Humanist Voices in Verse: “The R-Word”

This week’s poem is by Ikhtisad Ahmed. Ikhtisad is a Bengali writer and the grandson of the legendary intellectual, litterateur and poet Mahbub ul Alam Chowdhury and the decorated gender rights and development specialist Jowshan Ara Rahman. Having moved to the UK in 2003 to study, he now works as a lawyer in the fields of human rights, law, and education for the disadvantaged while pursuing and developing his writing career. Palok Publisher published Cryptic Verses, his first collection of poems, in 2009, and Yukta Requiem, his second, in 2014. He also wrote his first play, The Deliverance of Sanctuary, though political violence and rising religious tensions resulted in the Bangladesh government withdrawing permission to produce the play in 2013.

Ikhtisad says that he wrote “The R-Word” to “demonstrate the anguishes of my country [which] is teetering on the brink of becoming a failed state” after news of the murders of atheist bloggers Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman in Bangladesh.

The R-Word

I do not know if using the R-word,
I will stay alive in Bangladesh;
Life over death the easy choice,
Caution preferred when possible;
Self-censorship for survival, sensible?
I am ashamed nonetheless.

Pen mightier than sword
They say, they greatly pontificate;
Should I take their word for it?
Paper-cuts hurt,
They know from experience –
Convinced, no more shall I prevaricate.

Arguments confidently offered,
I think, therefore I articulate!
My undeniable rights
I assert, I celebrate!
Venture into the R-word I do
As a self-proclaimed Roy or Bruno.

Most profound, the R-word:
Religion, rationality,
Better still, reason!
The sweet embrace of the ultimate freedom
Before succumbing to lamentable martyrdom,
Except, they will say it was treason.