My mother’s eyes became yellowish, egg-yoke like.
Her belly swelled out rapidly like an overly full water tank
ready to burst at any moment.
No longer able to stand up, or sit down, or even move her fingers, she just lay there.
At the end of her days, she did not look like Mother any more.
Relatives appeared each morning, every evening,
telling Mother to be prepared,
telling her to be ready to die on the holy day, Friday,
uttering la ilaha illallah, Allah Is One!
They warned her not to disappoint the two angels—
Munkar and Nakir.
The relatives wanted to make certain that the room
and yard would be clean
that the perfume atar and the blue eye shadow surma
would be present when Death would finally arrive.
The disease had nearly devoured her entire body;
it had stolen her last remaining strength;
it had made her eyes bulge from their sockets,
it had dried her tongue,
it had sucked the air from her lungs.
As she struggled to breathe,
her forehead and eyebrows wretched with pain.
The whole house demanded— shouting—
that she should send her greatest respects and reverence
to the Prophet.
Not one doubted that she would go to Jannatul Ferdous,
the highest level of heaven.
Not one doubted that she would soon walk hand-in-hand
with Muhammed, on a lovely afternoon,
in the Garden of Paradise..
No one doubted that the two would lunch together
on pheasant and wine.
Mother thus dreamed her lifelong dream:
She would walk with Muhammed
in the Garden of Paradise.
But now, at the very time that she was about to depart from this earth, what a surprise
Instead of stepping outside, and entering that Garden,
she wished to stay and boil Birui rice for me.
She wished to cook fish curry and to fry a whole hilsa.
She wished to make me a spicy sauce with red potatoes.
She wished to pick a young coconut for me
from the south corner of her garden.
She wished to fan me with a silken hand-fan,
and to remove a few straggly hairs from my forehead.
She wished to put a new bed sheet upon my bed,
and to sew a frock with colorful embroidery—
just for me.
Yes, she wished to walk barefoot in the courtyard,
and to prop up a young guava plant with a bamboo stick.
She wished to sing sitting in the garden of hasnuhena,
“Never before, had such a bright moon shone down,
never before, was night so beautiful.. .”
My mother wanted so desperately to live.
There is, I know, no reincarnation,
no last judgment day:
Heaven, pheasant, wine, pink virgins —
these are nothing but traps
set by true believers.
There is no heaven for mother to go.
She will not walk in any garden with anybody whatsoever.
Cunning foxes will instead enter her grave;
they will eat her flesh;
her white bones will be spread by the winds…
Nevertheless, I do want to believe in Heaven
over the seventh sky, or somewhere—
a fabulous, magnificent heaven—
somewhere where my mother would reach
after crossing the bridge,
the Pulsirat— which seems so impossible to cross.
And there, once she has passed that bridge
with the greatest ease,
a very handsome man, the Prophet Muhammed,
will welcome her, embrace her.
He will feel her melt upon his broad chest.
She will wish to take a shower in the fountain;
she will wish to dance, to jump with joy;
she will be able to do all the things
that she has never done before.
A pheasant will arrive on a golden tray.
My mother will eat to her heart’s content.
Allah Himself will come by foot into the garden to meet her;
he will put a red flower into her hair,
kiss her passionately.
She will sleep on a soft feather bed;
she will be fanned by seven hundred Hur, the virgins
and be served cool water in silver pitcher
by beautiful gelban, the young angels.
She will laugh,
her whole body will stir with enormous happiness.
She will forget her miserable life on Earth…
How good I feel
just to imagine
somewhere there is a heaven!
(The original poem was written in Bengali. It was published in Bengali literary weekly magazine ‘Desh’. Bangladesh government banned the magazine on April 4,1999, and seized all copies from the news stands. I was accused of personifying God.)
I felt this way for a long time. Sad and disappointed that there was no heaven to go to.
i too am an atheist and felt this poem. for a mother the heaven is to be with her daughter. madam, as theists keep the hope of heaven, what actually is the meaning of life for us?
Robert B. says
For me, it’s reincarnation. It makes me sad that we only have limited time in this world, that our work and play become over and done with, that someday we have to stop learning. If I could pick a religious idea and magically make it true, it would be reincarnation.
Timid Atheist says
So very beautiful, thank you for sharing this. You are truly a wonderful writer. I’m so glad you chose to write what you think despite all the threats.
Taslima, you are very naughty for making me cry at work. *smile* I tease. I am moved by your writing, by the images you paint of your mother in sickness and imagined rebirth in heaven. Thank you.
Beautiful. It both captures the agony of losing a parent and that confusing wish that heaven was real. As an atheist who lost my father when I was young, it’s something I struggled with for years. I wanted to make myself believe, but I always knew it was a comforting fairy tale.
Stunningly beautiful. I cannot imagine how good it would be in its original form.
Much better in original Bengali. I think poetry loses 80% of its essence/originality because of translation.
Taru Dutt says
You poem brought tears to my eyes, as other readers have hinted it did to theirs. In Bengali it would be superb – fata-fati!
And what beautiful prose! Not that I am surprised, mind you.
Lying bullies hate and fear even the most gentle honesty. How well such “religious” people show that religion is an essentially wrong, stupid, dangerous, dishonest, and “evil” institution!
I love this poem!
I usually feel an animosity toward poetry of any kind. So often I feel the poet tries to conjure deliberate obscurity, likes to make the purpose of their piece ambiguity, to make their intention to frustrate me or fish for compliments or have me assign a meaning to the poem they authored – instead of the other way around. Of course, I understand the art of allowing the reader to fill in blanks or have a range of interpretation freedom, but the poem should stand on its own, too. I guess I just don’t like empty poetry.
This has meat in it. This is definitely not empty. It’s lovely. And laced with melancholy. And engaging. I really enjoyed it.
Wow! I just love your words. Thanks.
Evan Bettencourt says
I adore the flavor in your writing. I wish I had a better word, but that’s the only one that comes to me right now.
I feel honored. Thanks.
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