Translation of ছৈয়দ আব্দুল মালিকৰ “মই অসমীয়া”
What passion and patriotic fervour had driven a twenty two year old lad from an interior village in Axom, some eighty years back from today, to write such a long poem, an ode to his motherland Axom, extolling his undying love and loyalty to Axom and everything Axomiya, is beyond my comprehension. I first read this poem when I was about fifteen and last read this poem about forty years back before leaving India for the USA. I read the poem again recently as I wrestled with the idea of translating the poem to English from my mother tongue Axomiya. The passage of more than five decades from my first reading to my recent reading has not dulled my feelings or the rush of blood through my veins when I read this poem. I still get goosebumps when I read it.
This poem was written in nineteen forty one and first published in the Axomiya magazine Banhi, edited by Sahityarathi Lakshminath Bezbaroa, the doyen of Axomiya literature. The writer was Syed Abdul Malik, the twenty two year old, who would go on to write sixty novels, two thousand short stories, five collections of poems and numerous children’s books, travelogues and plays, dominating the literary scene in Axom for nearly five decades during the twentieth century.
My aim here is not to write about Malik sir, as he was lovingly called by his students. This post is about his poem, Moi Axomiya ( মই অসমীয়া), or rather my feeble attempt to translate one of the finest examples of a patriotic poem written in my mother tongue, Axomiya, to English. I thought about translating this poem for the last few years but was deterred from doing so, fearing that I would not be able to do justice to the passion and feeling that course through the poem. Frankly I was afraid. However a recent unfortunate event by vested interests to vilify the poet , by using a few lines of the poem at random, made me resolve to translate this poem at the earliest possible opportunity and make it available to a wider audience to have a feel of what it means to be Axomiya.
Between 1615 AD and 1682 AD, Mughals attacked Axom eighteen times and we’re defeated seventeen times. Axom remained an independent country never subjugated to the Mughals. Many Mughal soldiers stayed back in Axom, became Axomiya and fought for Axom in subsequent battles. Though Malik sir himself was not a descendant of the Mughals, the poem describes through the eyes of a Mughal who came to conquer Axom, was defeated and imprisoned and stayed back enchanted by the beauty , richness and essence of Axom’s culture, embracing everything that was Axom and Axomiya and wished that even after death he could be born in Axom as an Axomiya.
As I started the actual work of translation, I realized how hard the task would be. Attempting to translate not only the lyrical words of Malik sir but the feeling that runs through the poem was a daunting task. I must thank my friend ( and sister in crime ) Syeda Jebeen Shah who accompanied me on this journey. Separated by a continent and three time zones, she kept me company, from start to completion, by reading my work in progress, offering suggestions and finding out suitable meanings to the exquisite words of the original Axomiya poem. I also offer my thanks to my better half, Ranju, though extremely busy with her work, for her encouragement to keep at it whenever I felt like giving up, frustrated at not being able to translate a phrase or line to capture the feelings of the writer. Lastly, I must thank my daughter, Prerana, who spent more than two hours on phone with me without blowing up, painstakingly going through every line of this long poem with me and suggesting changes as needed to make the translation better to read.
Syeda Jebeen Shah introduced me to the daughter of Malik sir, Syeda Zinaida, regarding copyright of the original poem. I shared the final copy with Syeda Zinaida and I am glad that they liked the translation and granted me permission to share the translation with the public at large.
During translation, I tried to follow the original as closely as possible. However it is nearly impossible to translate certain words or phrases exactly from Axomiya to English without losing the lyrical flow of a poem or without making it unduly verbose. In those cases I translated by keeping in mind the feeling or idea of the poet as understood by me. Those are few and far between. One example of that is the following couplet, “” পুঠিয়ে কাণত পিন্ধে সোণৰ থুৰীয়া, ভেকুলীয়ে ফোঁট লৈ সজায় সুৱাগী” (puthiye kanot pindhe xonor thuriya, bhekuliye phont loi xojai xuwagi). Translating this to puthi fish wearing golden earrings, frogs dressing up with dots won’t make much sense to a reader. Poetic license has been exercised here without deviating from the meaning as understood.
When reading the translated poem below, it will help the readers to keep the following in mind:
স – x
অসম – Axom (Assam)
অসমীয়া – Axomiya (Assamese)
অসমী – Axomi
দুবৰি বন – durba grass.
I am Axomiya
From far west came I,
Leaving behind golden palaces,
Dreaming of victory,
Down sailed my boat in
the upstream current;
Thirsting for victory,
An expedition of pride,
Sang with deep conviction,
On the banks of River Luit,
Our victory song.
That day we
stepped upon the green meadows of Axom,
The king of Axom was on the Throne.
Axom’s flag of independence
fluttering free in the wind;
Proudly from all corners of the land,
The victorious song of freedom.
On that day we sought to project our strength,
the victorious power of the Mughals,
To show Axom
the world-conquering Mughals’ unstoppable march.
In the heartland of Axom,
we shall establish a kingdom
for the Moslems to rule;
Our hearts’ desire,
Kamrup will belong to the Mughals,
And Axom will be ours.
The day we stepped on Axom’s battlefield,
On her brocaded meadows,
Axom’s men and women
stood on the battlefield,
ready to defend their homeland,
Axom’s battle sword, Heng-dung,
in the mid-day sun.
Battle cries ringing, warriors raging,
all of the free entered the battle boldly.
On that battleground of Axom,
the strong arms of the Mughals,
Conquerors of the Rajputs, turned tails;
How did the Axomiya army
get such strength,
from water and dried ground rice!
singing Axom’s independence song,
proudly danced their victory dance.
For once the Mughals were awed by a new power;
Freedom loving Axom’s patriotic devotion to their land.
That day, the vanquished Mughal
Divined the blissful beauty of Axom,
A treasure trove of exquisite devotional warmth;
Free-spirited Axom’s soulful sweet songs soothed his ears.
The Mughal mused,
This is Axom — hazy hills all around,
Every leaf of the forest like lustrous gems,
resplendent in sunlight.
On every leaf of durba* grass,
Dew drops cluster like pearls,
The emeralds crush under the feet;
Wooden sandals with ivory toe posts,
People washing their feet on coral bridges.
Bracelets and toe rings of tiger nails,
Music played on buffalo horn pipes,
Xargodeo, king of Axom, constructs temples
With duck eggs and rice.
River sands speckled with gold,
Crushed to dust under the feet,
Poor damsels wear gold earrings,
Plain ones attire beautifully to impress;
Laggards construct the King’s highways,
Temples made using hand-pounded rice,
Gardens flaunt sea-like ponds,
Meadows glisten like heaven
with palatial amphitheaters.
This is the golden land, Axom,
where diamonds, pearls, and emeralds
roll on the ground,
gold and silver in earthen pots,
to keep, for every household.
Sweet honey drips,
when Axomiya speaks,
hardest rocks melt,
when Axomiya sings.
This is Axom;
nowhere in the world
would one find,
such a land as Axom;
such beauty, nowhere,
Mesmerized Mughal from a distant land,
when he saw in Axom
the blissful beauty of heaven,
Axom’s prisoner he became;
Enchanted by the beauty of Axom,
this Mughal from a far-off land.
From that day my country is
Ahom king our king,
I fight for Axom,
I die for Axom,
Here in this land,
burns out the incense
of my life.
From that day onwards
I am Axom’s Axomiya,
my religion, my nationality, is Axomiya,
more precious than my own life,
Bloomed in the meadows
of my Axom’s durba* grass,
sweet, euphoric dreams.
As long as I live in this world,
always I am Axomiya of this land,
I am Axom’s even in death;
if after death, reborn someday,
shall come back here,
with memories of history,
to Axom as Axomiya.
My mother tongue,
my words, my songs,
nurtured by Axom’s essence,
all are Axomiya,
Axomiya songs that fill my heart,
silence the birds
and muses of paradise.
The moment I was born,
with sweet Axomiya sound, I
called out to Axomi — “Mother” —
the day I take my final bow,
in Axomiya, with quivering lips,
I shall bid adieu.
when living in the comforts of heaven,
in the abode of heavenly lights,
devoid of memories past,
and someone remembers me on Earth,
I shall recognize
the sweet Axomiya sound,
And realize that even in heaven,
My language is Axomiya,
and leaving aside the celestial songs,
shall listen with deep content, to
the sweet song of Axom.
In life and in death
Forever Axomiya, I am,
Axomiya, I am.
I live as
Axom’s Axomiya, and
and when I die,
gladly shall embrace,
•Original Axomiya Poem : Moi Axomiya by Late Syed Abdul Malik, 1941.
•English Translation :
September 12, 2020
San Jose, California.