Book Reviews

Fetch the Sky

Poem Continuous-Reincarnated Expressions, offers English translations of the selected Bengali poems written by the gifted Poet Bibhas Roy Chowdhury. The poetry collection is ably translated in English by Kiriti Sengupta.

In his Foreword, Don Martin has rightly pointed out that ‘Poem Continuous’ is a wonderful introduction to the lush world of Bengali Poetry’.  He also mentioned that ‘Bengali is a beautiful language which gives free reign to a poet, and he can paint his word pictures at will with astounding ferocity and intensity’ but he warned ‘One particular problem is that meanings in Bengali are conveyed as much through structure and grammar as they are through vocabulary’.

We know about the age-old apprehension, ‘you can’t translate properly a good poem.’ For Kiriti, the turning point in translation comes to read between the lines and he never loses focus. He comes even more determined to find his way to the lucid, distinct form of the contents that reach for the sustained, not momentary.

He understands, ‘Getting into the soul of a poem is undoubtedly the most challenging task for the translator’. Admittedly, Kiriti has realized that from the core of his heart and takes it seriously too. For example, the following lines pack an immense punch,

Look, your kisses fly away to reach the cloud,
And your hug enabled a child to identify a bird (The Debt).

It is the aim of the translator to reconfigure the poems in a way that will convey the spirit of the original without any trappings of the weight and the scale. Kiriti in his note remarked, ‘Roy Chowdhury’s poems are exceptionally easy to read; they sound easy when read but they are extremely difficult to translate into English’. I have read a few of the Bibhas’s poems in Bengali and I cannot but agree with Kiriti.

For Bibhas, it’s a fine line between resonant and insipid and the poet crosses it most of the times with skill and purpose, pointing back to the daily battle with self. In this sense, he reminds us, to confront both its past and ones’ own. And for some people, the leave is freedom. The identity and its complications stem as much for one’s surroundings as from within.

My mother stays far away, all alone
Like the coveted hibiscus flower
Hidden beneath the wild grass (The Poetry of a Hibiscus Flower).

Not too often he uses the weight of the history but underpins that some pivotal things happen in Bengal and what happens has echoes across the time plane and generations. His poems demonstrate the effects of life, they signal the intrusive, intimate viscidness of the struggle. 

In the core of my heart I nurse the wounded soul Carefully
Union of the parted Bengal will aid in my recovery (Bhatiali- Song of the Boatmen)

One cannot but agree with Alokeranjan Dasgupta’s keen observations on Bibhas Roy Chowdhury’s works, ‘His poems depict much struggle and crisis, yet these are dream-inducing as we commonly expect from poetry. Bibhas’ poems take us to trance’.

The poet answers himself,
What is poetry?
The blind bird
Was painting
Is nest so deceptive?
On the water body…(The Horizon)

His poems are like flickering sunbeams; teem with enough thoughts on life. Yet in a few instances, he tends to search for a space that possesses the substance and the authority that have let fall away. These intertwined desires to reveal, to listen and to explore are tested in his poems.

No misery
I can easily remember
On our lips
You brought unhesitant
Some crazy sky (Yes)

Given that so much, his poem seems bitter and clunky at times but he ends up with a more powerful, even haunting amalgam of the theme and content. Comfort is not one of the zones you need to be in and for that matter pain is useful.

How can I depart?
His words fail to cease
Better I keep some wound
Beside the coming tune… (The People)

The beauty of the lyricism lingers in ‘Our lovers are only the weather bulletins!’ no matter what you do with it. His poems are not of an unusual kind, simply and movingly encapsulates the concept and Kiriti’s translation is flawless.

I know tears make your love behind blind
you are to speak out, anyway.
Lift your face for once…
I’m not here, my absence…this is the other sky…(Eternal)

Though at great ease with his multitude of voices, the poet often demonstrates the struggle in a suggestive trance,

We, two old mirrors,
Bite each other to die… (Speaking with the Self)

What you are looking at really, more than anything else, is a core identity and the poet has to find a path of his own. Bibhas trusts himself and his poems have a withholding pattern, doling out words in bits and bytes, relying on the readers to construct the whole.

Fetch the sky
Now that the river dries
Suits only me. (The Small Boat)

What apparent for this book, however, is the single-minded efforts of both the poet and the translator that lead to a seamless journey to achieve the goal. In a way, Poetry is meant to be read and heard. We feel a powerful sense of connection at the end. For this, Poem Continuous will surely find a wide reader.

The cover design by Partha Pratim Das is appropriate. This book is a must for your shelf to fill up the empty moments.

Poem Continuous by Bibhas Roy Chowdhury
Translated by Kiriti Sengupta
Published by Inner Child Press Ltd, U.S.A
Price- INR 130


More by :  Gopal Lahiri

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Views: 3355      Comments: 5

Comment Thanks to everyone for kind words; Marshal Kent, Kiriti Sengupta, Chitra Banerjee and Mohini Gurav

29-Aug-2014 09:55 AM

Comment A very good review! I have purchased Poem Continuous, but haven't read it yet. After reading this review I can hardly wait to absorb it absolutely.

Marshall Kent
26-Aug-2014 05:18 AM

Comment Wonderful review, Gopal-da! I appreciate your effort and time towards writing such a marvel!

Kiriti Sengupta
25-Aug-2014 22:59 PM

Comment This is a real review by Sri Gopal Lahiri as a critique as well as an appreciator , drenched in the sea of Sri Bibhas' creations . I myself am an obsessed reader & lover of Sri Bibhas' poetries....... still I unhesitatingly say to have lacked this type of observations while penning down the same review . A noteworthy contribution Gopal Bhai .

Chitra Banerjee
25-Aug-2014 13:39 PM

Comment Thanks and Congrats Gopal lahiri sir for sharing this wonderful review and introducing us to the great poet Bibhas Chowdhary . Happy to know that Kiriti sir has translated Bibhas 's poems into English making them available to the readers like us to read it in English .Thanks and Congrats Kiriti sir ! Congrats to all of you ! Best wishes ! Regards.

Mohini Gurav
25-Aug-2014 11:42 AM

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