Construction worker's poetry book has English and Chinese translations

Proceeds from Braving Life by Md Mukul Hossine will go towards building his family a new house in Bangladesh, after the previous one was damaged by floods.
Proceeds from Braving Life by Md Mukul Hossine will go towards building his family a new house in Bangladesh, after the previous one was damaged by floods.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Chinese translation of Braving Life by Bangladeshi Md Mukul Hossine was done by a group of students from Nanyang Girls' High School

Bangladeshi construction worker Md Mukul Hossine's new poetry book Braving Life, which was written in Bengali, has been translated not just into English but also Chinese.

The book, which contains the English and Chinese translations, was launched at Nanyang Girls' High School (NYGH) last Thursday.

The Chinese translation was done by a group of 10 Secondary 3 NYGH students, many of whom had not interacted closely with a migrant worker before.

One of them, 15-year-old Liu Jiahui, first met Mukul at a Migrant Poetry Evening he had organised and was struck by a powerful reading of his work in Bengali despite not understanding it.

Translating his work was not easy, she says. "His emotions are so raw and we needed to keep his voice intact."

But she hopes this can help him find a new audience among not just Singaporean-Chinese readers, but also foreign workers from China. "People like him have stories that deserve to be heard," she adds.

Mukul, 28, the son of farmers from Patgram, Bangladesh, first came to Singapore in 2008 to work in construction after completing the equivalent of secondary school back home.

His emotions are so raw and we needed to keep his voice intact... People like him have stories that deserve to be heard.

LIU JIAHUI, 15, on the challenges of translating the work of Md Mukul Hossine into Chinese. She is among the 10 students from Nanyang Girls' High School who were on the project

He shot to fame after his poems, many of which were written late at night in his dormitory or even scribbled on bags on cement, were published last year in the collection Me Migrant by Ethos Books.

He became the first foreign worker to have a poetry collection put out by a local publisher.

Mukul was interviewed by international media such as the BBC and the Economist and had his verse printed in rain-activated stencils on the pavement outside the Arts House, as part of a Sing Lit Station project last year.

Earlier this year, he started Migrant Poetry Evening, a series of readings that showcased other migrant workers, using his own funds.

But his celebrity has brought him little financial gain.

In October, he lost his job at a design company and was repatriated to Bangladesh, where his family's house had been damaged by floods. The proceeds from his latest book will go towards building them a new house.

The book, which cost $5,000 to $7,000 to produce, was sponsored by migrant worker community clinic Healthserve, where Mukul had been volunteering in his spare time for three years.

They printed 2,000 copies, of which 200 have been sold. A few hundred will be sent to English-language colleges in Bangladesh.

Healthserve arranged a tourist visa for Mukul to return for the book launch. "I hope to find another job here," he adds. "But I don't know when I can get it."

The poems in Braving Life are about the dreams and sorrows of migrant life, as well as Mukul's observations of Singapore society: people absorbed in social media on their cellphones, even as they pass old people selling tissue or collecting cardboard.

"Body exhausted by a busy city, I write poems for you/and lose myself in the fold of words," reads one poem.

Says Mukul: "My dream is to work with other migrant workers to promote our cultures, to show Singaporeans and our bosses what our days are like, how hard they are, and to allow for better understanding."

•Braving Life ($10, $5 for students) is available from mukulbravinglife@gmail.com. Me Migrant ($12.84) is available from Books Kinokuniya.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2017, with the headline 'Migrant worker's poetry now in English, Chinese'. Print Edition | Subscribe