Category Archives: Translations-Transcreations

Mostly translations of classic Bengali literature. There is a Japanese piece too.

The Neem Tree — Flash Fiction # 2 (Transcreation)


Some tear away leaves for grinding.

Yet others fry them in oil.

To apply on ringworm afflicted skin.

A panacea for a variety of skin ailments.

Many eat the tender leaves.

Raw, uncooked.

Or, sautéed with eggplant.

Helps the liver.

Endlessly many chew the young twigs … to keep their teeth healthy.

Practitioners of traditional medicine praise it to the skies.

The wise are pleased to see it grow next to one’s dwelling.

“Breeze filtered through Neem leaves is good for health. Don’t chop it down,” they say.

No one chops it, but they don’t care for it either.

Garbage collects on every side.

Some build a paved platform around its stem. That’s yet another piece of junk.

Suddenly one day a maverick arrives.

He stares at the Neem tree with rapt attention. He doesn’t tear any part of the bark, nor the leaves. He does not snap a single twig. He simply keeps gazing.

Spellbound.

And then he says, “Oh, how exquisite the leaves … magnificent! How pretty the flower bunches … as though a flock of stars has descended from the blue sky on to the green lake below … Lovely …”

He stands staring for a while and then goes about his way.

He was not one for diseases to cure, but a poet pure.

The tree wished it could leave with the man. But it failed. Its roots had penetrated deep inside the earth. It remained standing in the middle of the garbage heap behind the house.

The condition of the docile young girl married off in the crammed household next door, brimming though she is with housewifely virtues, is no different.

Transcreation of a classic Bengali Flash Fiction নিমগাছ (neemgaach) by Banaphool. It was originally published in 1946 in a collection called অদৃশ্যলোক (adrishyalok, translated “invisible world”).

 

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Yellow House

 

Early Version: January 14, 2015 Latest Version: May 27, 2015 ________________________   By the field, the mason deftly made The yellow house, with a modest strip of a yard Latticed scaffold, a boundary-wall brick-laid All of these the mason deftly made. How deeply did he care for the house Kept it tidy, as he would his face That a failure no one called it, nor hideous Or an outpost, a forlorn gathering place. By the field the mason deftly made The yellow house, where clouds billowed and flocked And, besides, the latticed scaffold swayed Luckless fate, in trite pomposity locked. Suddenly, one eve brought tremors down the street As a vehicle pulled up southwards with panache Fun-watchers, curious, swarmed forwards to greet As he bought up all there was in cash. Alone, and away from public view to find, The mason left his scaffolding behind.

Translation-cum-transcreation of a classic Bengali poem হলুদবাড়ি (holudbari) meaning ‘Yellow House’ by Shakti Chattopaddhay. The poem appeared in the collection ধর্মে আছো জিরাফেও আছো (dhorme achho giraffe-eo achho, meaning, you exist in religion as well as in the giraffe). Surja Sankar Ray’s help is gratefully acknowledged. But for him, the project would have remained incomplete.

 
 
 
 

Hridoypur**

This version: December 31, 2014

A veil of darkness still there was -- and yet the light of day Hridoypur was all abuzz -- with confusions at play Drowned the river bank below -- in the sky one saw recline A lustrous moon in all its glow -- its eyes a pitiless shine Why offer her a ride at all -- whose face expresses frown Who posts a guard on every wall -- and keeps her shutters down? Can a tryst with her then make much sense -- now again this day At Hridoypur where confusions -- are done with childish play?

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Translation-cum-transcreation of a classic Bengali poem হৃদয়পুর (Hridoypur) by Shakti Chattopadhyay. The poem was published in his collection entitled ধর্মে আছো জিরাফেও আছ (dhorme aachho giraffe-eo achho, meaning, you exist in religion as well as in the giraffe) around the year 1977.

**For those unfamiliar with the Bengali language, the word “hridoy” means heart. The word “pur” means a locality. It’s a common suffix carried by a number of large as well as small towns and villages in India, such as Nagpur, Kanpur and so on. Hridoypur could mean a geographical territory, and indeed a locality by that name exists, but in the present context, the word “hridoy” (heart) lends to it a poetic connotation.

 
 
 
 
 

Drunk

This version of the translation: 22.12.2014.

Make him a little more drunk. Or else this universe He'll find it mighty hard to bear. He's only a young man still, Oh Lord. Well then, to his middle age convert him now -- Or else this universe Will find him mighty hard to bear.

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Translation-cum-transcreation of a Bengali poem মাতাল (matal, meaning drunk) by Sankha Ghosh. It was published in his collection নিহিত পাতালছায়া (nihito patalchhaya, meaning Hidden Shadow of the Netherworld) in 1967.

Loony

Photo of Howrah Bridge

Photo of Howrah Bridge

'Sky resounding -- what's this roar for Fretting and fuming and a ruin of health? Living itself will make life livable Dying causes certain death.' -- His eyes lit up with a hint of a twinkle, As the tipsy signor exhorted thus -- A swig or two need at most be consumed For what's to be borne -- to be borne sans fuss. 'Perch atop the Howrah Bridge And search way down or straight upright -- Only two classes you'll get to see One is daft and the other bright.'

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Translation-cum-transcreation of a Bengali poem পাগল (pagol) by Sankha Ghosh. It was published in his collection নিহিত পাতালছায়া (nihito patalchhaya, meaning Hidden Shadow of the Netherworld) in 1967.

Note: Howrah Bridge is a well-known bridge across the River Hoogly which flows through the city of Kolkata.

Tiger

(This Latest Version 18.12.2014) Even though a sheet of paper, a tiger it must be all the same Should I remove away its fetters? Or, is it better to make it tame? I've finally figured out now, what's the nature of the offence Compared to the mighty rapiers, sharper it seems are the pens. In this static, densely filled up, bereft of moisture, total darkness Rhythms when they lend their hands to let us light up our torches Fear-provoking, more than this state, nothing ever can exist A boundary therefore I have drawn up keeping myself inside it. Tell me why then concealed tigers -- nonetheless here on and oft Keep on roaming even today? Go away you, go get lost. Even though a sheet of paper, a tiger it must be all the same Won't be wise to remove its fetters, better instead to make it tame.

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Translation of a Bengali poem বাঘ (bagh, meaning Tiger) by Sankha Ghosh. The poem was written towards the end of the 21 months Emergency Period (1975-77) declared in India by the Indira Gandhi Government. It was not published in any previous collection of Sankha Ghosh’s poems and is appended to the Complete Works (Volume 1) as a part of a new collection entitled বন্ধুরা যখন তরজা করে (meaning When Friends Engage in Extempore Song Tournaments). Sankha Ghosh’s complete poems was published of the poet published in two volumes by Dey’s Publishing around 1993.

 
 
 
 

In this Faraway Land

(This version: 16.12.2014)

In this far away land, it all suits fine Drain pipe trousers, a tunic wild Laundered scarves -- With a false identity carefully filed In this faraway land, it all suits fine. Briar pipe and pointy toed shoes Nose bridge gripped by darkened glasses -- "A keeping off the sun" excuse In this faraway land, it all suits fine. But your palm tree spray -- A dwelling in your heart where the soft clouds sway From where to begin The rest of your life had been your aim If from there now a sanction came In this faraway land, it all suits fine.

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Translation-cum-transcreation of a classic Bengali poem এই বিদেশে (ei bideshe) by Shakti Chattopadhyay. The poem was chosen from his collection I Have Killed a Golden Fly — আমি সোনার মাছি খুন করেছি , published around 1980. Since a translation should address persons not familiar with the Bengali language or culture, I have deliberately removed a reference to the Ashvatthama tale in the poem. “Falsehood” is all that I retained, thereby sacrificing a part of the poetic charm. However, this was unavoidable.

Exchange

revised_joined_picture

    In its stead then, you receive       A silent pool wrought just for you       A looking glass clear and painted blue       Water, light filled, glows --       Image of a branch, flowers bowed       The fluttering sail of a violet cloud       A fulfilled heart assures --     An inward eye can all perceive.     In its stead then, you receive       Musings mundane, void and bare       Dusty feet marked paths that stare       Winds sucked dry of tears --       A distant familiar voice might call       During a midday, bereft of all       No one turns and hears!     These too did you have to leave.

 
 
 
Translation-cum-transcreation of a classic Bengali poem বিনিময় (binimoy, meaning exchange) by Amiya Chakravarty. The poem was published around 1953 in a collection of Chakravarty’s poems entitled পারাপার (parapar, meaning ferrying across). I take this opportunity to thank my wonderful friend Professor Surja Sankar Ray for his interpretation of the poem as well as his advice on the many drafts of the translation. Without his help the work would have remained incomplete.

 
 
 
 
 

The Ostrich

First Version: July 5, 2014. Present Revision: July 30, 2014

 

ostrich

 

Can’t you hear my words of counsel pray?
Why in vain then burrowed lies your head?
Where to hide? How vast the desert’s sway –
Footfall squeezed, all shady nooks lie dead.
E’en a mirage today the horizon won’t display
Ruthless, silent, blue the sky will loom
To delude the hunter, seems there is no way
He’s got to snare you, else he spells his doom.
Where can you flee? Run you’ll how much more?
The sands uncaring won’t your claw-marks veil
Childhood friends, those associates of yore
Bygone all, helpless, alone your trail.


What will you reap, why nurture a cracked egg-shell?
Even penitence will not make it whole.
Won’t boundless cravings self-destruction spell?
In a wish free void too you can’t hope to stroll.
Best that to my reasoning you pay heed
Sail your fancied ship in a sea of sand
News of oases you know well indeed
Cautious wisdom never was your brand.
A fresh new home then let us go and build
In any odd retreat, thorny bush enclosed
Salty water, at least, it will yield
Dates will fall too, gravity’s pull unopposed.


Behind a fence of mythical creepers there
We shan’t build a zoo with iron grills
Nor call up hosts of buyers to the fair
To prune your wings of all their needless frills.
With surplus feathers scattered on the ground
Fans for a hermit’s fret-free needs we’ll weave
The dusty trail of a star extinction bound
We won’t hunt on a dark and moonless eve.
In your undying praise no rattle will be heard
Mindless greed with thoughts will never combine
Lullaby songs of a harvest stealing bird
Won’t link you with the crash of twenty nine.


The wounds of damage must, of course, be borne
By us alone, I know, in equal share
The early ones have booked their gains and gone
It’s left for us all remaining debts to clear.
Disgusting is this game of self-amour!
Can blindness ever keep devastation on wait?
Avoiding me will swell your woes for sure
Self-deception suits not a dire strait.
Let’s get together and sign this treaty then
Helping each our opposite goals to reach
You can guide me beyond the mortal plane
And I my friend will find you a worldly niche.

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This is a translation/transcreation of a classic Bengali poem “utpakhi” (উটপাখী) into English. The poet was Sudhindranath Datta. He published it in his collection called “krandasi” (ক্রন্দসী) in the Bengali year 1344, which could have been 1937 approximately according to the Western calendar. The exact date of writing this particular poem is not clear at this point of time. It was my good friend Dianne Shiff Thaler who taught me the correct American pronunciation of the last word I used in my work. That was more than 40 years ago. However, it is never too late to thank a friend.

 

 

 

 

 

Tiger

Siesta time on a cloudy day, just when memory began to unroll Timeless love in the garb of a tiger, came to the woods for a stroll … I spotted it, came close to it, and called out: Come on, devour But its eyes were glued, and trapped it stood, to budge it had no power. I was gripped by sheer panic, for those pair of jestful eyes Winged and singed in light-filled blackness, floating on blue highs The tiger was bulky, its face was grumpy, and its conceit a towering hill … These tiny etchings by my hand though bared a beauteous thrill. Siesta time on a cloudy day, just when memory began to unroll Timeless love in the garb of a tiger, came to the woods for a stroll … I spotted it, came close to it, and called out, Come on, devour! But its eyes were glued, and trapped it stood, to budge it had no power.

 

Translation of a Bengali poem বাঘ (bagh, meaning The Tiger) by Shakti Chattopadhyay, published in July, 1972 in his collection প্রভু নষ্ট হয়ে যাই (probhu noshto hoye jai, meaning “Lord I am Rotting Away”).