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Poets martyred in the Second World War

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20th-Apr-2018       
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R D Qureshi :
I have been a voracious reader ever since my boyhood days. In spite of that a very precious book of poems was lying in my book-shelf hidden in the rows of books collected over the long years of my life and beyond my notice. Now that it is in my hand I find it a treasury of literary work. I am a lover of poems also. But this book of poems escaped my notice!
The name of the book is ‘Immortality,’ a book of Verses by Soviet poets who laid down their lives in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. It is a publication by Progress Publishers of 21 Zubovsky Boulevard, Moscow, USSR and the year of its publication is 1978. The book contains 185 poems by 33 poets, all of whom laid down their lives in the Second World War which they call Great Patriotic War. In the book, introduction of each of the poet is followed by a few of their selected poems, one after another, all appear in the left hand side in Russian and the English translation of the same in the right hand side.
A lengthy Foreward titled 'To the last breath' written by a surviving war veteran Alexei Surkov, a famed poet himself, concludes with these lines:
And when our regimental clerk
Takes my certificate of war
And posts it, message of no hope,
Sealed in a black-edged envelope,
Then shed no bitter tears for me,
But tear it up immediately.
In life, the dead man had his fun,
And black he always used to shun.
Only a few short but hearty poems have been selected for quoting here and the shortest one comes first. It was written by one Mussa Jalil, who appears to be the most praised poet. This Mussa Jalil, born in 1906, whose formal name was Mussa Mustafievich Jalilov was a student of ‘Husania madrasah’ before graduating from Moscow State University in 1931. Hence I have developed a sort of kinship with him, as I too was a madrasa student in those World War days, a student of Sylhet Government High Madrasa, when Mussa Jalil was fighting against the Germans. He was a Tatar by birth, as was Fatykh Karim (Fatykh Valeyevich Karimov), another Soviet poet who was also in that war and attained martyrdom. First I quote two poems from Mussa Jalil’s:
I shall not kneel for you, O executioner,
Though I'm your slave in prison and you the overlord.
When my hour comes, I'll die. But know I shall die standing,
Villain, even as you cut my head off with your sword.
Alas, only a paltry hundred in the fighting,
And not a thousand of your evil kind I've slain.
For that I shall kneel down and beg forgiveness,
Should I return, O Motherland, to you again.
November 1943
                                                  -Translated by Alex Miller

The Handkerchief

My true love pressed, in parting's token,
A handkerchief into my hand,
And now, to stop the bright blood flowing,
I press it to my open wound.
The little farewell gift she gave me
Is sodden now, and warm, and red;
But all the love that lay behind it
Has eased the pain and staunched the blood.
I braved death for our happiness,
I faced the foe and never quit,
And though my blood has stained that kerchief,
Yet I have not dishonoured it.
July 1942
                                                      -Translated by Alex Miller
Mussa Jalil was wounded in the war and was taken prisoner by the Germans “While in prison Mussa Jalil wrote a cycle of poems whose fame has travelled far beyond the frontiers of the Soviet Union. The poet was executed in 1944. His fellow prisoners preserved his notebooks. . .. Mussa Jalil was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.”
Now comes the turn of Fatykh Karim (Fatykh Valeyevich Karimov). He first started writing poems and short stories in Tatar language and worked in newspapers. He joined the Red Army and went to the war front in 1941, became an Officer. “During the war years, two collections of his verses were published     Fatykh Karim died a hero’s death.
.. . . in February, 1945.” Here is a poem by him:

Dream
In loving all that’s beautiful,
None ever rivalled me.
In striving for the joys of earth,
Surpassed I could not be.

I was in kinship with my homeland,
Brother to wood and stream...
But now, when in the heat of battle,
Of one thing do I dream.

I would become like holy fire
To blast the enemy.
I wou Id become devoid of fear
And pure as poetry.
1942
                                                      -Translated by Alex Miller

Another poet Mirza Gelovani [Mirza (Revaz) Gedeonovich Gelovani] started writing poetry in his early schooldays. He joined the army in 1939 and was killed in action in 1944. Here is a poem of Mirza Gelovani :
Forgive Me

A rattling boxcar carried me away
While you remained behind upon the platform.
Your wistful smile with me will always stay,
Your hair, like maple leaves in autumn....
The power of your saddened eyes I swore
Would bring me back to you, but I'm afraid
That wickedly these autumn days of war
Will rob me of the promise that I made.

And if my heart should stop a bullet, or
If I should fall when running in attack,
You must forgive me, darling, I implore,
That I deceived you and did not come back.
1942
                                                      -Translated by Olga Shartse
By writing those few lines on that book of great literary importance, I have a feeling that I have after all done a duty to those who may have a chance to read the lines and not only enjoy a bit but have a leaning towards those martyred patriots who laid down their lives for their country.
I am tempted to mention here that I too lined up one day in 1943, while as a student of class VII, before a recruiting team seeking recruits for the 'Boys Navy' (and earned one taka and four annas from the world war fund, as a reimbursement of expenses?) though ultimately I did not go on the ground that all the selected boys were asked to go to Bombay (now Mumbai) the same evening. I don't know what would have happened to me if I did go to join the British Indian Navy that day. 
(RD Qureshi is a retired officer of BCIC and a writer of articles mostly in Bangla)

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