The renowned lyricist and poet Gulzar has translated 60-odd Bengali poems by Tagore into Hindi that have been published as two books — ‘The Crescent Moon’ and ‘The Gardener’. Catching up with him at the Delhi launch, Gulzar spoke on how the whole thing came about — and, apparently, it all began with “the first book I stole”.
What inspired you to translate Rabindranath Tagore’s poems for children into Hindi, and when did you start working on them?
I started working on these books in 2010. I was keen to translate Tagore but couldn’t gather the courage to do so, especially when you know little of him, it becomes very difficult. Over the years, I could read, speak and write Bangla…I even married a Bengali. I had a Bengali guru in Bimal Roy. I started my whole turn of life from Tagore, my education in childhood included. So, Tagore was a fascination. And I had the urge to translate the book that had fascinated me in my childhood, ‘The Gardener’. Finally, after a circle of 60-70 years, I started reading Tagore up to this point when it was boiling inside. The urge I can’t explain, whenever I listened to his songs, read his fiction and drama.
I also realized that another problem we have in the country is that there are no good writers to write solely for children. This was another tragedy which I thought demanded attention. To write for children is not easy…And the spontaneity I found in Tagore is marvelous, how can he possibly write so well for and about children. These are taken from real life, observations by someone who has indulged with children.
What is your opinion of Tagore’s translations of his own poems?
I already knew his English translations were not good. Being an author, he would re-edit his poem then shorten them and change images at places because his vision was for the West, thinking they wouldn’t understand otherwise. For instance, how would they understand “panghat” (river bank), so he changed the image.
I felt people were deprived of the original Bangla version because that’s three times more. The English version is one-third of the original and Tagore’s translations were like rewriting a poem or making a twin poem. That’s why one feels a certain sense of distance in understanding.
I also wanted someone to publish it the way it has been published now, Bengali, then Hindi alongside so I don’t miss out on any meaning, any image; so that it gives me the feel. When you are reading, it should not feel like a translation, it should feel like a poem with poetry imbibed in it, with the emotion, the nuances of a Bengali village, a Bengali home. All that should be there.
What he manages to put forth beautifully in just two words, I have tried to bring out that emotion. But when he takes the image out from the poem in translation, I was like ‘what are you doing to the poem, this is not what you’ve said’. So, when you read the poems, you can see I am complaining to him about his own poems!
Tagore is such a great poet, did you have any inhibitions while working on his poems? How was your experience while translating his works?
Not inhibitions, fears. Tagore is a great poet. Touching the works of Tagore is not easy. For instance, one hesitates even before praising Ghalib. You have to know Ghalib, his life, the era he lived in, his contemporaries and everything that happened in his time, socially and politically. And translations are not easy. To explain the meaning in a line is easy. You are not translating a word, it’s the meter and then shades of those words. A word has many shades and you have to choose the correct shade out of it. You won’t find that meaning in a dictionary.
It’s a different Tagore we see in these poems, not the stern and serious face that we see in ‘Geetanjali’.
While reading Tagore, we tend to forget that he wasn’t born with a beard. One must go through his romantic poems and that is why it is the period of his young age that I have chosen. Not his ‘Geetanjali’, which was his experience of spirituality that he wanted to put before the West. People know about it.
I was looking at the young Tagore, who was an actor, who used to sing English songs from Hollywood movies. He was an active, jolly and handsome man. That’s why I took up these poems.
Tagore is world famous, but people’s understanding of his works is limited, given the huge volume of Bengali literature he has produced. Do you think there is a need to translate Tagore in more languages?
One of the reasons I started working on this was because I was jealous of Bengalis. They didn’t let Tagore out of Bengal because Viswa Bharti had rights over his works. Bengali literature is very rich and I am glad it’s out of the bondage of Viswa Bharti. It’s reaching out to people now. New publications are coming out and now his music is even being produced in a very modern way.
—Source: Indian Express

Hemani Bhandari