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Iftekhar Sayeed

of

Dhaka, Bangladesh

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The View From The Trishaw

by

Iftekhar Sayeed


Dhanmandi Lake -
In the west of Dhaka
Of ten million -
Reposes like the curve
Of a D, a foetus

Posh area
Gridiron of streets
Busy with honking horns
And trishaw bells

Flat bridges used to leap
Over the lake
Connect the grid
The new bridges are arched
Like the hump of a camel

Our favourite hump
Occurs before Road 11
Where, on the right,
The neon ads from the main street
Inform the dark
Waters, and the pale, full moon
Rises low over the Government
Staff Quarters -
Its twin sails towards the bridge

We recross an hour later
Having bought shish kebab
And nan for our dinner
Which lies warm on my thighs
In the cold
Rain-trees conceal
Restaurants on wheels
And the lovers

The moon floats higher
And closer to the crescent
Our trishaw puller
Exerts himself
To the summit of his strength
To pedal across


place names

by

Iftekhar Sayeed


place names
in Dhaka

memory
the tarmac
and reinforced
concrete

Pilkhana
corrupted from
the Persian
Philkhane
recollects
where
elephants
were quartered

and now
the Bangladesh Rifles
headquarters

Topkhana
where
the cannons
were

Kawran Bazaar
after
caravanserai

there is
another
set of names
less happy

Curzon Hall
Minto Road
Rankin Street...

but the saddest
of them all
must surely be
Jinjira
again corrupted
from
Jazeere
the Island
where they interned
the mother
of my last
Nawab

Pilkhana

Philkhane

Topkhana

Kawran Bazaar

Jinjira

Jazeere


A Market for Freedom

by

Iftekhar Sayeed


There is a market for freedom

In Athens, slaves were sold
In the agora
Those who were free
Were clinically distinguished
From those who were not

As the Roman acquired
More space, so
The slaves he captured
In war gained less

Yet death of Republic
Inaugurated freedom
Under Emperors
The more Oriental the rule
The greater the freedom

For the Orient had
Never made that
Clinical distinction
For the despots were
Jealous of private
Loyalties - and slaves
Were loyal (if
At all) to their owners

In the United States,
Centralisation wrested
The slave from private
Possession into
Collective possession -
The prison became
The black mans home

The west no longer
Permits private
Property in souls -
Only collective property
In the form of blacks
And states, such as mine

In states such as mine,
The modern Graeco-Romans
Promote freedom - they pour
As much money into freedom
In my country as into
Their prisons!

Democracy distinguishes
Free and the unfree;
We have the vote
And we are owned collectively

At least the Greek slave
Had no illusions
Neither do some black
People in the land of the free

But our intellectuals make a lot of money
Out of selling our freedom
They try to fool
Us into thinking
That a dictator is a master -
A Greek faith

Under the despots
Of the orient
None were free
And none were not free

Our intellectuals who
Do their PhDs in western
Universities are the
Latter-day shareholders
In the Royal African Company
True heirs of John Locke
Advocate of liberty
And slavery, who
Made his career
Out of the first and
His fortune out
Of the second

Freedom is a word thats
Bought and sold -
It means nothing here
But looting and killing
And raping

Collective freedom, now
Thats something different
Altogether, that means
Freedom from a word

Only an adjective
Stands between
Us and our dignity

Just substitute
Collective
For individual
And we are one
Neither free nor unfree