Categories
Review

Vignettes of Bengal

Book Review by Gopal Lahiri

Title : One Dozen of Stories

Author: Naina Dey

George Steiner says, ‘Every language is a world. Without translation, we would inhabit parishes bordering on silence’. In her fascinating book titled One Dozen Stories, Naina Dey captures the shades and tones of Bengali short stories written by well-known storytellers into the folds of English language and gives it her own distinctive stamp. One can not only see Bengal in her words, but also can smell it, feel its very texture.

Sanjukta Dasgupta, the eminent writer and academician, has rightly said, in her Foreword, “The translator of the twelve short stories in this collection has exhibited both sense and sensibility in her selection of the short stories originally written in by some of the best storytellers of Bengali fiction. Naina Dey’s training as a literary critic and translator become obvious as the authors, whose short stories that have been selected for translation cover a wide trajectory.”

Short stories, can also be a welcome diversion from the barrage of images we’re often submitted to in long narratives. The writers feel sometimes it’s worth showing less and hiding more and that is the essence of the short story. Through the power of observation, Naina Dey takes hold of the essence of the stories “each equally griping in intensity” and gives it to the reader with a power that is, paradoxically both strange and familiar. She portrays the influence of images and their seductiveness and their complexities as depicted in the original with expressionist clarity and feelings.

One Dozen Stories includes translation of selected stories by Rabindranath Tagore, Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay, Ashapurna Devi, Narendranath Mitra, Suchitra Bhattacharya, Nabakumar Basu, Anita Agnihotri and Esha Dey.

The twelve stories offer astounding depictions of desire, dream, love, belief and the power of the natural world and the translator tracks the inner monologue of an impoverished world with skill and purpose. There is no dream fog about these stories. There is no slapdash, no satire, no postmodern signs and flashes either.

Naina Dey has mentioned in her ‘Introduction’, “Edgar Allan Poe, considered the father of the short story and its first critical theorist had defined what he called the prose tale as a narrative which can be read at one sitting from half an hour to two hours, and is limited to ‘a certain unique or single effect’ to which every detail is subordinate.”

The stories in this collection are appealing in their richness and variety, in the sharpness of their perceptions and the clarity of even their complicated psychological unpicking and above all in their stylistic forms.

Tagore is a master storyteller and his stories are associated with events of our life that touched. Dey has selected two poignant and powerful short stories of Tagore. In ‘Shesh Puroshkar’ (The Last Reward), Tagore excavates the flaws and examines the truth to heal wounds and reward thereafter. The settings feel fresh because the author refuses to draw on worn-out descripted tropes with a thing of shreds and patches.

 ‘Streer Patra’ (The Wife’s Letter) is a landmark short story in Bengali literature.In the life of poor Bindu, Tagore has infused portrait of several generations of tortured and exploited women in Bengal. The deprivation and the denial are all encompassing. The protagonist, Mrinal, unearths the suppression that women undergo and renounces the injustice meted out to the young girl Bindu. Mrinal leaves her house, as a mark of protest at the atrocities against the women and becomes a free woman at the end.

You had cloaked me in the darkness of your customs. Bindu had come for an instant and caught sight of me through the hole in that veil. With her own death, she had ripped at the end my veil from top to bottom. Today I emerged and saw that there was hardly any place where I could keep my pride. Those eyes that had beheld and loved my neglected beauty, now look at me from the entire sky. Mejobou is dead now.’”(Steer Patra)

For readers looking for a more interesting story with twist at the end, ‘Chor’ (Thief) written by Narendranath Mitra, an accomplished short-story writer, shows the relationship between two enigmatic characters who embark on unusual life path; the husband, a kleptomaniac, compels his innocent wife to steal. The story shows pleasure cannot sustain either itself or any meaning.

Today Renu was truly her husband’s worthy consort. This was what Amulya had been wishing for all these days. Today was his day to rejoice. But Amulya was frozen stiff in his wife’s tender embrace. It was as if every beauty, every charm had disappeared from this earth. And those familiar arms which encircled his neck were not the bangle-laden slender arms of a beautiful young woman- they had become loathsome, defiled.”(Chor)

Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay’s ‘Puimacha’ (The Spinach Vine) is a captivating investigation of the life. The author depicts human fallibility and the tragic ending with the untimely death of Khenti, the eldest daughter of Sahayhari. Families dissolve through vagrant desire and inner disconnection. Relations between mother and son becomes insensitive and fail to cohere at times.

The depiction of a family’s routines, rituals, and idiosyncrasies in the midst of rule is reflected in Ashapurna Devi’s deft and gripping story ‘Chinnamasta’(The Severed Head). The power of apprehension and its scaring presence is a theme of the story. The broken down, disheartened, surging negative energies emanating from the Hindu widows, echo through the story.

“In the women’s circle, the newly widowed wife’s fare held the same interest as the manners of a newly-wed bride… Frequently therefore, one found Kanaklata, the eldest of the Lahiri wives, Monty’s mother, appearing at opportune moments at Jayabati’s house.” (Chinnamasta)

Nabakumar Basu’s ‘Faydaa‘ (Gain) grapples with harsh effect of generation gap where everyone is under suspicion and the artificiality of the modern life especially while staying abroad. Lives are shaped by ordinary neglect: of spouses, of children and of selves.

Esha Dey’s three stories ‘Anya Jagat Anya Nari’ (Another World, Another Woman), ‘Lapis Lazuli’ and ‘Satilakhi‘(A Devoted Wife) centre on the beliefs and variances in life laced with humour and warmth. Her stories are delicate, unfixed and evanescent. These qualities render it an exclusive place among the narratives and reflect on a way to attain a life without boundaries.

Suchitra Bhattacharya’s two stories are all about the power of life sketches, their lightness and complexities as well. In ‘Atmaja’(The Son), the mother and son relationship being at once compulsive and embryonic, and the mental and physical disentanglement is suggested in unsettling details. It is poignant and the ending is tragic. ‘Ashabarna‘ (Discrimination) portrays the hollowness of the middle-class life with dark undertones of class difference.

In ‘Ranabhoomi’ (Battlefield), Anita Agnihotri conjures a natural chemistry from the start with the historical context of the battle of Plassey and the emblematic mango tree and keeps the dramatic tension till the end. The writer is especially good at capturing its longings while the historical, the political, and the personal overlap within society are clearly evident in the story.

“No one remembers, no one remembers anything. Place, history, time…they themselves get entangled in the web of antiquity and remain silent covered with dust.

Abraham will remember. His mother’s anger, his sister’s ill-humour, his wife’s tears and keep them hidden in his breast like the mango tree struck by the cannon-ball!’(Ranabhoomi).

Translation from one language to other always poses a challenge to convey the nuggets of nuances of the original language. The key to the translation is the choice of words and the need of transporting the soul of the culture into another language. Dey finds her vein of expression by attending to the miniscule details and offers new areas that goes beyond the prevailing.

One Dozen Stories is striking, impressive and of significance even now. The readers will feel the desolation and misery and the sweat and tears that run through the stories. The cover page is impressive. This immensely readable book offers us the chance to escape into a world that is worth a revisit.

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Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata- based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 21 books published mostly (13) in English and a few (8) in Bengali, including three joint books. His poetry is also published across various anthologies as well as in eminent journals of India and abroad. He has been invited in various poetry festivals including World Congress of Poets recently held in India. He is published in 12 countries and his poems are translated in 10 languages.

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

Categories
Review

Bridging Continents through Poetry

Book review by Madhu Sriwastav

Title: Bridging Continents: An Anthology of Indo-American Poets

Edited by Sharmila Ray and Gopal Lahiri.

Bengali Translation Tanmoy Chakraborty.

Published by: Zahir Publication.

Bridging Continents: An Anthology of Indo-American Poets, edited by Sharmila Ray and Gopal Lahiri, veteran poets and critics with numerous anthologies to their credit is not a run off the mill anthology. It’s a carefully crafted volume comprising thirteen well-known Indian English Poets along with eleven renowned contemporary American Poets. That’s not all, it comes with a translation of these poems at the end of the book, on the reverse, in Bengali by noted poet Tanmoy Chakraborty.

The compilation of living poets is to make the reader dwell on the present, be in the moment across continents, poetically. Contrary to tradition this book doesn’t have a foreword. It begins with  ‘Let’s Talk’, a dialogue between the editors Sharmila Ray and Gopal Lahiri, putting forward the poetic intention of the book through a light conversation to give readers a free hand without the direction imposed by a formal foreword: “whatever meaning they come up with will be theirs entirely,” says Sharmila Ray. Gopal Lahiri adds, “I want our readers to be more of a free spirit and enjoy reading with an open mind”.

The editors seem excited in offering something unique. Poets featured in the anthology have been chosen by the editors. Browsing through the book, reading snippets of poetry geographically apart yet united by the richness of texture, one notices certain common grounds which unite mankind across the globe by the similarities in afflictions but their responses vary depending on their diverse cultural lores. The anthology posits both the uniformity and the uniqueness in human conditions across the globe from India to America and the poetic responses of contemporary poets towards common issues but coloured with their individual experiences.

With environmental crises affecting people worldwide, Indian and American poets alike poetize on it. Andrea Witzke Slot expresses her deep empathy with nature with a tone of foreboding in ‘The Time-Being of Oak’.

Hear the branches reverberate. See the mud soften like grief beneath our feet, where ropes of roots, push onward, ripping through steel pipes, cracking foundations, tearing up roads and pavements and fields sown with aversion and hate.

Kashmiri Poet Ayaz Rasool Nazki in ‘Morning at A Dying Lake’paints a pristine image of a mountain lake, shrinking and its flora and fauna gasping for life:

In the mountain sockets

Still laced with

A blemish of deodar trees

Sunil Sharma in ‘Water Dear’ uses very urban images to startle and shock the reader out of apathy:

The rationing is on, in tony neighbourhoods. One day, for one-hour only.

The fat women hoard it like gold

Terrorism is another common enemy tearing lives apart. ‘Bombs’ by Rainer Schulte versifies devastation:

 Bombs

turn dreams

 into unending screams

Its echoes are heard in ‘Time of Death’ by Rasool who aptly depicts desolation in a terror-struck zone:

Moth had written an epitaph

On the petals

On the marble panel

No one came to read it ever

No one came to light a candle

There was no mourning in death

In a world rife with disunity and discord, sensibilities of the poet cry to reach out, hold hands, cross bridges. Heath Brougher’s free verse ‘Invitation’ makes an urgent call:

I say the time

Is nigh to cast off these antiquated shackles

And free ourselves by taking a step forward.

I say we must cross the boundaries

Jaydeep Sarangi’s ‘True Indian’is a rhetoric on a quintessential secular Indian highly significant in the troubled times:

I see a rose

I gather lotus

I visit churches

The Indo-American poets do write about love, the most primordial emotion or the lack of it though their perspectives differ. In Gjeke Marinaj’s ‘Twenty-Four Hours of Love’ personal emotions beautifully coalesce with nature:

Twilight had sensed our need to seek out a hiding-place somewhere

It melted everything down to the color of chocolate,  which ends with a chic modern image:

“New evening and undid the top buttons of her black shirt;

And for us she hung on her neck the moon washed in gold”.

Parneet Jaggi’s ‘Love Transforms’ dwells on the feeling of love and its deep inner nuances:

“Eyes shut themselves to open to subtler visions

Ears turn inward to a wordless world,

Mind waits not for the lover to appear and make love”.

Whereas Sharmila Ray writes about her inability to write on love in a devastated and disillusioned world –‘I’ve forgotten how to write a love poem’.

For those of us fed on English poets Sanjukta Dasgupta’s ‘If Winter Comes…’ stands out as a marker of an Indian winter to be cherished as opposed to its western avatar:

“Winter is our season of feasts and fairs

 “We do not long for spring in winter”

“Of kash flowers in autumn

Till winter makes the jaggery drip”

There are poems by Dah Helmer weaving fairy tale characters in its tapestry to tell tales as well as poems that braid Indian and Western mythical characters by, Sunil Sharma and Sharmila Ray. Horrors of history are revisited in Gopal Lahiri’s ‘Jallianwallah Bagh Muse’ making it a living presence:

In the evening memorial lights are falling on the wounds 

Empty gaze of water is still misty, still hazy

Mandira Ghosh’s poem blasts into the sun’s periphery, deconstructs human body into atoms yet sees a solar eclipse and prays to the sun:

“Oh Sun! Purify us

Pardon our sins”

Vinita Agarwal’s ‘She wolf’remindsone of Blake’s ‘Tyger’, a pithy image shouting out the state of Indian woman:

 She has scented the wolf in her

uprooted the fake pews of pious womanhood…a fight for dignity

a sheet of self-esteem, an iron caress

 ‘Credit Cards’ by Rainer Schulte warns of the dangers of digitization balancing on the verge of spirituality. Pradip Biswal’s ‘Nero isn’t dead’ echoes the feelings of every man across the globe subject to governmental apathy. Time and space restrict the unravelling of the myriad hues in this collection which entice exploration.

Tanmoy Chakraborty has translated all the poets to introduce them to the Bengali reader as a teaser. However, his translations engage the critic into the processes of translating, word for word or transcreation and more so because arguments are rife about the translatability of poetry. “Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” claims Robert Frost whereas Voltaire says “It is impossible to translate poetry. Can you translate music?”

In a translation of Between my country and the others, as ministry’, he translates ‘forget -me-not blues’ as ‘oporajita’ a blue Indian flower, this can be seen as an attempt to adapt the culture into the target language.  However, ‘Twenty-four hours of love’, does lose out on the sophistication in the image of night unbuttoning her shirt to hang ‘a moon washed in gold‘. But these could be seen as lost in translation — in transposing in words from a culture unfamiliar with the gestures of another culture. Bengali readers though can get an idea of the range of contemporary poetry being written in English across the globe.

The Anthology invites a detailed reading and exploration. It deserves a place in any poetry lovers’ bookshelf, for bringing in so many poets from across the world with diverse cultures in one place and offering the reader an eclectic and arresting read.

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Madhu Sriwastav is an Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of English at Bamanpukur Humayun Kabir Mahavidyalaya. She is based in Kolkata. She is an academician, poet, translator, critic, reviewer and short story writer. Her articles have been published in National and International journals. She is a performing poet and has performed on various National and International platforms such as Guntur Poetry Festival, ISISAR Poetry Festival, Apeejay Kalam Literary Festival etc. She has published her poems in various prestigious National and International journals and anthologies such as The Vase, Setu, Glomag, OPA, Amravati Prism, Culture and Diversity etc.

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

Categories
Poetry

Lockdown Blues

By Gopal Lahiri

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Sometimes there is a night you just want

to get so far away from,

fire burns out in life’s long years,

memories are plucked, timid words wipe the window

long after the moon reaches its climax.

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A strange world of quarantine is slowly

strumming with silence,

there is no paper, no blue ink —

envelopes never arrive, the inbox isn’t loaded with emails

it’s time to live with the lonely shadows.

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The archipelago of hospitals empties sad memories,

patients fighting for life with short breaths

trip letters in social distancing,

no flowers, no relatives or friends

a virus attacks inside in a different trajectory.

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The first layer of darkness hides the melody of stars

in alleys, in streets, in subways,

rewind the scene of weaning the ventilators.

many dead mothers have left their smiles over the corridor

on the margins of the white washed wall.

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Form the undulations of courage and fear

eyes stare at the distant light,

the whispers are carrying alphabets of the dead planets

lying beneath the disposable trough.

there will be another universe to live for.

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Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata- based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 20 books published 13 in English and 7 in Bengali, including three joint books. His poetry is also published in various anthologies and in eminent journals of India and abroad. His poems have been published in 12 countries and translated in 10 languages. He has been invited in several poetry festivals across India.