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TAGORE THE WORLD OVER: ENGLISH AS THE VEHICLE William Radice I delivered this speech at the Commonwealth Club in London on 22 March 2006, at an evening function entitled ‘Tagore’s Gifts to English’. The function was sponsored by the English-Speaking Union and the Royal Commonwealth Society, and masterminded by Mr Michael Marland, CBE, a retired London headteacher and keen admirer of Tagore. There were readings of poems from Gitanjali and other texts; a performance of Frank Bridge’s gloriously passionate settings for tenor voice and piano of two poems from The Gardener (composed in 1922: the poems are Nos. 29 and 30, ‘Speak to me, my love’ and ‘Dweller in my deathless dreams’); a presentation on Sriniketan and Dartington (Tagore and Elmhirst) by the The Tagoreans, an old-established London-based group; and a song and dance sequence called ‘The Golden Boat’, designed and performed by the Tagore Centre UK. Also, poem No. 9 from ‘Prantik’ was read in the original Bengali and in English, French, German and Slovenian, to illustrate the ‘third Tagore’ – not the Bengali Rabindranath, not the English Tagore, but the new and fuller impression that is emerging the world over through new translations. One particular memory I shall keep from the evening is the way the two poems I chose from Gitanjali came wonderfully alive as read by my PhD student Mayurika Chakravorty. Listening to her highly dramatic reading in her Calcutta-accented English of Nos. 48 (‘The morning sea of silence’) and 57 (‘Light, my light, the world-filling light’), I realised for the first time that the rhythms of Tagore’s English Gitanjali are Indian rhythms. They need to be read by an Indian voice, with an accent and intonation similar to Tagore’s own, as those were the rhythms that were in his head when he wrote his English versions.

It’s taken me personally a long time to come to terms with Rabindranath Tagore’s English translations of his own works. When asked why I started to translate his poems in the late 1970s, I have often replied that I was impelled by outrage at the injustice Tagore had done to himself through his translations. But I did not, as some people have assumed, learn Bengali in order to translate Tagore. Indeed I was so put off by his English works – the one volume Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore published by Macmillan and still widely available – that it would be truer to say that I started to learn Bengali despite Tagore. When inevitably as part of the postgraduate Diploma course I did at SOAS from 1972 to 1974, I read some poems and stories by Tagore in the original, the realisation dawned that he was a truly great writer, and I longed then to do greater justice to the variety and quality of the Bengali texts than he had been able to do himself. The first poem I translated was Agaman, ‘Arrival’, captivated by its driving rhythm long before I could properly understand its meaning and symbolism. There’s always been for me a significance in that title, as when I read and translated this poem I felt I had arrived somewhere, somewhere great and new, like an untrodden continent. As I continued with my translation of the poems and then the short stories, I kept my mind firmly shut to Tagore’s translations. I scarcely read them. I read his original writings in English – books of essays such as The Religion of Man or Creative Unity, or books that had been well translated by others under his supervision such as My Reminiscences - with great motivation and interest. But not the poems or plays. It was years before I even discovered that there was a translation of Agaman in Gitanjali. I now feel rather differently about Tagore’s own translations, and I’ve begun tonight with this personal trajectory because I think it does represent a gradual and widespread change of attitude over the last twenty years. The fact that this event has been organised tonight, celebrating Tagore’s Gifts to English, shows this change. I don’t think it would have been possible to organise it twenty years ago. In what ways have my – our – attitudes to Tagore as a self-translator changed, and why? I’m speaking mainly of the English-speaking world, including India where English is known to so many and where access to Tagore (among non-Bengalis) has been as much through English as through translations into other Indian languages; but I think the change can be detected in other countries too. There are four main points I want to make in answer to my question. 1. Because of all the biographical and scholarly work that has been done in the last three decades – Mary Lago’s edition of the Tagore-Rothenstein correspondence, the biography and the collection of Tagore’s letters by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, the big new three volume edition of Tagore’s English works published by the Sahitya Akademi in Delhi, to name but a few – we have a much better understanding of the historical context of Tagore’s translations. When a writer goes out of fashion, and Tagore as a writer in English certainly did go out of fashion in most countries, a revival of interest usually comes about through scholarship: people start to respect a writer’s works again when they understand why they are as they are, what personal, social and historical pressures brought them into being. The story of how Tagore did the translations in Gitanjali before leaving for England in 1912 and continuing aboard ship; how through his friend William Rothenstein (who had met him in Calcutta previously) he was introduced to W. B. Yeats and his circle; the soiree on 7th July 1912 at Rothenstein’s house in Hampstead at which Yeats read out the poems in Gitanjali in his famously sing-song delivery; their publication by the India Society, then by Macmillan, then their recommendation by Thomas Sturge Moore to the Nobel Prize Committee and the electrifying, unexpected award of the prize in 1913; there are many places where one can read about this now, most recently in R. F. Foster’s magisterial biography of Yeats. One learns that the particular literary circle that Tagore fell in with – and the same was true in Germany and other countries – was essentially a group of India-lovers: in London, they were the people who had started the India Society in January 1910, after a notorious meeting at the Royal Society of Arts when the Chairman, Sir George Birdwood, had mocked an appreciation of Indian arts and crafts by the retired Principal of the Government School of Art in Calcutta, with a declaration that the ‘so-called spiritual figure of the Buddha’ was no more spiritual ‘than a boiled suet pudding’. Disgusted by Birdwood’s views, the founder members of the India Society wanted to defend India, speak up for India, for her religious and literary and cultural heritage. When Tagore came along, he seemed to embody the Indian ideal they were looking for. With the huge success of Gitanjali, it became apparent that many readers in Britain were tired of the cynicism of Oscar Wilde, embarrassed by the imperialism of Kipling, baffled by the experiments of early modernism: they wanted a different sort of writer, and judging by the response of the Nobel Prize Committee and the explosion in sales of secondary translations of Gitanjali across the world, it seems that many readers in other countries, in the frightening and disillusioning context of the First World War and its aftermath, wanted a new, sincere, beautiful, spiritual sort of writer too. 2. I and perhaps others have come to understand why Tagore did translations in the way he did, in a rhythmically free, slightly biblical style of prose-poetry. Tagore was open about his limitations: he wasn’t an English poet, he couldn’t match in English the metre and rhyme of the Bengali texts, so the style was partly faute de mieux. But – maybe instinctively and unconsciously – he hit on a style that would enable his reputation to spread rapidly not only in the English-speaking world but elsewhere, because the style was very easy to translate into other languages. Universal in his imaginative reach, strongly impelled to speak for and to all humankind and not just to his fellow Bengalis, Tagore found in his English translation style a perfect vehicle for worldwide transmission. In recent years I have looked at translations of Gitanjali and other English books by Tagore in many languages: German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish. They are all very faithful to the original, which in every case was the English version, not the original Bengali. This was true even of translations into Hindi, Tamil and other Indian languages with the honourable exception of Gujarati; where translators had eagerly started to translate Tagore directly from Bengali before he won the Nobel Prize. Last week I read again an excellent essay by my friend Dr Martin Kämpchen – who has done so much to translate and communicate Tagore to German readers in recent years – on Kurt Wolff, Tagore’s German publisher. Wolff never, it seems, liked Tagore’s writings very much (though there is continuing controversy about whether the story is true or not that he had rejected and dispatched the German translation by Marie Luise Gothein on the very day that news of the Nobel Prize broke out, and had to rush to the post office to retrieve the parcel); but shrewd publisher that he was, he took note at a meeting of colleagues that ‘everyone agreed there would be no translation problems, since the poems involved neither rhymes nor complicated meters’. English became the vehicle for Tagore’s post-Nobel Prize success, because translators such as André Gide in France, who weren’t primarily translators, could turn their hands to the task with ease. 3. With the new wave of translations of Tagore that began, I suppose, with my own Selected Poems of Tagore for Penguin in 1985 but quickly brought many other distinguished translators into prominence, notably Ketaki Kushari Dyson in Britain, Martin Kämpchen in Germany, Victor van Bijlert in Holland, Saranindranath Tagore and Wendy Barker in the USA, and in India the highly professional team assembled by Professor Sukanta Chaudhuri for his ongoing series of Oxford Tagore translations. The effect of all this work has been to produce a ‘third Tagore’, as the Delhi University critic Harish Trivedi has called him: not the Tagore of the original Bengali, not the Tagore of his own translations, but Tagore as revealed more and more completely and perceptively by present-day translations and scholars. This means that we can appraise Tagore’s own translations in the light of our growing ability to see him as a whole. When, twenty years ago, I found that his translations were his only vehicle outside Bengal, I was outraged, because they gave such a partial, inadequate and uninformative impression (no introductions or notes). Now, one can see them as part of his total oeuvre, and a very important and lasting part because unlike translations by others – which can date and be replaced – Tagore’s translations are his own words, and as such are as durable and authentic as his writings in Bengali. 4. I have come to appreciate better the real eloquence and beauty to be found in those English words of Tagore, when read sympathetically, not with constant reference to the original (a pointless exercise) but as self-standing literary creations in their own right. Critics such as Sukanta Chaudhuri or Sisir Kumar Das (editor of the Sahitya Akademi’s English writings of Tagore) prefer not to see his translations as translations at all. Instead, they see him as a ‘bilingual writer’, whose ‘translations’ can be read as a sort of commentary on his Bengali works. I think Tagore himself would have been dismissive of the label ‘bilingual writer’, as he was self-deprecating about his knowledge of English, and in his later years was often very scathing about his English translations, expressing regret that he had ever done them. But the two poems from Gitanjali that I’ve selected for Mayurika Chakravorty to read – not the best known ones, but very strong and dramatic and haunting ones – will show that, put into a rich context such as our programme tonight, these English translations by Tagore himself can still speak powerfully and movingly to us, as powerfully as they spoke to Yeats himself, whose ecstatic personal reaction shines indelibly from his Introduction to Gitanjali, an extract from which we will also now hear. When I read Tagore’s translations now, I no longer have an outraged sense of injustice. Rather I see in them vulnerability, sensitivity, oddity, vitality and above all courage. Those, for me, are Tagore’s great gifts to English. |
Tagore’s Gitanjali and self translation the following write up on 'Tagore's Gitanjali and self traanslation' is by Kusumika Mitra
Homi Bhaba in his ‘The Location of Culture’ quotes Walter Benjamin and says that “Translation passes through continua of transformation, not abstract ideas of identity and similarity”. Thus according to Walter Benjamin there can never be anything like a perfect translation and in turn nothing called an ideal translator. Benjamin believes that translation is not about similarity but a transformation. This same theory can be applied to even in the field of self translation. Literary self translation like translation itself is a process in which a text is translated from the source language to the target language with the only exception that the author of the text becomes the translator of the text. Since the source text is created by the author himself, it is not wrong to believe that the author should have a command over the text and thus if he is expected to translate his work, he should be able to do so perfectly since he has the best knowledge of the text. This however does not happen. Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali is an example of the myth that self translation is the ideal translation.
Gitanjali is a collection of one hundred and three verses that the poet himself translated. Much has already been debated on the reasons behind these translations and on whether he deserved the Nobel Prize or not. However from the perspective of self translation it would not be out of place to try and locate Gitanjali as a piece of self translated work and try and understand through it, the politics of self translation. The first verse in the Bengali text reads:
Amare tumi ashesh korecho
Emni leela tobo
Furiye fele abare bhorecho
Jeebon nobo nobo
Tagore translated the same verse in English as:
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure
This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again,
And fillest it ever with fresh life.
When we try and compare the two verses, we see that though he has been successful in maintaining the overall meaning, he has made certain compromises and changes. First and foremost the structure of the verse itself has changed drastically. While writing in Bengali, he has used a rhyme scheme of abab; however while translating he does away with this rhyme scheme. Also ‘pleasure’ is not an equivalent translation of the Bengali word ‘leela’. ‘Leela’ is a religious term and is used to commonly refer to god’s game play with the human race and not so much pleasure. Another observation is his use of metaphors while translating into English. ‘jeebon’ (life) is translated as ‘frail vessel’. Going back to talking about the structure in verse XXX he takes two lines to express what he writes in five lines in Bengali.
Saathe saathe ke chole mor
Nirob anukaare
Chadate chai onek kore
Ghure feli, jaye je shore
Mone kori aapod geche
Aabar dekhi tare
The above lines he translates into English in just three lines:
But who is this that follows me in the silent dark?
I move aside to avoid his presence
But I escape him not.
This can be because of the fact that it is believed that Tagore gave more importance to ideas than to the structural framework. Thus he emphasized more on the lyrical qualities.
One of the main aims of translation (be it self- translated or not), is to convey the message as accurately as possible. When we read Gitanjali in English, it is very evident through words like ‘thou’, ‘thee’, ‘thy’ etc, that the verses are addressed to God. They can be seen as hymns or even prayers for God. However when we read the Bengali version of the same, we cannot dismiss the verses as just hymns sung to the almighty. They can also be seen as songs or poems written for a beloved. There is no archaism or loftiness in the way the verses have been written in Bengali. The tone is informal. Thus though the source text (Gitanjali written in Bengali in this case) can be interpreted in more than one way, Tagore consciously constructs the English translation in such a way that not many interpretations can be possible. One of the possible reasons behind this can be that Tagore was very concerned about his target audience (the west). He was aware that the west saw India as a land of mysticism. He wanted to build on it and thus we find Gitanjali (the English translation) to be full of mysticism and spiritual thoughts.
After reading his English translations, it would not be wrong to think that Tagore was keener on expressing his emotions rather than strictly translating his Bengali work. Thus he does not follow any particular pattern of translation. While translating some verses he follows a word to word translation, whereas on other occasions he follows the method of paraphrasing. Many critics believe that Tagore feared that the west would not be able to understand the cultural nuances of his country and thus he chose simple English word that though would not accurately match the Bengali one, would however succeed in putting across his emotions to the western readers.
Hence, Tagore as a self translator takes a lot of liberties while translating. His English version of the Gitanjali is less of a translation of the Bengali text and can be considered more of a trans- creation. Tagore’s Gitanjali contributes to the larger debate of whether self- translation is the ideal translation and it also questions the stance that the author/translator takes while translating his own work.

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...Home About Contact The Lost Flaneur Ali Karimi Feeds: Posts Comments Posts Tagged ‘Kabuliwala’ Kabuliwala – “The Kabuli Man” Posted in Books, Cinema, City, tagged Kabul in Literature, Kabuliwala, Rabindranath Tagore, The Fruitseller from Kabul, The Kabuli Man on September 16, 2011 | Leave a Comment » The awesome poster for Kabuliwala film 1957. Kabuliwala (originally Cabuliwala) is a short story by Rabindranath Tagore (b. 1861 – 1941), India’s most celebrated literary figure and a Noble Laureate. Kabuliwala which literally means “The Kabuli Man” (better known in English as “The Fruitseller from Kabul”), is a story about the ancient and romantic friendship between India and Kabul city, which in my opinion, is the most Indianized city of Afghanistan after Jalalabad. Kabuliwala, as “one of the most iconic characters from Indian literature and cinema” has been the reference to many Indian art and cultural products over the decades. The story was adapted into at least three Indian films; one in 1957 by Tapan Sinha in Bengali, the other in 1961 by Hemen Gupta in Hindi, the last one in 1993 by Siddique in Malayalam, all with the same name. Of the three films, I have seen the 1957 one which is a charming classical Indian movie with good performances and very good old Kabuli and Indian songs. This film was selected in the competition section of the 7th Berlinale in 1957 and even won an award— it was the time, Indian cinema was not invaded yet by “Bollywood” gangsters...

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...system has been generally recognised in the West where boys and girls are given a basic training in the rudiments of music at the school stage. Thus, they fit into a social scheme where dance and music have an important place. In ancient India, also students had to learn to chant the Vedic Hymns. Specialised training could then be imparted to those who exhibited notable aptitude or bias in this direction. Usually in our country, such training was received privately from ustads or maestros in the art. In Europe there are colleges like the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music in London to impart the necessary training and to hold examination. No one recognised the value of music in education more than Rabindranath Tagore. At Visva Bharati, he made Faculty of Music to make music an integral part of education. Recently Music has been made a distinct discipline or faculty of studies in almost all universities in India. Musical Academies have also been established by the States and Union Govt. Music has a religions origin everywhere. So there is something in music that exalts and ennobles our heart...

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...The kabiliwala The cabuliwallah is from Kabul. His real name is Abdur Rahman. He works as a peddler in India. He goes to Kabul once a year to visit his wife and little daughter. In the course of selling goods, once he reaches to the house of writer, Rabindranath Tagore. Then his five years daughter, Mini calls him ‘Cabuliwallah! A Cabuliwallah’. When Cabuliwallah goes to visit Mini she is afraid because he is wearing loose solid clothes and a tall turban. He looks gigantic. When the writer knows that Mini is afraid, he introduces her with him. The Cabuliwallah gives her some nuts and raisins. Mini becomes happy from next day, the Cabuliwallah often visits her and he gives her something to eat. They crack looks and laugh and enjoy. They also feel comfortable in the company each other. The writer likes their friendship. But Mini’s mother doesn’t like it. She thinks that the peddler like Cabuliwallah can be child lifter. However, Mini and the Cabuliwallah becomes intimate friend. The Cabuliwallah sells seasonal goods. Once he sells a Rampuri shawl to a customer on credit. He asks him for the money many times but he doesn’t pay. At last he denies buying the shawl. The Cabuliwallah becomes very angry and stabs the customer. Then he is arrested by police and taken him to the jail. He is jailed for eight years. When he is freed from jail at first he goes to visit Mini surprisingly. It is the wedding day and he isn’t allowed to visit her. When he shows the finger of a piece of paper...

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...(and/or the ‘primitive’) as they appear in modernising societies. First, we look at representative literature from (what was until recently known as) Great Britain. The question is: why did the world’s homeland of the Industrial Revolution have a fascination with adventure, feats of derring-do and the primitive? We look at a young reader’s Victorian adventure novel, the long-enduring The Coral Island, and the later short stories of Rudyard Kipling (the ‘Bard’ of Empire), and examine the (contradictory?) lure of the primitive, even as British modernity is taken for granted. Second, the module will proceed to examine some major Chinese and Japanese writers and intellectuals (and an Indian poet and critics, the Nobel Prize-winning Rabindranath Tagore) and see how northeast Asian culture was broadly affected by their sense of Western modern superiority in technology, political organisation and literary (and other forms of creative) culture. Both China and Japan, the major countries in East-Southeast Asia, were never colonised, but they were intimidated by the presence of the Great Western Powers (and their colonies) in the region. Japan after the Meiji Restoration (1868) became the first modern Asian nation-state, and their attempts at intensive (and disruptive) modernisation of their culture had a profound impact on the whole region – and this desire to be modern also meant that Japan itself became a colonising state, following the British, French and German states. This module attempts...

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