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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

* Research and Criticism and Palki 10

My short story "Monsoon Sonata" has been published in Palki Issue 10

My research article "Defining Selves through Nomenclature: Reading Select Diasporic Fiction of Bharati Mukherjee and Jhumpa Lahiri" has been published in Research and Criticism (Journal of the Department of English, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi), Volume 1, 2010, ISSN: 2229-3639, Pp. 117-123.





Wednesday, November 17, 2010

* Muse India - Poems

Read my poems "The Radio" and "Avenue of No Fear" in Muse India Issue 34 (Nov.-Dec. 2010).

Friday, October 22, 2010

* A Book and a Story

My new story "Existence" is published at  Pothi http://pothi.com/pothi/magazine/issue/october-2010/existence

My research article "The Economic Aspect in Diasporic Theory and Literature" has been published in the book Diasporic Consciousness: Literatures from the Postcolonial World. Eds. Dr. Smriti Singh and Dr. Achal Sinha, ISBN No.: 9783639302035, Germany: VDM, Verlag Dr. Müller. 2010. 

The book is available at http://www.gettextbooks.com/search/?isbn=9783639302035+

Friday, September 17, 2010

* Asia Writes

My story "Bhimpur" has been featured in Asia Writes at http://www.asiawrites.org/2010/09/featured-story-bhimpur-by-amit-shankar.html

My review of Santiago Roncagliolo's novel Red April has been published in the latest issue of Rupkatha Journal On Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities - http://rupkatha.com/v2n3.php 

Two poems (The Dry Gargoyle and No More) in Ken Again -  http://kenagain.freeservers.com/POETRY.HTML#saha

Sunday, August 22, 2010

* Repository

 A Veritable Repository of Knowledge

One day in the rainy month of September (2005), when I was preparing my PhD thesis proposal and had newly acquired my Calcutta University Central Library membership card, I decided to have a look at an actual PhD thesis. I went to the top floor of the Central Library, which then housed the theses collection, and was asked to select the name of a thesis from the catalogue. While browsing through the mammoth index I suddenly came across a familiar name – a name that I distinctly remembered I had heard in the university's staff room as well as seen in the online list of faculty members of the English Department. The name was Sinjini Bandyopadhyay and her thesis was titled "The Novels of Evelyn Waugh: The Art of Paradox". When I got the handsome copy of the thesis in my hands, it was less to get some critical insight into the works of the author of Brideshead Revisited than to have a visual and tactile feel of the hard-bound dissertation itself. That was my first acquaintance with a PhD thesis and the memory of it is still vivid.

Last year (2009) after I finished writing my PhD thesis, I again consulted a few theses from the same repository to garner some technical details. This time I had the online catalogue (http://www.caluniv.ac.in/opac/OPAC3.HTM) to search for the latest theses of the department. I found post-colonial explorations in Sujas Bhattacharya's thesis titled "The Fading of the 'Shadow Lines': Identity and the Fiction of Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh and Bharati Mukherjee". I found feminist concerns in Nayna De's thesis titled "Real and Imagined Women in the Feminist Fiction of Virginia Woolf and Fay Weldon" (the thesis has a number of plates to make it visually rich). One of the latest theses submitted was rather interesting – it was Sanmita Ghosh's thesis titled "Enchanted Spaces: Representations of Female Domains in a Selection of Victorian Fairy Tales by Women Authors". But the one thesis that can vouch for the variety and the range of research work going on in the English Department was Burosib Dasgupta's thesis titled "New Media, New Poetics: The Changing Interface". It argues how the triple pillars of innovation - connectivity, hypertextuality, multimedia – have developed new media and a new society. It raises the question whether the new poetics of globalization, the public sphere and the internet is leading towards new forms of aesthetics.


Now when I am on the verge of appearing for my Viva, I expect my thesis to be added soon to this awe-inspiring storehouse of research work and hence I feel so privileged. Maybe someday some other researcher like me will consult my thesis in turn and feel much the same way as I feel now. I wish that future researcher all the best.

[Researchers can also consult http://indcat.inflibnet.ac.in/indcat/]

Saturday, July 24, 2010

* Pegasus!


Research article recently published:


"Two Forms: Exploration of Diaspora in Jhumpa Lahiri", Pegasus: An English Critical Journal, Collection 3, June 2010, ISSN 0975-8488, Eds. Sukanti Dutta and Siddhartha Biswas, Pp. 72-81. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

* Dazzled by Dr. Majumdar’s Erudition

On 29th March 2005 Dr. Santanu Majumdar read a paper titled “Why is there so little Indian English poetry in contemporary Bengal?” and now more than five years later the paper has been published in a collection of scholarly articles by Pearson, India. The book is titled Indian English and ‘Vernacular’ India and is edited by Professor J. G. V. Prasad and Professor Makarand Paranjape. Unfortunately the book is full of printing mistakes and we can only hope that the second edition of the book will be error-free.



The paper argues that, though Indian English poetry began in Bengal, it has not been able to find favour with readers and writers from Bengal (in contradistinction to fiction writing in English by Bengalis) because mainly due to an indigenous revival of provincial (the term is used in a non-judgemental sense) theme in the dominant stream of Bengali poetry that flourishes today. Cosmopolitanism is no longer a felt need for this dominant stream and so there is little urge to use English, the symbol and instrument of cosmopolitanism. Of course, the stream of poetry written by the former generation of poets like Jibanananda Das, Buddhadev Bose, Sudhindranath Dutta, Bishnu Dey (interestingly all of them were professors of English) was cosmopolitan in nature. They brought the West to Bengal perhaps as a reaction against the likes of Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Rabindranath Tagore, Toru Dutt, Sri Aurobindo, etc. who brought India to the West. Even when someone like Jibanananda Das focussed on rural Bengal the consciousness and sensibility was essentially European. But the subsequent generation of Shakti Chattopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, and Joy Goswami break away from this cosmopolitan tradition and initiate and make flourish a vigorous ‘provincial’ (again in a non-judgmental sense) tradition. Most of the practising Bengali poets are monolingual and generally with a Bengali medium schooling. Their assertion of Bengali culture is ‘by a consciousness and sensibility that owes little to European norms or tropes, and which shuns and eschews engagement with the pan-Indian and the cosmopolitan dimensions of Bengali life.’ This is true even in their depiction of urban Bengali milieu because, as Dr. Majumdar says, ‘poetry is provincial or cosmopolitan not according to its setting or locale but according to the consciousness or sensibility which engages with the setting or locale.’ It is somewhat a return to the roots of Bengali poetry seen in its historicity but it may as well be an unacknowledged postmodernist celebration of specificity at the cost of universality.



Dr. Santanu Majumdar’s book Dazzled by a Thousand Suns: The Impact of Western Philosophy on Indian Interpretations of ‘The Gita’ (Dasgupta & Co., Kolkata, 2008) has been highly appreciated by Professor J. L. Shaw of Victoria University, Wellington, and will be shortly reviewed in The Australasian Journal of Philosophy. The book is a monograph produced as part of the UGC-assisted DRS (SAP-III) research project of the English Department of Calcutta University. It examines Indian responses to The Bhagabadgita – an ancient and much revered Hindu religious text – under the influence of colonial education and of the familiarity, among major Indian thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with Western philosophy in its technical sense, consequent upon such education. Dr. Majumdar argues that Western education and in particular the fundamental assumptions and procedures of Western Philosophy was an important enabling factor for these thinkers to become interpreters of this sacred text rather than to remain mere commentators. No doubt an interpretation interrogates a text in fundamental ways quite beyond the scope of a commentary. The thinkers treated in this monograph are Bankimchandra Chatterjee, Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Lokmanya Tilak, Swami Vivekananda, and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. Unfortunately, this book is also not free from a number of typos.



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

* An Interview, A Story & 3 Poems

"Sunetra Gupta – In Conversation with Amit Shankar Saha" published in Issue 31 (May-June 2010) of Muse India: A Literary e-Journal.

Read my short story "The Blue Sky" in Open Salon.

Poems "The Infant", "The Youth" and "The Aged" published in Kritya: A Journal of Poetry (Volume V Part XI May 2010).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

* A Memoir as a Tribute










To Dr. Chinmoy Guha on his Knighthood


It was a day in the early summer of 1991 between the First Gulf War and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi when I first read that article. Remember it was also the year when there was a massacre in East Timor and civil war in Somalia; the year when Nadine Gordimer won the Nobel Prize, Ben Okri the Booker and John Updike the Pulitzer; and the year when Salman Rushdie’s Imaginary Homelands was first published. And it was a time when Calcutta was still called Calcutta and The Statesman was still read more than The Telegraph. In the Miscellany supplement of The Statesman of 12th May, 1991, the article appeared titled “Tagore and Perse By Chinmoy Guha”. I was then a dreamy-eyed teenager in school quite unaware of the toil of the man clearing away the fog that shrouded the literary bridge between Bengal and France. So when I encountered Rabindranath Tagore and Saint-John Perse on that bridge arched in newsprint my imagination was seized. Fascinated and with an uncanny prophetic insight for a thirteen-year-old, I collected that piece of paper and stored it discretely.


Almost a decade and a half passed by in the innumerable vagaries of life that smothered all precociousness. But that other man by the name of Chinmoy Guha went on to lecture in the universities of Paris, Oxford, Manchester, Warwick, Lyon, Avignon, and Maison des Sciences de l’ Homme; to translate Moliere, Flaubert, Gide, and Rolland; and write many books including Where the Dreams Cross and The Tower and the Sea. Until suddenly by a quirk of fate, in 2006 at a seminar in Calcutta University that name got a face. It pricked the grey cells but the well of the mind was too deep to draw out from it the watered memory of years ago. But once fate had started conspiring there was to be no stop. Many a machinery was perhaps put into motion to produce the circumstance that brought to my hands the book Tagore and Modernity in the British Council Library. There it was in that book the almost-forgotten newspaper article, miraculously recreated in the form of an essay titled “The Golden Harp: Tagore and Saint-John Perse By Chinmoy Guha”. It prodded the warmth-giving but hidden ember in my mind to burst into flame and in its light was retrieved the sepia-ed newsprint.


It has been nineteen years now and still that piece of paper has not ceased to delight. And ever so more, whenever I chance to see that man, who wrote that article, I feel simultaneously a teenage awe and a mature affinity. The thick black hair, the wide-rimmed glasses, the bright-eyed glance, the welcoming demeanour, and the baritone voice all seem to invite and yet it is the stature of the man that daunts. So now when he has been conferred the Knighthood of the Palmes Académiques by the French government, he appears like a colossus placed in my vicinity. But for me, and maybe for many like me, he will rather remain a bust of inspiration through his writings. How privileged are those students who get the chance to study under him in Calcutta University! Today I pay my tribute to him through this memoir. My best wishes go to him. Mes salutations et mes félicitations à vous.



Tuesday, March 2, 2010

* The School of Athens and A Story!

The School of Athens

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In continuation of the previous post Prologue to an International Conference on “Connecting Cultures: Translation and Texts” (24th – 26th February, 2010, CSSH Hall, Alipore Campus, Calcutta University).
Let’s start at the very beginning, which is no doubt a very good place to start. But that reminds me of Professor Alok Bhalla’s Cheshire grin. In the first day keynote address Professor Bhalla had explored the multiple meanings the very word “beginning”. So, perhaps, a better place to start is at the end, because as Professor Chinmoy Guha said, evoking T. S. Eliot, in the valedictory session, that in our end is our beginning. But Professor Guha also wondered whether a person, who has never translated a text, can he theorize on translation. Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta objected to nothing else except to the assumption made that the translator is a male. Professor Guha’s apprehension makes me take it as a commandment: Thou shalt not theorize! And the very idea freezes my pen.
So the best place to start is after all in the middle. Yes Professor Dasgupta we are taking postmodernism really seriously. I plunge in medias res and find myself watching musical chairs being played at the high table during lunch hour on the first day. And I overhear a couple of colleagues, who lost out on their seats at the high table, dissect on their lunch plates Otala and Dasyudamana the Oriya phonetic translations of Othello and Desdemona as mentioned by Dr. Anasuya Guha in her paper in the morning session. Dr. Anasuya Guha also said that in many Bengali translations of Shakespeare’s plays the names of characters and settings are changed to suit the culture of Bengal (and example being Vidyasagar’s Bhranti Bilas). This raises the question of fidelity. But then the presentation went on to Bratya Basu’s Hemlat: The Prince of Garanhata where the play within the play is in fact Hamlet and it produces such intertextuality that justifies “fidelity in betrayal”. This though leaves a question on connecting cultures still unanswered: Which is more transcultural – a faithful translation which makes the translated text a window to a different culture or a cultural transcreation that brings a foreign text within one’s culture?

On the third day, which was dedicated to students’ papers, such questions were even raised by students like Soumit Basu (CU). In fact the third day’s keynote address by Professor Udaya Narayana Singh had the polemical thesis that all translations are original creations and vice versa. He argued that since human languages are subjected to changes and decay, splits and mergers, has allowance for falsity and manipulations, reflexivity and recursion, there is a kind of double patterning. A text is first produced in the mind of the author and then is recreated as a physical text for the readers’ consumption. In the process there is more likelihood of a mismatch between the temporal text and the physical text just as a translation is not an exact match of the original. Thus modifications and prevarications are bound to happen and it is this creativity that makes translation time-bound and original. Raktim Mukherjee’s (CU) paper on cognitive associations stands in comparison here. In this respect it is appropriate when Derrida’s theory gives translation the status of literature. Derrida’s view that translation is both necessary and impossible was expounded by Arka Chattopadhyay (JU).
[I fear that I cannot help but produce here micro-texts of lengthy papers and perhaps bring my prejudices in approximating and appropriating them. Such a charge was rightly levelled by Professor Jharna Sanyal against the doomed Macmillan translation project, especially with regard to the Macmillan’s translation of Ashapurna Devi’s Subarnalata, in her paper. So to absolve myself of any charge of infidelity and micro-texting in my translation of the events of those three days of conference into words here, I declare that this is not a report but rather an opinion piece that I am writing. Hence everything that I state here are coluured by my perceptions.]
So, where was I? Anyway, let’s plunge again in medias res, this time at the second day’s keynote address by Professor Indranath Choudhuri on “Towards an Indian Translation Theory”. As Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta called out “present sir” to Professor Choudhuri’s searching eyes from the dais, the speaker thanked her for inviting him to the conference. Professor Choudhuri said that India provides an ideal translation substratum of Indo-Aryan literature for the development of a translation theory. Ancient India’s polyglottism gave a platform for translators to treat both the source language and the target language as their own languages. Although Sanskrit dominated in the past, there are evidences like Gunadhya’s Brihat Katha, which was not written in Sanskrit but was later translated into Sanskrit (partly in Somadeva’s Kathasaritsagara). Even Kalidasa’s Abhijnan Shakuntalam was originally written in a combination of Sanskrit and Prakrit. India’s translation history from Vatsyayan’s “lokepichanubad” (translatability) to Faizi to Aurodindo’s theory to Ayyappa Paniker’s concepts helped the development of “translating consciousness” (Suniti Kumar Chatterjee). Guru Nanak’s “unhad nada” (unstruck sound) can metaphorically mean the “unheard voice” or “inner speech”, which can be discovered through translation. This makes texts like Gyaneshwari Gita (in Marathi) with its five dialogic tensions plausible, as Professor Choudhuri stressed. He stated that often deviations should not be seen as distortions. In Biblical exegesis translation is often seen as an exile – taking away from the original – but it not be perceived so in the Indian tradition.
Professor Choudhuri pointed out that in the scene where Bottom’s head is changed into a donkey’s head in the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare gives the accompanying speech as “Thou art translated”. Change, adaptation, interpretation all become the various facets of translation. Dr. Tirtha Prasad Mukhopadhyay paper analysed the peculiarities of the translation of the Bible in Bengali. Dr. Santanu Majumdar discoursed on how Bankimchandra’s translation of Gita functions as interpretation. Sanghita Sanyal (CU) brilliantly presented how the empire strikes back when Shakespeare becomes Sheikh Piru in Kalyan Ray’s Eastwards. This phenomenon of writing back started since the colonial times when Michael Madhusudan Dutt mimicked the colonial masters in translating Dinabandhu Mitra’s Nil Darpan, as Saranya Sen (CU) explained. Charuchandra’s Bengali translation (1910) of Robinson Crusoe also contributed towards the phenomenon, as Milan Mondal (CU) discoursed.
Moreover the interface of translation between English and Bengali helped in the development of Bengali language as Dr. Sanjukta Das pointed out. The problems faced by the translators in this interface in today’s world were illustrated by Dr. Niaz Zaman. Dr. Radha Chakravarty’s paper on “The Rainbow Bridge: Translating across Cultures” was equally poignant in this matter. Saptarshi Mallik (CU) said that a translator can decode, demystify but not defamiliarize the source text. Often words from the source language, both translatable and untranslatable, are kept as it is – a kind of “white noise” in the target language text as stated by Sayan Aich Bhowmick (JU) in his paper on Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide. Anuparna Mukherjee (Presidency) said that a translator has to be both bilingual and bicultural. But often in a bilingual, bicultural society cross-connections between languages and cultures occur. Rituparna Das (CU) gave the example of how a Class-3 student of hers said to her, “I am falling on your feet” to mean “Tomar paye pori”. Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta during the interaction added another anecdote of how having bestowed on a student the epithet “gyanpapi” she found that the student had taken it to mean “a puppy named Gyan”.
Professor Linda Dittmar, in her discourse on American minority women’s fiction assigned translation as a destabilizing force. Professor Margery Fee showed how becoming bilingual in Quebec was akin to becoming cosmopolitan. On the other hand, Godhuli Goswami (CU), in her paper on translation of Spanish texts into English, stressed on the concept of localization. Professor Tapati Gupta showed how Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was adapted and acculturated for the Bengali stage by Sombhu Mitra as Putul Khela. Whereas Priyanka Chatterjee (CU) showed that Putuler Sansar, the Bengali translation of the English translation of Ibsen’s play, was staged in Bengal during colonial times with the characters in European costumes. Professor Gupta made an interesting observation that even in Oslo Ibsen is taught in English. Abin Chakraborty (CU) presented a study of Amalesh Chakraborty’s Punorujjiban as a translation of Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken.
A very exciting feature of the conference was the number of students’ papers on celluloid adaptations as translations. Amrita Basu (CU) and Anindita Basu (CU) considered the various movie adaptations of Hamlet. Pranamita Roy’s (CU) paper was on Vishal Bharadwaj’s Maqbool where the original Macbeth becomes the point of departure. Debarati Banerjee (CU) showed how Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali veered from and kept faith with Bibhutibhusan Bandyapadhyay’s original. Dibyabibha Roy (CU) explained how in Peter Brooke’s Mahabharata the director becomes the translator of Carriere’s English translation. On the first day there was also a screening of a part of Krittibas and his Ramayana (Director Debojit Ghosh). Anindya Sundar Paul’s (CU) presentation on “Tonic Translations” (Auld lang Syn / Purono Sei Diner Katha, Old Man River / Bistirno Dupare, Summer Holiday / Lal Nil Sobuj, etc.) deserved to be heard for its sheer auditory pleasure. And Professor Tirthankar Bose’s presentation on illustrations of Milton’s Paradise Lost deserved to be seen as much for its visual pleasure. Professor Bose made a crucial point about how early artists were merely illustrators whereas later artists (especially William Blake) were interpreters of Paradise Lost.
In matters of painting, Dr. Reba Som revealed how the Italian artist Nike Borghese made a series of paintings inspired by listening to Tagore’s songs and reading the translations. Yes we have come back to Tagore, the one we left behind at the end of the Prologue. Rabindranath Tagore dominated the conference with six papers on him. Professor Fakrul Alam and later Anirban Guha Thakurta (CU) and Saranya Sen (CU) discoursed on the internationalism and spectacular success of Tagore’s English Gitanjali. Madhurima Neogi (Presidency) made an interesting point that during the early days of Tagore translation, none of his comedies were translated. Perhaps they were thought to not suit an English speaking culture. The last paper of the conference was by Rupsa Mukherjee (CU) on William Radice’s translation of Tagore’s poem “Shahjahan”, which seemed to be quite a fitting conclusion.
In the valedictory session, when Professor Margery Fee, Professor Ed O’ Shea, Dr. Sinjini Bandyopadhyay, and Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta came together how beautifully it evoked Raphael’s The School of Athens where Averros and Socrates conversed freely, as mentioned by Professor Alok Bhalla in his opening keynote address. Even though Professor Fakrul Alam disagreed with Professor Indranath Choudhuri’s thesis whereas Professsor Chinmoy Guha vociferously supported it, that the three of them could come together and “start a dialogue”, in the Chief Guest Dr. Dhrubajyoti Chattopadhyay’s (Pro-VC, Academic) terms stated in his inaugural speech, was good enough. After the three days of the conference how apt seems Professor Bhalla’s metaphorical imagery that all languages have their roots in the sky and their branches reach us below. I now feel so invigorated and my mind so ignited that I want to give a personal vote of thanks to all who made this conference possible. So starting form the Head of the Department of English Dr. Sinjini Bandyopadhyay, to the DRS Coordinator Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta, the DRS Deputy Coordinator Professor Chinmoy Guha, the whole DRS team (including Dr. Dipannita Datta, Prasita Mukherjee, Sanghita Sanyal, Saptarshi Mallik) to all the volunteers and even the audience, I thank you all.
[What’s missing from this narrative, apart form my naïve theorizing, are the micro-narratives of a missing abstracts brochure (fortunately restored), a missing guest (advised against travelling by the doctor), a missing presenter (being indisposed), missing tea breaks (Breaking News), and a gnawing sense of missing academia. Is an epilogue in the offing? Maybe.]

*********************
Read my short story "Who's Where?" in Vol. 3 No. 7 • March, 2010 issue of Word Catalyst Magazine

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

* Palki 9 published and Prologue to a Seminar

Read my poem "Love Pastiche" in Issue 9 of Palki at http://calcuttans.com/palki/love-pastiche-poem-by-amit-shankar-saha/

The poem also appears at Anjuman.

Prologue to an International Conference on “Connecting Cultures: Translation and Texts”

The topic of next week’s conference (24th - 26th February, 2010) under the UGC-assisted DRS SAP III Phase II programme of the Department of English, Calcutta University, has urged me to write a prologue to it in anticipation of gleaning a rich crop of knowledge over the three days of the seminar. Additionally, my PhD thesis is on “The Indian Diaspora in Transition” and one aspect of transition is the cultural self-fashioning, which at some level can be interpreted as connecting cultures. Although translation is different from transition, it is the prefix “trans” that has come in vogue as the tool of critical exploration. According to Aihwa Ong, “trans” stands for both moving through spaces or across lines as well as changing the nature of something. In case of translation that “something” is the text and the change is the change in language or in medium (primarily into films) whereby cross-cultural connections are established.

The primary form of literary translation is from one language into another because without it, as the eminent translator Ketaki Kushari Dyson once said in a panel discussion on “Tagore in Translation” (2004-05), “communities do not get to know each other’s literary treasures.” Post translation what is produced is not essentially one text in two languages but rather two texts, albeit related, but having their own separate existence. The translated text should not merely correspond to the original text but should somehow dissolve the original text and attain a direct correspondence with what the original text represents or depicts. The French poet Saint-John Perse once wrote about Rabindranath Tagore’s translation of Gitanjali that it “is the only poetical work worth its name n English for a long time” (Ref. “Tagore and Perse” by Chinmoy Guha in Miscellany supplement of The Statesman, Kolkata, May 12, 1991). Perse, despite knowing that Gitanjali is a translation in English of Bengali original, took it as a poetical work in English. Buddhadeva Bose in his book An Acre of Green Grass acknowledged that “Gitanjali is more than a great work in English; it is the work of a great English poet.” Ketaki Kushari Dyson says that “every language is a way of looking at the world,” so in that perspective translations are the different ways of looking at the same world. But she also adds that “every language has its own culture” and hence while translating from one culture to another one has to “deal with references” and hence “some scholarly apparatus is necessary.” Otherwise pitfalls are there. As Ketaki Kushari Dyson recalls from her childhood how she used to break down the name Rainer Maria Rilke in Bengali as “Rhine nodir maria ril ke” to mean “dedicated to Maria Ril who dwelt on the banks of the Rhine.” Thus she illustrates her magical relationship with language.

According to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a translator has to surrender to the text. True. But what if the author is the translator? Like Tagore. Tagore, instead of translating literally the poems of Gitanjali, transforms them. Hence “sravana thala” becomes “golden basket” and not “golden plate” because basket is a better visual image in English (Ref. Bose). “Nilaj nil akas” becomes “ever-wakeful blue sky” and not “immodest blue sky” because the associations of “lajja” cannot be conveyed by any English word (Ref. Bose). “Nibid megh” becomes “a thick veil” and not “spreading heavy clouds” because cloud begets different images in Bengal and England (Ref. Bose). Thus Buddhadeva Bose has written about Gitanjali: “as if the poem never suffered the grill of translation, but came straight from the poet’s heart.” Tagore had once commented that words are the daughters of affluent families; they bring along with them a lot of wealth – “artha” in Bengali means both wealth and meaning (Ref. Jharna Sanyal’s essay “Postscripting Modernity: Reading Tagore’s Punashcha in Context” in the book Tagore and Modernity, Eds. Krishna Sen and Tapati Gupta). Buddhadeva Bose says that minor poems translate well but great poetry is obstinate, maybe because the diction of the latter is rich with associations.

Tagore also translated some of his prose works. In Naukadubi (The Wreck) he appends in-line glosses at some places to convey the Bengali meanings in English. When Ramesh tells Hemnalini, “tell me that you will never distrust me,” Tagore adds, “It was the first time that he had used the “thou” of close intimacy in addressing Hemnalini.” Tagore had to add beside “Kayastha” the words “or writer caste, inferior only to Brahmans in Bengal.” He had to gloss beside “luchi” in brackets “fried cakes.” And when Kamala tells Sailaja about the golden bracelets she had given Umi – “You can have them cut up and made into a necklace for her,” (my italics) it sound rather silly. Bengali has a gamut of untranslatable words like “abhiman,” “biroho,” “kerani,” “dharma” etc. That is why Indira Chowdhury in translating Ashapurna Debi's Pratham Pratisruti (The First Promise) writes: “I have left untranslated all terms that do not have conceptual or material equivalents, relying instead on a glossary.” She adds that she has “chosen Indian English equivalents over British or American colloquialisms… Thus ‘ojha’, commonly translated as ‘witch doctor’ and reminiscent of the colonial vilification of indigenous systems of healing, is translated here as “folk healer.” A pithy comparison with Tagore gets to the point – Tagore uses the word “kedgeree” in his translation of Naukadubi whereas Indira Chowdhury uses the word “khichri” in her translation of Pratham Pratisruti and explains its meaning in the glossary. Perhaps their target readerships were different but therein also lies the cultural context.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

* New Year - New Writings

Read my short story "Mr. Sen" in Issue 29 of Muse India.

Read my poems "A Bust Called Tagore", "The Statue of a Dancing Damsel" and "Heavily Pockmarked Floor" in Vol. V Part VIII of Kritya: A Journal of Poetry.

Also read my poems "Malaise" and "The Swing" in the January 2010 issue of Pens On Fire.