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Writing Matters: In conversation with Saubhik De Sarkar

By Dolonchampa Chakraborty

 

Saubhik De Sarkar.jpg

Saubhik De Sarkar

Saubhik De Sarkar, is a Bengali poet based in Alipurduar, West Bengal, a major district in the eastern Himalayan foothills of India. He has six books of poems of which the first one Sheet O Bayosandhir Haspatal was published in 1995. Other collections include Ekti Mridu Laal Rekha (2005), Jatrabari (2011), Dokholsutra (2013), Anugato Buffer (2015) and Punorbashoner Chil (2016). He is also a prolific translator. His most significant translation projects include but are not limited to the works of Saadat Hasan Manto, Roberto Bolano, Federico Garcia Lorca, Julio Cortázar, Namdeo Dhasal and Rudhramoorthy Cheran. His translation of the much discoursed Dalit chronicle My Father Baliah by Y.B. Satyanarayana into Bengali is set to be published in 2018. His selected poems translated into English, The Evening Gnome is also scheduled to be published from Authorspress in 2018. He is the recipient of Kabita Pakshik Award (2005) and Mallar Award (2017).

Dolonchampa: What encouraged you to be a poet? Can you think of a particular set of moments that still haunt your memory as the initial spark?

Saubhik: I grew up in the cultural and literary ambience of Alipurduar which had some artistic and traditional inheritance. The Little Magazine Movement also played a significant role in shaping and sharpening me up as it has had tremendous impact over the progression of Bengali literature. Since a young age I got to know the avant garde litterateur and poets of North Bengal who were involved in little magazine movements and an experimental writing process. Taking part in the movement provided the opportunity to access different avenues of literature and I chose poetry as the medium to express myself. Not any special incident or spark, but as a whole many features of poetry enticed me toward it. I found the essential freedom and a sense of unrestricted liberation within the realm of poetry.

Dolonchampa: Tell us about your literary influences.

Saubhik: A poet is indebted to many other travellers of the labyrinth of poetry. According to my recollection, Jibananda Das, Utpal Kumar Basu, Manindra Gupta, Swadesh Sen, Bhashkar Chakraborty, Nitya Malakar, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Sajal Bandyopadhyay, Shyamal Kanti Das, Samar Roy Choudhury, Shyamal Singha, Jahar Sen Majumder and Rahul Purkayastha are those few Bengali poets who had initially impacted my nous of poetry. Among the ones who wrote in other languages, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ana Akhmatova, Frank O’Hara, Julio Cortázar, Charles Simic, A.K. Mehrotra, Namdeo Dhasal, Agha Shahid Ali, Mahmud Darwish, Martin Espada and Kim Hyesoon influenced me a lot.

Dolonchampa: The unique elements of North Bengal—the landscape, languages, folk tales, myths, music have influenced your already rich linguistic inheritance. How do they shape your poems?

Saubhik: North Bengal, where I have lived so far has some particularly distinctive features. Located amid lustrous natural landscape within the range of three international borders, it is a unique multicultural, multilingual and multi-ethnic confluence. Populations hailing from separate ethnic clusters native to this place present themselves in different forms of myths, folktales, customs and rituals, and music different from each other. In congruence with the changing dynamics of the rivers flowing through the mountain range of North Bengal, the disposition of the people here also changes its form. People constantly move in and out of North Bengal. A larger phase of history has been a witness to this shifting identity and its restlessness for a rather consistent period of time. When I try to capture that particular identity in my poems, it appears with all its restlessness.

Political and economic contexts are not the same either. They are altering at a rather slower pace, but the transformation is indeed visible. Against the backdrop of the marginal and rural practices transforming towards a pro-urban formation, the decadence in the local colonial set-ups primarily established through the railways and tea-gardens become more prominent. The conservatively rural and marginal folk elements are developing themselves in an innovative manner, which to certain extent is definitely and more inevitably contributing to the degeneration of an old customary set-up.

All these shifts and changes, anomalies and transformations present themselves subtly in my poems. Although I feel the limitation of the standard lingua franca in expressing these conflicts, struggles and the confluences of the beauty, silence and serenity of North Bengal which appear in my poems. Hence, it is only reasonable that I should use words from the dialects, sub-dialects and other languages of North Bengal in my writing.

The other and more significant reason for me to use the elements of North Bengal is the responsibility to represent an aware and alert society which registers a systematic and sensible resistance in favour of the liberation of a language no matter how apparently insignificant and distant it is from the power hub of the premier language. Every language practises a kind of monopoly over its dialects and sub-dialects. So when I use a local word in my poem I do not want it to carry its local flavour only. I enable it to stand strong against the monopoly and aggression of the premier language.

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Manmatha Nath Dutt: The lost hero

(From Open Magazine. Link to the complete article given below)

What does the expression ‘Elysium Bower’ remind you of?  I wonder how many people will think of John Keats and Endymion, a poem published by Keats in 1818. One of India’s greatest translators was Manmatha Nath Dutt (Shastri), 1855-1912, who translated from Sanskrit to English and did much more. Chronologically, he translated the Valmiki Ramayana (sequentially from 1892 to 1894), Markandeya Purana (1896), Bhagavata Purana (1896), Vishnu Purana (1896), Hari Vamsha (1897), Mahanirvana Tantra (1900), Agni Purana (1903-04), Mahabharata (1895-1905), Kamandakiya Nitisara (1896), several samhitas anddharmashastra texts (1906, 1908-09), Garuda Purana (1908) and Rig Veda Samhita (1906-1912).  Compared to Kishori Mohan Ganguli (the translator of the Mahabharata), Manmatha Nath Dutt was much more prolific.  (Ganguli did not translate any of the other texts—not Puranas, not Hari Vamsha, not Valmiki Ramayana).  But compared to Manmatha Nath Dutt, Ganguli is much more known, probably because the Ganguli Mahabharata translation is available online, while the Dutt one isn’t. (The language used in the two Mahabharata translations present an interesting contrast, but that’s a different story.)  Apart from this remarkable body of translation work, Dutt wrote a biography of the Buddha (1901), retold stories from the Puranas (1893-94, the four volumes titled Gleanings from the Indian Classics), retold stories about famous women in Hinduism (1897), wrote a book on Hindu metaphysics (1904) and wrote another book on the dharma of householders (1905).  These were also in English.  I have not been able to track down anything by Manmatha Nath Dutt written in Bengali, or in any other language.  (In compiling a list of his works, I came across a stray reference to a monograph in Bengali known as Banglar Meye (Women of Bengal), but I am not sure what this was.)

The Ganguli translation was funded and published by Pratap Chandra Roy. Thanks to Pratap Chandra Roy and Pratap Chandra Roy’s wife, we know something about Ganguli.  (P. Lal compiled an annotated Mahabharata bibliography in 1967).  The negative reference to the Dutt translation in this annotation may also have something to do with Dutt receiving less attention than he deserves.)   We know almost nothing about Manmatha Nath Dutt and about this amazingly productive period from 1892 to 1912, a period of 20 years. There is a piece written by Shashi Shekhar in The Pioneer in 2011 and there is a German website with some information.  That’s about it.

Read more at this Open link


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The problem with literature in new Malaysia

(From ArtsEquator. Link to the complete article given below)

I have to be honest: we have a problem with our literature, and frankly, I do not have the solution. However, before we attempt to address the issue, it is essential that we openly acknowledge what the problem is. The hope is that, by being honest and self-reflective, we can, collectively, fix some of the problems afflicting our literary scene.

There are several issues, but I want to focus on two for the moment. I hope that soon, within the next five or ten years of the monumental change that the people of Malaysia made happen on 9 May 2018, we’ll overcome these problems. Otherwise, we may be forced to wait another 60 years to rectify the situation.

National Literature

The first problem? The dilemma presented by the notion of National Literature. Because Malay is the National Language, literature written in Malay occupies a special position as National Literature in Malaysia, in comparison to literature written in other languages. Yet, in our hearts, we know that good literature is good literature, regardless of the language it is written in. Why should there be a language criteria? Further, we repeatedly affirm that literary works are at their purest when expressed in the writer’s mother tongue.

And it is here that the friction arises, for our National Language is not the mother tongue for many of us. For those born and raised in ethnic Chinese or Indian families, it is possible that their language is Mandarin, or Cantonese, or Tamil, or Urdu; and that does not include our friends born and raised in Iban, Dayak, Melanau or Kadazan families. They each have their own mother tongues. We also have many writers who were born and raised writing in English, the one language that slips most comfortably off their tongues, that flows off their fingers. We should not condemn them.

Yes, Malay is a National Language, we read it in school and use it in our daily lives. However, literature is the sense of touch, thought, knowledge and culture. And if all of that stems from the non-Malay languages, then are the works written in these languages non-national?

Read more at this ArtsEquator link


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Authors from the Arab world: Translator recommendations

(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete article given below)

At a recent seminar in New York City on Arabic literature in translation, several literary translators recommended Arabic authors they’d like to see published in English.

t last week’s Seminar on Arabic Literature in Translation, questions from the audience and discussions during the reception afterward revealed enthusiasm among the US publishers, agents, scouts, and others about getting to know Arabic authors and the literary scene in the Arab world.

The seminar was co-organized by the Frankfurt Book Fair New York, Publishing Perspectives, and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

“A lot of books that I’ve come to publish, I’ve heard about in a forum like this,” said John Siciliano, executive editor of Penguin Books and Penguin Classics, who was a speaker on the seminar’s panel discussion.

One audience member asked the panel to recommend Arabic authors to the publishers in the room, authors they felt should to be translated and published in English. Among the recommendations were several books that the translators have decided to start working on–even without an English-language publisher lined up yet.

To that end, we’ve put together a list of the books that were recommended by the panelists as well as some insights about publishing Arabic literature in translation.

Alex Elinson: Moroccan Authors

“I’m working on a book that I feel very strongly about,” said Alex Elinson, translator and associate professor Arabic at Hunter College. Elinson is in the process of translating Hot Maroc by Yassin Adnan into English.

The book was longlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). It’s Adnan’s first novel, published by Dar al-Ain in Cairo.Adnan’s first novel, published by Dar al-Ain in Cairo.

Read more at this Publishing Perspectives link


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Novel on Rajani Thiranagama gets ready for English readers

(From The Hindu. Link to the complete article given below)

Twenty-nine years after the brutal murder of Tamil human rights activist and feminist Rajani Thiranagama in Jaffna by an assassin allegedly deputed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a powerful Malayalam literary work chronicling her struggle is breaking the language barrier to reach readers across the globe who continue to remain concerned about the cascading effect of the decades-long ethnic strife in Sri Lanka.

T.D. Ramakrishnan’s Malayalam work Sugandhi Enna Andal Devanayaki created a sensation when it was published three years ago. Now, HarperCollins is bringing out its English version on July 25, targeting a wider audience outside Kerala.

Crusader for justice

The novel is a powerful account of the life and times of the then head of the department of anatomy at the University of Jaffna, who broke religious and ethnic barriers to marry a social activist with Sinhala Buddhist background, and dared to become a distinct human rights activist in Sri Lanka by criticising both Sinhala chauvinism and the narrow nationalism of the LTTE as well as the alleged brutalities of the Indian Peace Keeping Force.

Read more at The Hindu link here


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Book review: The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi (translated by Jonathan Wright)

Reviewed by Krishnasruthi Srivalsan

The Bamboo Stalk

Title: The Bamboo Stalk
Author: Saud Alsanousi, translated by Jonathan Wright
Publisher: Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing
Pages: 384
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The protagonist of Saud Alsanousi’s The Bamboo Stalk is a deeply conflicted man. Jose Mendoza is raised in his mother’s country as a god fearing Catholic who was baptised in the church at the age of ten. Yet, his mother prepares him for a life in the promised ‘paradise’, his father’s country, Kuwait. Jose has a Kuwaiti passport, a Kuwaiti name – Isa al Tarouf – but as the son of his father’s Filipino maid, he’ll never be accepted by his father’s family, despite being the only male heir to carry forward the family name.

Expertly translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, this is an immensely moving novel, weighing heavily on metaphors, that explores multiple themes like race and religion, identity and class, and highlights the often humiliating immigrant experience overseas, especially in the Gulf.

Alsanousi, a Kuwaiti journalist and novelist whose earlier work includes the novel The Prisoner of Mirrors, explores the concept of ‘the other’ in this book. Often the underdog, the ‘other’ is viewed negatively by the majority. Not being able to fit into clear boxes, the ‘other’ find themselves in a murky marshland of mixed up identities, rootless and unwanted. Blinded by one’s own prejudices, society fails to acknowledge and empathise with the ‘other’ and it is precisely for this reason that al Sanousi modelled Jose as his protagonist.

Jose’s story begins with his mother, Josephine, who leaves the squalor of poverty back home in the Philippines and goes to Kuwait in search of a better paying job. She lands at the house of the illustrious al Tarouf family whose matriarch, Ghanima, is as superstitious as she is stubborn. Joza, as Ghanima refers to the Filipino servant girl, arrives on the day a bomb explodes near the Kuwaiti Emir’s motorcade, narrowly missing him. Ever since, Ghanima has viewed Joza’s arrival as a sign of bad luck. Rashid, Ghanima’s only son, an aspiring idealistic writer, is taken by Joza’s good looks, and she agrees to a ‘temporary marriage’ which ends the day Jose is born. Josephine returns home and her son is raised with the promise that he will one day go back to Kuwait.

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The truth about literary translations

(From The Hindu)

After the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, when the king of Persia sent his interpreter with a message to the Greeks asking for earth and water as a sign of their submission, Themistocles had the visitor put to death for presuming to announce the barbarian message in Greek. A thousand years later in 1536, William Tyndale was strangled and burned because his English translation of The Bible displeased Henry VIII. Ten years later, Étienne Dolet, an advocate of the Bible-for-all, was burned at the stake because his French translations carried a few words that were not in the Church-endorsed Latin version.

Compared to these terminal terrors, literary translation today is not difficult at all. Because, really, you can do what you like and more often than not get away with it. It isn’t, for instance, like scientific or technical or medical translations where a mistake might cause serious damage to an experiment or a building or a life.

Linguistic choices

While there is little or no money in literary translation, there could be some glory if you listen to your publisher. The more people there are in the chain of desks leading to the printer, the safer you are because every cliché-slayer will work on your writing before passing you on to the next and the next.

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Is Indonesian literature written in English still Indonesian literature

In 2015, a short story collection “Monsoon Tiger and Other Stories” by Indonesian author Rain Chudori was published by Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia (KPG), one of the biggest publishers of serious literature in Indonesia. The entire book was written originally in English.

Rain published another book in English last year, a novel called “Imaginary City,” under KPG’s new imprint Comma Books, where Rain also works as a curator.

Rain said she chooses to write in English because of all the languages she uses everyday – from Minang to French – it’s the one she finds most comfortable writing in.

“English was the predominant language when I grew up, at home, at school – I attended international schools my entire life – and then later on, when I lived abroad,” she told the Jakarta Globe.

Rain was not the first Indonesian to publish a book in English. Laksmi Pamuntjak and Maggie Tiojakin had already gone down the same path.

Laksmi, also famous for her Jakarta Good Food Guide series, writes in both English and Indonesian.

Some of her books in English include the poetry collections “Ellipsis” and “The Anagram,” and a short story collection, “The Diary of R.S.: Musings on Art.”

Nevertheless, English works by local authors are still largely ignored – or if paid attention to, denounced as not fit to be part of Indonesian literature.

According to poet Gratiagusti Chananya “Anya” Rompas, who had also just published a book of personal essays in English titled “Familiar Messes,” there are literary discussions almost every week in the country, but few critics would bat an eyelid when Indonesian authors publish works in English.

“In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were already a bunch of people who wrote in English on the internet, but senior authors back then said online stuff was all rubbish,” she said.

But that has not stopped younger writers to keep writing in English.

Novelist Alanda Kariza, whose previous books were all in Indonesian, released her romance novel “Beats Apart” in 2015.

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Short story: Coming Home by Pravinsinh Chavda

Translated from the Gujarati by Mira Desai (from Pravinsinh Chavda’s short story collection Ek Evun Ghar Maley, published by Gurjar Granthratna Karyalaya, 2005)

Pravinsinh Chavda

Ranjit dressed in clothes that he’d carefully ironed and told his father, ‘I’ll be back in a while.’

His father would drape a napkin on his shoulder and sit in an armchair on the front porch all day; his loss of vision had bestowed a certain grace to his posture. If he heard a vehicle pass by or footsteps approaching, he would smile in expectation and his smile would last even after the footsteps had faded away. Ranjit was at a loss as to how to fill in the vacuum of unending time even on Sundays, so he’d pick any direction and begin to walk, enjoying whatever he encountered along the way. His vision had been sharpened, so everything that he saw sprang to life.

Where will you go, son? His father didn’t ask such questions. There wasn’t much that was different in sitting idle on the otlo, the porch, or wandering about like his son did; perhaps he knew this.

That morning Ranjit walked with a special energy; he’d remembered Shriram Mulay as if he’d stepped forth from an old sepia photograph, dressed in his school uniform khakhi shorts and a toothy smile. They didn’t meet very often now; at times a gap of six months or a year would pass before they met, but Shriram’s riverside house and the surrounding backyard often impinged on his memory. When he’d reach Salvivad with his schoolbag on his way to school, Shriram’s Ayi would be waiting on the porch to see him off. All the happenings and news that they collected during the course of the day would be brought out carefully and shared in the evening by that house. Shriram would lead him indoor for a drink of water, and from there they’d step into the backyard as if drawn there. He could still see Shriram’s Ayi walking up to them with a bowlful of goodies, a ladoo or perhaps a til sweet.

The rustic tea stall and the flour mill at the entrance to the neighbourhood were still there. There weren’t too many changes in the locality either; he felt as if he were stepping into the past as he climbed up the steps to the porch. He stood there quite a while after he had gently knocked on the screen door. After what seemed like infinity, Shriram trudged to the door pulling his shirt into place and stared at him quizzically from behind the door-bars.

‘Who is it, bhai?’

‘Just a passer-by. I’ve come here for some water.’

Shriram didn’t laugh out loud. ‘Come,’ he said indifferently and turned away. This was a new way of greeting. Whenever they met in the past, they would trade accusations by way of greeting: You’ve become an important person. Your time is too precious… Only after both of them were satisfied that neither had become overly important would Shaliniben offer a cup of tea as a peace offering.

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Abu Dhabi International Book Fair features 25 translations from French, English, and German

Running from April 25 through May 1, the 28th edition of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair will host 1,350 exhibitors from 63 countries in 35,000 square meters of space at the emirate’s National Exhibition Center.

Held under the patronage of the United Arab Emirates’ Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nayan, the fair this year is expected to showcase more than half a million titles in some 35 languages and more than 830 seminars, workshops and other events, some of them as part of a professional program for international industry players.

The Kalima Project for Translation, which is handled by the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, will present 25 new translations into Arabic from French, English, and German, while Poland will be featured as Country of Honor.

And at a news conference held this week at the Manarat Al Saadiyat, it was announced that visitors to the fair for the first time will be offered an electronic card they can use to charge purchases of books without needing to bring cash with them to the book fair.

And among those who were featured at the news conference, there were several in the leadership who spoke to the occasion.

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