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International Women's Day

Nabaneeta Dev Sen: She thought she could do absolutely anything at all

Five poems from ‘Acrobat’, translated by her daughter Nandana Dev Sen

My Kolkata Web Desk | Published 08.03.22, 08:47 PM
Nandana and Nabaneeta Dev Sen

Nandana and Nabaneeta Dev Sen

Mala Mukerjee

Nabaneeta Dev Sen (1938 – 2019) remains one of the most beloved, versatile and prolific Bengali writers of all time. She published her first book of poems at the age of 21, and grew to be immensely popular in every genre. Equally expressive in poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction, she has over one hundred books to her credit, including compilations of poems, novels, plays, stories, memoirs, academic essays, children's literature, political columns, literary translations, and multiple volumes of her collected works. 

A writer, child-rights activist, and an award-winning actor, Nandana Dev Sen is the author of six children’s books, translated into more than 15 languages globally. Nandana has represented UNICEF, Operation Smile, RAHI, Apne Aap International, and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, to fight against child abuse and to end human trafficking. She is Child Protection Ambassador for Save the Children India.

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Nandana has translated several of her mother’s works. Acrobat: Poems by Nabaneeta Dev Sen, translated from Bengali by Nandana Dev Sen, has been published by Juggernaut.

Excerpts, on Women’s Day.

Acrobat

She thought she knew acrobatics rather well. 
That she could juggle time with both hands, 
Play with the now, right next to the then, 
She would make both dance, she thought, fist to fist — 
And she would glide, so smooth, along the tightrope, 
She thought she could do absolutely anything at all. 

Only once in your life will the rope shiver. 

Right Now: Forever

Time has not the power to extinguish me, 
Don’t think for a moment that I wait upon Time. Let Time keep on playing his absurd battle game, 
Every time he strips me, I rise clothed, without shame; 
With the force of prayer, of spells magic and divine, 
All that was untimely will turn auspicious, sublime. 

In a just war, the rebel stands forever unafraid 
For her ally is Eternity, who, divinely arrayed, Guides her chariot, destroying the enemy line.  Thus, a divisive age will be defeated and spurned—
Though it brings on great wars, it will lose every time;
From all our scriptures, this is the truth I have learned.
Know that I am cherished by an undivided, infinite age:
Time will never have the power to scorch me with its rage.

That Girl

Sorrow had chased her. 
The girl kept running and running, 
What else could she do?  
She hurled the comb in her hand  
At sorrow — 
And instantly, from the comb’s hundred teeth 
Sprouted thousands of trees, 
A deep forest swarming with wild animals.  
And somewhere among the growls of tigers,  
In that haunted darkness, 
Sorrow got lost. 

Fear had chased her. 
The girl kept running and running, 
What could she do?  
She threw her tiny bottle of perfume  
At fear — 
And instantly, the perfume swelled 
Into a foaming, whirling cyclone.  
With a deafening roar,  
The fierce saffron tide flooded mile after mile,  
Sweeping away fear.

The day love chased her 
The girl had nothing in her hand. 
She kept running and running, 
What could she do? 
She gouged her heart out from her breast 
And flung it at love — 
And instantly, that fistful of heart  Sprang up into a range of green mountains,
With cascades and caves, canyons and crests,
Mystery reverberating 
In its gorges and its valleys. 
The shivering echo 

Of stormy winds, the rush of waterfalls,
Its slopes full of shade, and its peak,
Burnt by the sun and the moon. 
Perhaps it was  
That dazzling, brimful heart 
That didn’t allow  
Her lover’s timid love 
To advance and grow.

She is chased now by exhaustion.
Empty-handed, empty-hearted,
She keeps running and running,
What can she do? 
The girl tosses behind her  
Only a sigh — 
And instantly 
The flame of her breath 
Sets fire to her entire past, 
Spreading in every direction 
A desert of burning, churning sands.

Now the girl runs without a care,
Both arms held high above her head —
At last 
She is chased  
Only by her destination.

TT archives

In Marriage

Stay close. I’m scared.  
It feels as if this moment is not true.  
Touch me — 
like the closest ones touch the body before cremation.
This hand, take it, my hand. 
Hold this hand, as long as you’re near me
don’t leave it untouched.
I’m scared. 
It feels as if this moment is not true.
As untrue as our long yesterday, 
as untrue as our infinite tomorrow.

There was a time

There was a time I loved you so, black cloud,
that’s hard now to forget. 
And yet, I can let no one know, for, cloud,
Now you have turned blood-red.

Mala Mukerjee
Last updated on 08.03.22, 08:50 PM
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