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The Portrait
by Kumud Biswas
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  Are you a mere portrait
Drawn on a canvas?
Those galaxies
Which crowd the sky
They travel through darkness 
With candles in their hands -
The planets, the sun and the stars -  
Aren’t you real like them
O you portrait
Are you a mere portrait?
 
Here everything moves
In its midst
Why do you stand still?
Join those who travel
Losing your way
Why day and night
Remaining among us
You are so far away standing apart
In a place where nothing ever moves?
This dust
Running everywhere with the winds
In the months of summer
Covers the earth in grey
With its grey layers
Like a widow without ornaments
Doing some penance
But when the spring comes
Ushering the hour of love
It bedecks her with new sprouting leaves –
And that dust
It is real too.
This grass
Trodden over by all –
It is restless, it is real.
But you do not move, you are still,
So a mere portrait you are.
 
Along this way
You once walked with us
Your breast once heaved with living breath
Life in your limbs
Danced and sang
Weaving ever new rhymes of its own
Keeping rhythms with the living –
It seems it is so long time ago!
In my eyes, in my world
You were so real!
With your brush
In the morning of my life
You had coloured my eyes
To see and savour the beauties of this world
In that dawn to me
You were the embodied message of the universe.
 
We were walking side by side
But behind the pall of night
Suddenly you stalled.
Since then
Night and day
In darkness and light
In a wilderness
I have been moving ahead
In joys and sorrows
Drifting along the rising and falling tides;
Silently on either side of my way
Blossoming in myriad colours
Flowers are giving me company;
Along various channels
The stream of life is rushing
To its ultimate end.
Urged by an unknown siren
In sheer love of my way
I am going far yet far
Stepping aside
Where you stopped
There you are standing still.
Behind those dusts, those grasses,
Behind the sun and the moon and the stars
You are a portrait, a mere portrait you are.
 
But what nonsense the poet talks!
You are a portrait!
No, no, you are not a mere portrait.
Who says you remain enmeshed
Within the lines of that sketch
Silently crying?
Alas! Alas!
If this river lost its waving rhythms
If this cloud effaced its golden hues
All the joys would then come to an end
If the shadows of your lovely hair
Were lost from this world
The murmuring shadows of these spring flowers
Swaying in restless winds
Would then become a mere dream.   
Have I ever forgotten you?
This mistake I often commit
At the very root of my life
You have taken your seat
When walking our way in an absent mind
Don’t we fail to notice a flower or a star?
Yet they sweeten our lives
Our forgotten moments
They fill with their songs
Failure to remember you at times
Cannot be my forgetfulness
Remaining hidden in my being
You are always quickening my blood.
You are no longer before my eyes
You have taken your place in them.
In my world
You are mingled with whatever I see
Be it the greenery of this earth
Or the blue of the sky.
My existence has found its harmony in you.
I am hardly aware
Nor others know
All my songs echo with your tunes;
In the heart of the poet
You are the poet
You are not a mere portrait.
 
I got you in the dawn of my life
But lost you one night
Now in the dark I get you unaware
Never a portrait, a mere portrait, you are.


Translation of one of the most famous and most untranslatable poems - no 6 from the collection Balaka, entitled 'Chhabi' in the compilation Sanchayita -  by Rabindranath Tagore. Written in rhyming free verse it is a deeply moving tribute to Kadambaridevi, wife of his elder brother Jyotirindranath, whom he used to call his notunbouthan (new sister-in-law). This couple made the greatest contribution to the making of the phenomenon called Rabindranath. And this talented lady was the earliest and deepest inspiration in the literary life of the poet. When only 25 she committed suicide. At the time Tagore was 23 and a struggling poet. More than anyone else it was Kadambari who helped him in his chrysalis.

The original is at http://www.rabindra-rachanabali.nltr.org/node/12129.

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May 20, 2007
More By: Kumud Biswas
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