Categories
A Wonderful World

Exploring Colours

On 26 th January, 1950, India was declared a republic, an independent entity with the complete withdrawal of colonial support of any kind. The country adopted an independent constitution. The Republic Day celebrations conclude on 29th January with ‘Beating the Retreat’,where more than seven decades ago the British withdrew all armed support from India. 

In this edition, we will explore how the idea of an independent India has evolved over the decades. We have poetry by Asad Latif that celebrates the Indianess across borders. On the other hand, Beni S Yanthan from Nagaland explores the republic in the shadow of displacement, which makes one wonder if cultural hegemony can help make a country? Ukraine is faced with a war over it.

Tagore’s poem builds empathy around human suffering as does Premchand’s story, translated by C Christine Fair — these are texts written at the start of the turn of the last century. Have we come out of that suffering? Perhaps, the answer can be found in Bhaskar Parichha’s review about a book that spans almost the whole of twentieth century in India. He tells us the author, “MA Sreenivasan (1897-1998) lived through almost the entire 20th century and was among the very few people who witnessed at close quarters the enormous changes that took place in India during this period.” This has been recorded in his book and its review. Rhys Hughes’ humour winds up this edition where he recounts the differences in the cultural ethos of India and a region of the country that despite losing an empire where the sun never set, still retains its sense of humour! 

Poetry

An India like You by Asad Latif. Click here to read.

What if I Uproot You by Beni Sumer Yanthan. Click here to read.

Ebar Phirao More or Take Me Back by Tagore, translated by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Prose

Pus Ki Raat or A Frigid Winter Night by Munshi Premchand has been translated from Hindi by C Christine Fair. Click here to read. 

Bhaskar Parichha reviews MA Sreenivasan’s Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me. Click here to read.

In Some Differences Between Wales and India, Rhys Hughes makes some hilarious comparisons. Click here to read.

Courtesy: Creative Commons

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Categories
Editorial

Will Monalisa Smile Again?

The first month of 2023 has been one of the most exciting! Our first book, Monalisa No Longer Smiles: An Anthology of Writings from across the World, is now in multiple bookstores in India (including Midlands and Om Bookstores). It has also had multiple launches in Delhi and been part of a festival.

We, Meenakshi Malhotra and I, were privileged to be together at the physical book events. We met the editor in chief of Om Books International, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, the editor of our anthology, Jyotsna Mehta, along with two translators and writers I most admire, Aruna Chakravarti and Radha Chakravarty, who also graced a panel discussion on the anthology during our physical book launch. The earlier e-book launch had been in November 2022. My heartfelt thanks to the two eminent translators and Chaudhuri for being part of the discussions at both these launches. Chaudhuri was also in the panel along with Debraj Mookerjee at a launch organised by Malhotra and the English Literary Society steered by Nabaneeta Choudhury at Hans Raj College, Delhi University. An energising, interactive session with students and faculty where we discussed traditional and online publishing, we are immensely grateful to Malhotra for actively organising the event and to the Pandies’ founder, Sanjay Kumar, for joining us for the discussion. It was wonderful to interact with young minds. On the same day, an online discussion on the poetry in Monalisa No Longer Smiles was released by the Pragati Vichar Literary Festival (PVLF) in Delhi.

At the PVLF session, I met an interesting contemporary diplomat cum poet, Abhay K. He has translated Kalidasa’s Meghaduta and the Ritusamhara from Sanskrit and then written a long poem based on these, called Monsoon. We are hosting a conversation with him and are carrying book excerpts from Monsoon, a poem that is part of the curriculum in Harvard. The other book excerpt is from Sanjay Kumar’s Performing, Teaching and Writing Theatre: Exploring Play, a book that has just been published by the Cambridge University Press.

Perhaps because it is nearing the Republic Day of India, we seem to have a flurry of book reviews that reflect the Sub-continental struggle for Independence from the colonials. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed Priya Hajela’s Ladies Tailor: A novel, a book that takes us back to the trauma of the Partition that killed nearly 200,000 to 2 million people – the counts are uncertain. Bhaskar Parichha has discussed MA Sreenivasan’s Of the Raj, Maharajas and Me, a biography of a long serving official in the Raj era — two different perspectives of the same period. Rakhi Dalal has shared her views on Shrinivas Vaidya’s A Handful of Sesame, translated from Kannada by Maithreyi Karnoor, a book that dwells on an immigrant to the Southern part of India in the same time period. The legendary film writer K.A. Abbas’s Sone Chandi Ke Buth: Writings on Cinema, translated and edited by Syeda Hameed and Sukhpreet Kahlon, has been praised by Gracy Samjetsabam.

We have a piece on mental health in cinema by Chaudhuri, an excellent essay written after interviewing specialists in the field. Ratnottama Sengupta has given us a vibrant piece on Suhas Roy, an artist who overrides the bounds of East and West to create art that touches the heart. Candice Louisa Daquin has written on border controls and migrants in America. High profile immigrants have also been the subject of Farouk Gulsara’s ‘What do Freddy Mercury, Rishi Sunak & Mississipi Masala have in Common?’ Sengupta also writes of her immigrant family, including her father, eminent writer, Nabendu Ghosh, who moved from Bengal during the Partition. There are a number of travel pieces across the world by Ravi Shankar, Meredith Stephens and Mike Smith — each written in distinctively different styles and exploring different areas on our beautiful Earth. Sarpreet Kaur has revisited the devastation of the 2004 tsunami and wonders if it is a backlash from nature. Could it be really that?

Suzanne Kamata gives us a glimpse of the education system in Japan in her column with a humorous overtone. Devraj Singh Kalsi dwells on the need for nostalgia with a tongue-in-cheek approach. Rhys Hughes makes us rollick with laughter when he talks of his trip to Kerala and yet there is no derision, perhaps, even a sense of admiration in the tone. Hughes poetry also revels in humour. We have wonderful poetry from Jared Carter, Ranu Uniyal, Asad Latif, Anaya Sarkar, Michael R Burch, Scott Thomas Outlar, Priyanka Panwar, George Freek and many more.

The flavours of cultures is enhanced by the translation of Nazrul’s inspirational poetry by Professor Fakrul Alam, Korean poetry written and translated by Ihlwha Choi and a transcreation of Tagore’s poem Banshi (or flute) which explores the theme of inspiration and the muse. We have a story by S Ramakrishnan translated from Tamil by R Sathish. The short stories featured at the start of this year startle with their content. Salini Vineeth writes a story set in the future and Paul Mirabile tells the gripping poignant tale of a strange child.

With these and more, we welcome you to savour the January 2023 edition of Borderless, which has been delayed a bit as we were busy with the book events for our first anthology. I am truly grateful to all those who arranged the discussions and hosted us, especially Ruchika Khanna, Om Books International, the English Literary Society of Hans Raj College and to the attendees of the event. My heartfelt thanks to the indefatigable team and our wonderful writers, artists and readers, without who this journey would have remained incomplete. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her artwork. Many thanks to the readers of Borderless Journal and Monalisa No Longer Smiles. I hope you will find the book to your liking. We have made a special page for all comments and reviews.

I wish you a wonderful 2023. Let us make a New Year’s wish —

May all wars and conflicts end so that our iconic Monalisa can start smiling again!

Mitali Chakravarty,

borderlessjournal.com

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Photographs of events around Monalisa No Longer Smiles: An Anthology of Writings from across the World. Click here to access the Book.

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Insta Link to an excerpt of the launch at Om Bookstore. Click here to view.

E-Launch of the first anthology of Borderless Journal, November 14th 2022. Click here to view.

Categories
Tagore Translations

Banshi or Flute by Rabindranath

Written in 1905, Banshi or flute, was published in Tagore’s collection called Kheya ( translates to boat, published in 1906).

Courtesy: Creative Commons
FLUTE

Your flute — 
For a short while,
Pretend it's mine. 
The sarat* morning flowed by.
The day grew tired nigh.
If you are weary
Of playing your flute,
Then please let,
For a short while,
Your flute be mine. 

I will not do much with it. 
I will only play
For part of the day. 
Raising it high, 
I will hold it to my lips
I will express my happiness
By playing many snatches —
In this way losing myself
I will only play 
For part of the day.

Then as dusk descends,
I will get flowers in a basket
to make a necklace. 
Adorning a garland of juthi*,
Filled with its heady perfume 
I will pray with an
Offering of lamps. 
That is why in the gloaming,
Fill a basket of flowers
To make a garland of juthi.

A half-moon will rise 
Amidst the stars
To gaze at your path.
Then I will come to you 
To return your flute. 
And you will play a tune
Expressive of the depth of night —
A half- moon will rise 
Amidst the stars
To gaze at your path.


*Sarat is early autumn.
*Juthi is a kind of Jasmine

This poem has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty with editorial input from Sohana Manzoor & Anasuya Bhar

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

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Categories
Greetings from Borderless

Happy New Year

Art by Sohana Manzoor

As the old year winds up, we wait for the new year in anticipation… We wait to see how the new born blossoms as each year takes a unique form. This year, while we strengthened the population with vaccines, other kind of politics set in, which finally found fruition in a war that has perhaps been one of the saddest events of human history — people made homeless, towns erased, lives lost, nature polluted with gunpowder and shreds of machinery along with the ultimate threat of nuclear weapons erupting every now and then. What could possibly give hope amidst the darkness of the receding year with price hikes, the threat of looming hunger, joblessness, more conflicts and fear?

The fact that we have survived for more than 200,000 years in our current form is heartening. That we have lived through wars, plagues and disasters without being erased out of existence only highlights the resilience of our species to adapt to all kinds of contingencies. Perhaps, with the current crises, we will move towards new world orders…perhaps, we will find hope in creating and evolving new ways of living in consonance with nature and more by our need than greed.

With that hope in heart, we wish you a wonderful start to the New Year with a few interesting pieces from our journal, including a highly entertaining piece by Suzanne Kamata on how the Japanese traditionally, literally make a clean start each New Year and Michael Burch’s fun poems and a translation of Tagore’s adaptation of the traditional year-end Auld Lang Syne. We have sprinkled more humour in poetry by Rhys Hughes and Santosh Bakaya and, in prose, by Tagore, translated by Somdatta Mandal, Ruskin Bond and Devraj Singh Kalsi. Laughter at the this juncture will hopefully give us a year with more shades of happiness.

Poetry 

Tagore’s Purano Sei Diner Kotha or ‘Can old days ever be forgot?’ based on Robert Burn’s Auld Lang Syne, translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Fun Poems for the New Year by Michael R Burch… Click here to read.

Kissing Frogs by Rhys Hughes… Click here to read.

The Recliner by Santosh Bakaya… Click here to read.

Prose

Travels & Holidays: Humour from Rabindranath: Translated from the original Bengali by Somdatta Mandal, these are Tagore’s essays and letters laced with humour. Click here to read.

A short tale from Friends in Wild Places: Birds, Beasts and Other Companions by Ruskin Bond. Click here to read.

In A Clean Start, Suzanne Kamata tells us how the Japanese usher in a new year. Click here to read.

In The New Year’s Boon, Devraj Singh gives a glimpse into the projection of a new normal created by God. Click here to read.

Art by Sohana Manzoor

Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Book Talks

Categories
Tribute

Celebrating Freedom

Painting by Sohana Manzoor

The right to exist with freedom to choose is threatened when dictatorial regimes try to erase a culture or linguistic group as we can see in the current conflict that rages between Russia and Ukraine. In 1971, Bangladesh came into existence over a similar issue. The colonials had divided the Indian subcontinent on the basis of religion — not culture. Before this division, Bengal was a whole. In 1905, Tagore had marched against the British directive to divide Bengal and Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India. In 1911, Bengal was reunited to be slashed again in 1947 and made a part of Pakistan with Urdu as its national language. Bangladesh fought a war to find the right to exist as an entity outside of Pakistan — adopting their favoured language Bangla. Throwing off the yoke of Urdu, Bangladesh came to its own. On 16th December, the battle against cultural hegemony was won with warplanes drawing to a halt.

Celebrating freedom from oppression, we have an article by Fakrul Alam giving the historical background of the struggle. A musing from across the border about the 1971 refugee exodus into India has been written by Ratnottama Sengupta. Asad Latif muses on the need to identify with a culture. We have translations of poetry by Nazrul to add a dash of seasoning.

Poetry

Translations of Nazrul Islam, the rebel poet of Bangladesh… Click here to read.

Prose

The Birth of Bangladesh & the University of Dhaka: Professor Fakrul Alam takes us through the Partitions of Bengal which ultimately led to the creation of Bangladesh, with focus on the role of Dhaka University. Click here to read.

Joy Bangla: Memories of 1971: Ratnottama Sengupta recaptures a time when as a teenager she witnessed a war that was fought to retain a culture. Click here to read.

Epaar Bangla, Opaar Bangla:  Bengals of the Mind: Asad Latif explores the need of a person to exist as belonging to a particular cultural group, in this case Bengal. Click here to read. 

Categories
Contents

Borderless, December 2022

Art by Sohana Manzoor

Editorial

It’s Only Hope… Click here to read.

Conversations

Shantanu Ray Chaudhari converses with writer Gajra Kottary, a well-known writer of Indian TV series, novels and stories. Click here to read.

A discussion on Samaresh Bose’s In Search of the Pitcher of Nectar, a book that takes us to the heart of the Kumbh Mela, a festival recognised by the UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, with the translator, Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee. Click here to read.

Translations

Nazrul’s Why Provide Thorns has been translated by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Mercy, a story be P. F. Mathews, has been translated from Malayalam by Ram Anantharaman. Click here to read.

Even A Simurgh Cannot Change Destiny, a Balochi folktale translated and retold by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Confessions, a poem written by and translated from Korean by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

The Sun on the First Day, a translation of Tagore’s Prothom Diner Shurjo by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Pandies’ Corner

Songs of Freedom: Vikalangta or Disability is an autobiographical narrative by Kajal, translated from Hindustani by Janees. These narrations highlight the ongoing struggle against debilitating rigid boundaries drawn by societal norms, with the support from organisations like Shaktishalini and Pandies. Click here to read.

Poetry

Click on the names to read

Jared Carter, Sukrita Paul Kumar, Rhys Hughes, Asad Latif, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Santosh Bakaya, Phil Wood, Sharanya B, George Freek, Saibal Chatterjee, Jonathan Chan, Sutputra Radheye, Shambhu Nath Banerjee, Michael Burch

Poets, Poetry & Rhys Hughes

In Some Differences Between Wales and India, Rhys Hughes makes some hilarious comparisons. Click here to read.

Musings/ Slices from Life

Near-Life Experiences: Hiking in New Zealand

Keith Lyons escapes city life to find his happy place while hiking in New Zealand. Click here to read.

The Seven Grandfather Teachings

Saeed Ibrahim introduces us to Native Indian lore from Canada and shows its relevance in the current times. Click here to read.

Dismasted in Bass Strait

Meredith Stephens takes us for a sailing adventure with photographs in the Southern Hemisphere. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

In Of Mice & Men, Devraj Singh Kalsi talks of his encounters with rats. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In A Clean Start, Suzanne Kamata tells us how the Japanese usher in a new year. Click here to read.

Stories

Annapurna Bhavan

Lakshmi Kannan closes class divides in Chennai over a meal. Click here to read.

Two Faces of a Mirror

Tulip Chowdhury gives us a story set in a Bangladeshi village. Click here to read.

The Slip

Sushma R Doshi takes a look at the pandemic against an Indian middle-class set up. Click here to read.

Till Life Do Us Part

Devraj Singh Kalsi explores a strange new trend. Click here to read.

Essays

Orangutans & a School at Sarawak

Christina Yin, a conservationist, travels to Borneo in an attempt to create awareness for conserving the Orangutan. Click here to read.

Taiping of the Raj Era

Ravi Shankar explores Taiping in Malaysia with a camera and words. Click here to read.

Ivory Ivy & Stephen Dedalus

Paul Mirabile explores James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus and his passion for words keeping in mind the hundred year old Ulysees & the even older, A Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from Radha Chakravarty’s translation of Tagore’s Farewell Song. Click here to read.

An excerpt or two short narratives from Rhys Hughes’ Yule Do Nicley. Click here to read.

Book Reviews

Somdatta Mandal reviews The Shaping of Modern Calcutta: The Lottery Committee Years, 1817 – 1830 by Ranabir Ray Chaudhury. Click here to read.

Rakhi Dalal reviews Freny Manecksha’s Flaming Forest, Wounded Valley: Stories from Bastar and Kashmir. Click here to read.

Basudhara Roy reviews Manoranjan Byapari’s How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews In Search of the Divine: Living Histories of Sufism in India by Rana Safvi. Click here to read.

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Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

You are all welcome to the book talks of our first anthology

Categories
Editorial

Its Only Hope…

Painting by Sybil Pretious

New year, like a newborn, starts with hope.

The next year will do the same – we will all celebrate with Auld Lang Syne and look forward to a resolution of conflicts that reared a frightening face in 2022 and 2021. Perhaps, this time, if we have learnt from history, there will not be any annihilation but only a movement towards resolution. We have more or less tackled the pandemic and are regaining health despite the setbacks and disputes. There could be more outbreaks but unlike in the past, this time we are geared for it. That a third World War did not break out despite provocation and varied opinions, makes me feel we have really learnt from history.

That sounds almost like the voice of hope. This year was a landmark for Borderless Journal. As an online journal, we found a footing in the hardcopy world with our own anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles: Writings from Across the World, which had a wonderful e-launch hosted by our very well-established and supportive publisher, Om Books International. And now, it is in Om Book Shops across all of India. It will soon be on Amazon International. We also look forward to more anthologies that will create a dialogue on our values through different themes and maybe, just maybe, some more will agree with the need for a world that unites in clouds of ideas to take us forward to a future filled with love, hope and tolerance.

One of the themes of our journal has been reaching out for voices that speak for people. The eminent film critic and editor, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri , has shared a conversation with such a person, the famed Gajra Kottary, a well-known writer of Indian TV series, novels and stories. The other conversation is with Nirmal Kanti Bhattajarchee, the translator of Samaresh Bose’s In Search of a Pitcher of Nectar, a book describing the Kumbh-mela, that in 2017 was declared to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Bhattacharjee tells us how the festival has grown and improved in organisation from the time the author described a stampede that concluded the festivities. Life only gets better moving forward in time, despite events that terrorise with darkness. Facing fear and overcoming it does give a great sense of achievement.

Perhaps, that is what Freny Manecksha felt when she came up with a non-fiction called Flaming Forest, Wounded Valley: Stories from Bastar and Kashmir, which has been reviewed by Rakhi Dalal. Basudhara Roy has also tuned in with a voice that struggled to be heard as she discusses Manoranjan Byapari’s How I Became a Writer: An Autobiography of a Dalit. Somdatta Mandal has reviewed The Shaping of Modern Calcutta: The Lottery Committee Years, 1817 – 1830 by Ranabir Ray Chaudhury, a book that explores how a lottery was used by the colonials to develop the city. Bhaskar Parichha has poured a healing balm on dissensions with his exploration of Rana Safvi’s In Search of the Divine: Living Histories of Sufism in India as he concludes: “Weaving together facts and popular legends, ancient histories and living traditions, this unique treatise running into more than four hundred pages examines core Sufi beliefs and uncovers why they might offer hope for the future.”

In keeping with the festive season is our book excerpt from Rhys Hughes’ funny stories in his Christmas collection, Yule Do Nicely. Radha Chakravarty who brings many greats from Bengal to Anglophone readers shared an excerpt – a discussion on love — from her translation of Tagore’s novel, Farewell Song.

Love for words becomes the subject of Paul Mirabile’s essay on James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, where he touches on both A Portrait of the Artist as a young Man and  Ulysees, a novel that completed a century this year. Love for animals, especially orangutans, colours Christina Yin’s essay on conservation efforts in Borneo while Keith Lyons finds peace and an overwhelming sense of well-being during a hike in New Zealand. Ravi Shankar takes us to the historical town of Taiping in Malaysia as Meredith Stephens shares more sailing adventures in the Southern hemisphere, where it is summer. Saeed Ibrahim instils the seasonal goodwill with native Indian lores from Canada and Suzanne Kamata tells us how the Japanese usher in the New Year with a semi-humorous undertone.

Humour in non-fiction is brought in by Devraj Singh Kalsi’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ and in poetry by Santosh Bakaya. Laughter is stretched further by the inimitable Rhys Hughes in his poetry and column, where he reflects on his experiences in India and Wales. We have exquisite poetry by Jared Carter, Sukrita Paul Kumar, Asad Latif, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Michael R Burch, Sutputra Radheye, George Freek, Jonathan Chan and many more. Short stories by Lakshmi Kannan, Devraj Singh Kalsi, Tulip Chowdhury and Sushma R Doshi lace narratives with love, humour and a wry look at life as it is. The most amazing story comes from Kajal who pours out the story of her own battle in ‘Vikalangta or Disability‘ in Pandies’ Corner, translated from Hindustani by Janees.

Also touching and yet almost embracing the school of Absurd is PF Mathew’s story, ‘Mercy‘, translated from Malayalam by Ram Anantharaman. Fazal Baloch has brought us a Balochi folktale and Ihlwha Choi has translated his own poem from Korean to English. One of Tagore’s last poems, Prothom Diner Shurjo, translated as ‘The Sun on the First Day’ is short but philosophical and gives us a glimpse into his inner world. Professor Fakrul Alam shares with us the lyrics of a Nazrul song which is deeply spiritual by translating it into English from Bengali.

A huge thanks to all our contributors and readers, to the fabulous Borderless team without who the journal would be lost. Sohana Manzoor’s wonderful artwork continues to capture the mood of the season. Thanks to Sybil Pretious for her lovely painting. Please pause by our contents’ page to find what has not been covered in this note.

We wish you all a wonderful festive season.

Season’s Greetings from all of us at Borderless Journal.

Cheers!

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

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Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Categories
Interview Review

In Search of a Pitcher of Nectar by Samaresh Bose

A conversation with Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharya, the translator of Samaresh Bose’s In Search of the Pitcher of Nectar, brought out by Niyogi Books.

In 2017, the Kumbh Mela (the festival of the sacred pitcher) was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage. A Times of India report read: “The committee noted that as the largest harmonious conclave in the world, Kumbha Mela stands for values like magnanimity and patience that are very beneficial for the modern humanity. Moreover, the concept of Kumbha Mela goes well with the current international human rights tools because the festival welcomes people from all corners of the world without any differentiation.”

Five years down the line, Niyogi Books brought out a translation of Samaresh Bose’s[1] In Search of a Pitcher of Nectar, an epic travelogue translated from Bengali by Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee on the festival at the confluence of the three rivers, Ganga, Saraswati and Jamuna — in Allahabad. An eminent acknowledged writer, whose stories won not just literary acclaim like the Sahitya Akademi award but were translated to prize winning films, Bose’s solo voice stands alone in the translated version — as that of Kalkut, one of the pseudonyms he assumed.

In the early part of the book, Bose gives the reason for his journey into this crowded event which even in the middle of the pandemic (2021) had 3.5 million visitors: “Observing this great variety of humankind on the move is a thirst that is not easily quenched.” Bose’s exploration came long before the pandemic as his book was published in 1954. Then a Bengali film was made on it in 1982.

The writer claimed to have set out to look into the heart of the nation: “I would dive deep into that heart of India. I would identify my own face in this strange mirror of India. That face is my mind. My religion.” And he discovers, “the poor India was there like a faded cloth by the side of a muslin chunni.” While peeling layers of poverty and ‘respectability’, he introduces us to a bevy of characters which include not just Godmen, but also women, who evolved from wifehood to prostitution to godwomen, to young girls forced to marry polygamous octogenarians, to people in quest of lost family members, to men in search of the intangible — and all united together for a dip in the holy ‘sangam[2]’ of three rivers, the ultimate panacea for all ailments and ills for believers. That the author is not part of the believing crowds, but a sympathetic, humane commentator is obvious from his conversations with various people and his actions, which defy boundaries drawn by the respectable god minding devotees thronging the festival. He uses the event to pinpoint the flaws of socially accepted norms and to find compassion for the less fortunate. He laces his narrative with love and compassion for humanity.

The title itself both in Bengali and English conveys the quest for nectar or the divine amrita of immortality which led to a festival that washes away sins with a dip at the confluence. Legend has it that the gods and the rakshasas worked together to draw out the ambrosial drink at this sangam and then, the gods cheated and consumed all of it, judging the other party as too evil to be handed eternal life in a cup. The unbreachable walls had started and perhaps continue even to this date.

The real origin of the festival as Bose contended remains disputed like that of many other cultural lores, though people do continue to quest for miracles in the waters that were supposed to have thrown up the ambrosia. The narrative implies the educated and schooled rarely participated in this event. There is a mention of the prime minister at the festival, but that would be as a dignitary, and not as part of the crowd.

The crowd in its urgency to take a dip at the holy hour, results in a stampede and many deaths. It is a sad and philosophical ending which clearly takes us back to the questions raised at the start of the narrative. “If lakhs of people are blinded by faith, then why not search for the reason? What is that celestial blinker which can blind lakhs of eyes?”

While questioning faith, the narrative exposes the gaps in society with compassion — even between the educated and uneducated that has become a severe point of contention as more fissures into society and creating more boundaries. At the end of the book, one wonders have things really changed from the 1950s when Bose wrote the book to the current experience where the UNESCO, a modern-day construct and belief, has dubbed this festival as a juncture where all humanity congregates? Do they?  To enlighten us on this issue, we conversed with the eminent translator of this powerful book, Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee.

Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee

What led you to translate Samaresh Bose’s In Search of a Pitcher of Nectar?

Samaresh Bose was a celebrated novelist. Social content of his novels can never be over-emphasized. But when he started writing travelogues under the pseudo -name Kalkut, he invented a new creative trajectory. Amrita Kumbher Sandhaney, Kothay Pabo Tarey [4]are all classics in Bengali literature. I have been reading and rereading Amrita Kumbher Sandhaney for decades and always felt it should be presented on a national and international platform. Hence, when time and opportunity arose, I took up the translation work and the result in In Search of the Pitcher of Nectar.

There was a Bengali film (Amrita Kumbher Sandhaney, 1982) made with the story of this book. Did you use this as a resource too for your translation? What do you think of the film? Did it capture the book well?

Yes, I have watched the film when it was released. I don’t remember the details now, but the impression remains that it was a reasonably well-made film. But I don’t think it has acted as a resource for my translation work. On the contrary whenever I tried to think of Shyama, the sophisticated face of Aparna Sen[5] would appear in my vision.

In 2017, UN declared the Kumbh-mela as an intangible cultural heritage. And yet, here Samaresh Bose mentioned a stampede within the Mela that killed many people. Do you think things have changed since he wrote this travelogue?

Definitely. Now, the Kumbh-mela is an extremely well-organised event. The way in which the administration handles the flow of lakhs of people is something to be seen to be believed. Even Harvard University researchers had undertaken a study to analyse how an ephemeral city comes up with all the civic, municipal and medical facilities for a temporary period of time. The stampede that Bose mentions are things of the past.

Have you ever been to a Kumbh-mela? Is it as he describes?

Yes, once; obviously inspired by the reading of the book. It was in early 70’s. I found it tallying with Bose’s description to a large extent. It was a lifetime experience for me, because I also went with an open mind, an agnostic as I am.

What in this book strikes you the most?

Two things struck me most in the book. One, unlike all other visitors, Bose’s was not a pilgrimage. He did not even take a dip at any of the auspicious dates and moments. He was in quest of understanding man’s urge for piety. It was as if an atheist’s search for the godhead. Secondly, the technique of writing was a unique blend of travelogue and fiction. His character sketches are something unparalleled in the history of travel writing anywhere in the world. I hope I am entitled to give this opinion, having a modest exposure to the world literature.

You are a felicitated translator. When you translate from Bengali to English, what strikes you as the biggest hurdle? And how do you get over it?

The biggest hurdle in translating from Bengali into English is the problem of culture specific transfer. Here one is not translating from an Indian language into another. Here translation is not just linguistic transfer, but culture transfer also. One has to be very careful where to valorise the source language and where to make some sacrifice for attaining compatibility to the idiom of the target language. I guess I have learnt to strike a balance between the two.

You have translated the Bengali portions fully in this book but not always the Sanskrit or Hindi? Why not?

The Sanskrit and Hindi portions in the text are very well-known quotes from Tulsidas and other celebrated poets. I thought they would communicate even without translation. More importantly, they are all in rhymed couplet or quartet. If the end rhyming is done away with, their linguistic impact will drastically reduce. And maintaining a semblance of rhyming in English was beyond me. So, I left them as they were. The case of the Bengali quotes is totally different. There I could confidently take some liberty and attain the desired impact.

Do you think a translation is better if it is closer to the text or if it captures the spirit of the piece and conveys it to the readers, though it departs from the text as in Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat?

It depends on the motive of the translator. Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak in her celebrated essay ‘Politics of Translation’ suggested that we should approach the text with love and empathy. If that is achieved, the translator remains as close to the text as possible; and yet he/she can take occasional liberty to capture the spirit of the original. But if the motive is to sanitise the text to cater to a particular reading community, as Tagore wrongly did or civilise the text from the point of view of master-slave attitude, as Fitzgerald did, then it is wrong. We now know how much of Tagore or Khayyam is lost in these English versions.

You have translated major writers from Bengal like Mahasweta Devi, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay and Samaresh Bose. Which has been your favourite author to translate and why?

Well, all the authors I translated so far are my favourite authors. I can not translate unless it is so. I greatly enjoy Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay’s young adult stories, Sunil Gangopadhyay’s romantic novels, Samaresh Bose’s dexterity in narration and characterisation, Mahasweta Devi’s socially conscious works. I have translated two novels of Tagore also for their universal appeal and extremely thought-provoking themes.

After translating this many novels, are you planning one of your own?

Oh no, I am not a creative person. I hopelessly lack imagination.

Do you have any advice for upcoming translators?

Well, I don’t feel entitled to give advice to anyone, I can only say that a wannabe translator should live with a book for some time before venturing into translation. You should not take up any translation work unless the book resonates with you or speaks to you, so to say.

Thank you for bringing the book to non-Bengali readers and also your time.

[1] Also known as Samaresh Basu (1924 to 1988)

[2] Confluence

[3] Translates to ‘ On the Golden Peak’, part of Kalkut Rachna Samagra (Kalkut’s collected writings), published in 1957 and made into a Bengali film in 1970

[4] Translates to ‘Where will I find Him?’, published as a part of his collected writings in 1957

[5] Aparna Sen, the legendary actress from Bengal, acted as a character in this film

(The book has been reviewed and the interview conducted online by emails by Mitali Chakravarty)

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Categories
Tagore Translations

The Sun on the First Day by Rabindranath

Prothom Diner Shurjo or (the sun on the first day) from Tagore’s last collection of poems, called Shesh Lekha (The Last Writings), was written in 1941.

THE SUN ON THE FIRST DAY

The sun that rose
On the first day asked 
Newly-fledged consciousness —
Who are you? 
There was no answer. 

Many eons passed.

The setting sun in the
Silence of the dusk, asked 
The Western shore the last question —
Who are you?
There was no answer.
Art by Sohana Manzoor

This poem has been translated by Mitali Chakravarty with editorial input from Sohana Manzoor & Anasuya Bhar

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

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Categories
Excerpt Tagore Translations

Farewell Song

Title: Farewell Song

Author: Rabindranath Tagore

Translator: Radha Chakravarty

Publisher: Penguin, Hesperus Press

‘I may go away from Shillong, but the month of Agrahayan can’t suddenly slip away from the almanac! Do you know what I shall do in Calcutta?’

‘What will you do?’

‘While Mashima makes arrangements for the wedding, I must prepare for the days that are to follow. People forget that conjugal life is an art, to be created anew each day. Do you remember, Banya, how King Aja had described Indumati in Raghuvamsha?’

‘‘‘My favourite pupil has artistry in her blood,’ quoted Labanya.

‘Such artistry of the blood belongs to conjugal life,’ declared Amit. ‘Barbarians generally imagine the wedding ceremony to be the real moment of union, which is why the idea of union is often so utterly neglected afterwards.’

‘Please explain the art of union as you imagine it in your heart. If you want me to be your disciple, then let today be the first lesson.’

‘Very well, then, listen. The poet creates rhythm out of deliberately placed obstructions. Union, too, should be rendered beautiful by means of deliberately placed obstacles. To cheapen a precious thing so that it is to be had for the asking is to cheat your own self. For the pleasure of paying a high price is by no means negligible.’

‘Let’s hear how the price is to be calculated.’

‘Wait! Let me describe what my heart has visualized. Beside the Ganga, there will be a garden-estate on the other side of Diamond Harbour. A small steam-launch would take us to Calcutta and back, within a couple of hours.’

‘But why the need to travel to Calcutta?’

‘Now there is no need to, please be assured. I do visit the bar- library, not to engage in trade but to play chess.The attorneys have realized that I have no need for work and, therefore, no interest in it. When a case comes up, concerning some mutual dispute, they hand me the brief but nothing more than that. But right after marriage, I’ll show you what it means to set to work, not in search of a livelihood but in search of life. At the heart of the mango lies the seed, neither sweet, nor soft, nor edible; yet the entire mango depends on it, takes shape from it. You understand, don’t you, why the stony seed of Calcutta is necessary? To keep something hard at the core of all the sweetness of our love.’

‘I understand. In that case, I need it, too. I must also visit Calcutta, from ten to five.’

‘What’s wrong with that? But it should be for work, and not in order to explore the neighbourhood.’

‘What work can I take up, tell me? Without any wages?’

‘No, no, a job without wages is neither work nor play: it’s mostly all about shirking. If you wish, you can easily become a professor in a women’s college.’

‘Very well, that shall be my wish.What then?’

‘I can visualize it clearly: the shore of the Ganga. From the lowest level of the paved bathing area rises an ancient banyan tree, laden with aerial roots. While cruising down the Ganga to Ceylon, Dhanpati may have tethered his boat to this same banyan tree and cooked his dinner under its shade. To the south is the moss-encrusted paved bathing ghat, the stone cracked in many places, eroded in patches. At that ghat is tethered our slim, elegant boat, painted green and white. On its blue flag, inscribed in white lettering, is the name of the boat. Please tell me what the name should be.’

‘Should I? Let it be named Mitali, for friendship.’

‘Just the right name: Mitali. I had thought of Sagari, in fact I was rather proud of having thought up such a name. But you have defeated me, I must admit.Through the garden flows a narrow channel, bearing the pulsebeat of the Ganga. You live on one side of the channel, and I live just across, on the other side.’

‘Would you swim across every evening, and must I await you at my window, with a lighted lamp?’

‘I’ll swim across in my imagination, crossing a narrow wooden footbridge. Your house is named Manasi, the desired one; and you must give a name to my house.’

‘Deepak—the lamp.’

‘Just the right name. Atop my house, I shall place a lamp to suit the name. A red light will burn there on the evenings when we meet, and a blue one on nights of separation. When I return from Calcutta, I shall daily expect a letter from you. It should sometimes reach me, sometimes not. If I don’t receive it by eight in the evening, I shall curse my ill-fortune and try to read Bertrand Russell’s textbook on logic. It will be our rule, that I must never visit you uninvited.’

‘And can I visit you?’

‘Ideally, both of us should follow the same rule, but if you occasionally break it, I shall not find it intolerable.’

‘If the rule is not to be observed in the breaking, what would be the condition of your house! Perhaps I should visit you in a burkha.’

‘That’s all very well, but I want my letter of invitation. The letter need contain nothing but a few lines of verse, taken from some poem.’

‘And will there be no invitations for me?Am I to be discriminated against?’

‘You are invited once a month, on the night when the moon is at its full, after fourteen days of fragmented existence.’

‘Now offer your favourite pupil an example of the kind of letter to be written.’

‘Very well.’ He produced a notebook from his pocket and wrote, first in English, then in Bengali:

Blow gently over my garden 
Wind of the southern sea
In the hour my love cometh 
And calleth me

Labanya did not return the piece of paper to him.

‘Now for an example of the kind of letter you would write. Let’s see how much you have gained from your lessons.’

Labanya was about to write on a piece of paper. ‘No,’ insistedAmit, ‘you must write in this notebook of mine.’

Labanya wrote, in Sanskrit, and then in English:

Mita, twamasi mama jivanam, twamasi mama bhushanam, 
Twamasi mama bhavajaladhiratnam.
Mita, you are my life, my adornment, 
The jewel in the ocean of my world.

‘The amazing thing is, I have written the words of a woman, and you the words of a man,’ remarked Amit, putting the notebook in his pocket. ‘There is nothing incongruous about it. Whether the wood comes from a red silk cotton tree or from a bakul tree, when set alight, the fire looks the same.’

About the Book

Rabindranath Tagore reinvented the Bengali novel with Farewell Song, blurring the lines between prose and poetry and creating an effervescent blend of romance and satire. Through Amit and Labanya and a brilliantly etched social milieu, the novel addresses contemporary debates about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writing, the nature of love and conjugality and the influence of Western culture on Bengali society. Set against the idyllic backdrop of Shillong and the mannered world of elite Calcutta society, this sparkling novel expresses the complex vision and the mastery of style that characterised Tagore’s later works.

About the Author

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the Renaissance man, reshaped Bengal’s literature and music, and became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. He introduced new prose and verse forms and the use of colloquial language into Bengali literature, thereby freeing it from traditional models based on classical Sanskrit. He was highly influential in introducing the best of Indian culture to the West and vice versa, and was a living institution for India, especially for Bengal.

About the Translator:

Radha Chakravarty is a writer, critic and translator based in New Delhi, India. She has co-edited The Essential Tagore and translated Rabindranath Tagore’s major works including Chokher Bali, Gora, Farewell Song, Four Chapters, The Land of Cards: Stories, Poems and Plays for Children and Boyhood Days. She has also translated other Bengali writers from India and Bangladesh, such as Bankimchandra Chatterjee, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Mahasweta Devi, Anita Agnihotri, Selina Hossain, Hasan Azizul Haq and Syed Shamsul Huq. She is the author of Feminism and Contemporary Women Writers and Novelist Tagore. Her latest books in translation are Our Santiniketan by Mahasweta Devi and Four Chapters by Tagore. Nominated for the Crossword Translation Award, she also is also a widely published poet. She taught Comparative Literature & Translation at Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi.