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Curated and translated from the Bengali by Tathagata Biswas

Editorial note:

This is not an essay, but a work of curation. It contains a brief introduction of the poet, translations of four of his poems from Bangla, a brief translator’s note, followed by notes on each of the translated poems, and references for further reading.

Tamal Sekhar Dey (b.1976, September 8th; Tripura) is a Bengali poet, writer and essayist. He writes columns in different literary magazines regularly, but his first love is poetry. He has written ten books of essays, stories, poetry anthologies and a collection of interviews. He studied at Dinabandhu Narayani Bidyamandir. He has earned his graduation in Economics from Kachhar College (Silchar, Assam) and Master’s in Bengali Literature from Tripura University.

Translator’s note:

When we think about Bengali literature or culture we primarily refer to writers either from West Bengal or Bangladesh. Calcutta and Dhaka are the centres of literature and culture. Tripura remains at the margins of the literary map. Tamal Sekhar Dey is a voice from this distant margin, a voice of resistance through poetry, a voice that not only knows the truth but embodies it throughout. Speaking truth to power structures which are out there and also which creep into every centimetre of our being. Power that invades every nook and corner of the body that breathes, death that smells, killings that throttle the very body politic of the so-called democracy; where breathing itself becomes a biopolitical act with all its (im)possibilities. We will witness such clinical performance in the following four poems. These four poems have been taken from two of his books. The first two poems are from the collection titled How Many Days it Takes to Forget a Dead Body’s Stench (Ekti Lasher Gondho Bhulte Kotodin Lage) and the other two are from another collection titled I Can’t Breathe. He also has written many other poems of different moods and postures; interested readers may look at the list of the poet’s published works at the end.

How Many Days It Takes To Forget a Dead Body’s Stench

How many days does it take to make people forget a dead body’s stench?

It is enough to block networks for three days!

Bind them to a spectacle for three days only.

To make them swallow down the lure of seventh pay commission.

To raise the rate of compensation?

Since when I’ve been mummified, have become a stone, an imbecile

Under the spell of these adequacies I don’t know.

Since when I’ve started wagging my tail!

I can’t recall.

When I got my elder brother’s job I forgot.

I got a blister on my nose while kissing the dust— I can’t recognize myself.

In moving away from the circle of conviction when I moved away from my shadow

I can’t tell.

If someone talks about love I feel afraid nowadays.

I suspect she might ask for a favour in return!

If someone holds my hands today and says ‘how are you?’ I suspect 

He might try to pursue me for an insurance policy!

I run away fast from friends, 

From my girlfriend, 

From the near and dear ones 

And from helpless persons

I run away fast

I keep thinking about the money I deposited in Rose Valley1!

How perfectly I ditched my ex-girlfriend! 

I can’t sleep at nights. 

Whom I have voted for with all my trust! 

I can’t forgive my soul.

How can I kiss my wife?

I can’t hug my child with all my heart since I grieved my father!

I put my head down while walking in a rally

Because I know I’m here out of a certain compulsion

Because I know that nobody has seen me raping. 

Only I know— how deep is my mask within!

I chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’, ‘Allah Hu Akbar’ out of fear!

I remain attached to all safe borders of the earth!

I feel afraid before the mike on the stage

I recite someone else’s poems in my name!

I bend my back in front of falsehood!

Again I run away fast 

Again I can’t sleep at nights 

Again I effortlessly shrink away from the stench of a dead body

I stare like a libertine at her lips in a rally against her rape.

I get turned on fantasizing the rape scene of that girl in the rally. 

Candle lights smile. Hot saliva falls on my hand.

Young boys and girls kiss each other in a protest rally, I have seen.

In fact we have forgotten how to conduct a rally.

How many torches has this generation seen?

Those lolling tongues of flame!

Those weighty hands of Bagha Jatin!

Inquilab Zindabad of Bhagat Singh!

The undisturbed sleep of Master Da before his death!

Temptation of a job made us forget everything.

The allure of a selfie with chief minister, made us forget everything.

A photograph with the President, made us forget everything.

We have forgotten to pull the chain after boarding an apocalyptic train.

We have posted an image of a deity on our Facebook profile but we forgot humanity.

How many days does it take to make people forget a dead body’s stench?

It is enough to block networks for three days!

Bind them to a spectacle for three days only.

For instance Bill Clinton started bombarding Iraq at the midnight day before his impeachment2!

For instance a phone call thrown at me

Like the police got hold of you. 

Guns were aimed at the naxalite Gobindo Teli3 and a promotion for the police officer!. 

Some dogs have been unleashed to drive us away from rallies.

In the name of rallies police itself set buses ablaze with petrol.

A few bullets in the name of dispersal

A few bodies have been taken away in the name of law and order— 

In spite of all these we will continue to speak out our plight.

We will continue to speak about our unemployment.

About our homelessness.

We will continue to speak against NRC.

We are all in pain today.

You have promised us jobs but have been driven towards cabs instead! 

You have promised to bring back black money.

I stood with my heart full of dreams in the queue to vote.

I pledged to my beloved, this time I will give you a sweet kiss.

I have assured her a dream of a prosperous life.

Nothing of the sort happened.

Certain beneficiaries are being unleashed against us.

Some opportunists are being inserted in our peaceful rallies.

Even after all this don’t ever think we will stop.

We will speak out loud with all our fire.

We will hurl a stone towards tire gas.

If we can’t do anything we will immolate ourselves.

We will stand naked and look straight at the cruellest of kings like the mad man.

How many days does it take to make people forget a dead body’s stench?

It is enough to block networks for three days!

Or a few bullets!

Or a few kicks in the balls!

Perhaps blood will come out of the mouth.

Fear will come out of the heart!

Even then we will not forget your promise.

We will continue to speak out our hunger our death.

We will continue to speak! We will …


So many doors were supposed to have opened

But none have. 

Running to and fro from one to the other in vain

It is futile to put bolt on your door

Everybody has left in silence.

In the street I stand alone

From where I come and where I go

I feel uneasy, I don’t know.

Sometimes I wish to be a gigolo

Sometimes I will to love the one with whom I sleep! 

What has she done!

She never has seen the man of her dreams— 

Who sleeps in the darkness of her consciousness?

She hasn’t lit any lamp

Does the insatiable woman know how to open the gateway of the body?

She only begs for pleasure

Does pleasure sit in some quiet nook of the body?

I know where.

Like a criminal she looks for pleasure from door to door

She becomes despondent even though I show her the gates.

She turns herself into a destitute with each blow

She can’t be satisfied! 

She misunderstands me.

How come I know about satisfaction!

Have I ever been satisfied? 

I have only been by the side of a weary body

I have only received obscene slangs

I have only listened to the agony

I have seen her enraged in pain

I have witnessed her moaning cries!

I have understood that almost all women are innocent.

Nobody has heard me out in return.

I was also keen to share my heart

Nobody gave me their time.

Time is like an endless river.

Nobody here is ready to pay their ear without any purchase.

The river moved on with all the stale flowers.

Any door could have been opened for us.

For God, all doors are the same.

Still some people suddenly get defeated 

They fall upon themselves tearing apart their mosquito nets.

Nobody lends their hands to those fallen beings.

You also have left today like others,

Let your path be full of daffodils

Let grass flowers caress your feet

Let a beautiful butterfly possess you.

I will once again gaze at my mother’s lover helplessly.

Be happy with your pleasure!

You will certainly look happy

Let happiness befall you!

Let your departure be smooth and flowery.

Let me look at you once more

Give me some more time to believe in that scene.

Everything is believable.

Like an ancient industrial city… I will return to my old profession,

I will show everything to the apprentice woman

She will check me out thoroughly

She makes me stand now

She makes me sit then

She asks me to kiss her all over her body

She asks me to stand up.

I long for her pleasure!

I get frustrated with her answer

Is it that same exhausted body I used to stare at!

Is it the body that claims love momentarily?

There’s nothing in her body. All the urges are in her mind.

After useless wondering I lit candles at my home.

Self-aware meaningless questions follow one another!

Love kept awake through the night in suspicion.

Oh God! Let me be myself.

I have even fiercely pardoned my main enemy.

I have cruelly pulled myself away from cherished relationships for now!

My fidelity to those relationships showed me that they all want returns.

Now I roam around the city like a traitor without any dream.

I have reached the pinnacle of my desolation.

I can’t remember those lean sorrows that used to gnaw at me.

Everything seems dangerously normal.

Nowadays I feel only like going toward darkness 

I let myself be lit up in combustion

I’m standing for nothing so long before solitary confessional

The priest is relentlessly asking me questions

Do you want to regret it? Do you beg God for His forgiveness?

I can’t even utter a word.

Helpless words want to gush out of me,

I get hold of them in a flash.

I keep mum! 

Can I say things that I want to!

Words are taking me towards hallucination.

Hence I can’t utter a word.

Far away from words— I bow down to myself,

I sit in kushasana, like the posture of namaz

Silent words come and visit me

Then they leave me alone.

I have nowhere to go

I sit naked at the furthest corner of the bath tub at my place.

“All of us should spend a portion of our life in darkness” — 

Dipankar said long ago.

I could never gather such courage

I get afraid I feel nausea in sable

I switch the lights on immediately,

I can fluently tell a lie in light

Because I have learnt to tell a lie in the light 

Certain pain flourishes in solitude

Certain shame expresses them in quietude 

Mom couldn’t say a sentence in front of the confession room,

She could only mutter “Oh Lord, I’m innocent!”

Minu di, were you happy ultimately?

If you have found happiness then please remain happy!

Don’t feel sorry for me.

I will put my emptiness away on the loft

I would like to expand it like the Pui Macha

You will be its leaves Minu di, 

Your smile, your unrequited scream, your sexual urge, 

Frozen river bed of your tears.

I am not one of those who say life is priceless.

No, I’m not thinking about death either.

Those who say, “You are true, not your body”, I’m also not with them!

Pranjoy said, “One should make oneself terribly occupied at least once in life.”

No, I’m not thinking about going down this audacious path.

I have made myself to travel the twilight zone between life and death a few times,

Life and Death both are extremely meaningless.

To the infidel, the Lord’s orders are similarly insignificant. 

Lord and the infidel that’s the story of the world.

This body is the cruel background of this history.

Please tell me after reading me, 

How far is this life dangerous or disheartening for the earth?

Here the difference between meaning and absurdity is marginal.

I don’t think about these things now,

I’m a nimakharam, I indulge myself in jest. 

According to Buddha I’m ignorant,

Reincarnation is assured

According to the sanatani – I’m a sinner.

Taking birth eighty lakh times has been wasted

According to Islam I’m a harami

Most suitable candidate for hell.

Jesus said, “He can truly pardon everybody.”

I keep mum.

Emotion has no meaning in a court room.

So I move toward the depth of my solitude.

I wrote on Barnali’s back at night:

“A tree has grown up on the fertility of its own fallen leaves. 

Today flowers have blossomed on those branches”

The flower is looking like my beloved,

I have not kissed anybody like I kissed my darling! 

My lips have caressed others, so many times!

I only laid my body upon other bodies.

I have kissed on the basis of contracts.

My body is exhausted today.

I want liberation!

I want unconditional love

I want my hands to be held I haven’t come any closer to silence before.

I have crossed a long distance to face it!

Going with the Flow 

I have thought so many times in dejection 

Is life just another name for such splendour? 

Elections make me shudder.

Why do all accidents happen during its course?

All potential mornings scale off from the paper instantly after its arrival.

Marigold flowers shorn of her crest.

I don’t give titles to my dismay now.

A hundred and fifty people died when the Morbi Bridge collapsed.

A two-day national mourning is being declared.

Only a few employees are being temporarily suspended except the contractor. 

And that’s all …

News 1: ‘Indra Meghwal. Age: 9 years. Residence: Surana village of Rajasthan. This Dalit child used to drink water from the pitcher reserved for the upper castes. One day a teacher caught him. Then he beat the child up. As a result veins of the nine year old’s ear got ruptured. After twenty four days of earnest fighting with death, he succumbed on 14th August- the day of “Amrit Mahotsav.” Rajasthan’s local daily headlined it — ‘A Dalit student has died while drinking water.’’ 

They have started attacking the Bengalis again in Meghalaya. 

A war has been chasing us even after two generations.

Blood was oozing out of a boy’s head in a dew laden street

The news was — “Due to negligence of government and administration of Meghalaya safety and security of all linguistic communities from main land India has been severely compromised”. 

Oh! I felt relieved at the breakfast table in Tripura.I know however that my girlfriend can’t sleep from that very day.

They were not able to embrace each other since then.

Couldn’t even take their clothes off.

They will not send their son to school for a few days.

I have called up Bimal.

His brief reaction was — ‘for how much longer must we flee my friend?’

News 2: ‘Classes have resumed after Amrit Mahotsav. The place: Pundit Brahmadut Higher Secondary School, Uttar Pradesh. Brijesh Kumar, a thirteen- year- old boy died at the hands of his school teacher due to non-payment of monthly fee of Rs. 250. Headline of the next day’s newspaper reads, ‘Another Dalit student has died at the hands of an upper caste teacher.’’ 

We are gradually normalizing death.

While pondering over suicide I have realized —‘State considers suicide as sin.’

Because it thinks that your existence is subject to its control.

It is an act of crime to kill oneself without its permission. 

Oh hell! Then give me security. Give me the right to live.

Give me the right to speak.

Give me food.

I demand all the rights enshrined in the constitution for me,

Which are legitimately mine. 

News 3: ‘PhD scholar of Hyderabad University Rohith Vemula had committed suicide on 17th January, 2016. This Dalit young man was the victim of upper caste politics. He committed suicide out of disgust. The whole of India had erupted in protest. But now this curly-haired face has moved to the margins of my mind like everyone else’s.’

I’m staring at the door motionlessly. 

I can hear that confounded knock, humming like the night-bird. 

Police is patrolling the streets.

I’m sitting like a refugee on my own bed, in my own home

I’m thinking of the Ukrainian child. 

I’m recalling the face of the boy with curly hair from Vietnam

I’m remembering a dying child and an eagle

And the pathetic suicide of a photographer.

News 4: ‘After torturing the Dalit girl of Hathras three men from the upper caste took pictures on their mobile phone while putting their boots on the naked dead body of that girl. This too is only a memory now, a forgetting.’

The other day I saw a baby sucking her mother’s breast at the railway station. 

Some passengers looked at her, some turned their face away. 

How old the mother would be? Twenty? Twenty two? Twenty three?

I was looking at her intently.

It reminded me of the saying— ‘There is no greater soldier than a mother’.

I looked at her face— she was uncaring.

She embodies her messy world.

Is she sane? Is she sick? Is she being raped?

In our society the mentally ill also get raped every night like the house wives.

In our society poets don’t care for poetry any more,

They join the rallies convened by the ruler.

People of our society pull each other like a crab.

Some have uprooted dead scarecrows from the field,

And carry those in their anonymous Halloween marches! 

I join rallies of the ghosts with a human face.

I find the human face most bizarre now.

News 5: ‘A 17 year old Dalit girl of Unnao, Uttar Pradesh had been allured to the house, a job had been promised to her. She was raped. When her father went to police station to file a report, he was in turn arrested and beaten by the police. He died in police lock-up. In protest of her father’s killing the victim sat on a dharna in front chief minister’s residence. She tried to immolate herself. Even then she couldn’t save herself.’

Will we continue to march towards death while breathing within this confine? 

Like my grandfather. Like my father. Like the crazy man of my neighbourhood.

I have chased certain questions; I have gone with the flow 

I have lost myself in the depths of night – 

During each election I ask, “People! What the hell is that?”

I Can't Breathe (Niharika, 2023)

I Can’t Breathe

‘I can’t breathe.’

I can’t abuse anyone with son of a bitch or swine or push them by the neck

Or smack them across their face even if I want to.

If I could, I would kick my own ass first. 

I would have flung all the semen from my phallus ruthlessly on the ground.

What would I do with this semen if I couldn’t speak the truth?

What would I do with all the heroic sagas in history if I couldn’t learn a thing?

I feel like covering my face with envelops. 

I can’t breathe.

What would I do with this Constitution? 

If I couldn’t afford to pay for the travel to the Supreme Court!

What is the use of swearing on the Gita,

If my high-priced lawyer could make the lie shine effortlessly.

What would I do with that district magistrate?

Whose room will become out of bounds for me. 

What would I do with heads of state who can’t keep their promises? 

What will I get if I bow down to an unfaithful leader?

What will I do with the lover?

Who would have offered her body to someone else behind my back?

‘I can’t breathe!’

I don’t have the courage to love anyone!

I can only bend my head down like a refugee. 

I can only remain mum in front of your shrewd politics.

I can only hold the flag in your presence like a donkey at most.

So far … only so far …!

‘I can’t breathe!’

I can’t kiss you at this very moment

I can’t switch off the light.

Oh! I can’t even touch my sleeping baby

I’m feeling guilty and helpless somewhere inside. 

I’m feeling that I’m responsible for everything!

Me Me!!

Believe me, I can’t possibly breathe!

A hundred-pound foot quashing my throat

My gaseous body is suffering from lack of oxygen

I’m terribly empty in the darkness of my consciousness.

I’m approaching my wit’s end, I’m dazed

I’m trying extremely hard to run toward hospitals, from one to the other

Fast. Faster! Before succumbing to the ground. 

Motionless bodies are all leaning over,

The distressed wife is clinging to her dying husband’s body

I’m running, I want fresh air, a mouthful of it ...

‘I can’t breathe’

O my brother, I want to live.

Chief Minister, I want to live.

Prime Minister, I want to live.

Booth leader, I want to live.

O Pristha Pramukh I want to live.

O my Comrade, I want to live.

I want to breathe, I want to stretch my lungs.

I like to lead a human life!

I’m dying like a stray dog—

I’m dying like the stateless—

I’m afraid, 

Like gentlemen shirk from telling the truth.

Like prostitutes get terrorized by the police.

Like the oppressed trembles before the oppressor. 

Yes, I get afraid. 

I’m so fearful of my own darkness.

Hush! I keep quiet always. 

I can’t look inside of my heart.

I can’t put my hand in my throat.

I take my head out from that black hole fast.

I can’t see anything.

My head is full of a void and horror!

I Can … t … brea … the

Lately I feel short of breath upon hearing the sound of the ambulance—

Upon hearing someone weeping, seeing a nurse in PPE kit. 

Press briefing of bureaucrats, hyperbolic TV reporters increase my blood pressure.

My blood pressure gets high and again I can’t breathe. 

Yellow journalism is poisoning my heart my sight

My face got buried under shabby masks.

I have sold my conscience to Manusamhita long ago.

I feel like looting donation boxes of the temple and scattering them on the ground.

Look at your butt! It got thrashed so many times during the lockdown.

Will I die then?

Emptiness envelopes me like a fatigued afternoon

I talk to the beggars on the streets in search of hope

I like to roam around with the madman night after night

I feel like throwing my shoes at each convoy

I feel like to running after the red lights like a raging bull

I wanted to snatch a piece of bread.

O Honourable, I beg your pardon!

Give me back my civil rights.

Give me back my rote learning at school.

Preamble of the Constitution on those walls! 

I want to forget everything.

Please let me move toward euthanasia. 

Give me the right to die at least!

I want to move on steadily toward a peaceful death

For which I can hold only myself responsible!

Why should I let myself be prosecuted bit by bit by the state?

Why should I let myself die? 

I will throw my shoes or I will spit at those made-up stages before I die! 

I’m really feeling resigned with this worthless life.

My bowl of white rice is turning black in a flash

Every mettle of my body is turning into metals

Children I brought forth are becoming stone

If she asks me after growing up—

‘Where have you brought me papa?’

How could I reply?

If she says, ‘I haven’t wanted to be born in such a country papa!

Why have you brought me here?’

How could I reply?

I tremble, I can’t close my eyes, can’t stand anymore

I can’t get naked.

I feel castrated, My wife gives me a blank look

I can’t utter a word … Uff!!

I’m feeling suffocated

Someone please lend me some breath

Someone please take me under the shadow of tree

Take me away from the vultures far away ...

Put me away in front of the parliament like a bomb

Or, in front of the statue of liberty

I want to give a message to the next generations!

The naked boy is staring at me.

I can’t face him.

I can’t make any eye contact with him.

I’m going mad.

A few masked people are tying me in a black polythene bag

They are throwing me in a black hole like a trash.

There is only one regret

I couldn’t show the state my bare foot 

‘I can’t breathe’

I couldn’t breathe like a human being for the very last time!

Notes on the poems :

1. Rose valley is a financial scam of ₹ 17,000 crore caused by ponzi scheme run by Rose Valley Group in West Bengal exposed in January 2019.

2. The 1998 bombing of Iraq (code-named Operation Desert Fox) was a major four-day bombing campaign on Iraqi targets from 16 to December 19, 1998, by the United States and the United Kingdom ( ordered by Bill Clinton.) 

3. Gobindo Teli, a naxalite leader from north Tripura, Dharma Nagar was brutally murdered by state police and CRPF along with six other comrades (Ranjan Nath, Chandan Namasudra, Kshitipati Das, Akkel Mian, Chandrakanta, Kalinjoy Sinha) on February 25, 1980. 

4. After the formation of Assam, most of the Assamese left but Indian Bengalis, who dominated middle class jobs, and Bengali refugees from East Bengal stayed there. Bongal Kheda movement in Assam has inspired the Khasis (majority in Meghalaya) to drive away Bengalis and other minorities from their state. The 1979 Khasi Bengali riot was the first major riot in Shillong. 


I have been greatly benefitted in this translation project by thorough comments, suggestions, corrections of Meenakshi Jauhari. Thank you; I have learnt a lot from you. Suryashekhar Biswas gave his valuable inputs on the first and the third poem. I express my sincere gratitude to both of you and the gulmohur Translation Collective. Thank you, Tamal, for giving his permission and helping me out to decipher his poems. 

List of published works by the poet:
1. Sankha Laga Muhurto (poetry collection) (Satdin, 2007). 

2. Hae Ratri, Bibostro Ami (poetry collection)(Aakhar, 2009). 

3. Saktipada, Jafar, Selim o Ananyo (essay) (Sruth, 2009). 

4. Aaj Akashe Megh Koreche Shrabani (poetry collection) (Niharika, 2018). 

5. Santa Kobi Milan kanti Datta'r Mukhomukhi (interview) (Niharika, 2018). 

6. Golper Moto (collection of stories) (Niharika, 2019). 

7. Ekti Lasher Gondho Bhulte Koto Din Lage (poetry collection) (Niharika, 2021). 

8. Selim Mustafar Kabitar Jogot, Sakhatkar abong Tamal Sekhar Dey (essay and a long conversation with the poet Selim Mustafa about his poetry) (Niharika, 2022). 

9. I Can’t Breathe (poetry collection) (Niharika, 2023). 

10. Jafar Sadek ‘Nihito Ratrir Dorja’ patt, punopath (essay) (Niharika, 2024).

Tathagata Biswas is a student of philosophy, interested in modern Bengali literature and contemporary social-political movements. He has also translated from English to Bengali various articles written on the Yellow Vest Movement in France.

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