Dear Team Doublespeak
Thank you for coming up with the idea of the magazine for what it is and congratulations for not giving up on the ideals that you must have commenced the journey with.
Readers today have a plethora of digital work to read from and I personally think that gives us the opportunity to choose discretely from the quality of literature that is being produced.
Magazines like this also give some writers the audacity to dream- to see their work and name in print, to enable their creations, that they thought would forever stay away from any other pairs of eyes, to see the light of the day.
This letter is in reference to Supurna Dasgupta’s translation of Tarapada Roy’s Bengali poem ‘Katodin Pare’ into English which she chose to name ‘How Much Time Must Lapse’.
It was a daunting effort, I’d say. The poem is deeply set in rural Bengal and has elements that are difficult to relate to by readers who aren’t accustomed to the lifestyle that is all but too common in the rural Gangetic plains. It is not difficult for the essence of ‘shapla’ and ‘baataabi phool’ to be lost in translation, for, readers who haven’t seen, felt or smelled the fragrance of these otherwise common flowers wouldn’t know what tantalising magic they can create. Ms Dasgupta has tried her best to do justice to the poet’s appeal through words. However, as a reader, who is fortunate enough to know the language that the original poem is composed in as well as one who is insanely in love with poetry I have two major observations-
The opening line in the original poem ‘Phire jaaoaa jaay’ has a tone of decisiveness in it. The poet claims that one CAN go back. The translated version begins with ‘Until one returns’.
As a reader, I would expect ellipses and not a period to punctuate the translated version of this line as if there is more to it, which is not what the poet had intended, I’d say. In the original poem, the first line ends with a ‘dNaaRi’ which is the Bengali equivalent of a full stop.
Secondly, the sixth line in the second stanza –‘Maagher stabdha haaoaa’ has been translated as ‘The quiet winds of March’. A reader who is aware of the original language would be compelled to stop here and ponder. ‘Maagh’ in the Bengali lunar calendar begins from mid-January and there are multiple Bengali proverbs to prove that it is supposed to be the coldest time of the year, even by Bengal standard. This period can never be put forward as March, which is spring—a time that is most congenial for love to bloom. The love in the poem, however, cannot bloom anymore. The poet says that though a lover can always go back to his (because the poet is a man here and is also the speaker) beloved, he cannot really!
As a reader, I’d like to assume that Roy had conscientiously chosen to set the poem in winter because he wants to convey how the warmth between the persona and the beloved has almost frozen and hence has used the phrase ‘stabdha haaoaa’ which again, cannot be translated as ‘a gentle breeze’. While the former speaks of how the emotions that flowed between the poet and the beloved have stalled—almost like that in the horse latitudes—a gentle breeze of March would convey quite the contrary. After all, it is not for no reason that the poet laureate of Asia (as Lord Hardinge had chosen to call Tagore) introduced Basantotsav in spring!
A translator often faces a mêlée—they can either translate it literally in order to stay as close as possible to the original at the expense of losing some or all of its poetic qualities, or be unfaithful to the literal meaning and emphasise conveying the essence and emotion. It is particularly challenging while translating poetry because, unlike prose, words and their essence are mostly intertwined in this genre; more often than not, words are chosen based on their connotations rather than their literal meanings. In this case, however, as a reader, I personally feel that the two lapses mentioned above have compromised the literal as well as the essential meaning that the poet of the original Bengali poem intended to convey.
It is heartening to see poems of Tarapada Roy, who should have been celebrated much more than he has been, being translated and brought to notice to an array of readers across the globe. Looking forward to more of such translated work, particularly of brilliant but obscure poets.
Thanks and gratitude!