lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, January 05, 2007

Softly, softly

"I think I'll have to start with sanchari or abhog to make sense," I said. The Resident Musician wasn't convinced.

I am being serenaded in the evenings these days, as the Resident Musician has got Rabindra Sangeet on his brain. I can speak Bengali to shopkeepers and such and make myself understood, but I don't know the language well, not the literature part of it. So I was trying to figure out if what the song conveyed to me from my half-baked understanding was actually what it meant.

Translation is not an easy task. A translator has to be true to the original, and still manage to make the version seem fresh. Then there is the matter of idiomatic expressions. Each language has its quirks and there are expressions that will be awkward when rendered into another tongue.

This meant that the Resident Musician sang a verse and interpreted it and we kept going off tangentially, arguing back and forth. Just four couplets, a poem, set to tune. Bengalis know how to dish out frustration, I tell you.

deep nibhey gyachhey mamo nisheetha sameerey,
dheerey dheerey Eshey tumi jeyonaago phirey.

You see the difficulty right away. My lamp has died in the night breeze. Or should it be the night breeze blew my lamp out? Don't come and go away again, softly, softly. Is 'softly' applied to the arrival and departure, is it a refrain that connects the verses as the Resident Musician remembers? He sings it that way, as remembered from a private recording of Debabrata Biswas. It is the convention to return to the second line of the first verse throughout the song, after all.

We argued about the exact meaning of dheera and, Dear Reader, I had to concede that dheera as heroic was a CP Brown definition alone. It can mean slowly, gently, softly, and somberly. Don't ask me about the time I spent at my shelves, thank you. The Resident Musician thought 'softly' referred to the beloved's arrival and leaving and I thought it meant a faint song to guide the beloved to the singer when the lamp has failed.

E pathey jakhoni jaabey aandhaarey chinitey paabey
Rajanigandhaaro gandha bhorichhey mandirey,

This is fairly simple, you'd think, but the impressions this verse conveys to the Resident Musician and me are wildly different. When you go on this path in darkness, you will notice the fragrance of Rajanigandha has suffused the house, the Resident Musician translated it, and felt this was just description. I felt it was guiding the beloved to the singer's house; as you walk this path at night, the fragrance of the night blooms will point my house to you, the verse said to me, since the lamp was blown out after all.

Amaarey paRibey monE kakhon sey laagi
praharey praharey ami gaan geyey jaagi,

Again, the Resident Musician and I differed on interpretation. For that second when you will recall me, I stay awake all hours singing, he said. I thought this was the crux, which made the refrain clear. The singer is waiting and singing softly to guide the beloved, it seemed to me. And the next verse commences without the return to the refrain. To me this states the heart of the song.

Bhoy paachey shEsh raatey ghum aashey aankhi paatey
klaanta kanTe mor sur phuraayE jadirey, dheerey, dheerey.

I am afraid that in the small hours, sleep might overtake me, my eyes might close, my tired voice might fail, translated the Resident Musician. To me, the verse settled the question of refrain, and the intent of the song. It is not the beloved's footsteps that are soft; the singer is afraid of succumbing to sleep and worried the voice might fail, and hence the soft singing.

But the path of true love or the translator is never easy; we debated transliteration. It can be notional. I bowed to his Bengali superiority and went with his spelling. Then there was more debate about if I can call it translation if I change the order of the verses. I called it interpretation and left it at that. Transcreation, the Resident Musician snorted.

Translation is a thankless job, anyhow. I was only attempting it to make the song come alive to me. Also, there was another hiccup; the poem and the tune don't match in time. I had to decide whether to match the meter of the poem, or to match the tune. It is Jhaptaal for the tune, but the way George-da sang it, the rhythm is irrelevant, mood is all.

After all the discussion and debate, as I sat scribbling in the pad that is always by my side, he asked to hear my translation. "No more debate on it, though." I said, adding that this is what the song means to me:

For that moment you might think of me,
Keeping vigil through watches of the night,
I sing softly, softly.

In fear lest my eyes droop in sleep during the last hours
Or in exhaustion my voice fail,
I sing softly, softly.

The night breeze has stolen my lamp; that you
Do not come and leave all unaware
I sing softly, softly.

When you take this path in dark, to make known my abode,
Along with the fragrance of night blooms
I sing softly, softly.



Anonymous dipali said...

Wow, no,mega-wow! As a non-Bengali, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire process of your translation/transcreation, and the final creation. Shama Fatehally's posthumous book, The Right Words,(which I picked up from good old Eloor) speaks very eloquently about the pleasures and pitfalls of the same. Would love to learn to listen to Rabindra Sangeet- lessons required, Lali!

9:19 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Dipali- Good old Eloor, yeah. But, boo hoo, I require lessons too. I can't read the script(it seems so chicken scrawl), and I really really have trouble with writing things one way and pronouncing them differently. You won't believe it, but I called on four friends to make sure about the verse and version. I am glad you like it.

9:52 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

I like the way you translated without deviation and yet interpreted it differently. 'Stolen' was the exception, but it fit in with the mood. Good post, Lali.

1:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amaarey paRibey monE kakhon sey laagi, sigh.

Secret admirer

2:48 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ash- Umm, you are right. I could have said 'the night breeze blew out my lamp' and that would have been true to the song. Thanks for pointing it out, but I am not going to change it now.

Anon- *sniff* Get a name.

5:37 pm  
Blogger Priya said...

Mind blowing. Your soft singing has lit a lamp in this mind and heart. Thank you. Would love to sit with the Resident Musician for a Rabindrasangeet session. Oh how I miss it!

8:10 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Priya- Thanks, angel. The Resident Musician says it would be lovely to have you visiting. Let's plan a session when you are in town. :-)

5:22 pm  
Anonymous Nisha said...

I have heard Rabindra sangeet and actually a sinlge song can be interpreted in many ways... That's the beauty. I liked the way you interpreted. For me interpretation is something more interesting than mere translation!

Good Work!

if you have time and energy Try doing with other songs also.

5:32 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Nisha- Thank you. The thing is, translations always spring from the translator's understanding and assimilation of the piece.

I have translated tumi robey neerobey, by the way. The rest of the songs, it always depends on what moves him to sing which song and how it moves me. :-)

10:15 pm  

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