Categories
Tagore Translations

The Palmyra Tree or Taal Gaachh by Rabindranath

Taal Gaach or The Palmyra Tree was published as part of Shishu Bholanath (Child Bholanath) brought out in 1922. The poem has an inbuilt cadence and rhythm that flows like the sway of palmyra (commonly referred to as taal ) leaves in the breeze.

Taal Gaach, painting by Sohana Manzoor
THE PALMYRA TREE

The palmyra towers over all trees
Standing on one foot, it peeps
Into the sky.
It yearns to fly,
Piercing through dark clouds nigh 
But where will it find wings?
That is why, it thinks —
Leaves circling its crown
Are wings to float around.
To soar unhindered, free,
Leaving its home, it flees. 
The whole day, the foliage rustles,
Murmurs, susurrates and bustles. 
The tree imagines its flight, 
Drifting past stars in the sky, 
Towards a destination up high.
Then the breeze stalls.
The swish of leaves halts.
When it regards the loam
As its mother, its hearth.
It loves again its home, 
The nook on Earth. 

(This poem has been translated for Borderless Journal  by Mitali Chakravarty with editorial comments from Sohana Manzoor and Anasuya Bhar.)

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Categories
Tagore Translations

The Funeral: A skit by Rabindranath

Translated from Bengali by Somdatta Mandal, this satirical skit[1] was part of Hasyakoutuk (1914) or Humour by Tagore

Rabindranth’s bust in  Hungary, Balatonfüred, Tagore promenade

Scene One

Ray Krishnakishore Bahadur is lying on his deathbed. His three sons Chandrakishore, Nandakishore and Indrakishore are busy consulting each other. A doctor is present. The women are close to tears.

Chandra: Who are the people we should write to?

Indra: Write to Sir Reynolds.

Krishna: (With great difficulty) What will you write, son?

Nanda: The news of your death.

Krishna: But I am not yet dead, son.

Indra: You might not die right now, but we have to fix a time for the event and write that down…

Chandra: We should collect the condolence letters from all the Englishmen here and get them published in newspapers. No point in publishing them when all the excitement is gone!

Krishna: Patience boys; let me die first.

Nanda: We can’t wait, father. Let’s make a list of the letters to be sent to the people in Shimla and Darjeeling. Come on, let’s get all the names down.

Chandra: The Governor, Sir Ilbert, Sir Wilson, Beresford, Macaulay, Peacock –

Krishna: Boys, what names are you chanting so close to my ears? Chant God’s name instead. When the time comes, He is the only one who can save us! Hari –

Indra: Yes, good thing that you reminded us, we forgot to include Sir Harrison.

Krishna: My sons, say Ram, Ram –

Nanda: Really, I had forgotten about Sir Ramsey.

Krishna: Narayan, Narayan!

Chandra: Nanda, write down the name of Sir Noran also.

Enter Skandakishore.

Skanda: So, you people seem so relaxed! You still haven’t done the real thing!

Chandra: And what is that?

Skanda: We have to inform in advance all the people who will be part of the procession going to the funeral ghat.

Krishna: Sons, which one do you consider the real thing? First, I’ll have to die, only then –-

Chandra: No worries on that account. Doctor!

Doctor: Yes sir!

Chandra: How much time is left for father to go? When do the public have to be here?

Doctor: Perhaps–

The women start wailing.

Skanda: (Disgusted) Ma, will you stop it? You’re creating quite a scene!  It’s better to sort out everything in advance. When doctor?

Doctor: Most likely this night at—

The women start wailing again.

Nanda: This is a huge problem! You shouldn’t disturb us during work. What do you think your crying will accomplish? We are planning to publish condolence letters sent by important Englishmen in newspapers.

The women are sent out.

Skanda: Doctor, what do you think?

Doctor: From what I can see I think he will expire around four a.m.

Chandra: Then there is no time – Nanda, go quickly, get the slips printed at once right in front of your eyes.

Doctor: But first mustn’t the medicine—

Skanda: Look here! Your medicine shop will not run away. On the other hand, we’ll be in trouble if the print ring shop shuts down.

Doctor: Sir, the patient might not —

Chandra: That is why you must hurry. For who knows what might happen if the slips are printed before the patient —

Nanda: Here I go.

Skanda: Write down that the procession will begin at eight tomorrow.

 Scene Two

Skanda: What, doctor? It’s already seven now instead of four.

Doctor: (Apologetically) Yes, yes, amazing the pulse is still strong.

Chandra: You are a fine one doctor to have got us into this mess!

Nanda: Everything went wrong when I was late in bringing the medicine. In fact, dad began to recover as soon as the doctor’s medicine was stopped.

Krishna: All this time you were so very cheerful, why is everyone looking so glum all of a sudden? I am feeling fine now.

Skanda: We aren’t feeling that great. We had already finalized all preparations to go to the funeral pyre.

Krishna: Is that so? I guess I should have died.

Doctor: (Feeling irritated) Do one thing and that will solve all problems.

Indra: What?

Skanda: What?

Chandra: What?

Nanda: What?

Doctor: Instead of him why don’t one of you die when the time is ripe.

 

Scene Three

A lot of people have assembled in the outer house.

Kanai: Hello, It’s already eight thirty. Why are you all late?

Chandra: Please sit down. Have some tobacco.

Kanai: I’ve been [chewing] tobacco from the morning!

Bolai: Where is everybody? I can’t see signs of any arrangements being made.

Chandra: Everything is ready – it’s not our fault – now only—

Ramtaran: Hey, Chandra, we shouldn’t waste any more time.

Chandra: Don’t I understand that – but—

Harihar: What is causing the delay? We’ll be late for office, what’s the matter?

Indrakishore enters.

Indra: Don’t be impatient. We are almost ready. In the meantime, why don’t you read the condolence letters?

He distributes them.

This is from Lambert, this from Harrison, this is Sir James’s—

Skandakishore enters.

Skanda: Here take them. In the meantime, read the obituary notices on father in the newspapers. Here is The Statesman, here The Englishman.

Madhusudan: (To Yadav) Isn’t this typical? Bengalis won’t ever learn what punctuality is all about.

Indra: You’re absolutely right. They will die and yet never learn to be punctual.

The guests shed tears reading the newspapers and the condolence messages.

Radhamohan:  (in tears) Oh God, the poor man’s friend!

Nayanchand:   Alas! To think that even such a good man has his share of troubles.

Nabadwipchandra: (in a deep breath) Lord! Everything is your will!

Rasik:‘The lotus that blooms in the heart’ – I’m forgetting what comes after that –

                        ‘The lotus that blooms in the heart

                        Has been plucked untimely

                        The lotus heart sinks in the sea of sorrow!’

This is exactly the case here. The lotus heart in the sea of sorrow. How sad! Add esquire. O tempora! O mores[2]!

Tarkabagish[3]: Challchittang challadbittang, challajiwan – The mind is inconsistent, wealth is transitory and one’s life is perishable. Oh how sad!

Nyayabagish[4]: Yadupathe kri gata mathurapuri, raghupate – Where is the city of Mathura that belonged to the Lord of the Yadavas (i.e. Krishna), to the Lord of the Raghus (i.e. Rama Chandra)? (chokes)

Dukhiram: Oh Krishnakishore Bahadur, where have you gone?

 A faint voice can be heard from within:  I am here. Please, don’t shout.  


[1] [Translated from “Antyashti-Satkar” in the Hasyakoutuk series Bhadra 1293 B.S. by Somdatta Mandal].

[2] “Oh the times! Oh the customs!” – Latin phrase, first recorded to have been spoken by Cicero

[3] Bengali title given to an expert debator

[4] Bengali title given to a legal expert

Somdatta Mandal is a former Professor of English and ex-Chairperson, Department of English, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, India. A recipient of several prestigious fellowships like the Fulbright Research and Teaching Fellowships, British Council Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship, Rockefeller Residency at Bellagio, Italy, Salzburg Seminar and Shastri Indo-Canadian Faculty Enrichment Fellowship, she has been published widely both nationally and internationally. She has also an award from Sahitya Akademi for the All India Indian Literature Golden Jubilee (1957-2007) Literary Translation Competition in the Fiction category for translating short stories series ‘Lalu’ by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Tagore Translations

Hide & Seek by Tagore

First published in Shishu (Children) in 1909, Lucko Churi (Hide and Seek) is also a part of Tagore’s collection called Sanchayita. It captures the endearing, playful relationship between a mother and her son as well as the innocence of the child.

Champa flowers on a tree: Courtesy: Creative Commons
          HIDE AND SEEK
In a playful mood, if I were to 
      Bloom as a champa flower on a tree,
At dawn, O mother, I would frolic 
       Amidst the branches of young leaves.
I would win in this game of hide-and-seek.
         Would you have recognised me? 
You would call out, “Khoka, where are you? “
       I would only laugh silently. 

When you do your household chores
         I would watch from high above. 
After a bath, with your wet hair spread on your shoulder,
          When you would walk under the tree
To go to the prayer room
         While inhaling the perfume of the blooms —
You would wonder how
          Your Khoka’s scent mingles with the breeze! 

In the afternoon, after everyone has lunched 
            When you relax with a Mahabharat,
The shade of the tree by the windowsill 
            Would fall on your back and lap.
My tiny shadow would sway
           On the words of your book. 
But you would not know the shadow
      Of your darling wafts before your eyes. 

In the evening, after lighting a lamp,
       When you go to the cowshed,
I would finish my game 
       And drop down from the tree. 
Again, I would be your Khoka. 
        I would say,”Tell me a story.”
And you would ask,”Naughty! Where were you?”
      I would reply, “I will not tell you my secret.”

Courtesy: Creative Commons

(This poem has been translated for Borderless Journal  by Mitali Chakravarty with editorial comments from Sohana Manzoor and Anasuya Bhar.)

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Tagore Translations

The Ordeal of Fame

A humorous skit[1] by Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Somdatta Mandal

Hasyakoutuk(1914) or Humour by Tagore, the collection in which this skit was published.

Scene One

The lawyer Dukori Dutta is sitting on a chair. Kangalicharan enters nervously, ledgers in hand.

 Dukori: What do you want?

Kangali: Sir, you are a well-wisher of the nation –

Dukori: Everyone knows that. But what do you actually want?

Kangali: You have devoted your life for the welfare of the ordinary man –

Dukori: And I do so while I am carrying on my legal business but what is your point?

Kangali: Sir, actually I don’t have much to say.

Dukori: Then why don’t you finish soon.

Kangali: Think for a while and you’ll have to admit “ganat paratrang nahi”, that is to say, nothing is better than music —

Dukori: Look here, man. Before I admit anything, I need to know the meaning of what you just said. Say it in Bangla.

Kangali: Sir, I don’t know the exact Bangla meaning. But the main idea is that one loves to listen to songs a lot.

Dukori: Everyone doesn’t like them.

Kangali: Anyone who doesn’t like songs must be —

Dukori: Lawyer Dukori Dutta.

Kangali: Sir, don’t say such things.

Dukori: Then should I lie?

Kangali: The sage Bharata is the first Aryan to have…

Dukori: If you have any lawsuits to file against the Sage Bharata then tell me. Otherwise stop giving a speech on him.

Kangali: I had a lot of things to say.

Dukori: But I don’t have the time to listen to a lot of things.

Kangali: Then let me state the case in brief. In this city we’ve established a society called “Gannonati Bidhyaini” – The Society for the Betterment of Music. Sir, we want you —

Dukori: To deliver a lecture?

Kangali: No, Sir.

Dukori: To be the chairman?

Kangali: No, Sir.

Dukori: Then tell me what it is that I have to do. Let me tell you before hand, singing songs and listening to songs – I have done neither previously and will not do either of these things in future.

Kangali: Sir, you won’t have to do either. (Advancing a receipt book) Just some donation–

Dukori: (Startled, gets up) Donation! Good grief! You aren’t an easy man to please. When you came in you appeared to be a good-natured man and came in with an embarrassed face – I thought then that you were in legal trouble. Take your donation booklet immediately or I will file a police case against you for trespassing.

Kangali: Wanted a donation but got a beating! (To himself). But I I’ll teach you a lesson.

 

Scene Two

Dukori Babu with newspapers in his hand.

Dukori: This is great fun. Someone called Kangali Charan has informed all English and Bengali newspapers that I have donated five thousand rupees to their “Gannonati Bidhayini Society”. What donation, the only thing I didn’t do is throw him out by the collar. In the meantime, I’ve gained a reputation that will be very good for my business. They will also benefit from this. People will think that since they have got five thousand rupees as donation, it will turn out to be a huge meeting. No doubt they will get greater donations from elsewhere. Nevertheless, fortune will surely favour me.

The clerk enters.

Clerk: Sir, have you donated five thousand rupees to “Gannonati Sabha?”

Dukori: (scratching his head and smiling) Well, it is just a story some one has made up. Why do you listen to it? Who told you that I have donated? Suppose I did, so what? Why make a fuss about it?

Clerk: Oh, what humility! Paying five thousand rupees in cash and then trying to conceal the deed is no feat for an ordinary man.

Enter servant.

Servant: Plenty of people have assembled downstairs.

Dukori: (To self) See! In one day, my income has increased. (Gladly) Bring them upstairs one by one – and bring paan leaves and betel nut as well as some tobacco.

The first supplicant enters.      

Dukori: (Shifting a seat) Come – be seated. Sir, have some tobacco. Who is there? Hey—could we have some paan.

First Supplicant: (to himself) Really, what an amiable person! If he doesn’t fulfil one’s desires desires, who will?

Dukori: And what could have brought you here?

First Supplicant: Your generosity is famous all over the country.

Dukori: Why listen to such gossip?

First Supplicant: What humility! I had heard about you earlier, but today the difference between sight and sound has been eliminated.

Dukori: (To self) I hope he will come to the point now. Plenty of men are waiting downstairs. (Openly) So, what do you need?

First Supplicant:  For the development of the nation, from the heart —

Dukori: Yes, it is good of you to mention the heart.

First Supplicant:  That’s right. Great honourable persons like you are India’s —

Dukori: I am agreeing to all that you are saying so why don’t you concede this part to me? And so —

First Supplicant: It’s the habit of people who are full of humility that when it comes to their own virtues –

Dukori: Spare me sir. Come to the point!

First Supplicant: You know, the fact is that day by day our country is regressing —

Dukori: That is because people don’t know how to say things concisely.

First Supplicant: Our once rich and glorious motherland is now mired in poverty.

Dukori: (Like a long-suffering person, covering his head with his hand) Go on.

First Supplicant: Day by day sinking in the well of poverty –

Dukori: (In a pleading tone) Sir, what is the point?

First Supplicant:  Then let me tell you the real thing –

Dukori: (Enthusiastically) That’s better.

First Supplicant: The English have been looting us.

Dukori: This is something worth pursuing. Collect proof and I will appeal to the    magistrate’s court.

First Supplicant: The magistrates too are sharing the spoils.

Dukori: Then I will lodge an appeal in the court of the District Judge.

First Supplicant: The District Judge is a dacoit.

Dukori: (Surprised) I can’t figure you out.

First Supplicant: Let me tell you, all the money from the country is being sent abroad.

Dukori: That is terrible!

First Supplicant: So, a meeting –

Dukori:(Alarmed) A meeting?  

First Supplicant:Yes, see this is the booklet.

Dukori: (Wide-eyed) Booklet?

First Supplicant: Some donation would be –

Dukori: (Jumping up from the bench) Donation! Get out — out — out!

Quickly the table is turned, ink spilled, the first supplicant tries to exit hurriedly, falls down, gets up, chaos ensues.

The Second Supplicant enters.

Dukori: What do you want?

Second Supplicant: Your country-wide munificence —

Dukori: I’ve gone through it all once before. Tell me if you have anything new to say.

Second Supplicant: Your patriotism –

Dukori: Good lord! He seems to be saying exactly the same things!

Second Supplicant:  Your virtuous acts for the motherland –

Dukori: This is too much! Come straight to the point!

Second Supplicant:  A meeting.

Dukori: What? Another meeting?

Second Supplicant: Here, see this booklet.

Dukori: Booklet? What booklet?

Second Supplicant: To collect donations.

Dukori: Donations! (Pulls his hand) Get up, get out, out – if you love your life —

                        The man leaves without saying anything else

Enter third supplicant.

Dukori: Look, here. Appeals to my patriotism, generosity, politeness – all these have been exhausted. Try something else.

Third Supplicant: Your openness, philanthropy, and liberal views –

Dukori: That’s somewhat better. At least he’s saying something new. But sir, leave all those things and start our discourse.

Third Supplicant:  We have a library –

Dukori: Library? Not a society?

Third Supplicant: No sir, no society.

Dukori: Oh! I’m relieved. Library! Excellent. Go on.

Third Supplicant: Here, see the prospectus.

Dukori: Sure this isn’t a subscription booklet?

Third Supplicant: No sir, not at all. Merely printed leaflets.

Dukori: Oh! What next?

Third Supplicant: Some donation.

Dukori: (Jumping up) Donation! Who’s there? There’s a dacoit in my house today. Policeman! Policeman!

The third supplicant escapes as fast he can. Enter Harashankar Babu.

Dukori: Come in, come in, Harashankar. I remember our college days. But we haven’t met since then. You don’t know how happy I am feeling after seeing you.

Harashankar: I too have a lot of pleasant and unpleasant things to share with you. But I will do those things later. First let us finish a piece of business.

Dukori: (Excited) I haven’t heard anyone talk to me about business for a while now, brother. Tell me, tell me so that I can fill my ears with business talk. (Harashankar takes out a booklet from under his shawl). Oh, what is that? I see a booklet coming out!

Harashankar: The boys in my locality have decided to hold a meeting –

Dukori: (Startled) Meeting?

Harashankar:  Yes, sort of. So, for some donation –

Dukori: Donation! See I have loved you for a long time now but if you utter that word in my presence, we will become enemies for ever.

Harashankar: Is that so! You can donate five thousand rupees to some “Gannonnati Sabha” of Khargachia but cannot sign a cheque of five rupees at the request of your friend? One must be a heartless person to step in here to seek your company!          

Exits with great speed. A man enters, notebook in hand.     

Dukori: Notebook? Bringing a notebook to me yet again? Get lost, will you?

The Man: (Scared) I’ve come from Nandalal Babu —      

Dukori: I don’t care for Nandalal or anyone else. Leave immediately.

The Man: Sir, what about giving some money—

Dukori: I won’t pay you any money. Get lost.

The man runs away

Clerk: Sir, what have you done? He was trying to return the money Nandalal Babu owed you. We need to get the money back today. We can’t do without it.

Dukori: Good grief! Go and call him back.

The clerk goes out and comes back a little later

Clerk: He’s gone. I couldn’t find him anywhere.  

Dukori: This is a problem indeed.

A man enters with a mandolin in hand.

Dukori: What do you want?

The man: We need connoisseurs of music like you. What haven’t you done for the advancement of music! I will sing a song for you.

He starts playing his mandolin immediately and sings a song set to the tune of Raga Iman Kalyan.

                        Glory be to Dukori Dutta

In the world his munificence saw…etc etc.

Dukori: What nonsense! Stop, stop.

Enter a second man with a mandolin in hand.

Second man:    Sir, what does he know of music? Listen to my song:

                        Dukori Dutta you’re a blessed man

                        Whoever knows your greatness can…  

First man:       Glory – g—l—o—r—y

Second man:    D—u—u—u—u—kori—i—i

First man:       Duk—o—o—o—

Dukori:(With fingers in his ears) Oh my god! I can’t take it anymore!  

 A man enters, tabla in hand.

Player: Sir, a song without a musical accompaniment? How can that be?

He begins playing. A second player enters.

2nd player: What does he know of accompaniment? He cannot even hold the tabla correctly.

1st singer: Stop.

2nd singer: Why don’t you stop!

1st singer: What do you know about singing?

2nd singer: What do you know?

The two start arguing about the scales and rhythm of music. Then they fight with their mandolins.

The two players start bandying the beats used in tablas such as “dhekete didhey ghene gedhe ghene.” The contest climaxes with a tabla fight.

Enter a group of singers and some more men with donation booklets in hand.

1st person: Sir, song –

2nd person: Sir, donation –

3rd person: Sir, meeting –

4th person: Your benevolence –

5th person: A khayal in Raga Iman Kalyan –

6th person: For the welfare of the country –

7th person:  A tappa song by Sari Miyan—

8th person:  Shut up, shut up!

9th person:  Please stop, brother. Let me finish my words.

Everyone starts pulling Dukori’s shawl and shouts of “Sir, listen to me, Sir, listen to my words” can be heard etc.

Dukori: (in a voice admitting defeat) I am going to my uncle’s place. I will stay there for a while. Don’t give my address to anybody.

Exit.

The brawl between the singers and the musicians continues in the house for the whole day. In the evening the clerk tries to stop the quarrel, gets injured, and collapses.


[1] [Translated by Somdatta Mandal from “Kshatir Birambana” B.S. Magh 1292].

Somdatta Mandal is a former Professor of English and ex-Chairperson, Department of English, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, India. A recipient of several prestigious fellowships like the Fulbright Research and Teaching Fellowships, British Council Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship, Rockefeller Residency at Bellagio, Italy, Salzburg Seminar and Shastri Indo-Canadian Faculty Enrichment Fellowship, she has been published widely both nationally and internationally. She has also an award from Sahitya Akademi for the All India Indian Literature Golden Jubilee (1957-2007) Literary Translation Competition in the Fiction category for translating short stories series ‘Lalu’ by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya.

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Categories
Tagore Translations

Tagore Translated by Fakrul Alam

Rabindranath’s Oikotan (Harmonising) was first published in 1941. It has been translated by Professor Fakrul Alam specially to commemorate Tagore’s Birth Anniversary.

Courtesy: Creative Commons
HARMONISING

How little I know of this immense world,
Of its countless countries, cities, capitals,
And the never-ending deeds of its peoples
As well as its rivers, hills, deserts and seas
And innumerable animals and strange trees—
So many things fated to be forever unknown
Such a vast assemblage
And yet my mind has to be content with only a corner!
Frustrated, I read as many books and travel tales as I can
With boundless enthusiasm.
I pick up too vividly written accounts I come across
With never-diminishing eagerness,
Satiating my knowledge deficit
With treasures I’ll gather by scavenging for them!
    
I am the world’s poet. Whatever of its sounds I hear
I try to reverberate in my flute later
But though this may be my intent
Many of earth’s notes still elude me
For despite my efforts, gaps remain!
I intuit earth’s amazing harmonies
Through leaps of my imagination
On many an occasion intense silence fills my soul
Notes sounding across remote snowy mountains
And the azure stillness of the sky too
Invite me to commune with them again and again!
The unknown star at the apex of the south pole
Reigning illustriously	through long nights
Illuminates my sleepless eyes on midnights.
Distant waterfalls cascading down
With immense force, flooding everything in sight,
Transmit their harmonies to the innermost me.
I connect intuitively as well with poets everywhere
Contributing to nature’s harmonies
All keep me company and give me immense delight
I receive offerings of lyric notes from the muse of songs
As well as intimations of the music of the spheres.    

The outside world can’t fathom fully
The most inaccessible of being residing in us
For He is in our innermost part
And only when one enters it
One gets to know the Being who is truly Him
But I can’t find the door with which to enter there
Since I’ve erected fences in pathways everywhere!
Farmer who keep tilling the soil
Weavers threading yarn and fishermen casting nets—
Varied professions having far-reaching impact
On them all depend whole families and lifestyles.
But the honour due to them is confined
To people of the top tiers of the society I live in
We can only peep at them from narrow openings! 
At times I’d take paths fronting their neighbourhoods
But never ever was resolute enough to enter inside!
If one can’t connect one’s life with another’s though
The songs one composes can become cumbersome
And so, I concede to charges levelled against me
And admit my own songs’ limitations.
I know my verses may have traversed varied paths
But they haven’t reached everywhere!
The one who can share a peasant’s life
And whose words and deeds are kins
Is the one who is truly close to the soil
And I’m all ears to listen to that kind of poet.   
I may not have created a feast of literary delights
Yet, what I couldn’t attain I keep questing for
Let what I discover ring true
And let me not mislead others’ eyes with fakery
It’s not right to earn fame without paying its true price
It isn’t right at all to indulge in any kind of foppery!

Come poet, retrieve as many as you can
Of those voiceless ones whose minds are unheard
And relieve those nurturing deep hurt inside
In this land lacking spirit
Bereft of songs being sung on any side,
A land which has become an arid desert
For want of joy and the strain created by neglect
Fill with the essence of everything beautiful
And untie the spirit residing in one’s innermost being
 In literary festivals and musical concerts organised,
Let those playing the one-stringed ektara be duly feted.
And the muted ones who can’t express either joy or sorrow
And those whose heads are bowed and voices silent
While facing the world—
Oh gifted one,
Let me hear them all—near or far
Let them partake of your fame
As for me—
Again and again, I’ll pay homage to you   

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda 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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Tagore Translations

Giraffe’s Dad by Tagore

Translated by Professor Fakrul Alam

Tagore wrote humorous verses too. Giraffer Baba (Giraffe’s Dad) was published by him in 1937 in a collection called Khapchara (Eccentric).

GIRAFFE'S DAD

Giraffe’s Dad said,
“Son, looking at your body
My feelings for you ebb
For with so high a head
And so small a back
How do you walk at all?” 

Giraffe’s son said,
 “Did you ever
Look at yourself dad?
Why mother loves you
No one can figure out at all!”
 
Courtesy: Creative Commons

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda 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

Tagore: ‘Take Me Back to the Edge of Civilisation’

Tagore empathised with the suffering of humankind. Out of it was born Sriniketan, a project that hoped to initiate a slow merger of differences and reduce human suffering. Ebar Phirao More (Take me back) was a poem he wrote in 1894 on the plight of villagers steeped in poverty, servitude and ignorance. Tagore regarded his ‘life work’ as that of restoring the dignity and the economy of villages, deftly showcased in Professor Uma Das Gupta’s A History of Sriniketan, Rabindranath Tagore’s Pioneering work in Rural Reconstruction. Here, we present to you a transcreation/ translation of the poem.

TAKE ME BACK

While the world moves busily
You play the flute, like a truant boy, 
Leaning under a shady tree on a field with 
The fragrance of the forest floating on 
A tired breeze. O, arise — there is a fire! 
Who plays the conch to awaken 
The world? Whose cries resound in space? 
What dark shackles imprison the orphan 
Asking for support? The burden of insults
heaped on the shoulders of the helpless 
sup of their blood. The self-centred 

Mock unjustly. Oppressed, scared slaves
Hide in disguise. There they stand with
Heads bowed, silent — centuries of pitiful
Exploitation written on their pallid faces.
As their shoulders are plied with growing
burdens, they move slowly till their last breath—
Then, their progeny inherit generations of this load.
They are not invisible, have no memory of criticism.
They do not blame humans, nor do they have pride.
They only look for a few grains of food to survive. 
When their food is snatched away, when they are 
Exploited, they do not know where to go for justice. 
They call out to the God of the poverty stricken, then
Die silently. These silent souls need to be given a 
Voice — their suffering souls have to be roused
With hope — a clarion call has to be given —
As of now, raise your heads, unite. The person
Who you fear is more of a coward than you. 
When you awake to confront them, they will flee. 
When you stand up to him, he will be terrified
To retreat, like a stray dog. In God’s court, 
He will have no support as swollen with 
False pride, he will know only contempt 
In his heart. 

   Poet, come forward — if you have only life,
Then get that with you, and dedicate that today. 
With immense pain, sorrow, the deprived
Suffer hardships, weakness, death and darkness. 
They need food to live, light to find the breeze of freedom. 
They need strength, health, a bright happy future
Courage, guts. Amidst this poverty, O poet, 
Inspire a vision of trust that creates a heaven. 
Imagination, I bid your colours to take me back 
To the edge of civilisation. Do not distract me with
The soft breeze, the waves and alluring illusions.
Do not let me stay steeped in lonely depression 
In the shade of a bower. Day ends. Dusk sets in. 
The direction is lost in darkness. The woods 
Cry In hopeless despair. I step out 
To be under the open skies, on the grey road that
Leads to the common man. Where do you go?
O traveler, I do not know you. Turn and look at me. 
Tell me your name. Do not distrust me. 
I have lived alone in this strange world 
For many days and nights. That is why my 
Garb is amazing. I am different — my eyes
Dream, my heart is hungry. When I returned to this world,
Why did you, o mother, give me this playful flute?
Over long days and long nights, mesmerised by
My own tunes, I have wandered far from the 
Limitations imposed by civilisation. If the tunes that
I have learnt can inspire with exultation the 
Music-less exhausted, if even for a moment, my 
Music can instil life—giving hope in the lives of the 
Hapless, if touched by the manna from heaven
they voice their sadness, the sleeping thirst is 
Roused from deep within — then my song will be 
Blessed, my dissatisfaction appeased to find nirvana. 

What is sung or heard? Happiness are lies.
Sorrows are lies. A self-centred individual 
has not learnt to live in a larger world. 
With Truth as the guiding star, run fearlessly,
Dancing in unison with the waves of cosmic life. 
There is no fear of death. The tears of poverty
Will rain on my head — in the midst of that,
I will go for a tryst with the person to whom 
I dedicate my life forever. Who is that? I do not know —
I only know this— that he is the wayfarer through ages
Trudging in the darkness of the the night, amidst 
Thunder and lightening, carrying a flickering lamp.
I only know he has heard the invocation and fearlessly 
Come to help the needy, rejecting civilisation’s dictates,
He has embraced the cries of the tortured to his heart
Like a favourite tune. Burnt by flames, 
Pierced by spears, pieced by an axe, he has 
Gathered all his belongings and 
Sacrificed all his desires through his life —
He has shredded his heart as an offering
With devotion for the repayment of his birth. 
He has given up his life to serve the masses. 
Influenced by him, the prince wears rags,
Disgusted with his wealth, akin to a beggar. 
The great soul tolerates all tortures and derisions. 
The intellectuals sneer in disbelief. 
Loved ones mock at him. Close acquaintances are
Contemptuous while he silently forgives them all
with his merciful eyes. He is incomparable and

Beautiful. For him, the proud have forsaken 
Their pride, the rich their wealth, the brave 
Their lives. For his ideals, the poet has written 
Poetry and spread it across the globe. I know 
Praise for him is whispered by the breeze, 
The seas. Paeans sung by dear ones soar 
Across the land and the vibrant blue skies
To celebrate his victory, perfection, love 
And kindness. I just know that he will
Sacrifice his own petty needs for the love of 
Humankind. He will transcend all insults.
He will stand with his progressive head held high.
Fearlessness is inscribed across his forehead.
The dust of slavery has not contaminated him. 
Internalise him. Move forward alone 
On the thorny path of life, wipe away precious 
Tears, face sorrows with patience, 
Work relentlessly to please. When weary, 
Worn with exhaustion at the end of the long 
Journey of life, there will be an abode of 
Peace and contentment. The celestial will 
Smile and garland the devotee. At this abode, 
There will be peace, relief from all grief, 
All misfortune. Tears will cleanse all 
Past anguishes. Embroidering hope, 
Plead for mercy for life’s disabilities. 
Maybe, the despondencies will dwindle and
Eternal love will quench life’s thirsts for ever. 

(The poem has been translated for Borderless Journal  by Mitali Chakravarty with editorial comments from Anasuya Bhar.)

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Tagore Translations

Playlets by Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore wrote several playlets for young people. These reveal the lighter side of the poet. Two of these have been translated from Bengali by Somdatta Mandal

Courtesy: Creative Commons

Aryans and Non-Aryans

Adwaita Charan Chattopadhyay and Chintamani Kundu.

Adwaita: Who are you?

Chintamani: I’m an Aryan, a Hindu.

Adwaita: What is your name?

Chintamani: Sri Chintamani Kundu.

Adwaita: What is your intention?

Chintamani: I want to contribute to your paper.

Adwaita: What would you like to contribute?

Chintamani: I’m an Aryan. I would like to write about the Aryan religion.

Adwaita: Sir, what is this thing that you call Aryan?

Chintamani: (surprised) Sir, you don’t know who an Aryan is? I’m an Aryan, my father Sri Nakur Kundu is an Aryan, his father, Late Nafar Kundu is an Aryan, his father —

Adwaita: I see! What is your religion?

Chintamani: That is a tough question! If I can put it in a nutshell, the religion of the non-Aryans is not that of the Aryans.

Adwaita: Now, who are the non-Aryans?

Chintamani: Those who are not Aryans are non-Aryans. I’m not a non-Aryan, my father Sri Nakur Kundu isn’t a non-Aryan, his father Late Nafar Kundu wasn’t a non-Aryan, his father—

Adwaita: Say no more! So, since Sri Nakur Kundu isn’t my father and since I have no relationship with Nafar Kundu, I’m a non-Aryan.

Chintamani: I can’t say that for sure.

Adwaita: (annoyed) What kind of talk is that? What do you mean that you can’t say for certain? Can’t you say for certain that Nakur isn’t my father? What caste are you? What could I have to do with the likes of you?

Chintamani: I’m not talking about caste, I’m talking about dynasty. You too have been born in the world-famous Aryan dynasty –

Adwaita: I born in the same dynasty in which your father Nakur Kundu was born? How dare you—the son of a peasant—even imagine such a thing?  

Chintamani: Yes, sir. You might not be an Aryan, but I, and my respected father are Aryans. Alas! Where could my glorious ancestors be? Where are Kashyap, Bharadwaj, Bhrigu? What kind of talk is that?

Adwaita: What rot this man speaks? Kashyap happens to be my ancestor. We are all part of the Kashyap clan how can Kashyap, Bharadwaj, Bhrigu be your ancestors?

Chintamani: You know nothing about these issues, so there is no point in discussing these things with you. I’m afraid this is all the tragic consequence of English education.

Adwaita: Hasn’t English education affected you?

Chintamani: Sir, you can’t blame me for such a thing. Because of the Aryan blood coursing through my veins, I ran away from school at quite an early age.

Enter Harihar Babu and several other writers.

Adwaita: Please come in. Have you got it all in writing?

Harihar: Yes. Here it is.

Chintamani: Sir, what have you been writing about?

Harihar: Lots of things.

Chintamani: Have you written anything about the Aryans?

Harihar: No.

Chintamani: About the science of the Aryans?

Harihar: The Europeans are Aryans and their science –

Chintamani: The Europeans are a very inferior race and compared to the knowledge that our Aryan forefathers had, they are really illiterate. I can prove this. Even now all descendants of Aryans invoke Aswathama before massaging oil over their bodies and then pour oil thrice on the earth. Do you know why they do so?

Harihar: No.

Chintamani: Do you?

Adwaita: No.

Chintamani: Do you?

First Writer: No.

Chintamani: If you don’t, then why talk about science? Do you know why Aryans click their fingers when they yawn?

All: (in unison) No, none of us do.

Chintamani: Really? Do you know the reason why our Aryan women beat the hand-fan on the floor if the fan touches the body of the person they are fanning?

All: No, not at all.

Chintamani: See, you know nothing. Without discussing these issues at all, without any sort of enquiry into such matters you persist in saying that European science is the best. And yet you don’t even know why Aryans sneeze, yawn or massage oil.

Harihar: All right, sir. You tell us. Why must oil be poured on the ground before it is poured over the body?

Chintamani: Magnetism! Nothing else. This is what is known in English as magnetism.

Harihar: (surprised) Have you read anything about magnetism in English science?

Chintamani: Nothing. No need for that. There is no need to study English to learn science or anything else. What do our Aryans say? There are three forces in nature – life force, causality and positivism. Just before bath the slippery force of oil being added to these forces creates physical negativity within our body. This is nothing but magnetism. Just think — the practice of wiping the body with a towel prevalent among Englishmen since the nineteenth century has been practiced by our Aryans for thousands of years for they have been using the gamcha for the same purpose since then.

The Writers: (with surprise) Wow! How commendable! What scientific skill the Aryans have! What great research our Aryan Kundu Sir has undertaken!

Harihar: We have fallen into the hands of a real idiot today! But there is no point in annoying him. He writes for several newspapers. I have heard that this Aryan Kundu is quite adept at cursing gentlemen a lot. That is why he is famous.

Chintamani: Look over there. That Aryan Brahmin is plucking flowers early in the morning. Why do you think is he doing such a thing?

Adwaita: To give them to the god during prayers.

Chintamani: Shame, shame. You don’t bother to get to the bottom of things. When the sages  permitted the plucking of flowers at dawn it became obvious that they were aware of the presence of oxygen in the air. Since they knew of this, there is no doubt that they also knew of the presence of other gases too. In this manner we can clearly prove by moving from point to point that they were aware of all that was subsequently discovered by modern European chemistry. Why do we click our fingers when we yawn? That is also magnetism. When the rising gases combine with positivism, then the negative force conducted by the physical force exceeds the life force, causality and the positive force by its own power. Then the three qualities of sattwa, rajah and tama (excellence, essence of activity and lowest attributes) achieve exceptional attributes. During this phase, the heat caused in the air as a result of the friction between the middle finger and the thumb combines with the heat of the nervous system and solar heat to prevent the ultimate destruction of physical heat. If this can’t be called science, what can it be called? Isn’t it curious that none of our Aryan sages ever read any book by Darwin.?

The Writers: Amazing! Blessed be the achievements of the Aryans. All this time we couldn’t understand such theories.

Harihar: (to himself) But even today I don’t understand anything.

Chintamani: If you are wondering about the hitting of the hand fan on the floor, then that too is magnetism. Expansion, expulsion, repulsion and attraction – these physical acts add up to —

Adwaita: Spare us, spare us Sir. My head is reeling. You can write about the hitting of the hand fan in my newspaper. You have said enough already. Let me get you a paan.

Chintamani: No, sir. I haven’t come here to have a paan. You aren’t following Aryan customs and actions. The spiritual force flowing in our Aryan veins for generations, that force –

Adwaita: Enough, enough! I won’t give you a paan; you need not have one. If you permit me I will get you some tobacco instead.

Chintamani: Tobacco! What destruction! What a thought! It is even worse. Do you know why high caste people don’t smoke the hookah used by lower caste people? Why doesn’t one caste consume food touched by another caste? Why did the Aryan in earlier times not even tread over the shadow of a non-Aryan?  Don’t you think there is a science behind it? Of course, there is. Let me explain it all to you. That too is magnetism. The three kinds of bodily radiance – excellent, mediocre and base –

Adwaita: Stop, stop. I won’t give you tobacco. You need not smoke the hookah. No need for paan or for tobacco do what is convenient for you, something that will retain your bodily radiance.

The Writers: Shame on you, Adwaita babu. You did not allow us to listen to the learned words of Sri Kundu, the best of the Aryans.

First Writer: (to the second writer) Sri Kundu has such exceptional reasoning skills and knowledge. But, did you understand anything?

Second Writer: No, nothing. Let us ask him properly once again. Sir, you spoke of causality, reason and many other forces, what are they?

Chintamani: They are nothing than what is known in English as force and magnetism.

The Writers: (in unison) Oh, we’ve understood.

Harihar: Sir, I am none the wiser!

The Writers: (disgusted) You still can’t understand anything? Magnetism, force — these are easy concepts. You know what magnetism is. You know what force is. This is also the same thing. We know all of this because of the exceptional scientific enquiry pursued by the Aryans.

First Writer: If you have to understand these things clearly then you need to know all sorts of scriptures. Haven’t you read the scriptures?

Chintamani: No, I haven’t. My father and I, and Nafar Kundu are Aryans – that’s why I don’t consider it necessary to study the scriptures.

Second Writer: That’s true. But you’ve certainly read science very well.

Chintamani: Not at all. I’ve acquired the theories of sneezing, coughing, breaking the knuckles of the fingers and other specific scientific theories from my imagination. It wasn’t necessary for me to study science. You will probably not believe it, but swearing on the Aryan holy books I can say that I have studied neither Aryan scriptures nor scientific discourse. Everything that I know is the product of my imagination.

Harihar: Yes, but you certainly don’t need not swear by it. No one will ever accuse you of studying!

[Translated from “Arya O Anarya” (Chaitra 1292 B.S.) by Somdatta Mandal]

Testing the Student  

The student is called Sri Madhusudan and Sri Kalachand Master is his tutor.

Enter the guardian.

Guardian: Kalachand babu, how is Madhusudan faring in his studies?

Kalachand: Sir, Madhusudan is very naughty but good in his studies. I never have to repeat anything twice to him. He never forgets what I have taught him once.

Guardian: Really! So let me put him to a test today.

Kalachand: Sure, go ahead.

Madhusudan: (to himself) Yesterday Mastermoshai beat me so badly that my back is still hurting. I will have my revenge today. I am going to have him thrown out.

Guardian: So now Modho, do you remember all that you’ve been taught till now?

Madhusudan: I remember whatever Mastermoshai has taught me.

Guardian: OK. Tell me then — what is a plant?

Madhusudan: Something that comes out of the earth.

Guardian: Give me an example.

Madhusudan: An earthworm!

Kalachand: (with eyes flashing) What did you just say?

Guardian: Shhh Sir…, don’t tell him anything now.

To Madhusudan

You have studied poetry; so, tell me, what blooms in the garden?

Madhusudan: Thorns.

Kalachand takes out a cane.

Why sir, why are you caning me? Am I lying?

 Guardian: All right. Who destroyed Siraj-a-Daulah? What does history teach us?

Madhusudan: Insects.

He is caned again.

Sir, I am being caned for no reason at all! Not only Siraj-a-Daulah, but my entire history book has been eaten up by insects. Have a look.

 He shows the book. Kalachand Master scratches his head.

Guardian: Do you remember any of the grammar you’ve been taught?

Madhusudan: Yes.

Guardian: What is a ‘subject’? Explain it with the help of examples.

Madhusudan: Okay. The subject is Joy Munshi who lives in the other village.

Guardian: Can you tell me why?

Madhusudan: He is a doer, busy with many virtuous rituals and activities.

Kalachand: (angrily) You must be off your head!

He canes him on his back.

Madhusudan: (startled) Sir, it’s not the head I am talking about, it’s my back.

Guardian: Tell me, what is the best way of compounding words?  

Madhusudan: I don’t know.

Kalachand babu canes him again.

I know the answer to this one very well. It’s the grammar of the cane.

The guardian laughs. Kalachand babu is not amused at all.

Guardian: Have you learnt your maths lesson?

Madhusudan: Yes, I have.

Guardian: All right. Suppose you are given six and a half pieces of sweets and told to eat as many as you can in five minutes. Whatever remains will have to be given to your younger brother. If you need two minutes to eat one sweet, how many will you end up giving to your brother?

Madhusudan: Not a single piece.

Kalachand: How come?

Madhusudan: I’ll eat all of them. I wouldn’t want to give the sweets to anybody!

Guardian: All right. Suppose a banyan tree grows a quarter of an inch each day. If the tree was ten inches tall on the first of the month of Baisakh, how tall will it be on the first of Baisakh the next year?

Madhusudan:  If the tree grows crooked then I won’t be able to say; but if it grows straight then we’ll be able to measure it and find out its exact height; but in the meantime if it dries up then there is nothing to be done.

Kalachand: Your brain won’t function at all till you get a good beating. Rascal, it’s only when I’ll beat you black and blue, that you’ll straighten up.

Madhusudan: Sir, even very straight things will bend if you keep beating them.

Guardian: Kalachand babu, you’re mistaken. Physical abuse won’t get you far. There is a saying that you cannot flog a donkey and turn it into a horse, but sometimes a flogged horse can turn into a donkey. Most students are capable of learning, but most teachers aren’t capable of teaching. But it’s the pupil who gets the beating. Please take yourself and your cane away and leave with your cane and let Madhusudan’s back rest for a few days, and then I myself will start teaching him.

Madhusudan: (to himself) Oh, I am so relieved!

Kalachand: Sir, I am so thankful. Only a labourer will enjoy teaching this boy—all it amounts to is manual labour. After working on him for thirty days all I get is only five rupees, while the same labour in tilling the earth would fetch me at least ten rupees per day!

[Translated from “Chhatrer Pariksha” in the Hasyakoutuk ]

Hasyakoutuk(1914) by Tagore

Somdatta Mandal is a former Professor of English and ex-Chairperson, Department of English, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, India. A recipient of several prestigious fellowships like the Fulbright Research and Teaching Fellowships, British Council Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship, Rockefeller Residency at Bellagio, Italy, Salzburg Seminar and Shastri Indo-Canadian Faculty Enrichment Fellowship, she has been published widely both nationally and internationally. She has also an award from Sahitya Akademi for the All India Indian Literature Golden Jubilee (1957-2007) Literary Translation Competition in the Fiction category for translating short stories series ‘Lalu’ by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya.

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Categories
Tagore Translations

Endless Love: Tagore translated by Fakrul Alam

Veiled Woman: Painting by Rabindranath Tagore. Courtesy: Creative Commons
ENDLESS LOVE (Anonto Prem)

It is as if I’ve loved only you,
Hundreds of times, in hundreds of forms
In life after life, age after age, again and again!
Forever, and with an enchanted heart,
I wove necklaces of lyrics
Which you’d wear beautifully,
Accepting my gifts gracefully,
Life after life, age after age, again and again!
The more I hear stories from far away times
Of agonies lovers endured in ages long past,
Of tales of unions and separations
And whenever I look at events of days of yore,
Piercing the veil of darkness of times past
They appear in the form of an eternal star
In your visage.
The two of us float forward
In the current of a union
Emanating from eternity.
The two of us keep frolicking
Amidst millions of lovers,
Whose eyes moisten with tears of separation
Or light up with bashfulness as they meet—
In a love transcendental but in a guise all new
In love everlasting, but of this very day and age! 

Fakrul Alam is an academic, translator and writer from Bangladesh. He has translated works of Jibanananda 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

Ecstasy & Tagore

Written in 1894, the year his son Samindranath was born, Tagore’s Anondodhhara bohichche bhubone (The Universe reverberates with celestial ecstasy), can be found in the largest collection of his songs, Gitabitan.

Painting by Sohana Manzoor
The Universe reverberates with celestial ecstasy 

The Universe reverberates with celestial ecstasy. 
Days and nights overflow with ambrosia in the limitless sky. 
The moon revels sipping nectar from her cupped palms—
The eternal light that never fades shimmers forever—
Illuminating our daily lives with its aura.

Why do you sit in isolation,
Dwelling on self-centred issues? 
Look around you and expand your heart. 
Petty sorrows are insignificant.
Fill your vacant life with love for humanity. 
The Universe reverberates with celestial ecstasy. 

These lyrics seem to capture not just the distance between Tagore’s own ecstatic experience of the natural universe and the self-centred pettiness that afflict those who continue to remain disconnected from the poet’s euphoria but also his attempts to help humanity discover the same joyful reverberations. Such emotions seem to find an echo in his letters later as found in Uma Dasgupta’s A History of Sriniketan. In 1915, Tagore wrote to an estate worker who was part of his work at Sriniketan (a project to upgrade villages): “I have something else to urge upon you. A note of joy has to be sounded in all your work. Village life has become very dull. The dryness of the heart has to be banished. All welfare work ought to be turned as far as possible into an occasion of festive joy.” Is he doing just that in this song?

Here we present the song beautifully rendered by the legendary singer who was groomed in Tagore’s school at Santiniketan, Kanika Bandopadhyay during his times. Kanika Bandopadhyay was a contemporary of Mahasweta Devi who wrote of her as Mohor in her memoir on Santiniketan (translated by Radha Chakravarty) where she explained the ambience that existed, “But during my time in Santiniketan, how forceful was the torrent of energy that flowed from the source the river of creativity descending from the snowcapped mountain peak!”

(The song has been translated for Borderless Journal  by Mitali Chakravarty, edited by Anasuya Bhar. Tagore’s words used here have been translated by Uma Dasgupta in A History of Sriniketan (2022) and Mahasweta Devi’s by Radha Chakravarty in Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan (2022) )

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