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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Categories
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

Categories
Tagore Translations

Tagore Translations: One Small Ancient Tale

Rabindranath Tagore’s Ekti Khudro Puraton Golpo (One Small Ancient Tale, written in September 1893) from his collection Golpo Guchcho ( literally, a bunch of stories, constituted of 95 short stories, published in five volumes between 1908-1909), translated by Nishat Atiya

Golpo Guchcho by Tagore

I am meant to start another story — a brand new one — aren’t I? It can be tiring at times, you see. I mean, truly.

I look back but can hardly remember who offered me the position and why. It was five of you who arrived in perfect synchrony one after another; and still, it is a mystery to me as to why I was the vassal of your keen interest in the first place and what made you choose me to carry this Daedalian of a métier as if it was nothing short of a child’s play? I wonder … and conclude that it must have been destiny itself to command your kindness in my direction and though minute and mortal, the endeavor is pursued with the same fervour now as it was in the beginning. At least I am inclined to imagine it thus.

Nevertheless, with due regard to the learned quintet, I would venture to propose that this grave burden does not quite suit the small and cowering casket that I am. Whether or not the individual in question here possesses the writerly tenacity required to prove true to his split-self, that is a different matter altogether, for I was created merely as a biological being with his infirmities ad infinitum. No amount of iron mantlets could persuade me otherwise. Therefore, to have to endure the overwhelming voices of elation from my readers is a mere torture as it was ordained by God that I will find peace in stillness. My very being breathes and lives that secrecy, the hour of glorious quietude. But I do recall my grandfather pushing me into the limelight of a fully packed theatre show (perhaps by divine irony or just a random set of occurrences), swaying lightly back and forth as he failed to muffle the waves of sneaky laughter that managed to slip through the fingers pressed tightly against his lips. I wanted to be a part of the audience as well and laugh at myself to fulfill the historical obligation of a fool, but could not.

I wondered if hiding was a probable option, of course. But that would be an attempt in vain, for when a paid soldier pledges to attend the frontline and is expected to perform as an active entrant, the fading comfort he might be enjoying in a no man’s land can turn out to be the very weapon ready to come back and interrupt his otherwise innocuous impulse to simply flee and survive. It will be a pleasant change of subject for once to hope that the Supreme Being knows better and since He does, perhaps it makes more sense if we comply and we comply diligently, with proper devotion and finesse.

It is my duty to entertain people from all walks of life who come and visit their storyteller of choice before they say polite goodbyes, exchanging sweet glances or occasional intellectual swordplay. They recognise me with great admiration which, nonetheless, is an episodic pretense play followed by a devious delight of unknown origin and an artful dismissal of what once used to be alluring but now is démodé. It’s only the way of the world and indeed, this is the primary reason behind auxiliaries of an apparatus denouncing the king component of all routine affairs called “commonality” and its questionable amusement principle. The sense that is common, thus, runs the risk of becoming suspicious and eventually, an easy prey for exploitation. And yet, the cascade of men begging or pleading for a story of ‘one’s own’ does not stop, making it tough for me to not believe that ultimately what I write becomes an end product of their imagination, not mine.

That being so, you can stop for a while if you want. Neither the tale will tire, nor shall I look for a desperate sparkle in your eyes. That is a promise.

If I am asked, however, a most ancient and quick airy storyline spread about the cosmos I do remember. It might not suit your fine palate at first but will definitely tempt you just enough to stay till the brief chain of charming events ends.

There was once an enormous woodland along the coast-side of a mighty waterway. A woodpecker and a snipe used to live there in separate abodes, the former inside the forest and the latter across a rivulet nearby.

Once the world was lush and fructuous, the feathered friends would be well-fed and pleased. Sublunary benefactions would gratify their appetite and to their relief, it had seemed as if their heydays were never to end.

Yet came a day when they found no mites, mosquitoes or any other vermin.

The bird by the riverbank addressed the one on the bough, “Brother mine, it all seemed particularly robust and radiant at first, didn’t it? The sparkle of life in its green folioles and soft hibiscus! But now that the times have changed this little realm of ours has never been more sterile and lifeless, revealing its hideous face once and for all.”

The bird on the bough replied to the one by the riverbank, “Brother mine, remember how they would praise to the skies about our once-splendid habitat and all it had to offer us? Even if you do, I say the wasteland is quite unforgiving and has been as such ever since it came into existence.”

Both felt it mandatory to prove that their mutual observation was true. Thereby, they immediately undertook an exploration of their respective territories which they felt were their personal possessions. First, the snipe dived deep into the murky purlieu of the earth and began to excavate long trenches inside its soft bosoms, desperate to verify his conviction about his ‘private property’ or so to speak, its ill-health. Likewise, the woodpecker on the other end of the forest kept drilling into the firm skin of tree trunks so their bare skeletons would unfold even an emptier stomach underneath.

Fully immersed in their common passionate goal, these disruptors of different feathers were unmindful of the greater confrontation awaiting them ahead — being songbirds and not singing. Consequently, as the springtime came and took over a dreary winter of discontent to replace it with florae and faunae of all sorts or nightingales recounting shared moments of ecstasy, the birds of woe continued their mournful quest for an imaginary resolution. The mute passerines thus pursued a shadowy sphere that neither existed nor surely expired.

I can go on, but you did not quite develop a liking for this one, did you? Perhaps, the story is not one of those kinds that you would easily find admirable after all. But the biggest virtue of it, you wonder? Well, a neatly finished exquisite product within five to seven paragraphs ready to be preserved in the pages of human history, which is mind-blowing in and of itself if you ask me!

Wait, you don’t even believe that the story is ancient and always has been so as evidenced in our blood, do you? Well, it is not entirely unlikely for one to have frequent amnesiac attacks as the very humanized notion of historicity has been exchanging the old with the new and the new with the old from times immemorial. Also, a great many days have passed since then. Not to mention, the ungrateful woodpecker has been carrying on his duty, causing significant damage to the earth’s interior by pecking holes into its subastral surface, whereas the ruthless snipe also can be found to enjoy invading the privacy of the aged planet and its mysterious watercourses. Both are trapped, indeed. Both are lost in their own ways.

Now, what’s the concrete tone of happiness or loss one can identify in this sort of authorial technicality, you ask? If you look closely you will find both in each other’s warm embrace, whispering sweet nothings in a magical melody. It does not matter whether or not the gargantuan universe has a tendency to connect humanities across borders, for what is more important is to understand the sheer delight the snipes across the world might acquire on a daily basis by hammering on the ground, happy to change into a parasite and manage meager meals once or twice a day. On the other hand, a small and seemingly ineffective glimmer of hope beacons forth as we dream of a better future, provided that green patches and pastures are somehow still around the cold and distant city dwellers who consider stomping on organisms a certified hobby. To conclude, a moment of silence for those unfortunates that envy and resent with no chance of redemption — and to catastrophize more — not a single living soul knows that they ever really existed!

I dread to assume correctly that you did not understand a single word of this garbled set of whimsies and whispers. I can only predict that someday soon, the impregnable walls of nothingness will crack into pieces, leaving only a trail of a void behind. Give yourself some time and see if you can come back to the story again, will you?

All in all, is it just as meaningless as I feared it would be? Is it a terrible beauty waiting to be reborn this way?

I guess time will tell.

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Nishat Atiya is a Lecturer in the Department of English and Humanities at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, Dhaka. She is also a sub-editor at the Star Literature and Review pages of The Daily Star.

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Categories
Tagore Translations

Tagore Songs in Translation

We salute Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) for his inspirational writing and ideology. Here, we have attempted to translate/transcreate his songs while retaining the essence of the spirit and flavour of his lyrics.

Gitabitan, houses 2232 songs by Tagore. Some of the songs on this page are a part of this collection.

The first song invokes for us the joy of losing oneself in an imaginary world that the poet revels in… the result of the creative stillness he experiences in his mind…

Losing myself...
(A translation/transcreation of Kothao Amar Hariye Jawa Nei Mana, 1939)

There is no bar to losing myself in an imaginary world.
I can soar high on the wings of a song in my mind. 
Weaving fantasies into vast tracts of lands and unexplored oceans, 
I lose my path in the distant shore of quietude —
I get acquainted with the champak blooms in the parul woods.
When the sun sets, I gather flowers in the sky amidst the clouds.
Mingling with the foam of the seven seas,
I reach the shores of faraway lands —
I knock at the closed doors of fairyland in my mind. 

The creative stillness, or quietude, experienced by him takes the poet further into a perception of the world where he empathises with nature and feels the tides rush through his veins.

The Star-Studded Sky 
(A translation/transcreation of Akash Bhora, Shurjo Tara, 1924)

The sky replete with sun and stars, the Earth brimming with life,
In the midst of this universe, I have found my abode.
Spellbound by the plenitude, songs awaken in my being. 

The infinite, eternal waves that create planetary tides 
Resonate through the blood coursing in my veins.

As I walk to the woods, I step on the grass. 
Heady perfumes of flowers startle me into a rhapsody.
Benefactions of joy anoint the universe.

I have listened, I have watched, I have poured my life into the Earth.
Through knowing, I have sought the unknown. 
Spellbound by the plenitude, songs awaken in my being. 
Rendition of Krishnokoli in Bengali by famed singer, Suchitra Mitra

The poet as a visionary perceives the world in a different way, breaking class and caste barriers — he embraces humanity of all strata with affection. Here is a song about a young girl called Krishnokoli, who worked in fields and lived among cows, unable to follow the traditions of oborodh or purdah like genteel women because she had to work.

Krishnokoli
(A translation/transcreation of Krishnokoli, 1900)

I call her Krishnokoli* though villagers call her dark.
On an overcast day, I saw in a field, a dark girl with dark deer eyes. 
Her head was bare, her braid swung down her back.
Dark? However dark she is, I have seen her dark deer eyes. 

The clouds closed in as two ebony cows lowed, 
The dusky girl came out of the hut with hurried, uneasy steps.
She looked up with arched brows at the sky, heard the clouds rumble.

Suddenly, a gust from the East gambolled a wave through the rice crops. 
Alone, I stood between the fields, there was no one else in the expanse.
Did our glances meet? That remains a secret between her and me.
Dark? However dark she is, I have seen her dark deer eyes. 

They remind me of the kohl-clouds that collect in the North-east each summer,
Of the soft dark shadows that descend on the tamal grove when the rains start, 
Of the happiness that unexpectedly fills my being on a monsoon night.

I call her Krishnokoli even if others call her by a different name. 
I had seen her in Moynapara meadows, a dark girl with dark deer eyes. 
She left her head uncovered as she had no leisure to be shy. 
Dark? However dark she is, I have seen her dark deer eyes. 


*Krishnokoli: An indigenous name of a flower in Bengal, also can be seen as associated with Krishna, the dark God. Koli in Bengali means bud.

Tagore wrote intense and non-intense songs, though his raphsodic connection with nature even tinge the lighter songs with a unique lyrical beauty. Here is a song that is often used to depict joie de vivre and plays beautifully on a piano as the tune borrows from the Scottish tune of ‘Ye Banks And Braes’. It is a part of a what is popularly known as a dance-drama, called Kal Mrigaya by the maestro himself. The story was based on an event from the Indian epic, Ramayana.

The Swaying Flowers
( from Phoole Phoole Dhole Dhole,1882)

The flowers sway in the soft breeze.
The river waves and gurgles as it flows.
The birds in bowers trill a tune 
I cannot fathom the yearning that fills my being.

We wind up this section with the transcreation of a song 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.

Against the Monsoon Skies… 
(from Shaongaganeghorghanaghata, 1884)
 

Against the monsoon skies, heavy clouds wrack the deep of night.
How will a helpless girl go through the thick groves, O friend?
Crazed winds sweep by the Yamuna as clouds thunder loud.
Lightning strikes: the trees have fallen, the body trembles
In the heavy rain, the clouds shower a downpour.
Under the shaal, piyale, taal, tamal trees, the grove is lonely and quiet at night.
Where, friend, is he hiding in this treacherous grove
And enticing us with his wonderful flute calling out to Radha?
Put on a garland of pearls, a shithi* in my parting,
My odni* is flying as is my hair; tie a champak garland.
 
Don’t go in the deep of the night to the youth, O young girl.
You are scared of the loud clapping thunder, says Bhanu your humble server.


 
*shithi: Ornament worn in the parting of the hair.
*odni: A long stole or scarf

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941) was a brilliant poet, writer, musician, artist, educator – a polymath. He was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. His writing spanned across genres, across global issues and across the world. His works remains relevant to this day.

(The first four songs have been translated/transcreated solely on behalf of Borderless Journal by Mitali Chakravarty with feedback from Sohana Manzoor, Meenakshi Malhotra and Vatsala Radhakeesoon. Krishnokoli was improved further with advise from Aruna Chakravarti. Only ‘Against the Monsoon Skies…’ was first translated by Mitali Chakravarty and published in SETU).

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Greetings from Borderless Tagore Translations

Greetings on Multiple Asian New Years in April!

New Year arrives in some parts of Asia every April, around 13th to 15th. India celebrates new year under various names and with many different traditions –  such as Ugadi in Karnataka, Vishu in Kerala, Baisakhi in Punjab and many more. Nepal observes Nava Varsha. Thailand celebrates Songkran, which is a bit like Holi in India as it involves water play and a bit like the Thingyan, the Myanmar New Year. Sri Lanka calls their festival Avurudu, which seems to have customs close to the Tamilian new year Puthandu or that of Karnataka. Bangladesh livens up with a national festival, called Pohela Boisakh, which is a bit different from the Polia Baisakh celebrations in the Eastern parts of India.

Intrinsic to all these is the joie de vivre of the festivities whether with water play, food, Bhangra dancing or with Rabindra Sangeet. To get into the spirit of things, here is a translation of Tagore and a small video of  a dance performance to celebrate all these Asian new years.  This song by Tagore, Esho He Baishakh, is especially relevant at this juncture because it talks of the New Year clearing the world from all  diseases that weaken and kill humanity. May we all have a glorious entry into the New Year and may the world heal from this nagging pandemic.

Come O Baisakh!
(A translation of Tagore's Esho He Boisakh, Esho, Esho, 1927)

Hail O baisakh! Welcome. 

Blow away deadly diseases with your ascetic breath. 
May the debris from the old year disappear. 
Let go of old memories, let go of old melodies. 
May sorrows and tears evaporate. 
Wipe away slanders, wipe away infirmities. 
May the Earth be purified by fire. 
Wither obsessive unhealthy passions. 
Summon a storm with a conch call to
Transfigure the misty webs woven by Maya*.

*Maya is an illusory play of divine intervention.

Greetings again for all Asian New Years from Borderless Journal!

(Written and translated by Mitali Chakravarty on behalf of Borderless Journal)

Categories
Tagore Translations

Bolai

A story about Man and Nature written in Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore in 1928, translated by Chaitali Sengupta.

Simul tree, also known as Rokto Simul in Bengali. Photo Credit: Wiki

It is often said that human life is a culmination of various other life forms in this world. In our daily lives, most often, we come across diverse characteristics of other animals in a human being. Honestly said, in the character of a human, we see a blend of attributes usually found in animals. The domesticity of a cow and the ferocity of a tiger reside in the same human; it is, as if, the snake and the mongoose are both put together. It is somewhat like the melody that is created when the entire range of notes come together. Only then, a raga is formed. However, in a raga, one note can be more prominent than the other.

In the character of my nephew Bolai, I believe the affinity for flora and fauna, perhaps, reigned supreme. He was an observant child rather than an active one. Even at an early age, he’d quietly observe Nature around him. The dark, billowing clouds in layers, on the eastern sky would collect and pour. They would moisten his heart and bring forth the untamed breeze of the forests. It was, as if, his entire being could hear the pitter-patter of the rain.

He seemed to want to fill his being with rays of the departing sun, perhaps, in an attempt to collect something precious from it. In the end of Magh (the month of January), when the trees would be laden with the tiny fruits, an intrinsic, deep happiness, a joy defying description awakened in him. His inner nature would blossom forth, expand and take on a deeper shade of colour, much like those flowering Sal trees, with the advent of Falgun (the month of February). In those moments, he had a deep urge to sit in solitude, in conversation with himself, piecing together the various tales he’d heard. Like the story of that very old pair of birds, who had made their nest in the deep crevice of the ancient banyan tree.  He never talked much, this wide-eyed, staring boy. In the silence of his being, his thoughts ran deep.

Once, I took him along on a trip to the mountains. His joy was immense, when he saw the lush carpet of the green grass, sprawling across the valley from our house at the top.  In his mind, the grass carpet on the slope was not an inanimate, lifeless thing; he felt it to be a living one, that rolled playfully down. Often, he would roll down the slope, become a part of the grass, enjoy it tickling his back. He giggled aloud.

After a rain-washed night, when the first rays of sun gently broke free, and its golden light kissed the tops of the clustering deodar trees, he would tip-toe out of our home, alone. He would walk to those tall trees, and stand in awe, watching the motionless mighty trunks. In them, he’d envision a living spirit, a human presence, as it were. The spirits who wouldn’t talk but would know all our secrets like our ancestral grandfathers, from times immemorial.

His deep-thinking eyes weren’t always heavenwards. Many a times, I’d seen him roaming in my garden, his eyes on the ground, as if in quest something new or unusual. His curiosity knew no bounds, when he discovered new seedlings piercing out of the soil. Each day, bending down, he would talk to them, as if asking, “What’s next? Now what?” Those were, like his eternally incomplete stories — like those new, tender leaves, with whom he shared a strange affinity, verging on companionship.

And they, too, would be eager to ask him questions. Perhaps, they asked him his name. Or, about his mother, where was she? In his mind, Bolai perhaps would reply, “But I don’t have a mother.”

When someone plucked a flower from the tree, it hurt him. He realised soon enough that his concern or hurt was not at all important to others. He tried to hide his pain. When the young boys of his age threw stones at the trees, trying to bring down amlokis (gooseberries) from fully laden branches, he ran away from the scene. To tease him further, his companions would walk through the garden, thrashing the row of shrubs on both sides with their sticks; they would tear the branch of the bakul tree (Minnesap species) — he felt like crying but couldn’t. Then, others might have thought of him as mad. The worst days in his life were when the grasscutter came to mow the grass in the garden.

For he would have noticed the small tendrils of creepers, rousing their heads within the patch of grass, and those purple-yellow tiny nameless flowers, embedded with them. Here and there, the kantakari (wild eggplant) shrubs, with small bluish flowers sporting a speck of gold in their hearts. Those creepers of kalmegh (bitter medicinal plant) near the fence borders, and the anantamul (a medicinal plant) displaying their leaves; the sprouting neem that blossomed forth out of the seeds dropped by birds, how beautiful they looked! And all these were brutally mowed down by the cruel grass mowing machine. Nobody listened to their pleas or protests, for these were not the most sought-after plants in the garden.

Somedays, Bolai would come to his aunt, sit on her lap and wrapping his small arms around her neck. He would only say, “Why don’t you ask those grasscutters not to kill my plants?”

His aunt replied, “Bolai, don’t be a fool. These are overgrown weeds, almost a jungle, these must be cleaned.”

Bolai had by then understood that there were some pains, some sorrows, that were exclusively his own. Those never resonated with others.

Bolai probably was truly born in that age and time, when the universe first swam out of the womb of the ocean, taking its first breath, eons of years ago. At a time, when on the newly formed layers of mud, the nascent forests rose and cried out for the first time. Then, there were no birds, no noise, no life — only layers of rocks, slime and water. Those tall trees, heralding other life forms on the path of time, calling out to the glowing sun, with their raised hands, saying, “I’ll live, I’ll exist, I’ll survive, like the eternal traveler, through the cycles of death, through days and nights, rain and shine, I’ll progress on the path of my growth, my evolution.”

Those murmurings of trees can be heard still, through the forests and the hills; on the tendrils of their leaves the life force of Earth murmurs, “I’ll live, I’ll exist.” These mute trees, like foster mothers of the Earth, have milked the heavens for endless time, to gather life’s nectar, it’s radiance, for this planet. And endlessly, they raise their eager heads to the air, expressing their soul’s call, saying, “I’ll live.” In some strange, miraculous way, Bolai could hear that calling in the blood that coursed through him. The very thought had made us laugh.

One fine morning, as I was reading the newspaper, Bolai came up and took me to the garden. Pointing out to a small shrub, he asked me, “Uncle, what’s that plant?”

It was a small shoot of a simul (silk cotton) tree, growing through the crack of our gravel road. Bolai had made a mistake by bringing me there.

The sapling was a tiny one, just like the first babbling of a child; it was then that Bolai noticed it. Thereafter, Bolai had himself tended to the plant, watering it, checking it earnestly to monitor its growth, each morning and evening. Though the silk cotton plant grows fast, it could not keep pace with Bolai’s eager wait. When it grew to a certain height, Bolai observing the beauty of its rich leaves, was certain it was a tree of a special kind. His observation was quite similar to that of a mother who after observing the first hint of intellect in a child, marks him as a wonder. Bolai, too, had thought that he’d astonish me with his tree.  

I said, “I’ve to tell the gardener to uproot the tree.”

Bolai was aghast. Those words were terrible for him.  He said, “No Uncle, I beg of you, please don’t get it uprooted.”

“I truly don’t understand you,” I told him. “It stands right on the middle of the path. It’ll spread cotton all over, once it grows bigger. It’ll be a nuisance.”

Bolai realised it was no use arguing with me. The motherless boy then went to his aunt. Sitting on her lap, with his arms around her neck, he sobbingly said, “Aunt, please tell uncle not to uproot the tree.”

His plan worked. His aunt called me and said, “Oh listen, please let his plant be.”

I let it be. Had he not shown me the sapling, I would have surely not noticed it. But now, I notice it every day. Within a year, the tree grew taller shamelessly. As for Bolai, he reserved his best adoration for this tree.

The tree continued to grow in a ridiculous manner, without paying any respect at all to anyone around. It grew to its full height, standing on that inappropriate spot. Whoever saw it, wondered why it was placed there. A couple of times more I proposed to uproot it. I tempted Bolai with my offer of nice, high quality rose saplings. I also proposed, “If you still opt for the silk-cotton tree, then let me get you a fresh sapling. We can plant it next to the fence. It’ll look pretty there.”

But any talk of uprooting it, alarmed Bolai. And his aunt said, “Oh, it doesn’t look that bad there.”

When Bolai was an infant, my sister in-law had passed away. The grief, perhaps, made my elder brother careless; he went abroad to study engineering. Motherless, this child grew up in my childless home, in the lap of his aunt, my wife. Ten years later, my brother returned and took Bolai to Shimla to school him so that he could accompany his father abroad. He was given western education in Shimla.

Bolai cried inconsolably as he left our home, turning it into an empty house.

Two years passed. During this time, Bolai’s aunt, saddened by his absence, dried her tears in solitude, and spent her time in Bolai’s room, arranging and rearranging a single torn shoe that he wore, a damaged rubber ball he played with and that picture book of animals. She wondered if Bolai had outgrown all these by now.

In between, the wretched silk cotton tree continued to grow shamelessly; so tall it had grown, that it was now absolutely mandatory to cut it down. I chopped it down one day.  

Very soon after this, Bolai’s letter reached us from Shimla. “Aunt, do send me a photograph of my silk-cotton tree.”

Before going overseas, Bolai was supposed to come and meet us once. But since that had now been cancelled, Bolai wished to take his friend’s photograph along.

His aunt called me, saying, “Listen, please bring a photographer.”

I asked, “Why?”

She showed me the letter in Bolai’s childish handwriting.

I said, “That tree has already been chopped off.”

Bolai’s aunt didn’t touch food for the next couple of days and stopped communicating with me for even longer. When Bolai’s father had taken him away from her, it was the severing of her umbilical cord; but when Bolai’s uncle uprooted his favorite tree forever, it shattered her world and deeply wounded her heart.

For, that tree was, to her, a reflection of Bolai, his substitute image.

Amloki tree

Author’s Bio:

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941) was a brilliant poet, writer, musician, artist, educator – a polymath. He was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. His writing spanned across genres, across global issues and across the world. His works remains relevant to this day.

Translator’s Bio:

Chaitali Sengupta is a published writer, translator, journalist from the Netherlands. Her works have been regularly published in both Dutch and Indian literary platforms, her poems also been anthologized in many acclaimed collections.

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

Categories
Tagore Translations

The Library

A part of Bichitro Probondho (Strange Essays) by Rabindranath Tagore, this essay was written in 1885. It has been translated from Bengali by Chaitali Sengupta from Netherlands

Rabindranath Tagore

The stillness inside the library can be compared to the thousand-year-old roar of the mighty ocean that has now been tamed to sleep. A deep, peaceful slumber of a baby. A place where language is on hold, its rhythmic tide is locked and the brightest light in our souls is imprisoned behind the black and white words. I wonder, what would happen, if one day, the words revolt, breaking free of the bondage? Just as the Himalayas contain in its frozen ice a thousand floods, in the same way this library too preserves the best of human emotion in its breast.

Humans have been able to fence in electricity with iron wires, but who knew that man would lock words behind silence? Who knew that he could trap music, boundless hopes, the happiness of an awakened soul and the prophecy of the oracles in the pages full of words? That he would imprison the past in the present? And create a bridge upon the infinite ocean of time just with the help of a mere book?

We stand at the crossroads of a hundred roads in the library. Some paths lead to the boundless sea, some to the topmost peak, and yet another meanders to the inner crevices of the human heart. There’s no barrier, no matter where you wish to go. Man has created his salvation within the small perimeter of a book.

In this library, one can very well listen to the rise and fall of human emotions, like the echoing of the sea resonating through the conch shells. The living and the dead co-exist in close proximity here and opposition is a close relative of compliance. Trust and doubt, research and discovery are mates here. The popular and less popular live together amidst great peace and harmony. None ignore the other with contempt.

Crossing several rivers, oceans, mountains the voice of humans have reached here, galloping through several ages of time. Come, come here, for here we’re singing the birth song of light.

The Great One, who after discovering heavens, had given out a clarion call to all humans — ‘You all are the sons of heaven, this earth is your heavenly abode’ — it is his voice and millions of other similar voices, that reverberate within these walls through the years.

Have we then, from the foot of Bengal, got nothing to say, no message to give out to the human civilization? In the unified music of the world would Bengal’s contribution be only silence?

Doesn’t the sea at our footsteps speak out to us anymore? Doesn’t the Ganga bring forth the song of Kailas for us? And the vast blue canopy- isn’t it anymore there above us? And the galaxy of stars there, are they not for us?

Each day brings messages to us from far away countries from past and present. In response, are we only going to produce a few flimsy English newspapers? The countries around the globe are writing their names with the ink of immortality. Would we, Bengalis, be happy to put our names only on the application papers? Humanity is putting up a stiff fight against the preordained destiny; with the bugle calls, soldiers are being called upon. At a time like this, are we only going to be immersed in petty affairs?

Bengal’s heart is full after a long silence. Let her once speak out, in her own tongue. Her voice would indeed add melody to the music of the world.

Author’s bio

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 to 1941) was a brilliant poet, writer, musician, artist, educator – a polymath. He was the first Nobel Laureate from Asia. His writing spanned across genres, across global issues and across the world. His works remains relevant to this day.

Translator’s bio

Chaitali Sengupta is a published writer, translator, journalist from the Netherlands. She is involved in various literary & journalistic writing, translation projects for Dutch newspapers (Eindhoven News, HOWDO) and online platforms, both in the Netherlands and in India. Her works have been extensively published in many literary platforms like Muse India, Indian periodical, Borderless Journal, Setu Bilingual, The Asian Age. Her recently translated work “Quiet Whispers of our Heart” (Orange Publishers, 2020) received good reviews and was launched in the International Book Fair, Kolkata, India.

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