Guest Blog: Anandamayee Majumdar

Anandamayee Majumdar has been translating Rabindranath Tagore’s songs for a while now. Her translations are available on Gitabitan in English, where she and her friend, Rumela Sengupta, have transcreated more than 700 songs of Tagore so far.  Here Anandamayee shares the challenges and rewards of translating Tagore.

Translating Rabindrasangeet

I am deeply honoured and humbled by the fact that Bhaswati asked me to write something about translating Tagore songs, a topic she wanted to post in her own blog. Here I will describe the motivation and experiences that have been relevant to me in my work. I understand that this is nothing more than a personal experience.

Translation of Rabindranath’s songs is an arduous job, and often times a frustrating one. For one, those who are conversant in Bangla, know how difficult it is to educe similar resonance and melody (surely to be missing in a translation) of the song. It is hard enough to create the same aura of just the poem itself, let alone the rhythm or the melody. Therefore to the Tagore fan of Bengal, any transcreation can easily seem like a travesty.

I need to clarify that so far as records go, there have been two kinds of translations, serving two different purposes. Both are worthy of effort, in my opinion. One, in which the transcreator tries to weld the lyrical threads of the song into her work, creating a poetic essence of the song. The other kind of translation, is that which matches the beats and measures of the original poem. The aim of the latter, is to be able to read it, as well as sing to it.

I personally think, simply to be able to educe similar emotions as the original song can be tremendously difficult, with translated work. One can only try one’s best, and not be too complacent about it. Yet, the translator at some point finds her own wings. Nobody else can tell her what to do. Since similar to creation, transcreation too can become a work of art and ingenuity. Therefore, no two paths could be the same. And so, there could be different ways to transcreate the same song by two different people.

When I first came outside Bengal to the US, I was posed with a problem of sharing Rabindranath’s songs with my friends, who were not conversant in Bengali. I had to translate a few songs to my friends at University of Connecticut in 2001, so we could share them and sing them together. I found that these translations when shared, resonated with the English speaking community — specifically, with those that had spiritual awareness in their lives. Later I was also asked to translate some of Rabindranath’s famous operas, Chitrangada and Shaapmochon by a dance academy for their own performance. These were aimed at the participants and the audience, who were mostly non-conversant in Bangla. Later, I was quelling out my own stress of traveling long distances every week, by translating Tagore songs; also, I was determined not to let my long hours of travel turn out to be entirely futile.

The desire to organize and stockpile these translations, or transcreations as we call them, came from my friend Rumela Sengupta, my soul-mate and dear friend from college, who was also transcreating Tagore songs as a way to connect to her spiritual core. We shared a similar passion for Rabindranath and his songs, and had often hummed them together back in our youth. Rumela created a blog in 2009, that she named ‘Gitabitan in English’, at http://gitabitan-en.blogspot.com. An artist among other things, she brought into it a flair of her own. True to her spirit, she gave it the space and beauty it needed for making this a home cum pleasurable workplace for us, to funnel our emotions and creative passions, to heal our inner selves, to connect to others who loved Rabindranath, and to somehow reach out to those who needed him through our transcreations.

After this blog was born, the contributions became more motivated, and more regular. We began to choose songs to transcreate on a certain day, based on our needs and emotions of that day. Then again we also tried to be context sensitive, to be able to produce some work that would be seasonable and synchronous to the time of year or any concurrent collective occasion. This makes the work more relevant in some sense. We also tried to respond to the specific requests that were sometimes made of us, of transcreating certain lyrics.

We realized that others who had a chance to view the blog often left important comments, and that it would need a separate space of discussion. Rumela set up a discussion forum in Facebook, called Thoughts of Tagore where the transcreations were immediately posted. Friends Suman Dasgupta, Soumya Sankar Basu and Arindam Sengupta and others, often gave us razor-sharp and profound critique that we needed to craft these transcreations into the molds they would eventually become. Their feedback often times, honed the meaning, freshened the imagery, or bore out the essence with crispness. These individuals are our much coveted co-creators.

Since Rumela set up the blog, we have transcreated more than 700 songs. Since Rabindranath’s Gitabitan — his entire collection of songs, encompasses more than 2200 songs, we have a long way to go, to make the entire garden of songs available in English.

Whenever an urge to express arises, I seek one of his songs that seem to guide my emotions, my results of immediate soul-searching. This is all a very personal story to some extent. The good thing is, Tagore-songs import messages that are so universal, I need not bother that they have lost their aura in the present day. So the real challenge is to reach out through a contemporary, universally agreed upon diction, one that spans continents and cultures.

To put this into context of the work that is ‘out there’, we have read the works of many other translators to date, most noteworthy, maybe are Arnolde Bake, Khitish Roy, Ludwig Wittgenstein, William Radice, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, Amiya Chakravarty, and others. We have often been referred to their work, by the pundits we have asked for feedback along our way. We have read most of the existing work of these trendsetters with great passion.

I recently came across a US citizen named John Thorpe visiting Bangladesh, his work brings him to a culturally thriving milieu in the neighborhoods of Rajshahi University. In his fifties now, he has been translating Rabindrasangeet for fifteen years, his aim is to be able to sing them. He sings in both the original Bengali version and in his version of English, with a deep, majestic voice. I noticed his choice of words was quite fresh and contemporary. The fact that he tried to preserve the original cadence, did not cause havoc to the poetic essence. Fascinated by his efforts, I tried following this route on my own. I had previously been urged by quite a few individuals to try this out, but had refrained. I had not found the correct motivation at that point. But now, listening to John sing, it felt right. The path was frustrating, rewarding and effort-some at the same time. One may work on one or many more transcreations a day if this challenge of rhyming or singing to the transcreation, is not present. But with the challenge of allowing the rhythm to flow naturally just as the original, and to let the poetic essence exude just as well, the choice of expressions need such a lot of experimentation, that it often takes a while to finish the process. It is a frontier that is still fresh for me, and I feel both the butterflies and the exhilaration of an explorer.

I am aware of my own lacking conditions, and therefore, my passion for attaining a hold on English literature has grown over time. I confess that I am no English writer, or even a student of literature for that matter. Literary limitations do bother me a lot. I hold, therefore a great value for those specific constructive critique and comments that seem sincere and heartfelt, from the readers of this blog — they have molded my work. I also have been privileged to come across some enlightened writers (in English), who have a lovely command over the English language, and who I take to deeply, mainly because they write from the heart and have an effeminate style.

I believe that if we can let an inspiration wash over us, we can heal ourselves, and that could light up any creation. Without inspiration, without the flame that kindles our desire into action, anything that we do becomes dull. This has happened to many of my own transcreations. On the other hand, sometimes I just happen to sit down and start. This often results into a primary draft which does not appeal at all. But over time, that draft serves as the stepping stone, a skeleton of the work. By and by, I try to chisel out the extraneous, the unimportant, and preserve only the substance that feels right. Language itself is so fluid and magnetic. If one is not intrigued by its beauty, if it is not delectable, as well as spiritual, one can not create a worthy translation, because Rabindranath is both about profound spiritual beauty and consummate expression. As a transcreator, one has the obligation as well as the freedom to take the song (the poem and the melody together), and make it one’s own. It should not be a feeble attempt at making it available in another language, it should be borne out of one’s own heart.

I try to borrow idioms and ideas from everyday life sometimes. I do try and keep a mental note of new phrases, and idioms, and striking nuances of speech, that may come handy and could be used later for some future work.

Editing plays a major role in crafting out these transcreations. I usually edit a lot of times even after a post has appeared on the blog… until I feel that I have given it my best. Even then, it is good to come back to that post after a while, when you can read it as a third person, without attachment.

My interest is also an inherited one. I have had the exposure to Tagore’s songs since I was a child. The learning and practice of Tagore’s songs, poems and opera have been made natural for me by my family. My grandfather Subodh Majumdar was one of the first people in Bengal to self-teach Tagore songs, and to distribute them to his family and country. Renowned singers have taken their music lessons and inspirations from this unusually gifted man. In his thirties, he was making critical discussions on the notations of  Rabindrasangeet with the venerable notation-maker and musician (grandson of Tagore’s brother) Dinendranath Tagore in Santiniketan. Subodh Majumdar was also taking sitar lessons with maestro Ustaad Vilayat Khan at Sangeet Academy in Kolkata. At his own home in Khulna, he was teaching the sitar, Khol, Pakhwaj, violin, harmonium, tabla, flute and Esraj to his seven children.

Rabindrasangeet (among other songs) filled the breath of the house. My father Subrata Majumdar who was also extremely multifaceted,  had transcreated Tagore songs and poems in his twenties. Some of these got published in the family magazine. When I first came across these translated songs and poems, they read so well, I can still recall my elation at reading those soulful, crisp passages. My parents, my aunts also happen to be musicians and teachers in Tagore songs in their own rights. I am much indebted to my family, who have made Rabindranath my companion and friend, since I was a child. Therefore, transcreating Tagore was just one of the things that I can trace back to my family, like many other things.

For me, this is the story of how these transcreations came about, what I think about them, and what works for me. I think that pathway also describes the motivations and frustrations met along the way, for this work.

Death’s Grief by Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

Note: Recently, I lost a loved one to cancer. Though not born into our family, the person had become family for us, and the death only showed me how attached I had been to him without ever realizing that when the person was around. As I grappled with this loss, almost unable to accept the reality of it, I turned to Tagore for some solace. The piece below, part of Tagore’s autobiography, reflects how he himself felt the depth of grief following his sister-in-law’s death, and how his heart finally found acceptance and even peace. Worked as a balm for me in these difficult moments.

That there could be any gap anywhere in life wasn’t known to me at that time; everything seemed tightly knit within the ambit of laughter and tears. As nothing could be seen beyond that, I had received it as the ultimate truth. Suddenly, when death emerged out of nowhere, and, within a moment, created a hollow in the middle of this very manifest life, my mind was totally puzzled. All around me, trees, land, water, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets firmly continued to be as they were, yet that, which amid them was just as true as themselves—in fact, which, the body, this life, the heart had, through a thousand touches known to be even truer than all these supernal entities—when that loved one dissolved like a dream in an instant, it seemed to me an utter collapse of the self! How could I reconcile what remained with what was no more!

A darkness emerging from this pit attracted me all the while. I kept circling around and returning to the same spot, looked at that same darkness and searched for something in place of what had been lost. Humans can never entirely believe in nothingness. Whatever isn’t there must be untrue, and whatever is untrue cannot be there. That is why the effort to see within what can’t be seen and the search for acquiring that which can’t be had never stops. Just like a sapling, when bound inside a dark fence keeps growing upright on its toes in a desperate attempt to get past the darkness and raise its head in light, all my heart and soul, when suddenly fenced by death’s ‘not there’, desperately kept trying to emerge into the light of ‘is there.’ There’s no greater misery than to realize that the path to cross that darkness isn’t visible within that darkness.

However, in the middle of this despairing grief, a breeze of happiness would flow in my heart every now and then, taking me by surprise. The sad fact that life is not absolutely and inertly definite lifted a load off my chest. I felt joyous thinking that we aren’t imprisoned within the stone walls of unmoving truth. That which I had held on to had to be let go of. When seen from the perspective of loss, this evoked pain, but when I saw it from the angle of freedom, I felt spacious peace. That day, I, for the first time, realized like a strange truth that this world’s enormous weight balances itself with the give-and-take of life and death and flows in every direction thus; that weight won’t crush anyone with suppression—no one would have to bear the tyranny of a sole master called life.

This apathy made nature’s beauty even more intensely exquisite for me. For some days, my blind attachment to life nearly disappeared—trees swaying against bright skies would rain a burst of delight down my tear-washed eyes. Death had brought about the distance necessary for viewing the world with completeness and beauty. Standing detached, I watched the world’s image against the vast backdrop of death and knew it to be beautiful.

oak_sapling_warming_itself_in_the_morning_sun1

For a while at that time, a carefree attitude took over my heart, which was also reflected in my outward actions. I found it laughable to conform to the society’s courtesies by accepting them as truths. All that didn’t touch me at all. For a few days, I was completely oblivious to who thought what of me. I would just drape a thick shawl over my dhoti and wear a pair of chappals to go to Thacker’s shop for buying books. My meals were also characterized by haphazardness. For some time, my bed, even during rains and winters, remained on the balcony of the second story; there, I could see the stars eye to eye and meet the light of the dawn without any delay.

On the terrace of our house, alone at night, I would run my fingers like a blind man all over the night, in hopes of seeing a flag atop any peak in the domain of death or a letter or even some symbol etched on its black stone gates. Then, the next morning when light filled my bedding on the balcony, I would open my eyes and find the covering of my heart clearing away; I would find that the expansive view of life appeared as dew-fresh new and marvelous to my eyes as the way in which the world’s rivers, mountains and forests dazzle with the lifting of a fog.

Not that any of these was an austerity for practicing detachment. This was more like a holiday for me. When I found the cane-wielding teacher of this world to be a deception, I ventured to taste freedom by trespassing even small controls. If one fine morning one woke up and found out that the earth’s gravitational pull had lightened by half, why would one want to carefully tread the official path? One would, most definitely, wish to jump across the four-five storied houses on Harrison Road, and if, while enjoying the breeze in Maidan, one came across a monument, one wouldn’t even want to walk past it, but rather  lep over it. My condition was similar—the moment the pull of life loosened under my feet, I was eager to completely leave the beaten path.

Photo source: http://blog.bikeridr.com

 

Pagol or Madman by Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

A small town in the west. At an end of the big street, five or six palm trees rise above the thatched roofs like a mute man’s signs to the sky. Next to the derelict house, an ancient tamarind tree puffs up its dense, glistening foliage like clumps of green cloud. Young goats move about on the ground of this roof-less house. Behind them, the lushness of the forest range spreads across the horizon of the afternoon sky.

Today, rain has completely withdrawn its dark cloak off this town’s head.

I have a lot of important things to write—those remain unwritten. I know this would be a cause of regret in the future; let that be; I would have to accept that. One can never know or stay prepared for the moment when or the form in which wholeness emerges, but when it does, one can’t welcome it empty-handed. At that moment, the one who discusses loss and gain must be a smart calculator and would do well in the world; but dear vacation of light in the midst of glum ashadh (1), in front of your momentary bright, cloud-less glimpse, I put to dust all my important activities—today, I won’t make calculations about the future—I am sold off to the present.

One day follows another, none of them demands anything of me; the calculations don’t go wrong then, all work happens smoothly. In such times, life progresses by linking one day to the next, one task to another; everything is uniform. Suddenly, when a special day appears without informing, like a prince from across the seas; a day unlike any other, all the trail of the days past is lost in an instant—that day, it becomes difficult for routine work to proceed.

This day, though, is our big day—this day of irregularity, this day of ruining work. The day that comes and defeats our everyday is our day of joy. The other days are for the intelligent, the careful, and this one day is for giving ourselves completely up to madness.

Mad isn’t a hateful word to us. We worship Nimai (2) because of his craziness; Maheshwar (3) too is our lunatic god. The West is debating as to whether talent is only a form of developed craziness—but here, we don’t feel ashamed to accept this as true. Inspiration is, of course, craziness, it is an exception to the rule, it comes only to upset order—it emerges all of a sudden—like today’s haphazard day—and destroys all the work of working people—some curse it, some others go crazy, dancing and delighting with it.

Bholanath (4), who remains as the joyful one in our scriptures, is one such oddity among all deities. I see that mad lord amidst the flood of sunshine shining through this day’s washed blue sky. His tabour plays steadily within the heart of this thick afternoon. Today, death’s naked pure face stands still in the middle of this work-filled world—with beauty and peace.

Bholanath, I know you are strange. In every moment of life, you have appeared with your begging bag. And completely wrecked all calculations and measurements. I am familiar with your Nandi (5) and Bhringi (6). I can’t say that they haven’t given me a drop of your intoxicating beverage; these drops have inebriated me, everything has been upset—today nothing is in order for me.

I know that happiness is an everyday item, but bliss is beyond every day. Happiness remains constricted, fearing it may get dirty; bliss rolls over dust and shatters its separation with the universe; that is why to happiness, dust is inferior, but for bliss, dust is an ornament. Happiness is afraid of losing something; bliss is delighted to relinquish everything; for this reason, to happiness, emptiness is poverty, but to bliss, poverty is abundance. Happiness carefully protects its grace within the confines of order; bliss openly expresses its beauty in the freedom of destruction; this is why happiness is bound to outward rules, but bliss breaks those bounds to create its own rules. Happiness waits for nectar to arrive; bliss drinks the poison of sorrow with ease. For this reason, happiness is partial to only good, but for bliss, good and bad are no different.

There’s a madman in all of this creation who brings in everything that is inconceivable for no reason at all. He is the centrifugal force who is forever pulling the universe outside rules. The god of rule is always trying to put all the world’s paths into a neat orbit, and this madman overturns all this and twists it into a coil. At his whim, this madman creates bird in the clan of snakes and man in the family of apes. There’s a desperate attempt in the world to permanently protect all that has happened and all that is; he plunders all of that to carve paths for what is not yet there. His hands don’t hold a flute, harmony isn’t his tune; his pinak (7) rumbles, all orderly yagna (8) is ruined, and out of nowhere, something wonderful appears on the scene. Craziness and talent, both are his creations. The one whose string breaks at his pull goes mad, and the one whose string plays in an unheard melody becomes gifted. Mad people are outside the range of the ordinary, and so it is with talented people. The mad, however, remains on the fringe only, while the gifted take ordinary people into a new realm, thereby increasing their rights…


It is not as if this mad lord of ours appears only at certain moments; in creation, his madness is always at work; we only get a glimpse of it in certain moments. Death is forever making life new, bad is brightening good, and the inconceivable is giving value to the trifle. At the moment we get such a glimpse, the freedom within the form becomes evident to us.

Today, amid this cloudless light, I see that amazing face. That road across, that thatched-roof provisions store, that broken house, that narrow by-lane, those trees and vegetation—I used to see all these with the pettiness of everyday familiarity. That’s why these had confined me—had kept me in house arrest within these daily images. Today, all of a sudden, all the pettiness is gone. On this day I see that for so long I had been viewing the unknown as familiar; my seeing wasn’t clear at all. Today, I can’t finish looking at all these. Today, all of these things surround me, yet they don’t imprison me, they all make way for me. My madman was here only—that spectacular, unknown wonder, who did not ignore this thatched-roof provisions store—only, I didn’t have the light before my eyes with which to view him. What is amazing about today is that these nearby images have acquired for me the glory of a far-off place. The impenetrability of the snow-capped Himalayas and the impassability of the wave-ridden ocean express their fraternity with the madman.

In this way, one day we suddenly realise that the one with whom we had established a familial relationship remains outside our family. The one whom we had taken to be readily available in every moment is actually rare and hard to get. Those, around whom we had drawn a boundary thinking we knew them well, appear to have acquired a marvellous mystery by crossing all boundaries. The same one who, when viewed from the side of rules and balance, appeared rather small, quite regular, very familiar, when viewed from the side of breach, from the angle of that graveyard-roaming madman, turns me speechless—amazing! Who is that! The one whom I have always known is now this, who! The one who is part of the home on one side belongs to the heart on the other. The one who is important to work on the one hand is completely outside all necessities on the other. The same one whom I touch on the one hand is, on the other, beyond all grasp. The one who has managed to fit well with everyone is, at the same time, a total misfit, absorbed in self.

Today I saw the one whom I don’t see every day. In so doing, I gained freedom from every day. I thought I was bound by the everyday rules within the fence of familiarity surrounding me. Today I see, I have been forever playing on the lap of grand wonder. I thought that I had been making my daily calculations under the sharp gaze of a big officer in the office. Today, at the roaring laughter of the miscalculating madman—who is bigger than the big officer—reverberating through water, land, sky, air and the entire universe, I heave a sigh of relief. My workbook remains untouched. I lay down the pile of my important work at the feet of that capricious madman—let the blow of his Tandava (9) smash it into pieces and blow it off as dust.

1. Ashadh: A month of the Hindu calendar

2. Nimai: A prominent saint of medieval Bengal and the founder of Bengal Vaishnavism. Also known as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

3. Maheshwar: Another name for Shiva, a major Hindu deity. The god of destruction.

4. Bholanath: Alternative name for Shiva.

5. Nandi: Shiva’s vehicle, a bull.

6. Bhringi: Originally a demon who was transformed by Shiva into a humble devotee and admitted into his force as a commander of his armies.

7. Pinak: Shiva’s bow.

8. Yagna: A Hindu ritual, dating back to Vedic times, carried out to please gods. Oblations are poured into sacrificial fire, as everything that is offered into the fire is believed to reach the gods.

9. Tandava: In Hindu mythology, Shiva’s Tandava is a vigorous dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution.

End of Year by Rabindranath Tagore

Today as I reached the silent peacefulness of this place, away from the clamor of the capital’s human assembly, the sky was covered in evening’s glow. Cloud clusters had lent a soft hue to the green of the forest by placing shadows on it; had I stayed in the capital, I couldn’t have seen this face of the year’s last day with the clarity that I did here. There, a covering of whirlwind encircles everything; that covering hides the united form of beginning and end in creation. The music of human life needs to pause for returning to the start again and again. But amid the cacophony of crowd one feels taan* after taan play on without pausing to return to the first beat. There, man moves with the crowd’s push; that movement is devoid of rhythm…When evening descends on a city, it can’t reveal itself, the day’s noise barges in to choke its voice. Daytime’s labor looks for crude excitement in evening’s leisure.
Tired of body and mind, I had thought I wouldn’t gain entry into the year’s last day today. Suddenly, thick clouds caressed the woods; the expansive bliss spread across the horizon didn’t appear as emptiness but as beauty. I see this evening filled to the brim with the wholeness that rests within the endless stream of the world’s work. In meditation I realized, that which I know to be the end in the outside world hides the seeds of new life in this place.


In every moment I see that life’s entire prosody is contained within conclusion. Without pause, rhythm would lose its identity…In mankind’s history, several civilizations have vanished after a period of grandeur. The reason was that those civilizations had lost the pause; they only scattered their enterprise, didn’t care to pick up the same…So the rhythm broke. The first beat came back in the wrong place, and it wasn’t cessation; it was destruction.

It is my good fortune to have come here today. In the city I returned from, the evening’s face is one of frenzy, not of well-being. There, death’s identity has lost its solemnity. Human habitations make every effort to deny death. That’s the reason one can’t see the truth of death in such places…

May the end show us that face of liberation, which contains wholeness. Calmly I say, “Dear End, within you resides the infinite. I see in your eyes a trace of tear on this last day of the year; separation, dejection, and weary melancholy eclipse dusk’s darkness. Despite that, assimilating and crossing over all those, I hear your voice within and without. Om. The heart’s pain has only lent it beauty—tears haven’t dulled it, yet made it gentler. Every evening, death reveals its calm and graceful face across the immense star-draped sky. Embracing it, we lay down—relieved—all the day’s burdens.

At the end of the year, I see that same vast face resting on the untiring, imperishable throne of darkness. I pay my obeisance to it.”

* Taan is a virtuosic technique used in the performance of a vocal raga in Hindustani classical music. It involves the singing of very rapid melodic passages on the syllable “a.” It is similar to the technique ahaat, used in Arabic music. [From Answers.com]

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

On a Cloudy Day by Rabindranath Tagore

Every day is filled with work and people. At the end of each day, one feels the day’s work and exchanges have said all that needed to be said. One doesn’t find the time to grasp that which remains unsaid within.
This morning, cluster upon cluster of cloud has covered the sky’s chest. There’s work to do today as well, and there are people all around. But there’s a feeling that all that lies inside cannot be exhausted outside. Man crossed seas, scaled mountains, dug holes under the ground to steal gems and riches, but the act of transmitting one person’s innermost thoughts and feelings to another—this, man could never accomplish. PartlyCloudy On this cloudy morning, that caged thought of mine is desperately flapping its wings inside me. The person within says, “Where is that forever’s friend who will rob me of all my rain by exhausting my heart’s clouds?”
On this cloud-covered morning I hear the inside voice rattling the closed door’s fetters again and again. I wonder, what should I do? Who is the one at whose call my words will cross work’s barrier to journey through the world with the lamp of song in my hands? Who is there whose one look would string all my strewn pains into a garland of joy and make them glow in one light? I can only give it to the one who begs it of me with the perfect note. At the bend of which road stands that ruinous beggar of mine? My inside’s ache wears a saffron robe today. It wants to emerge into the path which, like the innocent single string of an ektara, chimes within the steps of the ‘heart’s person.’
Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

Rain’s Letter by Rabindranath Tagore

Dear Friend,

Living as you do amid the desert of Sindh country, imagine the monsoons in Calcutta.

In this letter, I remind you of Bengal’s rain…Ponds swelling with water, mango orchards, wet crows, and ashadhe tales. And if you can recall Ganga’s bank, then think of the cloud’s shadow on the streaming water and of the Shiva temple located within the peepul tree under the cloud cover. Think of the veiled village women who fill water from the rear banks, getting drenched as they make their way home through the bamboo briars, passing paathhshalas and cowsheds; think of how the rain splashes in from a distance by placing its feet over the waving crop fields; first on the mango orchards at the end of the field, then on the bamboo backwoods; next, every single hut, every village fades out behind the monsoon’s transparent cover, little girls sitting before huts clap and invite the rain with their songs—in the end, the downpour captures all land, all forest, every village into its snare. Unceasing rain—in the mango fields, bamboo bushes, rivers; on the head of the crouched boatman as he flinches while wrapping his blanket. And in Calcutta, rain falls in  Ahiritola, Kansharipara, Teriti Market, Borobazaar, Shova Bazaar, Harikrishna’s Lane, Motikrishna’s Lane, Ramkrishna’s Lane, Zigzag Lane—on mansion roofs, shops, trams, the head of buggy coach drivers and so on.

These days it doesn’t rain heavily, the way it used to in our childhood. Today’s rain has no grandeur of the past, it is as if the monsoon season is focused on economy—it’s on its way out after sprinkling a little water—just some gluey mud, some drizzle, a bit of inconvenience. One can manage the entire rainy season with a torn umbrella and a pair of shoes from the China bazaar. I don’t see the revelry of the yesteryear’s thunder, lightning, rain, and breeze. Rains of the past had a song and dance, a rhythm and a beat—these days the monsoon seems to be gripped by the jaws of ageing, by ideas of calculation and bookkeeping, by concerns of catching a cold. People say it’s only a sign of me growing old.

Perhaps it is that. Every age has a season; perhaps I am past that. In one’s youth it’s spring, in old age autumn, and in one’s childhood, rain. We don’t love home as much as we do in our childhood. The monsoon season is for staying at home, for imagining, for listening to stories, for playing with one’s siblings. In the darkness of the rain, far-fetched folklores assume a degree of truth. The screen of a thick downpour seems to put a cover on the world’s official activities. There are fewer wayfarers on the streets, fewer crowds, the usual busyness isn’t visible in places—the doors of houses are shut, coverings drape offices and shops…

Bengal rain

…I remember, during rainy days, I would run across our sprawling verandah—the door banged with the wind, the giant tamarind tree shook with all its darkness, the courtyard welled up with water up to one’s knees, water from four tin taps on the terrace gushed forth with a thud to join the courtyard water…Back then, flowers bloomed on our keya tree beside the pond (the tree is no more). During the rains, when the steps on the pond’s bank vanished one by one, and the water finally flooded into the garden—when the clustering heads of the bel flower plant stayed upright above the water and the pond fish played around the water-logged trees in the garden — at that time, I raised my dhuti to the knee and imagined romping around the garden. In rainy days, when one thought of school, what a gloom clasped one’s heart, and if Mastermoshai ever knew what one thought upon suddenly spotting his umbrella at the end of the lane from one’s verandah…

I hear these days many students think of their teachers as friends and dance with delight at the thought of going to school. Perhaps this is a good sign. But it seems there are a growing number of boys who don’t love play, rain, home, and holidays—boys who don’t love anything in this wide world besides grammar and geography lessons. The sharp rays of civilization, intellect, and knowledge, it seems, are making the population of innocent children dwindle, replacing it with precocity.

Ashadhe tales = Improbable, fantastical stories

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

Song of the Red Road

An unbound auburn road bears songs not washed away by the gust of time; songs the sage poet sang to extol the road’s hypnotic effect on the weary traveler’s mind. The road lives, the songs live, too. The road and its songs are one now.

That ruddy road down the village makes my heart stray.
Who does the hand reach out to, only to roll over the dust?



The road makes its own way, unrestricted and haphazard and comes to meet its friend, the giant banyan tree. She knows the sun likes to play behind it, splashing its gleam through the banyan’s curtains.

When I first met that banyan tree, its leaves were the green color of spring. The sky’s fugitive light would flash through its gaps and embrace earth’s shadows on the grass. After that ashadh’s rain came; like the clouds its leaves became somber. Today the pile of leaves is akin to the mature intelligence of the elderly, no outside light can pervade its gaps… This morning, she said to me, dangling her enormous emerald necklace, “Why are you sitting with all those bricks and stones on your head? Come all out in the open like me!”



After sharing her pleasure-pain tales with the banyan, the red road curves toward the shal forests. There, inebriated trees oscillate on the wayward wind’s notes.

This felt nice, this dance of light on leaves
The wild shalbon storm makes my heart quiver.

Haat commuters dart through the auburn road,

A little girl sits alone on the dust and spreads her toys
All this that I see before me strikes the cords of my heart’s veena.



The sun has stopped its play for the day. Dusk joins the red road as she makes her way to commune with her people—those who know the soil and the forests as dear friends. Santhal villagers greet the road with their earthy smile and rustic songs.

The Santhal girl comes and goes
through the pebble-strewn road by the Shimul tree.
A thick sari tightly wraps her dark, slim body.

One of god’s absent-minded artisans

must have lost his way while creating a black bird

and perusing ingredients from monsoon’s clouds and lightning

fashioned that woman.



Then night comes—with the glow of intermittent fireflies flickering through the invisible marshes along pale green ponds. The auburn road doesn’t stop. It continues to sing—all out in the open—where day and night, past and present, work and play are enmeshed with the One.

All of the above is a languid reminiscing of my journey to Shantiniketan in March.

Note: All quoted text written by Rabindranath Tagore, translated feebly by Bhaswati Ghosh.

First Sorrow by Rabindranath Tagore

The path by the shadow of the forest is now covered with grass.

On that deserted road, someone called me from behind.

“Don’t you recognise me?”

I turned back to look at him.

“I remember you, but do not recall your name.”

He said, “I am the sorrow who came to you when you were twenty-five.”

The corner of his eyes revealed a spark of ray, just like moonlight on a lake.

I stood there, surprised.

“Back then, you appeared like a dark monsoon cloud. Now, you look like a golden idol. Have you lost the tears of that day?” I asked.

He didn’t say anything, just smiled. I realized everything was contained in that smile.


The clouds of the rainy day had learned to smile like bright sunny days of the summer.

I asked him, “Have you preserved my youth of twenty-five?”

“Yes, I made it my necklace. Not even a single petal of the spring’s garland had fallen.”

I said, “See, how I have shriveled with age. But my youth is still adorning your neck, as fresh as ever.”

He slowly put that necklace around my neck and said, “Do you remember, that day you had said, you don’t need consolation, you only want sorrow?”

I shrugged a little. “Yes, I did. But it has been so long; I had forgotten about it.”

“But the one within you hadn’t forgotten. Now, you must accept me,” he said.

I held his hand and said, “How wonderful you look!”

He smiled and said, “That which was once sorrow, is now peace.”

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

Holiday Preparations by Rabindranath Tagore

Puja holidays draw near.
Sunshine is draped in the colour of Champa.
The air ripples with dew,
Shiuli’s fragrance lingers
like the delicate caress of someone’s cool hands.
White clouds make the sky lazy—
seeing which, the mind becomes laid-back.
 
Mastermoshai continues to teach
the primitive story of coal
While a student sits on the bench and paddles his feet,
his mind awash with images
The cracked ghat of Kamal pond,
And the fruit-laden custard apple tree of the Bhanjas.
And he sees in his mind’s eyes, the zigzag path
that leads from the milkmen’s neighbourhood
by the side of the haat,
into the tishi fields, next to the river.
 
During the economics class at college
the bespectacled, medal-winning student
jots down a list–
which recent novel to buy,
which shop will give on credit—
the sari with the “Do Remember” border,
shakha washed in gold,
a pair of red velvet chappals, handcrafted in Dilli
and a silk cloth-bound poetry book,
printed on antique paper—
the title of which eludes him.
 
At the three-storied house in Bhabanipur
a melange of shrill, hoarse voices talk—
This time will it be MountAbu or Madurai,
Dalhousie or Puri,
or that ever familiar Darjiling?
 
And I see, on the auburn path that leads to the station
five or six lambs tethered with ropes,
their helpless cry rending
the calm autumn sky that lilts with brushing kaash flowers.
How do they know
their puja holidays are nigh?

Mastermoshai = Respectful term for teacher (Bengali)

Champa, Shiuli = Flowers

Ghat = Bank

Haat = Weekly village market

Tishi = Linseed

Shakha = White bangle made of a particular stone. Is worn by married Bengali women.

Chappal = Footwear

 

Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh

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The Path to Walk on, by Rabindranath Tagore

This, indeed, is the path to walk on.

It has wound its way through the woods to the fields, through the fields to the riverbank, next to the banyan tree; then it courses its way through the villages. As it moves further, beside the lush fields, amid the shadows of the mango orchards, by the bank of the Padma River, I cannot tell in which village it would wind up.

So many people have passed by me on this path, some joining my company, others seen from afar; some with a veil over their heads, others without any; some walking to fetch water, others returning with water.

II

The day has retreated and darkness descends.

Once this path had seemed personal, intimately mine; now I see I carried a summon to walk on it only once, no more.

Past the lime trees, the pond, the riverbank, the cowsheds, the paddy mounds, the familiar glances, the known words, the acquainted circles, there won’t be any returning to say “Hey there!”

This is the path to walk on, not one to return from.

This hazy evening, I turned back once and found the path to be an ode to many a forgotten footstep, all entwined in the notes of Bhairavi.

This path has summarized the stories of all its travelers in a single dirt trail; the one track which traverses between sunrise and sunset, from one golden gate to another.

III

“Dear walking path, don’t keep all the stories you have accumulated through the ages tied quietly into your dust strand. I am pressing my ears against your dust, whisper them to me.”

The path remains silent, pointing its index finger toward the dark curtain of night.

“Dear walking path, where have the worries and desires of all the travelers gone?”

The mute path doesn’t talk. It just lays down signals between sunrise and sunset.

“Dear walking path, the feet that embraced your bosom like a shower of wildflowers, are they nowhere today?”

Does the path know its end—where forgotten flowers and silent songs reach, where starlight illumines a Diwali of resplendent pain.

Translated by: Bhaswati Ghosh

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