Tuesday October 17, 2017

German scholar to translate Rabindranath to mark his anniversary

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Germany: In early May, Rabindranath’s birth anniversary will be celebrated with just routine fanfare. The big anniversaries are over: 150th birth anniversary (2011); the centenary of the English Gitanjali (2012); and the centenary of Tagore’s Nobel Prize (2013). Seminars have been conducted all over the world, many funded by the Indian government, at least two dozen anthologies collecting the speeches and essays of Tagore experts have been published, Tagore’s works have reprinted to an extent which amazes everyone. His works also have seen a good number of new translations from Bengali. My own book, Rabindranath Tagore: One Hundred Years of Global Reception, co-edited with Imre Bangha, attempted an overview of the poet’s standing in the world today.

Now that the Tagore Season has been completed with a good measure of success, it may be the time to take stock. What have I achieved as a translator of Rabindranath’s poetry from Bengali to German which I see as my main contribution?

German translation of Rabindranath began almost as early as English translation. While the English Gitanjali appeared in 1912 in London, the German  Gitanjali followed in 1914. Yet, these two translation ventures had a totally different cultural significance. In Great Britain, Rabindranath was a poet from the colonies using the language of the colonizers who succeeded in expressing himself on the level of literature. In Germany, the German translation carried no such ideological and political baggage. In  the German perception, Rabindranath was not the poet of a colonized nation speaking to the colonizers; rather, he was a voice from the mystic east speaking to the mysticism —  and mysteries-seeking West.

He was seen in the context of German Indology which began in the early 19th century simultaneously with and inspired by German Romanticism. German Romanticism had discovered India as a land of philosophy and wisdom. Hence, the German public of the early 20th century saw in Rabindranath an exponent of the philosophy and wisdom of India, not primarily a poet. More importantly, the sympathetic German public saw in Rabindranath a fellow-Romantic and considered his Romanticism as the entry point through which to understand and appreciate him.

Thus, translating Rabindranath from Bengali  to English and translating him to German are two very different exercises. In Anglo-Saxon countries, Rabindranath Tagore is a poet of renown because he did write in English and did receive the Nobel Prize for a book written in English. He is part of the colonial and post-colonial discourse, and his literary work can be viewed in the context of Commonwealth literature.

Such contexts do not exist in Germany. Moreover, in present-day Germany, the romantic mould has become somewhat suspect after an excess of misguided emotions during Hitler’s Third Reich. Tagore, the mystic poet, is still alive in the memory of elderly people who were told to read him by their parents. These parents had witnessed the enthusiasm surrounding the Indian poet in Germany in the 1920s. This lack of a contemporary cultural context makes it an arduous task to create a new —  truer, more genuine — image of the Indian poet through translations from the Bengali original. The one valid claim for his rediscovery is that he is a figure of world literature. So far, the translations done from the English to German did not substantiate such a claim. Hence, in German such a claim had to be established and proven  anew through philologically correct and literary satisfying translations from the Bengali original. This has been my task during the last twenty years in which six volumes of my poetry translations from Bengali to German have appeared in Germany.

I have done all my translations, without exception, while living at Santiniketan which I call my Indian home since 1980. It was clear to me that I could do them only in Bengal, not outside, certainly not in Germany. Here at Santiniketan, I have the atmosphere and the social environment with its emotions and habits, its nature and its sounds which provide the backdrop of many of the poems and songs that I have translated. This helped me to first understand and then re-create the deeper intuitions and the emotionality of these poems. Further, Santiniketan provides me with the expert help I need in order to know every shade of meaning and get the interpretation of the poems and songs just right.

On the one hand, I am here enjoying good Tagorean fellowship. But on the other hand, I am alone and lonely as a translator into German. No one in Santiniketan can understand and appreciate my translations. West  Bengal, therefore, has neither expert praise nor expert criticism for me.  The academic community here hardly knows that for the last twenty-five years I have been translating one poem after another, filling six volumes. The community neither joins in my ecstasy that my work gives me, nor comforts me when I am faced with what I call the  ‘tragedy of translation’.

Let me, very briefly, give you some details of my translation predicament. In contrast to German, the Bengal language can dispense with the definite and indefinite articles as well as with certain pronouns which instead can be expressed through endings. Auxiliary verbs, too, are incorporated in the verb endings. This makes Bengali curt, compressed, often wonderfully sententious encapsulating one dictum within a few syllables. Try to translate Gele hata in just two words! In English as well as in German it needs a full sentence with an auxiliary clause. German does not have the same gift of brevity. Translating a Bengali line of verse often needs two lines in German. Hence, if you want to fashion a Tagore poem into a German poem, certain judicious compromises regarding the wealth and exactitude of meaning must be admitted.

The claim to create a new poem demands from the translator to deconstruct all the components of the Bengali poem into a “mass” of meaning, rhythm and moods and then rebuild the German poem from that same material. Each line and each sentence needs to undergo the same slow transformation in the mind of the translator. If this progresses happily and that means, if my mind becomes fully attuned to the mind of the creator, Rabindranath, then there is nothing more fulfilling, more intoxicating, than translating poetry. This is what I referred to as the ecstasy which a translator enjoys.

The tragedy is that a translation is never finished. A poem may be complete and perfect, but never the translation of a poem. The translation has to be truthful to itself, as a German poem, and truthful to the original, a Bengali poem. This is walking a tightrope from which I may fall off on the right or the left any moment, sometimes without noticing it.

A special challenge is the translation of rhymed verse-endings. In Bengali, rhyme comes easy as only few endings exist, while rhyming in German language is more demanding as the endings are more in number and more varied. Rhyming had once been the norm in German poetry; modern poetry uses it, too, but less frequently. However, when translating Rabindranath, I cannot abandon rhyme altogether. For example, translating a poem like Sisu without rhyme would mean missing the point — the fun, the banter, the childlikeness — of the poem altogether. Even many Gitanjali poems will be only half as enjoyable and effective without rhyme, as with rhyme. This means that rhyme has to be made a part of the translation effort. This is a tremendous challenge. Rhyme must come naturally and easily, without twists in the sentence structure. But  that  is not too easy either, otherwise a verse might degenerate into a mere pun on words, a  Kalauer. The need for rhyme drastically reduces the freedom of choice of words and increases the need for compromises regarding the wealth and exactitude of meaning. I see the work of a translator of poems as a special call. You must be something of a poet yourself to be excellent. At least, you should rise to become a poet in the process of translation, assembling the elements of the Bengali poem into a new resplendent and self-confident structure. Often I felt an extraordinary union with the poem and with its creator, Rabindranath. In these moments I was aware that translating Rabindranath’s poems means communicating with the poet’s imagination and spiritual persona in a more intense, more intimate way than merely reading his poems. In such moments I feel an almost aching happiness that I am not a mere reader but a translator of Rabindranath’s poetry.

My translations are done. I now devote my time to my own writing which is clearly suffused by the philosophy and poetic vision of Santiniketan’s  Gurudev. In a certain manner, my writing is a continuation of my translation work. It is a contemporary interpretation of Rabindranath’s universe of ideas and emotions for modern German society.

The writer is a German scholar based in Santiniketan. His last book is Anubhave anudhyane Rabindranath; Karigar 2016.

Credits:The Satesman

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Different Versions of India’s National Song ‘Vande Mataram’ over the past 140 Years of its History

Shri Aurobindo had translated Vande Mataram to English in 1909

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National Song of India
Vande Mataram. Wikimedia
  • ‘Vande Mataram’ is the National Song of India written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay
  • The song was published in 1876 in a mix of Bengali and Sanskrit words
  • Vande Mataram was also a slogan for the freedom fighters of the nation

August 19, 2017: It was in 1876 that Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay wrote Sanskrit and Bengali mixed verses of Vande Mataram, the national song of India. However, it was originally written in Bengali as ‘Bande Matara’ a few years before it published.

The most famous rendition of the National Song was carried out at an Indian National Congress meeting by Rabindranath Tagore in 1896.

ALSO READ: Bankim Chandra Chatterjee: Remembering the voice who gave India ‘Vande Mataram’

Vande Mataram as a phrase was also of common usage among the freedom fighters during the struggle for independence from the British rule.

The song has been used in the pop culture and Bollywood in a variety of ways. In 1952, Lata Mangeshkar covered the song on Hemant Kumar’s tune for the movie Anand Math. Later in 1998, Lata Mangeshkar did her over version which had added stanzas of Hindi but the tune remained the same.

Manna Dey’s version came out in 1951 and AR Rehman’s version of the song came out in 1997 as Maa Tujhe Salaam. The most recent, in 2012, Sonu Nigam along with Sunidhi Chauhan did a version featuring famous percussionist Bickram Ghosh.

In poetry as well, different ragas have been used to express the national song.

The father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, favored Pandit VD Paluskar’s composition. Paluskar himself was known for singing the song in Congress meetings. Interestingly enough, he was once intercepted by Maulana Ahmed Ali’s objection at the Kakinada Convention in 1933.

The Congress decided to use the song’s first two stanzas while excluding the other half which is about Hindu goddesses. These two stanzas were sung at the All India Radio on 15th August 1947 by Pandit Omkarnath Thakur.

Tagore’s version in 1896 was a slower one. A gramophone record of 1904 which is now available online was released with Tagore’s voice.

Shri Aurobindo had translated Vande Mataram to English in 1909.

Vande Mataram, in its over 140 years of history, has come under a lot of allegations. Starting with the origination, Vande Mataram faces challenges as it comes from Chattopadhyay’s novel Anandamath in which the enemy was identified as the Muslim ruling class. Additionally, the invocation of Hindu goddesses in later stanzas was questioned as well.

However, the song still managed to become India’s national song with Jana Gana Mana being the national anthem.

The Indian National Army (INA) had composed a Hindi version of Jana Gana Mana to replace their anthem for Provisional Government for Free India in Singapore, which was Vande Mataram.

Objections to Vande Mataram were first aired publicly in 1933. At the time, Vande Mataram was sung along Saare Jahan Se Acha by poet Allama Iqbal. Iqbal had written this song in 1904 and had initially titled it as Tarana-e-Hind. But within two years, drastic changes took place. Iqbal became an advocate for the two nation theory and demanded a separate Pakistan. He also changed the title of the song to Tarana-e-Milli.

– Prepared by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394


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May 13 is Ronald Ross’ 160th Birth Anniversary: Finding the course of Dreaded Disease ‘Malaria’ – for 8 Annas

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Ronald Ross, Wikimedia

May 13, 2017: Affecting humans across all continents for centuries, this debilitating disease was long believed to be caused by unhealthy vapours, which gave its name – malaria (from Latin for bad air). While several scientists in the 19th century began zeroing in on its actual cause, the definitive proof was obtained by a British doctor in India who paid a volunteer eight annas for being bitten the same number of times by the suspected vector.

And Ronald Ross, who would be knighted and win the second Noble Prize for Medicine (not without controversy), celebrated his discovery by writing a poem to his wife – ending “I know this little thing/A myriad men will save/O Death, where is thy sting? Thy victory, O Grave?” (the last lines a reworking of the hymn “Abide With Me”).

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Though the discovery in August 1897 was built on work of many scientists around the world since the beginning of the century, Ross (1857-1932), whose 160th birth anniversary is on Saturday (May 13), was also a mathematician, novelist, dramatist, poet, amateur musician, composer and artist though it is as a persistent — and impulsive medical researcher he is most famous.

Born in Almora in the family of a British general, he studied in Britain where he proved to be exceptionally good in mathematics and wanted to be a writer but was admitted to St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College by his father in 1874.

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Though he spent most of his time writing poems and plays, he did pass his examinations to become a surgeon in 1880. He entered the Indian Medical Service in 1881 and was posted to various areas including Madras, Bangalore (where in 1883 he noticed mosquitoes could be controlled by limiting their access to water and suffered from malaria himself), Baluchistan and even the Andaman Islands.

His interest in malaria was sparked by a meeting with Sir Patrick Manson, the “father of tropical medicine”, during a spell of leave in London in 1894 and they discussed findings of Charles Laveran, a French army surgeon in Algeria who had discovered parasitical cells in the blood of a patient.

It was in Secundrabad, where he was posted in 1895, that Ross began his research to ascertain whether mosquitoes transmitted malaria parasites, but for years, made no headway.

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“Eventually in July 1897 he reared 20 adult ‘brown’ mosquitoes from collected larvae. Following identification of a volunteer (Husein Khan) infected with crescents of malignant tertian malaria and the expenditure of 8 annas (one anna per blood-fed mosquito!), Ross embarked on a four-day study of the resultant engorged insects. This ‘compact’ study was written up and submitted for publication.

“Imagine today sending an article to a leading medical journal ‘in which you describe observations on novel objects found on the midguts of just two ‘brown’ mosquitoes, obtained from larvae of natural origin, that you had previously fed on a naturally infected patient – with no appropriate controls and no replicates! What hope would it have of getting past the editor and reviewers,” asked Robert Sinden in an article on Ross and his discovery in the January 2014 bulletin of the World Health Organisation.

Sinden, of the Faculty of Natural Sciences in London’s Imperial College, however goes on to say that despite the “perceived inadequacies of the study design, it is difficult to overstate the importance of Ross’s paper: the award of a Nobel Prize hardly does justice to the subsequent impact of his conclusions”, especially in identifying the most vulnerable stage in the parasite’s lifecycle for effective intervention.

But that was not the limit of Ross’ contribution to fighting this — or other dreaded diseases.

Before resigning from the IMS in 1899 after trying unsuccessfully to find the cause of kala azar in eastern India, he subsequently joined the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and continued to work on prevention of malaria in different parts of the world. He also developed mathematical models for the study of malaria epidemiology.

Ross, who won the Nobel in 1902 (after a tussle with Italian researchers who had also identified the cause in 1897), went on to set up the Ross Institute and Hospital for Tropical Diseases in 1926 which he headed till his death.

But despite his path-breaking work, malaria, which due to its high mortality and morbidity levels, has had the greatest selective pressure on the human genome in recent history, still exerts its malignant effect across some of the world’s poorest regions — though some hope lies in a vaccine due to be tested in Africa the next year. (IANS)

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West Bengal Celebrates 156th Birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore

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Rabindranath Tagore, Wikimedia

New Delhi, May 7, 2017: 

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”- Rabindranath Tagore 

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941 C.E.) was a Bengali polymath who rejuvenated Bengali literature and music, as well as Indian art with contextual modernism. According to English calendar, he was born on 7th May 1861.

He was the youngest son of Debendranath Tagore, who was a leader of the Brahmo Samaj, which was a new religious sect in nineteenth-century Bengal and which endeavoured a revival of the absolute monistic basis of Hinduism as laid down in the Upanishads.

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He was home-schooled; and although at seventeen he was dispatched to England for formal schooling, he did not complete his studies there. In his mature years, in addition to his many-sided literary activities, he looked after the family estates, a project which brought him into close touch with common humanity, grassroots which dragged him to social reforms. He also established an experimental school at Shantiniketan where he tried his Upanishadic ideals of education.

Tagore had early success as a writer in his native Bengal. With his translations of some of his poems, he became rapidly known in the West. His famous works are Gitanjali [1913], Saddhana, The Realisation of Life (1916)The Crescent Moon (1913)Fruit-Gathering (1916)Stray Birds (1916)The Home and the World (1915)Thought Relics (1921).

According to Bengali calendar, he was born on 25th day of Boishakh month, in 1422 Bengali Epoch. His anniversary is observed as per local Bengali calendar. The day of Boishakh 25th currently overlaps with either 8th May or 9th May on Gregorian calendar. However, in other states, Rabindranath Tagore Jayanti is observed as per Gregorian calendar on 7th May. In Kolkata, Tagore Jayanti is popularly known as Poncheeshe Boishakh.

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Rabindra Jayanti is an annually celebrated cultural festival, existent among Bengalis around the world, in the reminiscence of Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday anniversary. It is celebrated in early May, on the 25th day of the Bengali month of Boishakh.

Every year, many cultural programmes & events, such as : Kabipranam – the songs (Rabindra Sangeet), poetries, dances and dramas, written and composed by Tagore, are organised in this particular day, by a lot of schools, colleges & universities of Bengal, and also celebrated by different groups abroad, as a tribute to Tagore and his works.

Tagore’s birth anniversary is largely celebrated at Santiniketan, Birbhum in West Bengal, chiefly in Visva-Bharati University, the institution founded by Tagore himself with a vision of the cultural, social and educational upliftment of the students as well as the society. The Government of India Issued 5 Rupees coin in 2011 to mark the 150 Birth Anniversary in the honour of Rabindranath Tagore.

– by Sabhyata Badhwar. Twitter: @SabbyDarkhorse