The word “dhonnobad” in Bangla  
Is near-to untranslateable 
The closest to a meaning in English might be  
“I acknowledge your goodness 
and speak my blessings upon you.” 

As I sit with the life fluttering within me 
Afraid for us both and helpless 
I am calm too in this knowing 
That each of you will keep us safe. 
That means more than I have English words to say. 

So 

To each of you standing in the queue, 
Waiting for the shot in your arm, 
From me and my unborn child: 
ধন্যবাদ 

To each of you who have walked past here 
On your precious hour of calm, 
From me and my unborn child: 
ধন্যবাদ 

To each of you within these walls 
Gentling the afraid, your kindness a balm 
From me and my unborn child: 
ধন্যবাদ 

To each of you within the labs 
Searching for ways to keep us from harm 
From me and my unborn child: 
ধন্যবাদ 

To each of you who made the hardest choices 
Setting aside your qualms 
From me and my unborn child: 
ধন্যবাদ 

To each of you  
Placing a drop of hope 
Into this bitter ocean of fear and pain 
It is your  
                single  
                            drop  
That will turn it sweetly salt again 

 

And me and my unborn child 
Reach out from our hearts with this refrain:  
ধন্যবাদ. 

It means the world. 

Artistic statement

When I read through all the postcard contributions from volunteers and visitors to the vaccination centre, I was moved by the ways in which people were aware of how having the vaccine wasn’t just be about protecting themselves but also about protecting others: others they wouldn’t ever even meet.

When I started to think through what that meant, one line from one of the postcards stayed with me: “It means the world.” Inspired by the scientific processes of dilution and dissolution, I reflected that while one vaccine in a global pandemic might be thought of as “a drop in the ocean”, each single drop of a substance changes the entire ocean’s chemical structure too.

I am also currently pregnant, and as covid-19 vaccines are not yet being routinely offered to pregnant women, I am also aware on a personal level of how my wellness and my baby’s is dependent on everyone else having the vaccine for us. I wanted to express gratitude for this, but it was hard to find the words.

That struggle for meaning led me back to Bangla, my mother tongue, and a word that Bengalis use to express thanks, but which is also much more than that: it means the world.

Artist Biography

Nazneen Ahmed is a writer, historian and creative writing facilitator who lives in Southampton.

She writes fiction for children, creative non-fiction and poetry for adults, all of which are often inspired by the theme of migration, which was the topic of her work as an academic researcher and historian at University College London and the University of Oxford.

She is currently Writer in Residence with the Southampton Stories project at Southampton City Museums and has held residences at John Hansard Gallery and Southampton City Libraries in the past.

She runs writing workshops in schools, libraries and community settings. She was selected for the 2016/17 round of Penguin Random House’s Write Now mentorship scheme for underrepresented writers for her historical fantasy novel in progress which is aimed at readers aged 11 upwards. She is represented by Louise Lamont at LBA Books.

 

Read the other poems here:

Survive(d) – Hanna Ali

Of Partings & Preludes – Momtaza Mehri

MementoUs – Keisha Thompson

Now এই সময় – Eeshita Azad

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