The Poet & the Merchant of Dreams

This is a translation of Thangjam Ibopishak’s Mang Lallonba Amasoong Kabi from the poetry collection, Mayadesh, published by Writers' Forum, 2009 

Adapted from a mobile-phone shot of the original book cover, designed by Y Gunindro

Hope, let me get some hope
Let me get some hope; I want to buy some dreams
“Can you hear me, the merchant of dreams?”

Replied the merchant of dreams:
“No dreams, no hope I have
It’s all over,
You are fifty years old
You have finished half of your life,
Why do you need the dreams now?
Why do you need the hope for?”

And said I: “Fifty years is not the end 
There is, indeed, no end to desire in living
When I was a kid
I had pieces of hope
Like a blanket made from old clothes of different colours
It has lessened, though, day by day
The more I use it, the more it senesces
Like I have become bald slowly over the years.”

And he continued:
“What is gone is gone
What is lost is lost
Let it be the end.”

And refused I: “I want to live
I don’t want it to end
I want to suck the flavours of life, anew
And old juices, those I’m just fed up of.”

The merchant of dreams explained to me:
“The dreams have been sold already
To the weary 11- and 12-year-old dishwashers
To the jolly 14- and 15-year-old bus conductors
To the newsy, young widows who sell cinema tickets in black market
To the hungry workers who have lots of kids
To the lonely, sunburnt cobblers
To the sugarcane-juice sellers
To the plastic utensil sellers
To the boys and girls who collect scraps for living
To the people who sell discarded vegetables for a day’s meal
To the divorced ladies who frequent seedy hotels showing their cleavages.”
(To the divorced gentlemen who are hunting for cunts and arses.)

And I interrupted, “That’s enough,
Enough is enough.” 

He persisted: “This is not over!
— To the politicians
To the social workers
To the people working in NGOs
To the student leaders
To those who build colleges
To those who deal in fake college certificates
To those who deal in fake appointment orders
To those who deal in marijuana
To those who deal in heroin.”

And I repeated, “That’s enough,
Enough is enough.” 

And he was hell-bent on telling me everything:
One day some young men came to him and he said they told him
‘Do you want to give us some hope
Or should we take them by force?’
And the grumbling merchant grunted:
“Like they will abduct my daughter
Pointing the AK-47s over my head
Then I asked them
Are you a rebel or a rowdy?
Do you lack any dream or hope?”

The merchant was telling me, every breath he took
And he asked me:
“Are you a civilian?
Are you a lover?
Are you a poet?
Are you insane?”

And I was nonchalant: “Why are you asking me?
I’m just a civilian.”

And he said: “The civilians’ hope depends on money
If you have money, you have everything.”

And I said: “Money is not everything
There are things in life costlier than money.”

And incessantly he blabbered: “You are not a civilian
The civilians’ lives are so lowly; for that matter
The politicians’ are different from civilians’
For the politicians, if not for their bloody ambitions
They are greedy and shabby
Like a horse, ever they hop so easily.”
And then the merchant switched the topic,
“Are you a lover?
Have you got unfulfilled desire?”

And I asked: “And where is it leading to?”
And he answered: “I see it in your eyes
Those who are discontented and dissatisfied
There is something soggy in their eyes — in your eyes.”

And I said: “I had heartwarming experiences as well as heartaches
I had cut my wrist and I had written love letters
But those are gone; a long, long time gone,
Now I’m married; I have my wife and I have my kids.”

“So you are a poet.”

“What if I’m a poet?”

“If you are a poet
You have the hope
In the morning dew
In the morning — azure sky when the birds fly
In the fluttering leaves on windy days
Oh! On moon-lit days!
The poet’s hope
The poet’s hope are words. Imagination. Colourful dreams.
It’s everywhere.”

I admitted: “Even if I’m a poet
I’m not a poet who writes from imagination
I’m not a poet who writes ode to nature’s bounty.”

Without listening, the merchant of dreams responded:
“Tell me, you poet,
Where, in the starless nights, is the boundary of this kingdom marked?
Where can you find the the rainbow’s end?
I have heard about a land from hearsay
Can you take me to that land where the waves of beautiful, colourful   
        butterfly wings flow like rivers?
Or in that land, with a forest the banyan trees galore
Where its trunks tread; there, can you let me fly like ibises?
Tell me, poet,
In the vast lake so still, where is the slowly drifting boat sailing to?
Where is its destination?
Is its wharf in the line so blurred in dusk
’Tween the aureate sky and bluish green water?
And people call me I’m the merchant of dreams, the owner of hope
But I’m just tired of life
Tell me, poet,
When will this unbearable burden unload; when will this ever end?
I will give you dreams, I will give you the hope 
You only give me the last poem of your life.”



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