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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rabindranath Tagore Vs Ketki Kushari Dyson

The news is that Jadavpur University is planning to bring out a compilation of Ketki Kushari Dyson's fluent English translations of Tagore's 103 poems in Gitanjali. Her English translations of Tagore's poems could be on the syllabus of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur. This move is not being appreciated by the die-hard Tagore loyalists, who want the retention of Tagore's English translations of his Bangla poems. Those who've read Tagore's English translations of his own poems, will concede that most of his English poems are vapid and prosaic.

How he got Nobel for such sub-standard translations and stale English will continue to baffle the dispassionate lovers of poetry, irrespective of any language. Whereas, Ketaki Kushari (wedded to Prof Dyson) is a Bengali, who's been in the West for decades picking up the subtle nuances and nitty-gritties of idiomatic English spoken and written by the English. She's equal command over both the languages and after reading her translations of Tagore's poems, one will have to accept that hers are much more crisp and flowing than those of Tagore. Here's an example from Tagore's poem 'Kripan' (The Miser, No. 50 inGitanjali): "I wept bitterly and wished that I had had the heart to give thee my all" (Tokhon kaandi chokher jole duti noyon bhore / Tomay kano dee ni aamar sakal shunyo kore). Pit it against Ketki's translation (1987): " With eyes full of tears, I wished to give away all I'd for years." Though she's taken liberties with her English translations, she's retained the essence and her renderings don't sound so stifled. Could not Tagore have avoided using 'had had' twice? It's so jarring and grates on ears.

 Even William Radiche, who translated Tagore's poems into English in the eighties did more justice to them than what Tagore himself did to his otherwise fine poems in Bengali. Tagore may be a 'sacred cow' and an 'inviolable literary giant' in Bengal and to rather ethnocentric Bengalis, one should be open to reading other interpretations as well. Didn't Beirut University immediately dispense with Khalil Gibran's own English translations of his Arabic works when E M Hunters and Vivian Smart, two astounding scholars of Arabic, translated his Arabic works in spontaneous English without compromising on the quiddity of Gibran's works? Gibran hailed from Lebanon and migrated to the States. His English was good but insipid and lacked the (linguistic) sensibilities of a native English speaker. In the sphere of knowledge and wisdom, unnecessary loyalty is of no use.

The redoubtable Sir Hamilton Gibb of Oxford, who'd say, "Arabic is my wife and Persian, my mistress," humbly believed that one day his translations of Arabic and Persian works of great mystics will be outwitted by someone even better than him! Today, his remarkable English translations of Jalaluddin Rumi's entire Persian poetry paved the way for Coleman Barks' fantabulous translations in immaculate English. The man knows Persian like a native speaker and claims to think in Dari (variant of Persian)! We mustn't resist and resent when something better is offered, especially in the realms of knowledge. I'm sure, Ketki Kushari's relatively smooth and uncorrugated translations will do a world of good to Tagore. To popularise Ms Dyson's translations will be our greatest tribute to Tagore on his 150th birth anniversary.       
                                                                             -----Sumit Paul

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