Balika Ashram — Abu Hasan Shahriar


Translation: Bhaswati Ghosh

– 6 –

Open page forty-nine of the heart:
This is a river of sorrow; it flows from the mountain of hurt

Now go to page one hundred and thirty-two of the eyes:
This is the story of a bicycle; a boy’s pakkhiraaj horse

Turn to page ninety-two of the chin:
This is a monsoon poem; painted in the watercolour of her first kiss

Pause on page one hundred and sixty-nine of her hair:
A night ballad, this is where Chandrabatis bloom

Let’s move on to the end then:
This is a moth-eaten chapter, never to be retrieved.

Image: Painting by Rabindranath Tagore, source:

Aranyalipi — Notes from refugee quarters, by Amiya Sen

[This is an extract from “Aranyalipi,” Amiya Sen’s nonfiction book-length account of refugees from East Pakistan who had been rehabilitated in Dandakaranya, a region that includes parts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The Dandakaranya Development Authority was created by the union government in 1958 to assist refugees from Pakistan. This excerpt appears in Muse India’s Literature of Refugees issue.]

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

Dear Su,

…I had no idea about DaAmiya Senndakaranya. After crossing a hundred and forty-five miles of hilly terrain between Mana camp and Raipur we reached Kondagaon–high above the plains. Yet, even at that point, I didn’t realize we were at the forest’s gate. This was the entrance to the heart of the Dandakaranya project. I had imagined the real Dandak forest lay deeper inside. This was a dense settlement of thousands of people–little Bengal, just like little Andaman.

Jogani astounded me. This was the first planned village as part of the project, about six or seven miles from Kondagaon. In July 1959, the village of Jogani was established with 88 families and a total population of 392.

Although we are now urban dwellers on a mass basis, the image of a village is well etched in our hearts. It is rare to find an individual who hasn’t seen a village or lived in one for at least some time. But what a village this was! A few drab-looking tin houses sat in an area cleared off the forest floor. No other human settlement was visible through the gaps of the scattered shaal trees lining the nearby area.

A few broken houses dotted the landscape. Many of those rehabilitated here with government aid had already left the village. Jogani’s land is sterile; it doesn’t cultivate any edible crop. I was told that only two or three families had been lucky enough to receive arable land. The rest of the land was left unclaimed at the time of my visit. Those who left the village didn’t do so without giving a fight to the infertile soil. Along with their menfolk, women too had taken up crowbars to rid the soil of shaal saplings and weeds. For days on end, many of them ate grass seeds to curb hunger. At last, helpless and defeated, they drifted off this settlement.

There is soil-testing laboratory in Jagdalpur, Madhya Pradesh. Apparently, all peasant refugees are allotted land only after the soil is tested in that lab. But Jogani tells a different story–it doesn’t seem like the soil of this village was ever tested. This could be the first step of an experiment with agriculture-reliant refugees.

Those who have stayed back in the village depend on jobs or labour. Take Jaladhar Sarkar, for instance. He came to India in 1954, from Bishwambhapur village in Srihatta district. After living in a camp for four years, he has been rehabilitated in Jogani with twenty-one bighas of land. He and his two sons support a family of six or seven by working as peons and construction workers. The land they received lies fallow and unused.

In 1960, a loom had been opened in Jogani. It still exists but has lost its sheen. Work goes on at an irregular pace. Whenever the products made there accumulate, there is a pause in the work of daily wagers.

Currently, the only employment generator around Jogani is Borgaon Industrial Centre, about four or five miles from the village. Men and women from Jogani walk every day to work there. Among them, the daily wagers are the most disadvantaged. The work, low-paying as it is, doesn’t come with the guarantee of being available all through the year.

It was a Monday. The village, if one could call this desert-like place that, looked totally deserted. Besides shaaland mahua trees, there was no sign of green anywhere. Not even a pumpkin or bottle gourd patch that one saw in Mana’s camps. Mana has water, it has canals and ponds. Here, tube wells exist. Had paddy or any other crop grown on the land, the villagers would have pumped out water to cultivate some vegetables. But where is the time for that now! Every morning they must run to Borgaon in search of work. If only that could fill their bellies! But then, it’s possible that that the soil here is indeed barren.

I met a few people–none of them evinced any joy on having received land and a house for free. Actually, they got the money for their houses as a loan, which they needed to pay off once they were settled. But what settlement and what pay-off? With no place to go, they continue to stay here, in spite of all hardship. But they are not un-enterprising. They toil hard to make sure their children receive education. They would take up any work that comes their way. But the opportunities are so limited.

The very first step of the Dandakaranya settlement left me disappointed. In comparison, I was pleased to see Bijapur as part of my present trip. This was situated in Bastar too, but as a transit camp, not a village. As of March 15, 1965, 67 families stayed there.

There were only two tube wells in the entire camp. But a spot of green welcomed one to every hut. Bottle gourd and pumpkin vines climbed up the roofs of huts. Mounds of mahua flowers were spread out to dry in front of several houses. These would be boiled to make jaggery. This settlement was forest-dependant too. But the dense cluster of huts and the camp’s consistent population had imbued it with a lively atmosphere. The camp dwellers effused optimism. They dreamed of ascending to a better life — of farmland, house, agricultural loan, and the victory roll of produce brushing against plough.

Life is at work, everywhere. Saplings pierce cracked walls to sprout. Flowers bloom on mountain tops. I have even seen fish germinating in the city’s makeshift drains.

I enter a hut and find a young mother carrying her infant on her lap. It’s her first born. The young father, though excited, is also a bit distressed. Nights in Bastar are still quite chilly. The child doesn’t have any warm clothing. In many homes, I saw just kanthas and pillows for bedding. No one has quilts or blankets. Almost all these people arrived in India following the 1964 riots in Pakistan.

In an instant, that cabinet stuffed with blankets in Mana flashed before my eyes.

I ask the refugees, “Didn’t you get any blankets?”

“No, didimoni,” say the men and women in unison. “We only got woks, enamel plates, a bucket and a few such things. These were given to us in Sealdah station. We didn’t get anything after coming here.”

“You all came here through Mana, right?”

“Yes, didimoni.”

The path to enter Dandakaranya is through Mana—the headquarters of all transit camps and work centres of the project.

According to government statistics, refugees over the age of eight are provided sixteen rupees or clothing worth that amount. The record doesn’t mention how many times this happens; possibly only once. The record also notes the distribution of blankets.

“Woollen blankets may be supplied at the rate of one blanket per adult, subject to a maximum of three per family.” [Estimates Committee, (B.C. No. 412) 1964-65]

The blankets were meant for last year’s riot victims. These refugees belong to the same category. Why didn’t they get the blankets then?

The dole money the refugees receive isn’t enough to cover even two square meals a day, let alone allow for clothes. But leave aside government funds and statistics; the stash I saw in Mana came mostly from donations meant for refugees. If those blankets don’t come to these unfortunate people, have they been filled in almirahs just for the purpose of being displayed to VIPs?

In Mana, expecting mothers received yet another benefit. When a baby was born, the mother and her child got a set of new clothes. The women of Jogani aren’t as fortunate.

A gentleman accompanying me said, “Don’t believe everything they say. These people here are no less sly; they might have sold off the blankets.”

I know it is easier being the devil than the lord. But looking at their faces, it appeared improbable that so many male and female devils had landed here from East Bengal.

For argument’s sake, even if one accepted the gentleman’s proposition, the question remains as to why these people sold off the blankets. One can discount those who have left the camp. But those who have stayed back know very well how indispensable blankets are during winters here. They are also aware that it is impossible for them to find any alternative sources of combating the cold weather. If knowing this, they still sold off the blankets, it follows they must have done so out of extreme penury.

The British robbed India to add riches to its empire. And we have robbed our own poor of food and shelter–in the name of freedom.

On Birthday by Rabindranath Tagore

River-nurtured is this life of mine.
The bestowals of mountain peaks
run through its veins,
its terrain, carved by many different alluviums,
life’s enigmatic nectar
transfused, from several directions
grain by grain.
Web-streams of music from the East and the West
envelop its dream and arousal.
The river that’s the world’s envoy
bringing the distant closer,
and the unknown’s invitation at the doorstep
Created my birthday —
All along my boundless, flowing abode
has floated in its current
from shore to shore.
I am an outcast, a wanderer
my birthday platter brims over
again and again, without fail
with grains of unrestrained kindness.

(Translation: Bhaswati Ghosh)

River View by Gaganendranath Tagore



নদীর পালিত এই জীবন আমার ।

নানা গিরিশিখরের দান

নাড়ীতে নাড়ীতে তার বহে ,

নানা পলিমাটি দিয়ে ক্ষেত্র তার হয়েছে রচিত ,

প্রাণের রহস্যরস নানা দিক হতে

শস্যে শস্যে লভিল সঞ্চার ।

পূর্বপশ্চিমের নানা গীতস্রোতজালে

ঘেরা তার স্বপ্ন জাগরণ ।

যে নদী বিশ্বের দূতী

দূরকে নিকটে আনে ,

অজানার অভ্যর্থনা নিয়ে আসে ঘরের দুয়ারে ।

সে আমার রচেছিল জন্মদিন —

চিরদিন তার স্রোতে

বাঁধন-বাহিরে মোর চলমান বাসা

ভেসে চলে তীর হতে তীরে ।

আমি ব্রাত্য , আমি পথচারী ,

অবারিত আতিথ্যের অন্নে পূর্ণ হয়ে ওঠে

বারে বারে নির্বিচারে মোর জন্মদিবসের থালি ।

Dashrath’s Dinner Party by Amiya Sen (Short Story)

Translated from the Bengali by Bhaswati Ghosh

As she pulled the curtains off the doors and windows and dumped them on the floor, Shakuntala hollered, “Munga, come here, fast!”

Dashrath was at the dining table, shaving. Casting a glance towards Shakuntala, he said, “Why are you taking those off yourself? Have Munga do that…if you fell down—”

“That worthless servant of yours. You brought home a rascal from the orphanage. It’s eight in the morning, and he is yet to finish his work in the kitchen. A heap of clothes remains to be washed. I must load them into the washer myself and wait until the cycle is completed. If left to him, he will ruin the clothes like he did last time. Sigh, your new safari suit and Gudiya’s expensive zari-bordered lehnga-choli.”

“Let it be. Where will you get a servant for 30 rupees in today’s market? We are managing just fine. Hey, Munga, get up on the stool, take down the curtains and pile them in the backyard. Then bring a duster. Clean everything in all the rooms. Khabardar, nothing should break, or else I will beat you to a pulp, you understand?”

Read the rest at Humanities Underground

The Kitchen, another story by the same author.


Amiya Sen (1916-1990) is a Bengali novelist and short story writer. Her writing has been published in various Bengali journals, including Desh, Jugantar, and Basumati.Aranyalipi and New Delhi-r Nepathye are her non-fiction books. She also wrote a children’s book called Shonai Shono Rupkatha.

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 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.

MY Days with Ramkinkar Baij

Twenty Andrews Palli. Kinkarda lives in this house now.

He sits in the room adjoining a small veranda. He lives in this room; it is his living room as well as bedroom. The door is ajar; it is always like that.

[From My Days With Ramkinkar Baij]


I found the way to that door about five years ago. As it was ajar, I entered, though not without some measure of diffidence. The world of a towering genius called Ramkinkar Baij, Kinkarda to his loved ones, had opened up to me, but was I capable enough to navigate it? Gladly, printed words, not the actual, near-mythical persona of Kinkarda, paved my pathway. The hesitance started fading, like the lifting of a soft mist off an enormous mountain. This monumental (I don’t use the word lightly) sculptor-painter had me entranced–with his works, life. And words.

Yes, words, because My Days with Ramkinkar Baij, which I read as Shilpi Ramkinkar Alaapchari in Bengali, is Ramkinkar’s life in his own words. From a timid reader, I turned into a zealous admirer. In the five years that followed, the book took me to Norwich, UK (I received the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship to work on the translation of this book); I got married and moved to the U.S. and then to Canada; became a translator; my translation of Shilpi Ramkinkar Alaapchari found a publisher and became My Days with Ramkinkar Baij.

Even as author Somendranath Bandyopadhyay, through his smooth and sensitive narrative–based on his closeness to Ramkinkar–recounted his days with the awe-inspiring artist, the past five years enabled me to experience My (own) Days with Ramkinkar Bai–vibrant, many-hued, at times tumultuous.

For this, I couldn’t be grateful enough.

Ten-day Fast (Short Story)

By Harishankar Parsai

Translated by Bhaswati Ghosh

(Courtesy: )

January 10

Today I told Bannu, “Look Bannu, the times are such that Parliament, laws, the constitution, judiciary—all have become useless. Big demands are getting met by threats of fasting and self-immolation. The democracy of twenty years has become so sick that the fates of fifty crore people are decided by the threat of one man going hungry or dying. I say the time is ripe for you too to sit on a fast for that woman.”

Bannu became thoughtful. For years, he has been after Radhika babu’s wife, Savitri. He even received thrashing once for trying to persuade her to elope. He can’t get her to divorce her husband because Savitri hates Bannu.

After some pondering he said, “But can one go on a fast for this?”

I said, “Right now, one can fast for anything. Just recently Baba Sankidas got a law enacted by fasting that makes it mandatory for every man to keep his hair knotted without ever washing it. All heads are reeking of stench. Yours is a small demand—just a woman.”

Surendra was there as well. He said, “Yaar, what are you saying! Fasting to snatch someone else’s wife? We should have some shame. People will laugh.”

I said, “Arre yaar, big-time fasting saints didn’t feel any shame. We are, after all, ordinary folks. As far as laughing is concerned, people all over the world have laughed so hard over the cow-saving movement that their stomachs are hurting now. No one is in a position to laugh for another ten years. Anyone who does will die of stomach ache.”

Bannu said, “Shall I find success?”

I said, “That depends on how you make the issue. If it’s made well, you will get the woman. Come, let’s go to the ‘expert’ to seek guidance. Baba Sankidas is a specialist. His practice is running well. These days, four people are fasting under his guidance.”

We went to Baba Sankidas. After listening to us he said, “All right. I can take up this issue. You just have to follow what I say. Can you threaten to immolate yourself?”

Bannu trembled. Said, “I am scared.”

“You don’t have to burn, dear. Just threaten to.”

“Even the idea scares me.”

Baba said, “Okay, then you go on a fast. We will make the ‘issue’.”

Bannu shook again. “I won’t die, would I?”

Baba said, “Smart players don’t die. They keep one eye on the medical report and the other on the mediator. You don’t worry. We will save you and also get you that woman.”

January 11

Today Bannu sat on a fast unto death. Incense and lamps are burning inside the tent. One party is singing a bhajan—‘May the lord grant good sense to all.’ The atmosphere has turned pious from the very first day. Baba Sankidas is an expert in this art. The statement he has got published and distributed on Bannu’s behalf is rather strong. In it, Bannu says, “My soul has awakened and proclaimed that it is incomplete. My other half lies in Savitri. Either conjoin both the soul parts and make them one or give me freedom from this body. I am fasting unto death for conjoining the two soul parts. My demand is that Savitri be made mine. If I don’t get her, I will free this soul part from my mortal body by fasting. I am fearless because I am on the side of truth. Victory to truth!”

Savitri came, full of rage. She asked Baba Sankidas, “This scoundrel is fasting for me, isn’t he?”

Baba said, “Dear lady, don’t use abusive language. He is on a sacred fast. He might have been a scoundrel earlier. Not anymore. He is fasting.”

Savitri said, “But he should have at least asked me. I spit on him.”

Baba calmly said, “Lady, you are only the ‘issue’. How can one ask the ‘issue’? The people who took part in the Cow-saving movement never asked the cow whether to have a movement or not to save it. Lady, you may go now. My advice is for you or your husband not to come here. In a day or two, public opinion will be formed, and the public won’t tolerate any insults from you.”

She went away, mumbling.

Bannu became sad. Baba assured him, “Don’t worry. Victory will be yours. Truth always wins in the end.”

Jaunary 13

Bannu easily gives in to hunger. Today, on just the third day of the fast, he began groaning. Bannu asked, “Has Jayaprakash Narayan come yet?”

I said, “He usually comes on the fifth or sixth day. That’s his norm. He has been informed.”

He asks, “What did Vinoba say on this issue?”

“Baba said, “He has resolved the issue of means and ends, but his words can be twisted a bit to use them in our favour.”

Bannu closed his eyes. Said, “Bhaiya, please get Jayaprakash babu quickly.”

Journalists also came today. They were wracking their brains.

They began asking, “What is the purpose of the fast? Is it in the public’s favour?”

Baba said, “Purpose isn’t the matter now. Right now, it is critical to save his life. Sitting on a fast is such a huge self-sacrifice that the purpose automatically becomes sacred.”

I said, “This will only serve the public. So many people want to grab the wives of other people, but don’t know how to. If this fast is successful, it will guide the public.”

January 14 

Bannu has become weaker. He is threatening to break the his fast. This will publicly humiliate us. Baba Sankidas reasoned with him.

Today, Baba executed another miracle. He has managed to get the views of a certain Swami Rasanand published  in newspapers. Swamiji claimed that observing religious austerities has granted him the power to look into anyone’s past and future. He has come to know that in his past life, Bannu was a saint called Vanmanus, and Savitri was his wife. He has assumed a human form after three thousand years. His relation with Savitri goes back to many eons. The fact that an ordinary man such as Radhika Prasad is keeping a saint’s wife in his house, amounts to blasphemy. He appealed to all god-fearing people to oppose this profanity.

This opinion has had a good effect. Some people were seen chanting slogans of “Victory to truth!” One crowd was sloganeering in front of Radhika babu’s house…

“Radhika Prasad is a sinner! Woe to the sinner! Victory to truth.”

Swamiji has organized prayers for saving Bannu’s life across temples.

January 15 

At night stones were pelted at Radhika babu’s house.

Public opinion has been formed.

Our agents have heard men and women and saying this…

“Poor thing has been hungry for five days.”

“Hats off to such devotion.”

“But it didn’t melt the heart of that hard woman.”

“Her husband is so shameless too.”

“I believe he was a saint in his past life.”

“Didn’t you read Swami Rasanand’s opinion?”

“It’s a sin to keep a saint’s wife in one’s home.”

Today, eleven married women carried out Bannu’s aarti.

Bannu was delighted. His heart leaps at the sight of married women.

The newspapers are filled with the news of the fast.

Today a crowd went to the Prime Minister’s house to demand his intervention and save Bannu’s life. The prime minister refused to meet the people.

We will see how long he refuses to meet.

Jayaprakash Narayan came in the evening. He was unhappy. Said, “How many lives must I save? Is this my job? Every day someone or the other sits on a fast and screams for their life to be saved. If he wants to save his life, why doesn’t he eat? Why do we need a mediator to save lives? The sacred weapon of fasting is being used to snatch someone else’s wife.”

We reasoned with him, “This issue is of a different nature. It was his soul’s cry.”

He calmed down. Said, “If it is the soul’s cry, I will take it up.”

I said, “Moreover, the feelings of scores of truth-loving people are associated with this.”

Jayaprakash babu agreed to mediate. He will first meet Savitri and her husband, then the prime minister.

Bannu kept looking at Jayaprakash babu pathetically.

Later we told him, “You, idiot, don’t look so worn down. If they sense your weakness, any leader will pour sweet lime juice down your throat. Don’t you see how many politicians are moving about with sweet limes in their shoulder bags?”

January 16

Jayaprakash babu’s mission has failed. Nobody is willing to listen. Prime Minister said, “Our sympathies are with Bannu, but we can’t do anything. Let him break his fast, then we can find a solution by engaging in peaceful talks.”

We were frustrated. But Baba Sankidas wasn’t. He said, “At first, everyone rejects the demands. This is the norm. Let’s make the movement stronger. We have to convey through newspapers that a lot of “acetone” is showing up in Bannu’s urine. That his condition is serious. We must publish views that ask for saving his life at all costs. Is the government just going to sit and watch? It must urgently take steps to save Bannu’s precious life.

Baba is an amazing man. He has so many tricks up his sleeve. He says, “The time has come to include the issue of caste in this movement. Bannu is a brahmin and Radhika Prasad a kayasth. Provoke brahmins and kayasths alike. A Brahmin Association minister is going to contest the next elections.

“Tell him this is his opportunity to get the collective votes of brahmins.”

Today a proposal came from Radhika Babu for Bannu to have a rakhi tied by Savitri.

We turned it down.

January 17 

Today’s newspaper headlines–

“Save Bannu’s Life!”

“Bannu’s Condition Serious!”

“Life-saving Prayers in Temples!”

In one of the newspapers we paid advertisement rates to publish this–

“Prayer of crores of truth-loving people—Save Bannu’s Life! Bannu’s death will have dire consequences!”

The view of the minister from Brahmin Association was also published. He has made this a matter of brahmin pride and has threatened direct action.

We have hired four goons for throwing stones at kayasth houses.

After dealing with that, the same people will throw stones at brahmin houses.

Bannu has paid them the advance.

Baba feels that by tomorrow or day after curfew should be imposed. At least imposing Article 144 is definitely in order. This will strengthen our “case.”

January 18 

Last night, stones were thrown at brahmin and kayasth residences.

This morning, a serious clash ensued between two separate brahmin and kayasth groups.

Article 144 has been clamped in the city.

The air is tense.

Our representative group met the prime minister. He said, “This will have legal hurdles. We would need to modify the marriage act.”

We said, “So please modify it.  Issue an ordinance. If Bannu dies, fire will erupt in the whole country.”

He said, “First you make him break the fast.”

We said, “The government must agree with his demand in principle and set up a committee that will show Bannu the way to acquire that woman.”

The government is monitoring the situation. Bannu must endure more pain.

The situation hasn’t changed. There’s a “deadlock” in the talks.

Minor conflicts are erupting.

Last night we got stones pelted at the local police station. This had a good impact.

Today, the “Save life” demand became more vociferous.

January 19 

Bannu has become very weak. He is scared he may not make it.

He has been muttering that we trapped him into this. If perchance he publicly airs his opinion, we will be “exposed.”

Something must urgently be done.  We have told him that if he now gives up his fast, the public will kill him.

The representative group will go for another meeting.

January 20 


Only one bus could be burnt.

Bannu is still being difficult.

We are continuing to say on his behalf, “He will die, but not bend!”

The government looks worried.

The Ascetics Association has given its support to the demand today.

The Brahmin Society has given an ultimatum: Ten Brahmins will immolate themselves.

Savitri tried to commit suicide, but was saved.

There are long queues for Bannu’s darshan.

A senior UN official has been notified via telegram today.

Prayer meetings took place in different locations.

Dr. Lohia has said that as long as this government is in power, lawful demands will not be fulfilled. Bannu should abduct this government instead of Savitri.

January 21 

The government has accepted Bannu’s demand in principle.

A committee has been formed to resolve practical problems.

Amid bhajan and prayers, Baba Sankidas fed fruit juice to Bannu. The leaders’ sweet limes dried up in their shoulder bags. Baba said public sentiment must be respected in a democracy. The emotions of scores of people were linked to this issue. It is a good thing that the issue was peacefully resolved. Otherwise, a violent revolution would have flared up.

The brahmin legislative candidate has struck a deal to have Bannu participate in his campaign. He has paid a fat amount. Bannu’s price has gone up.

To the men and women touching his feet Bannu said, “All happened by God’s grace. I am only His medium.”

Slogans rent the air—Victory to Truth!

Guest Blog: Supriya Kar

Problems of Translation — II

This post is a continuation of
Ms. Supriya Kar’s previous post. She is doing her PhD in literary translation. Her research focuses on autobiographical writings of women from the Eastern Indian state of Orissa. Here, she discusses various problems of translation, particularly in the context of her work.

Read Part 1 here

Songs in Oriya:
The songs and chants in Oriya are marked by lyricism and onomatopoeic qualities and have therefore been left untranslated. These give a feel of the sound of Oriya. The examples include:
Hare Krushna Hare krushna, krushna krushna krushna hare hare
Hare Rama hare Rama, Rama Rama hare hare.

Chala kodala, chala kodala, patia bandhe, chhande chhande, bharide mati laal…

Kesharkunja sheja re…
Duti kara dhari hari boile kishori…
Are nauri, e ghata re nabandhe taree…
Hari haraye namo, Krishna Jadabaya namo, jadabaya, madhabaya, keshabaya namo.

Forms of Address: Chandrabhaga, Chanda, Ashoka, Abhada, Gangapani, Baula and Chandi: Terms of endearment and affection, which are used in the excerpts, have been left untranslated. These terms signify deep friendship based on love and trust. These are also given social and cultural acceptance through specific rites.

Use of Titles: Panchasakha, Bhaktakabi, Mahatma, Utkalmani: Eminent public figures acquired these titles, and came to be known through these rather than their proper names. Through repeated use these became part of their names. Although they denoted certain qualities, they were actually used as proper names. So these have been kept as such and glossed where required.

Names of Institutions: Kanyashram, Shrama Sansthan Anusthan, Dhanamani Matru Mangala Kendra, Kumari Sansad, Bakula Bana Vidyalay. Although these names denote the nature and function of these institutions they are also used as proper names. So they are kept as such and glossed wherever necessary.

Kinship Terms: Chhota Maa, Menki-nani, Andhari-Maa, Durga apa, Subhabou-bhauja, Mahi’s mother, Sushila-bhauja, Nayan-bou, Rama-bhauja, Pila-mother, Jugala Saante, Nala-da, Bhika-na, Bhula-uncle, Puri-uncle.
While translating kinship terms used in India, one has to tread cautiously between the twin extremes of ‘domestication’ and ‘defamiliarisation’. Sometimes, the English equivalents have been used and, at others, the kinship terms have been retained. As all the excerpts translated here are autobiographical writings, the kinship terms are used more often than in any other fictional genre. Retaining all the terms would have made the text loaded with unfamiliar and opaque expressions. So, at times, the relationships have been explained in the text itself, sometimes, the context makes the meaning of the terms obvious.

Conversational Style:
Attempts have been made to maintain the speech rhythms of Oriya in the translation of all the excerpts. In the translation of the excerpt from Sumani Jhodia’s autobiography, punctuation marks have not been used to retain the immediacy of her words since hers is an oral testimony.

Problems in the Source Text:
There are examples of writings in the excerpts translated here which do not really make any sense, but their meaning can only be guessed from the context. In such cases, these have been tackled in a pragmatic way.
One may mention here, Arthur Lindsay’s observation that the prime duty of translators is communicating information lucidly. He goes on to submit:

As translators, our objective is to enable the reader to understand the subject matter we are translating. Hence simplicity of language is obviously the most important weapon in our armoury. Further, I submit that the more complex the subject, the greater is the need for plain English. Even if the author is incapable of simplicity in the source text, in the target language this duty devolves upon us, since we are those who must moderate between author and reader.

In translating these excerpts, strategies such as deletion, expansion, and addition have been adopted to achieve lucidity as far as practicable.

Guest Blog: Supriya Kar

Ms. Supriya Kar is doing her PhD in literary translation. Her research focuses on autobiographical writings of women from the Eastern Indian state of Orissa. Here, she discusses various problems of translation, particularly in the context of her work.

Problems of Translation — I

In my thesis, twenty-four excerpts selected from autobiographical writings by women in Oriya are translated into English. Women whose lives these excerpts record hail from different social classes and milieus and their styles vary immensely. Therefore, maintaining the unique flavour of the texts and at the same time retaining a kind of uniformity and readability was a daunting task. Of course, there are elements in all these which one may find untranslatable. Translating is like cooking: it is one thing to say how a recipe is prepared and another to actually cook it. In this context, Piotr Kuhiwczak’s insightful observation assumes particular significance:

We can say that there is a clear distinction between discussing untranslatabilty and handling the untranslatable in the process of translation. For many of us, and this includes the students and diners I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, untranslatabilty is something that can be conceptualised and discussed ad infinitum. In contrast to this, translators have to deal with the untranslatable at a practical level. In a recent article, Margaret Jull Costa emphasises precisely this difference and the practical aspect of translation: ‘As a full time literary translator from Spanish and Portuguese, I suppose I can’t afford to believe in the untranslatable; it’s my job to translate everything, knowing that there might be some loss, but that there might also gain, and never giving in to that counsel of despair telling me that a translation is not a real thing, not the same thing, and definitely never a better thing.’

While translating, the aim was to translate so that the original should not lose its flavour, but be readable and enjoyable in the target language, without overloading the text with footnotes and glossaries that make it cumbersome for readers.

While translating from Oriya into English, the problems one encounters are more insidious than just finding the right word or expression. Partly, they flow from the very structure of the language. In addition, many of our descriptive words are highly onomatopoetic and thus almost impossible to render in English, as are the kinship terms and names of dishes, trees and flowers.

One can feel there is a palpable tension, which results from the pressure the source language exerts on the target language. The task of a translator is to minimise this tension as much as possible. Each and every sentence poses a problem. Inside the mind it goes on—permutations and combinations of words, struggling with the shape of each sentence— negotiating, groping for the right phrase. And yet the feeling of dissatisfaction persists.

Tenses in Oriya are organised slightly differently than in English. Although on paper they correspond, their boundaries do not quite map onto each other. This is because time conventions differ in different societies. The present is a much more elastic concept in Oriya than in English. That is why most Indians use English tenses wrongly. Common errors are the use of past perfect for simple past (‘I had done’ instead of ‘I did’) because Indians instinctively feel that simple past is not strong enough to indicate that something happened before now. They also use present continuous (I am doing) for simple present ‘I do.’ These problems exist across Indian languages. The problem is that while translators may be technically correct when they translate an Oriya literary text into an English present tense narrative, they are not being true to the precept that the target text should have validity as a work of art in its own right. It is bewildering to read a text translated into present tense, especially as somewhere down the line it tends to seep back into past tense.
There is a sprinkling of words connected with the physical reality of Orissa in these autobiographical writings. The list of such phrases, culture specific terms, which have been kept as such is provided below with explanations, where necessary:

Currency: adhala, pahula, ana. There is no corresponding currency in English.
Quantity: bharan, khoja, pa. These are ancient units of measurement and sometimes used idiomatically.
Slangs, Tongue-in-Cheek Expressions: chhatari, Bolibe jati sange eka ramani. There is no corresponding slang for ‘chhatari’ which is used derogatorily and abusively to mean a woman of loose morals. Literally, it means one who begs for food at chhatars or charity kitchens.
Bolibe jati sange eka ramani: People would say that one holy man is accompanied by a young woman. But the meaning of this tongue-in-cheek expression would lose its resonance if the original does not accompany its English translation.
Lunar Months: Bhadrav, Ashwina, Kartik, Margashira. A Lunar month corresponds to the period between one full moon to the next full moon. The lunar calendar is followed in observing festivals, as it is believed that the movement of the moon has a decisive influence over the affairs of human beings.
Food: ladu, badi, puri, malpua, mohanbhoga, khechudi, arisa, pura. Referring to these as delicacies or sweets would take away their cultural specificity.
Caste: karana, khandayat, chamar, radhi. The caste of a person signified his/her occupation, social status etc. These are also associated with notions of purity and pollution. The concept of caste is so quintessentially Indian that while translating Indian literary texts one has no option but to retain terms denoting caste.
Art: champu, jatra, patta. These words denote forms of fine and performing arts in Orissa, and do not have any English equivalents.
Religion: agni-pariksha, tulsi, triveni, pratah smaramy, mahamnatra, dhama, mahaprasad, mansik, homa, darshan, ashram, kathau, kirtan, akash-dipa, chaura, Amrutayana, Harinama, Ramanama, Ramdhun. These refer to religious practices which are rooted in Indian culture and their full significance can not be conveyed through English equivalents. They have therefore been retained in the translation and glossed where necessary.
Rituals and Social Practices: sholamangala, dashaha, hulahuli, haribola, shradha, ekadashi, purdah, ana-tutha, padhuan. These practices are typical of Oriya culture and so have been kept as such and glossed wherever necessary.
Festivals: Festivals such as Kumar Purnima, Raja, Kartik Purnima, Bali Trutiya underline the singularity of the cultural and religious practices prevalent in Orissa. Each festival is rooted in a specific narrative and has mythical associations. These are retained as such.

To be continued…

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