Whither Tagore translation?

Continued from A Hindsight at Tagore Translation

Bearing in mind - “Languages are jealous. They do not give up their best treasures to those, who try to deal with them through an intermediary belonging to an alien rival” (Tagore) - the vast Tagore literature will remain a daunting challenge to the translators and they have a long journey ahead. An individual translator can at best handle a small part of the Poet’s vast oeuvre and only a few types of his works amidst its myriad varieties. But, with the collective effort of a good number of translators, it may be possible in future to bring a very sizable as well as a representative translated version of the Poet’s ‘ocean of creation’ to the world stage so as to justify the Poet’s appellation of ‘Biswa Kabi’ (=World Poet).

Obviously, same pieces of work of the Poet are likely to be handled by more than one translator. Incidentally, I recall, while new Tagore translations were being published in the nineties, the media flashed quite elaborately some rather tasteless acrimony between a few translators where one charged the other of plagiarism quite openly. Plagiarism instincts may of course play, but before accusing somebody of such offence one should ponder that occurrence of common words/expressions in two translated versions of the same base work is only natural.

Thus, we need not be scared of the ghost of plagiarism as it cannot fool all people for all time and will go down soon. However, the genuine translators may produce various versions of the same poem etc. or may deal different facets of the Poet’s vast works, some more effectively, some less. Maybe all these will not stand in the long run but the present metamorphosis will yield rich dividend for the posterity. Maybe, some institutions will come up in due course to select the best pieces out of the several translated versions of the same pieces to compile in a single volume, maybe on a website dedicated to this purpose, for public presentation. Some years back, I heard Joe winter had translated ‘Gitanjali’ afresh which had won Tagore his Nobel accolade.

I am inclined to believe, it had been a better read than Tagore’s original version of 1912/13. The recent media news is that Radice has translated Tagore’s “Tasher Desh” with the title “Card Country” which was possibly never translated before. No literature better depicts the passion of a populace for a “Change” than this exquisite dance drama recent examples of which may be USA, Egypt & West Bengal. Thus, the elixir of Tagore will be more refined and/or added anew to its translated versions in driblets in any foreseeable future, of which the vast populace of the world is still deprived, unwittingly. The translators are just giving them wake up call to realize what brilliance of our Rabi (=Sun), they missed for decades. When they will be brought home to it, these “Amritasya Putrah” (=Sons of Immortal) will implore the ancient wisdom of India through mediation of our Rabi -  “Asato ma satgamayo / Tamaso ma jyotirgamayo / Mrityor-ma-amritam gamayo” = “Lead us from Un-truth to Truth / From Darkness to Illumination / From Death to Immortality” – Upanishad]. To repeat the warning,  it will be a rugged journey of the Tagore translators towards this goal “But a man cannot reach the shrine if he does not make the pilgrimage.” (Courtesy, Mr. N. S. Gujral – see ‘Compliments’ chapter). But, when the shrine is reached, because the world cannot be kept deprived from the beauty & splendor of a language far too long, many accolades for Tagore will be found surfacing soon from the future Khuswants. May the translators keep up their dedication and may good use of that be made by those who matter.

Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘Shakespeare’ in his book ‘Balaka’ in Bengali – translated by Joe Winter, published in The Statesman in their Calcutta issue of 27 November, 1996.
You rose, world poet, on a shore for distant,
And England took you at that instant
Next to her heart, you were her treasure
It seemed, all hers, it was her pleasure
To kiss your forehead and to withhold you
In the forest’s arms, for a time; to enfold you
In mist’s shawl, in woodland flowers
A fairies’ field. The island bowers
Had not yet woken to sing the praises
Of the Sun-poet. But in slow phases
Of centuries, led on by Time’s singing
You rose to mid-heaven in your shining.
Taking your splendid seat in the centre
You lit up the world’s mind. See this new era
Branches of palm trees vibrating, thrill-singing,
By the Indian Ocean, your praises ringing.
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More By  :  Rajat Das Gupta

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