Interview: Jaydeep Sarangi on translating poetry by Goutam Karmakar

Talking on Not in My Name: Selected Poems (1978-2017) of Subodh Sarkar: A Fliptalk with Jaydeep Sarangi

Goutam Karmakar: At first heartiest congratulations to you sir for translating, editing and compiling the selected poems of Subodh Sarkar in this grand way.

Jaydeep Sarangi: Thank you!
Let me quote Prof. Bashabi Fraser’s comments, “There is a certain timelessness about these poems, as they range from the tenderness of love to the anguish of betrayal.” It is an enriching experience for me. Christopher Merrill, the author of Self-Portrait with Dogwood says, “What good luck, it is to have a selection of Subodh Sarkar's powerful poems in English translation. This is a happy day for literature.” So it is! For me, it’s tuition. My translation is a humble way to read Subodhda’s poems. It is not definite. I thank all noble souls involved in the book. 

GK: Before asking you a few questions regarding the book, can you tell us something about your acquaintance with Subodh Sarkar? For how long do you know each other?
Jaydeep Sarangi

JS: My Kolkata residence is only ten minutes away from Subodhda’s Siridi housing. I’m familiar with his works for more than two decades, and close to him personally for more than twelve years. His smart and bold diction is unique. ‘Mothers of Manipur` he wrote after the mothers came down to the streets, they stood up nude in front of the Assam Rifles Headquarters in Imphal as a protest against the draconian law empowering the Indian Army to shoot and rape, if they desire so. It moved me.

His book Amar Kobita Amar Jiban (2015) introduced me to the background of some interesting poems. I read some insightful interviews with the poet in magazines and conceived the trajectory of the poetic mode during these days and conceived many ideas. This mapping the terrain got me in the development of Bangla poetry in the last two decades. Working with him closely is always learning several things related to life and writing. The project took nearly three years. We sat together for nearly thirty times. Unforgettable experience! 

Goutam Karmakar

GK: Although you provide details about this book in your translator’s note, but for the general readers allow me to ask these questions. Why did you take the initiatives of translating, editing and compiling the selected poems of Subodh Sarkar? And apart from Subodh Sakar who are the other Bengali writers whose works you have translated?

JS: Born in Krishnagar, Nadia in 1958 Subodh Sarkar is a committed artist with many feathers in his colourful hat. The poetic self of Subodh Sarkar generates meaning out of dry and prosaic terrains of life’s daily acts where imagination conjures up more mysteries. Most of his poems are a collage of ideas effortlessly streaming from living moments of creative zeal. Therefore, we may be right when we claim Srestha Kavita as “tour de force.” Subodh Sarkar is a leading story teller in verse with a rare capacity to attract his readers. There is an indomitable gusto that invites a reader or a sensitive mind to his poetry. He reminded me the literary, social and political tradition of Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra, Roberto Bolaño and other leading Chilean poets. Like Parra and his Latin American counterparts, Subodh Sarkar’s poems glitter with a rare sweet touch of simplicity and lucidity that mark his poetic idioms subtle where the corpus is an inviting discourse. He consciously avoids the abstract and elusive use of symbols and metaphors unless absolutely crucial to the poetic intention. His poems are close to my heart. Besides all these Krishnagar is also my first place of service. I remember my Government service and happy days there. My wife also comes from Krishnagar.

I’ve already translated Bangla writers like Nazrul Islam, Bhaskar Chakraborty, Jatin Bala, Kalyani Thakur, Kapilkrishna Thakur and Manohar Mouli Biswas for anthologies, journals, books and projects in India, Bangladesh, USA and Australia.

GK: The title of this volume shows that the poems of Subodh Sarkar are dedicated to his wife Mallika Sengupta who died in 2011.  Tell us something about Mallika Sengupta in this context.

JS: Mallika Sengupta is an iconoclast. She had her own idiom:
“After the battle said Chenghis Khan
the greatest pleasure of life,
is in front of the vanquished enemy
to sleep with his favourite wife.”
    (Kathamanabi, Bhashanagar, kolkata, 2005, (tr. Amitabha Mukerjee)

The Bangla poetry scene is searching for another Mallika Sengupta. Her untimely demise is an irreparable loss to Bangla poetry. She was the mentor for many Bangla poets of the day. Subodhda has several poems on Mallikadi.

I see my daughter reading Mallika Sengupta’s poems and reciting them for cultural appearances.

GK: Both you and Sanjukta Dasgupta mentioned the reformative zeal of Sobodh Sarkar and according to you “there is always social rage mode, which marks Subodh Sarkar’s poetry which concentrates basically on the experiences of agony, anger, new social ethos and revolutionary hope.” While translating and editing his poems how far do these revolutionary ideas inspire you? And do you find any similarity between his poems and yours in this context?

JS: The poems are to be appreciated for their rhetoric. The poet uses a variety of linguistic devices to convey his reflections. Poetry for Subodh Sarkar is like a hammer with which he breaks many walls at different grounds. His poems are the product of the poet’s sincerity and commitment. I’ve worked with the Dalits and the aborigines. I am already familiar with this military and blunt use of idioms. Literature cannot be a sweet lollipop when the society is burning with issues and make beliefs. The poet is aware of what is happening around the immediate and beyond. Subodh Sarkar is an artist. His involvement in burning socio-political issues attracted me. It was learning for me. I grabbed the opportunity in two hands.

Poetry saves a man from moments of frustration and dejection. Mundane wishes come and go. A poet has a sensitive heart to feel all these arrivals and departures of wishes and dreams. Only readers can rate my poems. The smell of salt and lime rolls over the sand and the sky. Touched words pulsate within me.

GK: As a translator what are the problems did you face while translating Subodh Sarkar’s poems, specially his certain Bengali idioms, words and phrases? Kindly tell us your experiences as a translator of this book.

JS: One of the biggest challenges faced by me is to recreate before the English reading audience, the unfamiliar artefacts, culturally loaded terms, dialects, specific cultural nuances and emotions of life experienced by the poet. No translation is complete and binding. I made drafts and then revised at least for three, four times to remain faithful to the text. I tried to make out the abstract ideas and images. The poet was very kind in helping me out whenever I had an idea of doubt all these days. He had gone through all translations patiently and sat with me at his residence in South Kolkata several times. I took part in Sunday adda sessions at his residence and conceived many ideas and trajectories related to Bangla poetry these days.

Translation is an act of reading the mind of the author. A translator’s project is expected to convey the message of the source text to target readers; however, there is no exact translation between any two languages. Translating Subodh Sarkar’s Bangla poems enriched me from several perspectives. Some of the poems in the collection I found not easy for translation because of Bangla idioms which are culture and language specific. I was concerned with the effects of his poems.

GK: Sir, kindly allow me to ask you a few bold questions. Books like this must be read more and more. It should find a larger audience. Do you agree with me and are you happy with the progress of this book after its release? Like Subodh Sarkar are you concerned “for the mushrooming of literature in English in India and its possible threat to Bhasha literature”?

JS: Reviews help. You are getting favourable reviews and comments. The book is moving fast and fair.

Identity is always a kind of representation of oneself to others. There is a power hierarchy between the Bhasa text and the translated one. Translation is like transfer of power. Defining the code is a postcolonial agendum; the energising feature of re-placing of language in its capacity to interrogate. The identity changes in translation and gets augmented. The mushrooming of literature in English in India is the code of the day. We live with it. We have at least two generations of English education in metro cities. English is becoming the flesh for us. English and Bhasha texts are not parallel lines. They meet via translation of thoughts and the codes. It’s unique to Sociolinguistic reality in India. 

GK: Among your translated poems which are your favourite pieces? And from the translated poems by others which ones do you like to read again and again?

JS: Oh! There are so many! ‘Bengali or English’, ‘Mr. Conscience’, ‘The Behala Boy’, ‘Bluff’, ‘New Shah Rukh Khan’ and ‘Mothers of Manipur’ etc. His range is wide and varied:
“Half of the world is for you
Half for us.
One side of the Moon is for you
The other side for us.”  (‘For Feminists’)
“The place where you’re hammering the nail
That is but my spine.
The place which you poke to inspect with the stick
That place is my liver.”  (‘Nail’)

The sky is overcast with rains
The rain will get divided, how come?
The vagabonds of the neighbourhood, were abusing their lungs out
The sky was overcast with rains.” (‘Palestine Israel’)
Let us enjoy the varied casket of Subodh Sarkar’s poems.

GK: Thanks Jaydeep Sarangi sir, for this conversation. We are expecting more translated works from you.

JS: Thank you! Your words brought a fresh fragrance here.

Translation is the heart of the nation. Indian can be known/read only by translation. I have already submitted a proposal to translate his Sahitya Akademy awards winning book, Dwaipayan Hrader Dhare (Near the Dwaipayan Lake) for a publisher.
We need wishes and blessings from all quarters.

About Jaydeep Sarangi:
Jaydeep Sarangi is a bilingual poet with seven collections in English and a seasoned academic anchored in Kolkata. Widely anthologised as a poet Sarangi has read his poems in different continents. His latest book of poems, Faithfully, I Wait was released at Flinders University, Adelaide in October 2017. About his poems, Padma Shri Jayanta Mahapatra says, “Jaydeep Sarangi is a poet of simple by meaningful lines.”  He is one of the Editors/translators of Surviving in My World: Growing up Dalit in Bengal. Sarangi is also involved in a translation project with International Centre for Nazrul, Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is the founder Vice President, Guild of Indian English Writers Editors and Critics, Kerala and the founder Secretary of Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Kolkata. Currently, he is a senior faculty, Jogesh Chandra Chaudhuri College (Calcutta University). He can be reached at:

About Goutam Karmakar:
Goutam Karmakar is currently working as an Assistant Professor of English at Barabazar Bikram Tudu Memorial College, Purulia, West Bengal. He is also doing his PhD at the Department of Humanities and Social Science, National Institute of Technology Durgapur (NITD), India. He is the Associate Editor (research section) of SETU Bilingual journal published from Pittsburgh, USA. His articles, research papers and poems have been published in many International Journals and edited volumes. He has taken interviews of many notable Indian poets writing in English. His interest is mainly in Indian English Literature specially poetry, Postmodern and Postcolonial literature, diasporic literature, mythology, gender studies, queer theory, ecocritical studies, Dalit literature, folklore and culture studies. He can be reached at:


  1. quite interesting conversation, informative and encouraging. the pieces of poetry translated, especially the Nail is appealing and bares open the appalling state of insensitive approach to humane emotions. would like to reader Subodh Sarkar some day. of course in translation only thanks to Jaydeep Sarangi for his marathon efforts.


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