Categories
Tagore Translations

Abhisar by Rabindranath Tagore

Abhisar, translated as ‘The Tryst’, was written by Rabindranath in 1899. It is a story poem based on Upagupta, a Buddhist monk who lived in the 300 BCE and was revered by Emperor Ashoka and is still said to have a following in Myanmar.

THE Tryst

Sanyasi Upagupta
Was asleep under the shade of 
       The city ramparts of Mathura —
A breeze had blown off the lamps and flares.
The palace doors were shut. 
The stars of the night 
          Had disappeared behind clouds.

Whose foot adorned with anklets
          Suddenly rang on his chest? 
Startled, the sanyasi woke up.
His dreams fled. 
A dim light shone 
       on his forgiving eyes. 

The court dancer was going for a tryst with her lover,
        Intoxicated with her own vernal bloom. 
Dressed in a deep blue saree,
Her ornaments tinkled — 
As her foot fell on the monk, 
         Basabdatta halted.

With her lantern, she examined 
      his young radiant form —
A calm enduring tender face, 
A glance gleaming with compassion,
A white moon-like forehead 
       aglow with gracious peace.

The woman spoke in a gentle voice,
        Her eyes drooping with embarrassment, 
“Pardon me, O youthful one, 
I will be grateful if you come to my home. 
The ground here is hard and rough.
        This is not right the place to sleep.”

The sanyasi responded with kind words,
           “It is not yet time for me 
To visit O graceful one, 
Please go your way in prosperity. 
When the time is right, I will myself
            Come to your bower.”
                      
Eventually, a fiery spark thundered,
          Opened a monstrous mouth.
The young woman shivered with alarm.
As a terrifying destructive wind howled,
A lightening ripped a cruel smile
            Across the sky.

                 *

The year was not out. 
     It was an evening in Chaitra. 
The breeze fluttered with restlessness
The trees along the path were laden with buds. 
The King’s garden was flush with blooms of bakul,
       Parul and rajanigandha. 

From afar, wafting with the draft
      Was the mesmerising timbre of a flute.
The city was empty as everyone had left for
The festival of flowers in the honeyed woods. 
The full moon smiled at the town
      Emptied of people and protectors. 

On the lonely moonlit path, 
        The sanyasi walked alone
Under leafy branches, from where
Cuckoos cooed repeatedly —
After so many days, was it time for him
      To fulfil his tryst with the beloved? 

Crossing the town, the wise one 
        Went beyond the city walls. 
He stood beside the moat —
In the shade of the mango grove,
Who was that young woman 
         Lying near his foot? 

Her body was blistered with sores
         From a deadly disease —
As she darkened with the blight,
The citizens threw her out 
Beyond the city moat, fearing the
             Poison within her

The sanyasi sat down by her. 
        And put her stiff head on his lap —
He poured water into her chapped lips,
He chanted a mantra on her head,
Covered her body with a soothing
       Cool sandal paste. 

Bakul blooms were falling, the cuckoos were calling, 
       The night was filled with moonlight. 
“Who are you, o compassionate soul?”
The woman asked. The sanyasi replied,
“Tonight is that time. O Basabdatta,
         I have come for our tryst.”





Sanyasi-- a monk or mendicant, in this case a Buddhist Bhikshu

Chaitra -- spring when the old year ends and new starts in the Bengali Calendar. 

Tagore had translated this poem in English for a collection called Fruit-Gathering, brought out in 1916 by Macmillan. The eighty-six translated poems by Tagore in this edition were from a few selected collections in Bengali: Gitimala, Gitali, Utsarga, Kheya, Naivedya, Gitanjali, Katha and Balaka.

1916 edition of Macmillans’ Fruit-Gathering

(This poem has been translated for Borderless Journal by Mitali Chakravarty and edited by Sohana Manzoor and Anasuya Bhar.)

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Excerpt Tagore Translations

Letters From Tagore

Rabindranath’s introduction to his correspondence with Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and a few letters dealing with death, his sense of loss on the death of a favourite and about his encounter with a German anthropologist, translated by Somdatta Mandal and included as a part of Kobi &Rani

Title: ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore

Translator: Somdatta Mandal

Publisher: Birutjatio Sahitya Sammilani, Bolpur, W.B., 2021

On the Road and Beyond It

Introduction by Tagore

The earth expresses itself by moving in two ways. One is by rotating by itself, and the other through a larger movement by going around the sun. In the earth’s yearly cycle, we see the change of seasons, and different kinds of fruits and crops fill up the granary of man. Its diurnal course results in the play of light and shade on land and water, the change of nature’s moods in the sky, the play of colours every morning and evening on the horizon; different tones of voices between waking up and going to sleep.

These two different movements can be compared with two kinds of literature – first the ordinary one meant for the general public and the other, more intimate, one, that of letters. Usually ordinary literature draws a huge reading public, and moves far away from the limits of personal life to distant countries. By contrast, the literature of letters reveals the close periphery of a world known to the writer that includes shades of daily experience, its sights and sounds, and along with it, its instantaneous moods and feelings. At least, this is more or less true of the letters published in this series called ‘Patradhara.’

 Most of the letters published under the title Chinnapatra in this ‘Patradhara’ series have been selected from the letters I wrote to my niece Indira. At that time, I was wandering around the villages of Bengal; every second different village scenes were startling my wayfaring mind with their new appearances, and these were getting reflected in the letters. Those who have the habit of always speaking quickly open their mouths whenever they find anything funny and interesting. Once we try to package and express within the form of literature, the emotions that arise within and change their nature. We are constantly confronting different things from all parts of the world but it is not worth broadcasting them through loudspeakers. The easiest way to retain them is by confronting known people behind the crowd.

The second set of letters in ‘Patradhara’ was written to a young girl. Most of them were written from Santiniketan so the moving pictures of life there constantly flow through them. In these letters we do not have any grave news; the childishness of that girl, who is innocent about domestic affairs, is reflected through a jovial atmosphere; and along with this is the writer’s jocular benevolence. There is no way in which a mature writer can express permanently all that can be said in an ordinary light-hearted way.

 The third section of ‘Patradhara’ has been named Pathe O PatherPrante (On the Road and Beyond It). There is a story behind it. When I went to travel in Europe in 1926, I received invitations from various countries. During that period Rathindranath was sick and confined in a hospital in Berlin. So the responsibility for accompanying me fell on Prasanta Mahalanobis and his wife Rani who was also with him. Sometimes without speaking a single word and sometimes speaking too much, she took the entire responsibility upon her shoulders. She had to rectify all the problems that two inexperienced male travellers created while making proper arrangements for travel. Packing all our things, arranging them, keeping a count of the luggage and moving with them safely during our travels, coping with the sometimes careless and sometimes appropriate demands of the foreign authorities in those few months, Rani handled everything exceptionally well. I had been travelling in new railway coaches, ship’s cabins, living in hotel rooms, and at every step during these repeatedly changing situations, had been interacting with new people. By submitting all the unexpected problems to be resolved by her, I had shamelessly spent my days in peace while receiving a lot of care and nursing from her. At the end, when we completed our European tour and boarded a ship from a Greek port to go home, they kept on staying abroad. As I moved towards my homeland, I continued to keep our companionship alive through letters. Some of those letters, and also those written later, have now been collected here as the third series of ‘Patradhara.’ The constant debates going on all around regarding new experiences have also been expressed through these letters. But the value of narrating our European tour, which has not been published anywhere, is enormous.

 All the thoughts that go on within the mind and want to be expressed in our writings remain alive till death. But in our mental life the flow of ideas that are expressed in perpetual motion reach a saturation point at a certain period of time. When the mind is full, then apart from the essential words, a lot is left as excess. Those who love to socialize express those excess words in gatherings, those who are introverted express their feelings in their diaries, and people like me who like to write express their thoughts to someone for whom the road to writing is easily open through letters. In the end as one keeps on moving in time, the excess of emotions reaches its nadir and the mind reaches such a state that the urge to write dies. Today I have reached that point of time in my life when I am silent. I have crossed that stage when I wrote letters voluntarily, with some of them strewn about unnecessarily like multi-coloured shells and snails on a sea beach. I see them from a distance just like the inquisitive vision of external readers. The present mind which rarely speaks now is feeling envious of those times when emotions would rush out incessantly; of course some joyous moments also accompanied them. When grains ripen, it becomes time to gather them and put them inside the barn. Today I could like to gather the harvest from that season which was full of words.

                                                                                                  Rabindranath Tagore

                                                                                                  May/June 1938

Letter 4

I had thought that I would post your letter when the ship halted at Aden. Now I received the news that the ship will not halt anywhere between Suez and Colombo. So I am thinking of writing a little more.

The thought of death is not leaving my mind. In our world we are somehow connected to one another through our different selves, sometimes deeply and sometimes lightly. All of those are included in my life. I am not reluctant regarding anything in this world; this means I live quite intensively. But the more life is extended, the more happiness and sorrow also occur. The arrows of death find greater space to come and hurt you if your heart is extended. The true worship of life is immortality, which means living in a way that is beyond death. On many occasions the indifference that arises upon the death of someone you love means that the soul is hurt: it then wants to desert everything and live within something that does not erode or dissolve. I find this same message in the first chapter of my father’s life story. When death confronts life, it asks this question: “Is there anything left inside after what I have taken away? If nothing is left, then you are completely befooled.” Life wants life; it does not want to be cheated by death in any way. Once it clearly understands that it has been cheated, in an instant it eagerly states, “Something that cannot fetch me immortality is of no use to me.” Man says this so many times and forgets it so often.

                                                                                                            Yours,

                                                                                                            7 December 1926.

Letter 6

I cannot forget Santosh[1]. I think of my own life – I have been living for such a long time – how I have experienced sadness and happiness, hopes and desires, trials and pursuits, and how I have passed through so much difficult historical terrain. Compared to this, Santosh’s life was so limited. His life ended just after he had completed his youth. Even then, the picture of his life is clearly expressed. It is without any excitement but not meaningless. There are so many people all around us who are in service, who are running a household, but all of that is meaningless. Their days pass by in a heap – one upon the other. But taken together they don’t form a clear shape. Santosh’s life was not as formless as that. I remember how he came back some time ago after completing his education in America. He came and created his own space at Santiniketan. There are many other teachers working here. They work just as they would do elsewhere and some work maybe a little bit more than that. But with all the respect in his young heart, Santosh established himself with his entire life. Of course there was the necessity of earning his livelihood but his spiritual connection was stronger. The work we do every day for our personal necessities does not have any excess; it gets absorbed within itself and ends there. But Santosh associated his own life with a mission that was beyond his personal needs. I had very clearly seen the results of it because he led a simple, transparent and respectful life without excesses. But if I knew Santosh only from the work he did, then I would be mistaken. I knew him with my entire vision. It is not that the entire vision is sometimes deformed by love: it achieves a wholeness as well. My intelligence does not disregard the proofs, but my strength of vision also respects his direct sense of responsibility. Sometimes there is a conflict between these two and then the mystery becomes very difficult and sad. This dichotomy is present in the idea of death itself – our heart simply does not want to accept it as the extreme. But there is no end to the opposite proofs– the tug of war between the two makes this so extremely painful. My poem “Jete nahi dibo” (“I won’t let you go”) is one of such pain.

Today on behalf of all the middle class passengers of the ship, a white man had come to me with a request. They want to hear something from me this afternoon. I would not have suddenly agreed to this request if they had been first class passengers, but the egos of the second class passengers are much lighter. We can see human beings in them. Now it is almost time to go there.

Letter 7

Today is our fourth day on the ocean. We will reach Colombo on the morning of the 16th. But I will not have the peace of returning home. The long train journey is divided into many sections. Also, what Pupe[2] has now learnt to call “malpatro” (luggage), is great in number. They are large in volume and the containers are in a pitiable condition. There are some boxes which right from the beginning of the journey have permanently lost contact with their keys and there is no way out except to be tied up with strings. There are some boxes which have had their whole bodies damaged by being hit constantly; some other boxes look like patients who have eaten too much and are waiting to vomit and feel relieved. But Rathi is sympathetic towards them – he treats them like patients in a hospital on the battlefield. Whatever it may be, we are still travelling towards our country, and dark and deep greenery seems to be visible on the last leg our journey. Here the sky is full of beneficial sunshine just as it is in our own country. The moon is growing fuller day by day; I can visualize it swinging through the leaves of the sal trees murmuring in the wind. I imagine depositing the entire load of my stay abroad at the entrance of Uttarayan[3] and then quickly resuming the willing sojourns of my mind. But alas, I also know for sure that we do not reside in heaven and that wherever I go, after pushing my way forth after the desires of many other people, I have only a narrow path left for fulfilling my own desires. The only minor advantage is that, in spite of the path being narrow, I have trodden on it for a long time and have become used to it. In spite of the crowd, it is somewhat possible to walk there on your own.

Among our fellow passengers, there is a German anthropologist who is going to India along with his wife.[4] He has heard the name of our professor. He told me, “I have heard that he is a professor of physics. So I understand that he researches the mathematical side of anthropology; we are working on the human side.” What he means by the human side can be understood by his diligence. He is going to collect information about the wild and tribal communities in south and central India. Much of their lifestyle is still unknown and difficult to know; I have not even heard their names. They live discreetly in very difficult terrain. He wants to enter their territory in a latent or concealed manner in case they are afraid and suspect him. He does not want to live in a tent and instead has taken a sack to spend the nights in. There are snakes, wild animals, and the chance of falling sick due to an irregular routine and unhealthy food. In other words, he is taking a risk with his life. They have left their small child under the care of relatives. His wife has accompanied him on this trip in case he falls sick in the jungle. In the meantime, in order to expedite her husband’s work, she is preparing notes throughout the day with the help of maps and books. The people for whom they are willingly prepared to undergo hardship and to overlook all sorts of danger are not their relatives, nor are they civilized. Except for information about the human race there is no precious object to be recovered from them. These people have ventured to open the doors of information of the whole world, and we are rolling ourselves on torn mats by lying down on the mud floor of the earth. It is best to leave this space for them — God has sent many messengers to clear it up.

About the book:   Pathe O Pather Prante (On the Road and Beyond It) included in ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore was a prolific letter writer and Rani Mahalanobis is the only person to whom he wrote more than five hundred letters, the maximum number written to any individual person. In 1938, in the third volume of the series entitled “Patradhara”[5], Rabindranath selected sixty letters written at different periods of time to her. This he titled Pathe O Pather Prante and it was published from Visva-Bharati Publications Department in Kolkata.

Incidentally, we find the first ten letters of this series as a supplement to the narrative where Rani’s memoir Kobir Shonge Europey ends in 1926. Since it was published much later, Rani has also included some of these letters in her memoir. The rest of the letters selected from those written up to 1938 describe various moods of the Poet for a period of twelve years. They include philosophical musings, his observations on the changing of seasons, news about the incidents and functions taking place in Santiniketan during Rani’s absence, and especially his views on his new-found interest in sketching and painting. In other words, unlike those written to Indira Devi and Ranu Adhikari, these letters are interesting because they cover multifarious topics and issues and reveal the Poet’s tone of intimacy with Rani. As per Prashantakumar Pal’s biography,

Rani Mahalanobis used to suffer from a sort of non-infectious tuberculosis, so for her fever was almost a regular affair. Naturally Rabindranath would get worried – he would suggest different medicines – and write innumerable long letters, which according to him would help Rani forget some of her physical ailments. (Rabijibani, vol.IX, p.297. Translation mine)

The sixty letters included in this volume also vary in length. Some are quite short, while others are lengthy. Again some of the letters are dated with the Bengali month and year, whereas others are dated according to the English calendar. A few of the letters do not have any dates at all. Also some of them seem quite sketchy, and do not have the usual beginning, middle or end. The reason for this becomes clear when we get to know that Tagore had drastically edited several sections of these letters, especially places which revealed his innermost self.

About the translator:

Somdatta Mandal is Former Professor of English at Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, India. A recipient of several prestigious fellowships and awards, her areas of interest are American Literature, contemporary fiction, film and culture studies, Diaspora studies and translation. She has edited three volumes of travel writing —Indian Travel Narratives (2010), Journeys: Indian Travel Writing (2013), and Indian Travel Narratives: New Perspectives (2021) and has translated from Bengali to English different kinds of Indian travelogues, with special focus on men and women in colonial times. Among them are: The Westward Traveller by Durgabati Ghose (2010), Wanderlust: Travels of the Tagore Family (2014), which records vignettes of travel by nineteen members of the Tagore family spanning more than 150 years, A Bengali Lady in England by Krishnabhabini Das, which is the first woman’s travel narrative from Bengal published in 1885(2015), Crossing Many Seas(2018) by Chitrita Devi, Gleanings of the Road (2018) by Rabindranath Tagore, and The Journey of a Bengali Woman to Japan and Other Essays (2019) by Hariprabha Takeda. Two other translated volumes on Rabindranath Tagore have been published recently, ‘Kobi’ and ‘Rani’: Memoirs and Correspondences of Nirmalkumari Mahalanobis and Rabindranath Tagore (2020) and The Last Days of Rabindranath Tagore in Memoirs (2021).


[1] Santosh Chandra Majumdar was the eldest son of Rabindranath Tagore’s friend Shrish Chandra Majumdar. After passing his entrance examination along with Rathindranath, he went to America and upon returning in 1910 joined the Brahmacharyashram in Santiniketan on a monthly salary of two hundred Rupees. He actively took part in teaching, sports arrangements and hospitality of the guests. He served both Tagore and his institution wholeheartedly till his death in October 1926.  Rabindranath received the news of Santosh’s untimely death after reaching Aden.

[2]Pupe or Pupu was the pet name of Nandini, the adopted daughter of Rathindranath.

[3]One of the houses in which the poet lived at Santiniketan.

[4]The name of this anthropologist was Christoph Von Furer Heimendorf. He stayed in Hyderabad and South India for a long time to carry out research on remote backward tribes. Later he became famous for it.  See Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Rabindrajiboni Vol.III, p. 293.

[5]The first volume consisted of selected letters written to his niece Indira Devi when he was wandering around the villages of Bengal and was titled “Chinnapatra”. The second set of letters was written from Santiniketan to a young girl named Ranu Adhikari.

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Tagore Translations

Deliverance by Tagore

Tran (Deliverance)’ was first published in 1901 in a collection known as Naibedya (Offering to God). Here we present a translation from the Bengali poem as found in Sanchayita (Collection), a compilation of poems published by Visva-Bharati to mark the Tagore septuagenarian celebrations in 1931.

Art by Sohana Manzoor
Deliverance

From this hapless country, oh Benevolent One, 
Efface all petty fears —
Fears of society, governance and death. 
The rock-like burden borne by the impoverished and the weak,
This pain of being ground under dust, 
This endless abuse, reinforced each second,
This self-debasement, within and without,
This yoke of enslavement, terror, subjugation,
Is trod on again and again by many marching feet.
Beaten out of self-worth, pride —
Break this enormous pile of shame
With your foot. On this auspicious dawn,
Let us hold our heads high in the infinite sky 
Amidst the light of bounteousness and the heady breeze of freedom.

Subsequently, it was translated by Rabindranath Tagore himself as ‘Freedom from Fear’ and published in the Vishwa Bharati Journal in 1933; then, in Modern Review in 1934 according to Bichitra, an online Tagore valorium. It was first anthologised in Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore (Macmillan, London). The translation varies from the original Bengali poem with the last two lines missing completely.

(Translated by Mitali Chakravarty, edited by Sohana Manzoor on behalf of Borderless Journal. Thanks to Anasuya Bhar, Associate Professor of English and Dean of Postgraduate Studies, at St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College Kolkata University, for helping with the research. Also thanks to Fakrul Alam and Aruna Chakravarti for their feedback.)

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A Poem of Hope by Tagore

A translation of Dushomoy (bad times), written originally by the poet as Swarga Patthe (On the path to Heaven) Bengali year Boisakh 1304, roughly April 1897 of the Gregorian Calendar.

A Journey of Hope


Though dusk sets in slowly,
    The songs of the spheres have been silenced.
Though you fly companionless in the endless sky,
     Though exhaustion seeps into your body,
A terrifying dread prays in mute chants, 
    All horizons across the orb are covered by a veil --
Yet bird, o lone bird of mine, 
     Despite the blinding darkness, do not stop beating your wings.

This is not the murmur of woods, 
     This is the python-like ocean swelling.
This is not a bower of flowers, 
      This is the undulating hood swaying to the music of waves.
Where is that shore full of blossoms and foliage,
     Where is the nest, where is the branch to rest?
Yet bird, o lone bird of mine,
     Despite the blinding darkness, do not stop beating your wings.

The long night stretches ahead,
     The sun sleeps stilled after sunset.
The universe is breathless under restraint. 
     In this stunned stance, time meanders.
Swimming across the shades of the limitless night,
     A crescent moon appears in the distant skyline. 
Yet bird, o lone bird of mine,
     Despite the blinding darkness, do not stop beating your wings.

High up in the skies, the stars point their fingers
     Towards your path while gazing at you.
Deep below lies restless death in rising crests
      Of hundreds of waves that beckon. 
In distant shores, some call out with an offering,
    “Come, come,” they entreat, they plead. 
Yet bird, o lone bird of mine,
    Despite the blinding darkness, do not stop beating your wings.
 
There is no fear, no tie of affection, no attraction,
      There is no expectation, expectation is only a mirage.
There is no language, no futile weeping,
      There is no home, no floral bed to rest on.
There are only these wings, there is the celestial quadrangle,
     The dawn is led astray by the drawing of the sequestered night —
Yet bird, o lone bird of mine,
    Despite the blinding darkness, do not stop beating your wings.

(Translated by Mitali Chakravarty, edited by Sohana Manzoor on behalf of Borderless Journal. Thanks to Dr Aruna Chakravarti for the discussion and feedback which helped improve the translation.)

Tagore’s draft of the poem, ‘Swarga Patthe’, with the signature and date. This is the poem that has come down to us as ‘Dushomoy’, now translated as ‘Journey of Hope’.
Click here to listen to Tagore recite the poem about a lone bird in his own voice in Bengali.

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Tagore Translations

Songs from Bhanusingher Padabali: Translations by Radha Chakravarty

Renowned translator and academic Radha Chakravarty has translated two songs by Tagore written originally in Brajabuli, a dialect based on Maithali that was popularised for poetry by the medieval poet Vidyapati. Composed in 1877. it became a part of Bhanusingher Padabali in 1884. This song draws from the lore of Radha and Krishna.


Gahana Kusuma Kunja Majhe

(Amidst the Densley flowering Bower)

In the densely flowering forest grove
The flute sings softly of tender love.
Shame and scruples cast aside,
            O beloved friend, come, step outside!
In delicate, graceful blue attire,
Heart aflame with budding desire,
In your doe-eyed gaze, a guileless smile,
	    Come to the bower, O friend, awhile!
Flowers pour forth their fragrance, strong
Birds pour forth a river of song
From the moon, pure nectar streams,
	    In the silver radiance of its beams.
Hear the gently humming bees, 
Amidst the countless blooming trees,
Clustered blossoms fill the bower—
             Bakul and jasmine, in full flower.
Shyam himself is here, behold! 
Eyes overflowing with love, untold.
Immortal glory, grace divine
	   Shames the moon, and pales its shine.
O band of women, let us race—
On Govinda, to feast our gaze!
Bhanusingha’s hymn of praise
         At the sacred feet of Shyam, he lays.
Shaono Gagane Ghor Ghanaghata 

(The Dark Monsoon Skies)

So dense the clouds in the monsoon sky, so dark the night’s black veil!
Dare I set out for the forest, friend?—A woman, so alone and frail?
Wild winds flail the Yamuna waves, peals of thunder overhead,
Flashing lightning, crashing trees—my body trembles in sheer dread!
Rain descends in dancing chimes, from the clustered clouds above,
Sal, piyal, tal and tamal—so dark the densely wooded grove!
Tell me, friend, amidst this storm, why Kanha plays this cruel game—
From the grove, on his magic flute, tenderly calling Radha’s name?
Attire me in strands of pearl; with ornaments, my brow adorn;
With champak garlands bind these locks, flowing long and free, unshorn.
In the dark, at dead of night, go not, O maiden! to Nawal Kishore—
Your faithful servant, Bhanu pleads—so terrifying is the thunder’s roar! 

Both these songs have been excerpted from Krishna in Indian Thought, Literature and Music, ed. Mandira Ghosh, Shubhi Publishers, 2021

Radha Chakravarty is a writer, critic and translator. She has co-edited The Essential Tagore (Harvard and Visva Bharati), nominated Book of the Year 2011 by Martha Nussbaum, and edited Shades of Difference: Selected Writings of Rabindranath Tagore (Social Science Press, 2015). She is the author of Feminism and Contemporary Women Writers (Routledge, 2008) and Novelist Tagore: Gender and Modernity in Selected Texts (Routledge, 2013). Her translations of Tagore include Gora, Chokher Bali, Boyhood Days, Farewell Song: Shesher Kabita and The Land of Cards: Stories, Poems and Plays for Children.  Other works in translation are Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s Kapalkundala, In the Name of the Mother by Mahasweta Devi (nominated for the Crossword Translation Award, 2004), Vermillion Clouds: Stories by Bengali Women,and Crossings: Stories from Bangladesh and India. She has edited Bodymaps: Stories by South Asian Women and co-edited Writing Feminism: South Asian Voices and Writing Freedom: South Asian Voices. Her poems have appeared in Journal of the Poetry Society of India, Contemporary Major Indian Women Poets, The Poet, Hakara, Narrow Road Journal, Krishna in Indian Thought, Literature and Music, The Fib Review, The Skinny Poetry Journal and Indian Poetry through the Passage of Time. Forthcoming books include Our Santiniketan (translation of Mahasweta Devi’s memoirs; Seagull Publishers); The Tagore Phenomenon (Allen Lane), Kazi Nazrul Islam: Selected Essays (Nazrul Centre for Social and Cultural Studies) and Mahasweta Devi: Writer, Activist, Visionary (Routledge, UK).  She is Professor of Comparative Literature & Translation Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi.

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The Parrot’s Tale by Tagore

Title: Rabindranth Tagore. The Land of Cards: Stories, Poems and Plays for Children.

Translator: Radha Chakravarty

Publishers: Penguin India: Puffin Classics.

The Parrot’s Tale

Once there was a bird.  He was uneducated.  He sang, but did not read the shastras.  He hopped about and flew, but didn’t know good manners.

“Such a bird is of no use,” declared the king, “but he harms the sale of fruit in the royal market by eating up the wild fruits in the forest.”

He sent for the minister. “Educate this bird,” he ordered.

2

The king’s nephews were given the responsibility of educating the bird.

The pundits assembled and considered the matter at length.  The question was: “What is the reason for this creature’s lack of education?”

They concluded that there was not much room for learning in the bird’s nest, made from a few humble straws and twigs.  Hence it was necessary, first of all, to make him a proper cage.

Receiving their dues, the royal pundits went home happily.

3

The goldsmith now set about making a golden cage.  So marvelous was the cage he made, people from far-off lands came there to admire it.  Some said, “It is the height of education.”  “Even if he doesn’t get an education, at least he has a cage,” declared others.  “What a lucky bird!”

The goldsmith was rewarded with a bagful of money as bakshish.  He went home happily.

The pundits got down to the business of educating the bird.  “This is not a task to be achieved with just a few books,” they declared, inhaling snuff.

Now the royal nephews summoned all the scribes.  Copying many textbooks and making copies of copies, they produced a mountain-high pile of books.  Anyone who saw it exclaimed:  “Shabash – congratulations!  This heap of knowledge is full to bursting!”

Loading a bullock with all the money they received as payment, the scribes rushed home.  They no longer had any trouble making both ends meet.

There was no end to the royal nephews’ fussing over the very expensive cage.  There was no end to all the repair and maintenance, either.  And there was such a to-do about dusting, wiping and polishing, that the sight made everyone declare:  “These are signs of progress.”

The work required a lot of manpower, and to keep an eye on the workers, even more men had to be deployed.  Month by month, they collected their payments by the fistful and stuffed the money in their safes.

These men, and all their maternal and paternal cousins, settled happily in palatial brick-built mansions.

4

Many other things are lacking in this world, but there is no dearth of fault-finders.  “The cage is improving,” they said, “but nobody asks after the bird.”

The matter reached the king’s ears.  He sent for the nephews and demanded:  “O nephews, what’s this I hear?”

“Maharaj,” said the nephews, “if you want to hear the truth, summon the goldsmiths, pundits, scribes, the maintenance workers and their supervisors.  It’s because the fault-finders don’t get enough to eat that they say such evil things.”

From this reply, the situation became clear to the king.  Golden necklaces were ordered at once, to adorn the nephews’ necks.

5

The king wanted to see for himself the tremendous pace at which the bird’s education was progressing.

At once, the area near the portico began to resound with the noise of conchs, bells, dhak, dhol, kada, nakada, turi, bheri, damama, kanshi, flutes, gongs, khol, cymbals, mridanga and jagajhampa.  With full-throated abandon, shaking the unshaven locks of their tikis, the pundits began to chant mantras.  The masons, workmen, goldsmith, scribes, supervisors and their maternal and paternal cousins, sang to the king’s glory.

“Maharaj, can you see what a to-do there is!” observed a nephew.

“Amazing!  The noise is quite extraordinary,” observed the Maharaja.

“It’s not just the noise; the money that’s gone into it is not inconsiderable either,” the nephew pointed out.

Delighted, the Maharaja crossed the portico and was about to mount his elephant when a fault-finder concealed in the bushes called out: “Maharaj, have you had a look at the bird?”

The king was startled.  “Oh no!” he exclaimed.  “I had clean forgotten.  I haven’t seen the bird.”

He went back and told the pundit, “I need to observe your technique for training the bird.”

He was duly shown the technique.  What he saw pleased him greatly. The method was so much more important than the bird, that the bird could not be seen at all; it seemed needless to see him at all.  The king realized that the arrangements lacked nothing.  There was no grain in the cage, no water, just a mass of pages torn from a mass of books, being stuffed down the bird’s throat by the end of a quill pen.  The bird’s song could not be heard of course, for it was too stifled even to scream.  It was a thrilling sight, enough to give one goose-pimples.

Now, while mounting his elephant, the king instructed the Chief Ear-puller to tweak the fault-finder thoroughly by the ears.

6

Day by day, the bird arrived at a half-dead state, in a civilized fashion.  His guardians saw this as a hopeful sign.  But still, by natural instinct, the bird would gaze at the morning light and flutter his wings in a way that was unacceptable.  In fact, one day he was seen struggling to cut through the bars of his cage with his fragile beak.

“What audacity!” cried the Kotwal, the law-maker.

Now the blacksmith appeared in the training quarters, armed with bellows, hammer and fire.  How hard he beat the iron!  Iron shackles were forged, and the bird’s wings were clipped.

Gravely shaking their heads, the king’s associates declared: “In this kingdom, the birds lack not only brains, but gratitude as well.”

Now, armed with pen in one hand and rod in the other, the pundits accomplished the dramatic feat called education.

The blacksmiths gained so much importance, their wives bedecked themselves with ornaments, and seeing the alertness of the Kotwal, the king bestowed him with a shiropa, a turban of honour.

7

The parrot died.  Nobody could say when.

The wretched fault-finder spread the word: “The bird is dead.”

“Nephews, what is this I hear?” demanded the king.

“Maharaj, the bird’s training is complete,” declared the nephews.

“Does he hop about anymore” the king enquired.

“Arre Rama! No,” demurred the nephew.

“Does he fly anymore?”

“No.”

“Does he sing anymore?”

“No.”

“Does he scream if he does not receive grain for his feed?”

“No.”

“Bring the bird to me once,” the king ordered.  “Let me see him.”

The bird was brought.  Along with the bird came the Kotwal, paiks, and horsemen.

The king prodded the bird.  But the bird neither opened his beak, nor made any sound.  Only the dry pages torn from books rustled and sighed in his belly.

Outside, stirred by the fresh spring breeze blowing in from the south, the sighing of new leaves spread anguish in the sky, above the newly blossoming woods.

 (Published with permission from Penguin Random House India.)

About the Book:

Poet, novelist, painter, musician and Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore was one of modern India’s greatest literary figures. This collection brings together some of his best works—poems, short stories and plays—in one volume for today’s young readers.

Be it the wit, magic and lyricism of his poetry or the vividly etched social milieu of his stories, or the sheer power and vibrancy of his plays, Tagore’s versatility and unceasing creativity come alive in these writings. The title play ‘The Land of Cards’ is a satire against the bondage of orthodox rules, while in ‘The Post Office’, a child suffocated by his confined existence dreams of freedom in the world outside. From a son’s cherished desire to protect his mother in the poem ‘Hero’ to a fruit-seller’s sentiments for his faraway daughter in the story ‘Kabuliwala’, Tagore’s works convey his broad humanism and his deep awareness of the poignancy of human relationships.

Radha Chakravarty’s lucid translation captures the sheer genius of Tagore’s evocative language, making these works accessible to contemporary readers.

About the Translator: Radha Chakravarty is a writer, critic and translator. She has co-edited The Essential Tagore (Harvard and Visva Bharati), nominated Book of the Year 2011 by Martha Nussbaum, and edited Shades of Difference: Selected Writings of Rabindranath Tagore (Social Science Press, 2015). She is the author of Feminism and Contemporary Women Writers (Routledge, 2008) and Novelist Tagore: Gender and Modernity in Selected Texts (Routledge, 2013). Her translations of Tagore include Gora, Chokher Bali, Boyhood Days, Farewell Song: Shesher Kabita and The Land of Cards: Stories, Poems and Plays for Children.  Other works in translation are Bankimchandra Chatterjee’s Kapalkundala, In the Name of the Mother by Mahasweta Devi (nominated for the Crossword Translation Award, 2004), Vermillion Clouds: Stories by Bengali Women,and Crossings: Stories from Bangladesh and India. She has edited Bodymaps: Stories by South Asian Women and co-edited Writing Feminism: South Asian Voices and Writing Freedom: South Asian Voices. Her poems have appeared in Journal of the Poetry Society of India, Contemporary Major Indian Women Poets, The Poet, Hakara, Narrow Road Journal, Krishna in Indian Thought, Literature and Music, The Fib Review, The Skinny Poetry Journal and Indian Poetry through the Passage of Time. Forthcoming books include Our Santiniketan (translation of Mahasweta Devi’s memoirs; Seagull Publishers); The Tagore Phenomenon (Allen Lane), Kazi Nazrul Islam: Selected Essays (Nazrul Centre for Social and Cultural Studies) and Mahasweta Devi: Writer, Activist, Visionary (Routledge, UK).  She is Professor of Comparative Literature & Translation Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi.

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Categories
Tagore Translations

The Golden Deer By Tagore

Written in 1910,  Amar Sonar Horin Chai ( I want the Golden Deer) is a popular Rabindra Sangeet that is often performed on stage. Seemingly simple, it explores the poet’s yearning for the intangible and ends with the sense of euphoria generated by his quest for the impalpable.

Sohana Manzoor’s interpretation in pastel & ink of ‘Amar Sonar Horin Chai’
The Golden Deer

Regardless of what you say,I want the golden deer.
Enchanting,nimble footed,I want that golden deer. 
He runs startled,eludes our gaze,and cannot be tied. 
If he comes within our reach,he escapes puzzling our vision. 
Chasing the elusive one who continues to evade capture 
Through fields and forests,I lose myself. 
Things that you can buy in bazaars are stored in homes.
Why do I look for that which cannot be bought?
I lost what I had while yearning for the intangible.
Do you think I am grieving for my lost treasures?  
I am content to live with a smile devoid of sorrow, 
Disappearing in my mind amidst meadows and woods. 

There is a reference to Sita’s yearning for the golden deer during her exile in the poem, an episode which led to her kidnapping by Ravana in Ramayana.

This poem has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty and edited by Sohana Manzoor on behalf of Borderless.

Categories
Tagore Translations

Songs of Seasons by Fakrul Alam

Rabindranth Tagore’s Art. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Tagore wrote on almost all aspects of life. Here are Fakrul Alam’s translations of Tagore’s songs for Ashar, the third month in the Bengali Calendar around the months of June-July. It is the time the monsoons start to set in. The sky, the flora and the fauna are resplendent and fecund with the much-awaited showers. Alam, a renowned scholar and translator from Bangladesh, was kind enough to share these six songs of the season which will soon be a part of his forthcoming publication on translation from the Gitabitan, Tagore’s treasury of more than 2000 songs.

Garland of Lightening Gems
(Bajromanik Diye Gantha, written in 1925)
 
Ashar, how delicate is your garland of jewelled thunderbolts!
Your dark beauty is set off by lightning flashes
Your spells have the power to melt stones and sprout crops--
On your winged feet you bring from sandy wastes flower garlands
On withered leaves you come in torrential and triumphant showers
Your clouds resound like tom-toms in festive abandon
In your deluge of delicious green, parched earth revives
But keep your awful, life-threatening floods away!
 
In the Thunderous Clouds
(Oi Je Jhorer Meghe, written in 1922) 
 
There--in the lap of storm clouds--the rain comes
Its hair loosened, its sari’s borders flying!
Its song beats flutter mango, blackberry, sal and rain-trees
Making their leaves dance and murmur in excitement 
My eyes, moving in beat to its music
Wander in falling rain, losing themselves amidst sylvan shades
Whose familiar voice calls out to me in the wet wind endlessly
Stirring a storm of anguish in my soul on this lonely day?
 
The Tune of New Clouds
(Aaj Nobeen Megher Shoor Legeche, written in 1922)
 
Newly arrived clouds stir a tune in my mind today
And my thoughts become all aflutter causelessly
How these clouds lure me outdoors again and again,
Casting their shade on my eyes every now and then 
In the rain pouring from the sky tumultuously
What message of the path to pursue do they bear?
That path will take my mind’s tune into the unknown
And disperse it in the bower of one forever forlorn!
 
The Sky’s Musings
(Aaj Akashe Moner Kotha, written in 1922)
 
This day I hear the sky’s musings in thundershowers 
They’ve reverberated in my heart all day long.
On the dark lake water, clouds thicken
            The wind, bearing the pain of centuries,
                        Has murmured in my heart all day long
                                  By my window and in darkness
I commune with the sky, all alone 
Like rustling branches, hidden memories stir
                 Evoking a tear-soaked tune in my soul
  As crickets chirp on—all day long! 
  
Under the Kadmaba Trees
(Esho Nipo Bone,written in 1925)
 
Come and walk in the shade of the Kadamba tree rows
Come bathe in rain water streaming down incessantly
Let down your disheveled thick jet-black tresses
Drape around your bodies your sky-blue saris
With kohl-lined eyes and jasmine garlands
Come and walk in the shade of Kadamba tree rows!
Every now and then, my dear, dear soul mates,
Let smiles light up your lips and eyes wondrously
To the beat of pouring rain, let Raga Mallar tuned songs,
Sung in your sweet voices, sound in forests sonorously
Come and walk in the shade of Kadamba tree rows!
 
Tear-filled Sorrow
(Ashrubhara Bedona, written in 1925)
 
Tear-filled emotions stir everywhere!
Whose desire sounds in dark in the clouds this day?
They speed across tempestuously,
Whose lament echoes in the rumbling?
Who could be focused on such fruitless worship?

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibonananda Das and Rabindranath Tagore into English and is the recipient of Bangla Academy Literary Award (2012) for translation and SAARC Literary Award (2012).

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Categories
Tagore Translations

The Last Boat by Tagore

Originally written as a poem by Tagore called ‘Shesh Kheya‘ in 1907 and then set to music in 1922 by Pankaj Mullick, ‘Diner Sheshe Ghoomer Deshe‘( At the Close of the Day in the Land of Sleep) is a solemn song, which seems to cry out with an unfathomable yearning for an unknown fate.

Sohana Manzoor’s pastel that was inspired by Tagore’s Diner Sheshe Ghoomer Deshe
The Last Boat 

At the close of the day, in the land of sleep, a veiled shadow 
Makes me forget, forget my life. 
On the other bank, a golden shore edges the gloaming,
Which like an enchantress disrupts my work.
The wayfarers who head back after completing their task,
Do not look back at the trail they leave behind. 
Like a receding tide, intoxicated, I am drawn away from home.
The dusk sets in as the day leaves. 
Please come, o ferryman, one
Who can row me across on the last
Ferry at the end of the day.
In the dusk, a few ferries ebb with the tide
To the other side. 
How will I recognise the ferryman among the other ones 
Waiting at the arrival to take me to my destination?
Downhill, by the thick vegetation at the bank, 
The shade moves like a shadow.
Where is the ferryman who is willing to halt
When I call out? 
O come, 
The one who will row me 
At the close of the day in the last ferry.
Those who were returning home have gone back. 
Those who headed for the riverside have reached the banks. 
The dusk calls out to one 
Who is neither at home nor at the riverbank, but stuck mid-way.
Flowers do not bloom for those whose crops did not yield harvest —
When I try to shed tears, it turns into sorrowful mirth —
He who has turned off the daylight, did not light up the dusk.
He is the one who sits by the riverbank. 
Please come, 
O ferryman who will row me across
At the close of the day in the last ferry...



(This has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty on behalf of Borderless Journal with editorial help from Sohana Manzoor.)

Diner Shehshe Ghoomer Deshe sung by Pankaj Mullick

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Tagore Translations

Songs of Tagore: Translations by Aruna Chakravarti

Title: Songs of Tagore

Author: Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Aruna Chakravarti

Publisher: Niyogi Books

About the Book:

This publication of one hundred and twelve select songs of Rabindranath Tagore is primarily for the Indian and non-Indian listeners who have no access to the original language of the Poet, but enjoy listening to his songs and would like to understand what the song says.

Author’s Bio:

Rabindranath Tagore, sobriquet Gurudev, was a Bengali polymath who reshaped Bengali literature and music, as well as Indian art with Contextual Modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Author of Gitanjali and its “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse”, he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.He is sometimes referred to as “The Bard of Bengal”.

Translator’s Bio:

Aruna  Chakravarti  has been  Principal of a prestigious Women’s College of Delhi University for ten years. She is also a well- known academic, creative writer and translator with fifteen published books on record. They comprise four novels, one book of short stories, two academic works and eight translations. Her first novel The Inheritors (published by Penguin)was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and her third, Jorasanko (by Harper Collins)received critical acclaim and also became a best seller. Her translated works include an anthology of songs from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitabitaan, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s Srikanta  and Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Those days, First Light and Primal Woman: Stories. Daughters of Jorasanko, a sequel to Jorasanko, has sold widely and received rave reviews.Her latest work, a novel titled Suralakshmi Villa, has been published by Pan Macmillan Ltd under the Picador imprint, last year in 2020.

Among the various awards she has received are VaitalikAward, Sahitya Akademi  Award and Sarat Puraskar.

She is also a script writer and producer of seven multi- media presentations based on her novels. Comprising dramatized readings interspersed with songs and accompanied by a visual presentation by professional artists and singers, these programmes have been widely acclaimed and performed in many parts of India and abroad.

For more details on the book: Click here