blind faith
What he wrote injured Islamabad and Istanbul,
He could not visit his ailing mother
He had to go many days with just one meal
In my imagination I heard his pleas
For a slice of bread
Because death was waiting for him
In disguise on the road.
Beasts of prey were sniffing the air
To hunt him down.
Like the saltwater flowing in the ocean
His blood is agitated today
Like the shadow beneath the light, his thoughts
Have cooled today
I felt it too once
For I too was on the run
To escape the fundamentalists' swords.
I had waited for another summer
Thinking at first of going to the mountains
Or to say good-bye to the sea
Surely they wouldn't look for me in the mountains or by the sea.
But no, I went into long hibernation
For a succession of days—seven months, in four cities
Like a refugee in my own country.
A singer lived in the room next to mine
I would hear him sing at dawn every day
Across the wall
Like the bird at the tiny prison window
Who perches on the sill to whistle
And brings reminders of days of freedom
The song would make me think
How beautiful the world was.
I felt I had to thank him
But despite these thoughts
I never did meet him
For I was afraid, what if he
A well-wisher was death-bound then
Lying in bed with cancer
I couldn't pay a visit
Or even stand for a few minutes in silence
By the grave.
Still we couldn't stop writing
Neither I nor that terrified writer
In whose nightmares the "assassin" came
To knock at his door.
Splinters of light were embedded
In our hearts like shrapnel
Even if we were to be buried and stoned
We would not be deflected
We would fly the white flag of peace
Not a black pennant eulogizing a false god
We would shout
If our throats were slit we would whisper
Our chain of words would reach the next generation
Even if they had to flow along a river of blood.
And a kingfisher would alight
To sit by our dreams.
© Tuhin Das. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 by Arunava Sinha. All rights reserved.