Like a Royal Robe with Ample Folds: A Review of The Broken Home and other stories – Rabindranath Tagore, Translated by Lopamudra Banerjee

Columnist: Dr. Amit Shankar Saha
Publisher: Authorspress (New Delhi), 2017,
Pages 216, INR 395,
ISBN 978-93-86722-47-8

The noted poet and translator, Ananya Chatterjee, in the blurb of the book writes that a good work of translation is a result of three factors, which she states as:

  • Massive, undiluted love for language. Any language. A deep sense of respect and regard towards the uniqueness and nuance of every tongue.
  • A sensitive soul – to empathize with the story behind the words, to become one with the characters etched by the author of the original work.
  • A subtle sense of detachment and objectivity so as to not impose the translator’s own understanding and interpretation on the original plot.

She goes on to appreciate Lopamudra Banerjee for “maintaining a near perfect balance of all the above factors” in this work of translation of Tagore’s two novellas and six short stories. One cannot help but agree with Ananya Chatterjee when one reads this collection. Tagore is not of one age and time. His afterlife is huge and with each new work of translation he is rediscovered anew. In this work of translation we get a combination of Tagore’s women characters from Nastanirh, Laboratory, and Galpaguchcha. Be it the enigmatic Charulata, or the fiery Sohinee and Neela, or the dignified Haimonti, or the feisty Giribala, or the mysterious Nirjharini, all these women characters of the selected stories come together here, in Ananya Chatterjee’s words, as “jewels from the ocean of treasure.” They display a range of women protagonists of Tagore from the mute to the eloquent giving a gendered subjectivity to the entire collection.

Way back in 1948, Buddhadeva Bose had remarked that “Rabindranath’s fiction suffers terribly in English… Selection was often wrong… We have to remember that Rabindranath is the most metaphorical writer in a highly metaphorical language. He thinks in metaphors: he argues in similes.” Over the years translators have tried to address this issue and have succeeded appreciably. Lopamudra Banerjee’s effort joins that oeuvre of Tagore translations and takes a pride of place there. We who have acquired, as Ketaki Kushari Dyson once said, “two first languages – two mother tongues” do not find the gratings of a foreign tongue in this translation of Tagore because Lopamudra has done it with finesse. Dyson has further said in a panel discussion on “Tagore in Translation” that “every language is a way of looking at the world; every language has its own culture” and it this cultural translation in which Lopamudra succeeds so well. She brings all the nuances of Bengal, Bengali language and culture to the greatest extent possible in her renderings on English.

When we read the title story, we can understand with the pining and longings of Charulata. The character’s persona and development have been empathetically shown by Tagore in Bengali and have been aptly conveyed by Lopamudra in English keeping the cultural connotations inalienable from the prospective readers. Tagore after the death of his sister-in-law, Kadambari Devi, had said: “If you are not before my eyes, it is because you are the very light that shines in them – you are the green in the earth’s green.” It is this perceptiveness that needed to be conveyed in any translation of the novella Nastanirh and Satyajit Ray did it so well in his celluloid adaptation (Charulata) of the story keeping the right balance between fidelity and license. Lopamudra Banerjee, without the constraints of a feature-length piece, does so in words displaying more faithfulness to the original work. At the end of the story when Amal has already left for London and Bhupati himself is about to leave for Mysore, he thinks about his wife Charu:

Bhupati imagined how miserable those evenings, those nights would be, when he would come back home, fatigued, to a silent, grief-stricken wife. How long would he be able to hold her close to him, to provide her the solace, the support she would need to unburden her agony? How many more years would he have to live with this excruciating reality? How long would he have to live with the broken pieces of his own little world, his own shelter, crushed in front of his own eyes?  (84-5)

Lopamudra is not only conveying information here but also feelings. Walter Benjamin in his essay “The Task of the Translator” has raised two pertinent points regarding translation of a literary piece: first, a translator has a transmitting function whereby he/she transmits information and second, since a literary work contains “the unfathomable, the mysterious, the ‘poetic’, something that a translator can reproduce only if he [/she] is also a poet”. Lopamudra Banerjee is adept in both the source and target languages and is herself a poet. So her translation has to have that balance and a unity of literalness and freedom. Benjamin says that “While content and language form a certain unity in the original, like a fruit and its skin, the language of the translation envelops its content like a royal robe with ample folds.” Perhaps it is through these folds of Lopamudra Banerjee’s translation that we can perceive Tagore’s essence.

References:

  • Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator.” Transatlantic Literary Studies: A Reader. Eds. Susan Manning and Andrew Taylor. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007, pp. 172-182.
  • Bose, Buddhadeva. An Acre of Green Grass, Kolkata: Papyrus, 1982, p. 19.
  • Dutta, Tinni. “Let us dream.” The Statesman. Kolkata, 29th December, 1995.
  • Sen, Krishna and Tapati Gupta (Eds.). Tagore and Modernity. Kolkata: Dasgupta and Co., 2006, pp. 239-243.

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