Book Review: Light, and yet, more Light

Nishi Pulugurtha
Review by Nishi Pulugurtha

Light, and yet, more Light 

by Alokeranjan Dasgupta 
(A translation of Alo, aro Alo) 
Translated by Sreemati Mukherjee  
Abhijaan Publishers, Kolkata, 2019
Price: ₹ 200.00 INR

Translations make literary texts more accessible and reveal the sheer wealth and variety of world literature. The process of translation is a difficult one, more so when it comes to poetry. The translator’s task is hence a complex one and it is a pity that most of the time they remain invisible. The volume under review is a translation of Bengali poems.

Alo, aro Alo, a volume of poems in Bengali by Alokeranjan Dasgupta was first published in 2009. Sreemati Mukherjee’s translation under review has the title - Light, and yet, more Light. Mukherjee notes that with the exception of a couple of poems in the volume, she has translated most of the other poems in this collection. One would surely like to know why the translator has omitted translating all the Bengali poems in Dasgupta’s collection. She mentions that she omitted poems like Bipralambhe oi baaje Mandira and Platform e Bashishtha among a few others.  

Mukherjee’s detailed Introduction to the volume is a work of literary criticism as she locates the poems within the tradition of modern European poetry, a tradition that she notes she is familiar with.  The Introduction analyses some of the poems that Mukherjee translates and includes in the volume. The translator is critic as well and this brings to her translations a sense of depth and finesse. The Introduction introduces Dasgupta to readers not familiar with the poet and the source language and also prepares the groundwork which would help readers unfamiliar with Bengali read and appreciate Dasgupta’s poems in their English translations.

Dasgupta’s poems are characterized by a yearning for the past, a sense of nostalgia along with a sense of history and nature that is coloured by cynicism that brings a sharpness to the poems. A wry sense of humour and irony work to create nuances that linger on. The poems are also characterized by poetic restraint and economy in the use of words and images along with a sense of stoic heroism.

Mukherjee provides detailed footnotes to explain characters that figure in the poems, for instance, in the poem – “The offering to the Guru (Gurudakshina)”. Mukherjee retains the Bengali title of the poems that she translates putting that in parenthesis. The poem (Self) Construction (Nirmiti) is characterized by nostalgia. The title of the poem with its two brackets, one for adding finesse to the English title and the other the original Bengali title highlights the difficulty in retaining the finer nuances of the source language in the translated text. The poem speaks beautifully of the need to assimilate and find a sense of identity in a new milieu that does have a lot of cultural and linguistic similarity. It voices a movement from East Bengal (present day Bangladesh) to the Indian state of West Bengal. One needs to also note that in the poem Mukherjee uses “folk songs” for the Bengali palligeeti, however, the Bengali word is inserted in parenthesis as well.  One wonders if the insertion of the source word points to the failure or difficulty of the translated word.

My aunt‘s songs are everywhere.

Mostly folk songs (Palligeeti), and their inevitable strain

Oh, you, the magical boatman—makes all endings and beginnings the same.

I don‘t need to go anywhere after that.

Memories of life in East Bengal haunt many of the poems, a small incident, a song, a simple scene evokes nostalgia of the land left behind. Life here has much in common, yet a sense of yearning remains. Many of the poems also evoke a rural ethos, again one that Dasgupta is no longer a part of. Dasgupta’s poems are urban, and as Mukherjee notes in her introduction, he is “like the best of modern poets a city poet”. The urbanity is seen in the way Dasgupta uses images, themes and aesthetics.

The love poems in the volume are profound and reveal a frank acceptance of desire and lust. Dasgupta’s poems speak of nature, love, time, history and language as markers of identity. Some of the poems have a sense of self-absorption, a self-love that lingers on.

When the entire sky hangs gloomy

During the month of Sravan

I almost did a ritual count of your name on its blackboard

Heavy rains wiped the name away;

Yet your name

Resounds in the pelting rain

and the wind chants it

if you become famous, my job will be done

What will remain

Will only be the epilogue to the story. [“Myself unwritten” (Satwabilop)]

There are poems that speak of the way the world reacts to his poems, to their reception. In the poem “Stubborn (Nachhod)” he speaks of how his lines are not conventional, how he is different from other poets and hence not liked.

Even if the Krishnachuda

Blooms on time

I don‘t sing about it anymore

That is why my peers

Have left me

To scatter in different directions

I will now suddenly write some conventional lines

To the Krishnachuda

And bring them all back….

Many of the poems use myths to refute ideas and institutions in ways that might surprise and also reveal a historical sensibility at work. One such institution that Dasgupta speaks of is Rabindranath Tagore.  He brings in the reference to Mukunda Das, a poet of East Bengal who wrote padabalis (poems on the Radha Krishna love stories) in the poem “Charon” to speak of how the apathy of the administrative system could be dealt with. He speaks of using the padabalis for this and that the older poet might provide succour in present times. Mukherjee retains the word padabali in the text of the poem and explains it in detail in the note to the poem.

It is best that we hold on for dear life to

the charan padavali of Mukunda Das

It is our last ray of hope

“The Madhyamik, once again, in candle light” (Momer aloi, abar Madhyamike) weaves elements of nostalgia and speaks of the inability of language to express. Speaking of Hindi, he writes

I will certainly fail this time—through the window I see

My little moonbeam standing outside with my tiffin

The breeze plays in her tied up hair--

Her beauty is such that even Bengali cannot capture it.

The translations of Dasgupta’s poems reveal the differences in culture that coalesce and differ creating new frames of reference and new understandings of the texts. As Mukherjee notes, Dasgupta’s poems are marked by “a temper that is both modernist and carry echoes of neo-classical urbanity, composure, technical regularity and smoothness” and the translations succinctly reveal these. Mukherjee’s translations bring out wonderfully the nuances of Dasgupta’s poetic oeuvre making available the poetic art of a modernist poet who writing in the Bengali language, creates a wonderful syncretism that is all what great poetry and literature is all about.

1 comment :

  1. Such a great poet..poems are obviously if the poet was writing what I was feeling..and the review of course did really lead us to read the more again and again..and the translation lucid nd carrying all the feel with the original poet.


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