Ballad of the Octopus-Wife

Nayeem Firoz
Poetry, Translation
Ballad of the Octopus-Wife

[ I recall the pleasure I felt at that point of time when Nayeem Firoz, a poet, a judge, showed interest in translating this long poem. 

I saw he could write good English poems too. One of his poems published in the Oxford’s Literary Magazine. He is the chief editor of POETICS OF GREEN DELTA ANTHOLOGY OF POETRY OF BANGLADESH ERA (1971 ONWARD), published by Bangla Academy UK in 2017. He has made excellent translation of this long narrative poem.

Sarwar Chowdhury ]


Ballad of the Octopus-Wife

by Sarwar Chowdhury

Translated by Nayeem Firoz


Bright a morn was descending at this part of the globe
while nightfall rests in many countries.

days and nights don’t appear simultaneously
upon any part of the globe.

Leaving the brightness of that morn
I have to go through the lumen of night
underneath the deep sea
Because an invitation arrived from an Octopus
who will arrange the wedding of his own wife
Massive merriment will follow the ceremony,
mentioned that Octopus in his letter of invitation.

Wedding of one’s own wife! I wonder if anyone
ever wanted to arrange marriage of his own wife!
It’s dangerous, meaning, if it happens in the human society,
where it is not a usage.
It’s beyond articulation for anyone,
since the convention of wedding of one’s own wife
is not prevalent amongst humans,
where you only can take the bride or groom
with you after marrying.
But an Octopus, with pleasure, shall rehome his wife
Such an instance is ever unheard of, where I am invited.

Question arises with whom the Octopus
shall give the remarriage
Of his wife, that is impossible to know in advance,
I have to go to participate in the ceremony,
to a definite venue, underneath the deep sea.
There will be more oceanic guests;
even the Dolphins and Whales and thousand more got invited,
how will they accept me!

Where I am scared of the Shark’s teeth,
who devours the Octopus often is invited too.
Inviting the Shark is
tantamount to inviting an enemy to home.
It was written in the Invitation letter that,
miraculously, for me
Smooth entrance under the sea will be available,
no reason to worry,
since the Creator allocated more landmass
for the inhabitants of the sea
than those of the earth-surface.
It was assured that I would be in the liberty
to move under the sea-world,
as in the land, there will be no difficulties,
and I am advised to keep my head high.

Having taken the decision to attend
I thought I will be knowing
whom the wife of Octopus got in love with;
and should I come along with the groom I shall ask him
why he would have come to entice other’s wife?

I got stuck, and gave up,
thinking in a while that asking such a question,
amongst the clan of Octopus,
may be regarded as impolite according to Oceanic-Protocol.

I have started my journey along a river’s flow,
nay was that Surma or Rupsa
Karnaphulli that was, the river of my sole passion
in Chittagong, the place I was born.
I am getting through the deep sea
along the flow of Karnaphulli, to a wedding house.
What a surprising Journey!

I felt like I will fly through the water,
like that flying-fish, spreading two hands toward both sides.
Wish came true.
Reaching at the estuary of Bay of Bengal,
I found that a flock of mermaid ask me to halt,
I accept their call.
One of them asked, ‘Hey Son of Human, Sarwar you are, right?’
I replied, ‘hmm’.
They chorused-
‘Welcome, let’s fly together’

Moving ahead by flying I noticed,
all the mermaids behind me
Forming a flying caravan, towards the abyssal of deep sea.
Leaving the art of leadership,
I asked them, ‘Come on!
Why are you all lagging behind?
Let’s fly together like a flying straight line.’
They looked towards each other,
talked among themselves that I didn’t get.

Halting a bit, I wait for them to make a straight line.
Then keeping harmony in the motion and
in a uniform momentum we all approached
towards the deep sea.
Fishes of numerous sizes and colors- pristine,
adorned with lines, greenish, red, blue, green, yellow,
multiplicity of colors and shades.

There swim in peace,
glossy fishes as if they are blue silk,
silhouetted, adorned with the quill of peafowl.
Some hold the patterns of Zebra and
some hold that of Royal Bengal Tiger.
Such numerous races, abundant range of colors,
Despite numerous colors and race
one thing remains common
The place where they are housed- the sea,
in the water thereof lives of all survive.
Laugh and weep all in the sea, come by turns.

With the grief and joy of sea understanding
of oceanic creature entwined.
The mermaid-by-my-side, suddenly showed a scenario,
making me startled,
A big human being is sitting in utter solitude,
under a hill where blue moonlight-like
lumen falls upon a savannah.
I was advised by the mermaid that he is Poseidon,
the god of Ocean, who was known to the blind poet Homer.
Poseidon punished Odysseus
so that he can unlock the mystery of wisdom.
I got frightened lest he should punish me.
Mermaid informed we wouldn’t meet Poseidon!

We didn’t reckon how far we had swim,
how many things we encountered by that time-span,
lately we reached to the destination,
deep down in the Pacific Ocean.
I have come to know by this time that
Octopus is a nocturnal, wise, intelligent,
solitary and multi-oriented creature.

“Welcome buddy”-
a giant Octopus extended one of his eight hands to me.
Hilly Green, covered by grasses, the valley is.

It is not a flower garden at all,
but sceneries resemble of multi-colored flower there.
Oceanic creatures of various colors — some are pure white,
while some of them are colorful,
as if they are magnificent piece of art.
They are astonishing lives in the sea.
The life under the water is so gorgeous!
Filled with blue lights.
I have no reason to understand why is this blue light for.
I feel that I am not in the water,
as if I am inside a bubble, quite normal,
rest of the guests are in the water.

Such a sweet experience!
Heart-shaped a room there, entwined with
oceanic herbs and plants,
adorned as if it is nicely decorated.
And I saw the bride is there.
‘Where is the groom?’ struck my head.

Meanwhile a bunch of sea-horses
started to sing a carol together.
Wave of such a tune! Such a deep devotion!
I found that nothing is separate,
Everything in the universe is intertwined with each other.
All are mingled in a common tune,
albeit unknown, but full of passion,
widely shadowed, intense aesthetics!

As if a terrific mixture, all are static, drowned in the symphony,
celebration with the tunes, without any music,
I am overwhelmed in utter joy and astonishment.
Peculiar all the oceanic fishes and
multicolored lives are creating the line of wave by dancing.
I didn’t know that a disciplined situation
be such lively and scattered!
I ventured to know
why they are so happy in the occasion of marriage?
In the world, the answers of all the questions don’t come anytime;
And the answer sometime ignites another question.
That consists the basic reading of life and death.

With questions and answers
the life comes on earth in the same time and place,
Then it disappears, as of fate, to maintain an unbroken chain of life.
Then, on the occasion, feast starts rampantly,
with pre-decorated food kept in order
as per the tastes of respective clan,
where all devour the wedding-food together,
making it quite an astonishing phenomenon!

Observance of culture as of human race!
But not a single human being except for me as a guest.
Some guests stare at me peculiarly
while taking the ceremonial foods.
They do follow the rules and etiquette,
despite a bit gaucherie.
The Gallery for spectators is in one side,
as if they are staircase of sands.
How were those crafted!
By whom such artistic glory was erected!
The guest-whales are staying a bit far
from the center of the venue.
On looking upon them
I become reminiscent of the Prophet Yunus,
who was swallowed by a big fish and
he remained there in the gut of the fish for some time.

Inside the bubble,
which was floating with me,
I found a dish of various delicious sea-food;
and I was wondering who cooked them,
how they were served on such clean bowls and plates,
that I have never seen before!
I took a little portion of them,
drowning in utter embarrassment,
as if they are the fast-foods of KFC—
sweet-smelling, I perceived.

Then the grand event started,
marriage ceremony of Octopus’s wife,
But there is no trace of groom yet;
Octopus has willingly arranged a remarriage of his wife.
After some moment, he approached
towards me with a smiling face and
extended one of his eight hands to me
inside the bubble.

‘Thank you very much and welcome mate!’
greet me himself, the Octopus and
said in private few words with utter passion.
I got startled! As if I am disappearing,

OMG! It’s me who is today’s groom!
No dower is required, I will be given his wife,
who will come to my matrimony as a human being!
I am undone! – I was panicking,
thinking should that be a fatal conspiracy against me!
I thought I would never be back in the land again!
Having read my thoughts, the Octopus went on saying-
‘No No No No, don’t be scared, son of human,
we are friends,
We do support the benign deeds, and
we do not cause jeopardy, as we are not ghosts.
Few of human beings, getting frightened of our physique,
misinterpret, for nothing.
Who named us Devil Fishes?
It’s they who are scared for sure.

Human being gets involved in many wrong doings
for centuries, in frightened mindset.
That doesn’t mean we demean human race.
They are respectable indeed.
They can rectify and amend their mistakes.
But the portion they consider as right might contain
some errors inevitably. I do humbly mention that
what human being got to know about Octopus
is very little while most of the information
about them is unknown.
Some of you call those flying fish ‘devils’!
But that’s not right either, ridiculous!
Even human being, as they become angry,
reprimands another human calling them- ‘devil’.
They impose label of ‘devil’ on others
with their own ill-motive.

It seems that who is labelled as ‘devil’
has nothing wrong in him rather evil resides in the person
who imposes such label.
Human being does not possess ‘evil’ spirit always.
Even evil spirit often instigates human to
endeavor for good deeds, and
one blind call another blind a ‘blind’.
Everything or creature is a new discovery and
a way of understanding oneself that are
encountered in each day for a human being.

I said- ‘You advised a lot.’
He replied- ‘ I don’t know anything. I….I am nothing at all,
your highness, there is a meaning
in those fears of the creatures who struggle to
save their life. I too have the fear of life.
I need to take cover quickly to save myself from
the hunger of sharks and eel fish.
But I do succumb to death eventually,
meaning the shape of this life doesn’t exist for good,
I die leaving the germ of next generation.

Ferocious lions and tigers do fear too,
albeit they are mightier than others.
I saw an Octopus coming out of the heart-shaped room and
approaching to me slowly.
Speechless, I am!
What will happen to me! I didn’t get why my life
got entrapped in such a distress!
Slowly she approached to me and
when she entered to the bubble,
I was surprised to see that
it was a beautiful lady embarking!

Laughter and merriment continues,
spirit of stern love resonates therewith,
Mind-blowing, I have gotten a pristine gift,
only for coming so deep under the sea!
What a pretty face, almost fainted me, crazy, just crazy!
I remembered reverend poet Rumi,
who said, “Women is a ray of God’s beauty.”
The giant-like Octopus came back to wish us-
‘Goodbye my friend, stay happy.’

Three flying fish came to conduct the wedding.
They uttered-
‘Patakushi Bimatoon, Patashook Patashook’
But I didn’t get the meaning of the said verse.
I just replied with a ‘hmmm’.
‘Son of human, your highness,
we are done with your marriage.
Now you may go to your own place
with the bride happily.’
with these words then and there
all three flying fish affirmed
the accomplishment of the wedlock.

Time to return, there’s no fixed route to follow,
returning will take its own course in any way we may take.
All the ways under the ocean are oceanic- openness unbounded.

The graceful lady argued-
‘ I see, you. You are Sarwar, right!
a bit dumbfounded! Listen, the earth is full of astonishments!
I am well-conversant with the fact from
earlier that many people lead their life on the earth
knowing only one-eighth, one-fourth, half or three-forth
of what they ought to know from
the entire gamut of knowledge.
There are reasons to be surprised
enshrined across the gaps of scenarios.
“By what name may I address you, ‘wife’?”
— I asked her.
She replied interestingly—
“What diverges with a name, I will be at your service in
whatever name you call me upon.
I will be there for you even without calling;
as no poet cease to write the poems of love
whether he is loved by someone or not at all.
Love resides within the language,
which is an eternity within a limit,
between some incandescent radiations
the poem and poet himself are fathomlessly spirited.”

Silent for a while, laughing eyes, she said-
“Neither I’m a so-called wife of yours,
nor was a wife of Octopus.
Octopus knew I am his wife. His dealing was so sober.
Now I am out as a wife in the colorful stage of the earth,
your constant companion, but you won’t get me forthwith,
but I will remain around, and I will not exist,
I am such an entity…”
‘That means? What is your identity? — I asked.
She replied with a small laugh—
“In what form did you find me?
You have much empathy on your eyes.”

“I have found you as a woman, aren’t you so?
Previously an Octopus, now at my life as a woman,
but why?” — I answered with further question.
She replied in a smiley face-
“I’m a woman, you are correct but
of a different genre.
You traced me by your three-dimensional sight,
not detectable through touch though.
And I can’t explain more than this.
Listen, dear, from English verse—
Octopus takes part on many labels, they have endless attributes.”

‘May I recite a poem?’ asked she.
I said- ‘hmm, of course’.
She recited-
“Travel from dream to another dream to touch yourself
Even then no one goes, no one gets
Nowhere to go, nothing to get
Of nothingness, of no place
Chlorophyll is here, sunlight too
Photosynthesis is obvious sometimes, or not
Time flows away, flows away the wave of theories
Passes away the touch of pleasure dust.
Continuing to touch for giving touch to ownself
Perpetually, relentlessly, in many ways
Many colors, many lives, eternal, myriad.”

I was surprised! Keeping query to her-
‘Continuing to touch for giving touch to ownself’!
Please explain this line.
And you read a poem! From where you learnt poem?
And you know many things, I see!
Is there any University under the sea!
It is not possible for me to understand you!
You were an Octopus few moments ago,
now a graceful lady! And a competent reciter!’

She replied with absolute passion-
“See what your heart is doing—
it’s pumping
It’s pumping for causing the blood to flow
The blood flows and it keeps the heart pumping.
It’s kind of self-regulating and regulated.
It has that spirit-
‘Continuing to touch for giving touch to ownself’!
You only need to understand fun and
how to take fun of this world only.
I repeat— I don’t know, I don’t know actually, who I am.
You may understand me, your highness,
I am unpredictable. And you know what,
the whole ocean is a University where the object and
scenarios all are readers of one another,
throughout days and nights.

Afterwards, flying through the vast blue ocean
we both reached the land, on the bank of the river Karnafully,
where the morning was still fresh,
a pristine bright morning.



Nayeem Firoz. Poet, Judge, Anthologist, Anti-Translator. He is a Commonwealth Scholar of the United Kingdom. He was an Editor of the University of Liverpool Law Review. Having been a member of the Royal Society of Literature he acted as the Editor-in-Chief...

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