Esoteric To Erotic
One must confess, at the very outset, that there is a running battle of wits and words about the extent of loyalty to the overt meaning of a thought or expression literally, or at least making a deliberate transgression metaphorically to transmit the reality, the validity of emotion more convincingly into another language. Of late, a debate has surfaced (traditional versus modernist) about translation looking and feeling like one, or the necessity of its transforming into the body and spirit of the translated language.
The reviewer as a practitioner himself had always advocated a midway approach. The expression must sound genuine in the translated language, coming as close as possible to finding an equivalent in terms of image or figure but not temper with a language or place-specific metaphor. For can one find an equivalent for Wordsworth’s ‘daffodils’ in the Indian flora, or even if it did how many would be able to really identify the flower?
While translating Ranajit Das’s intensely modern metaphors, Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharya seemed to have trudged, unconsciously though, on the middle of the road approach. But unfortunately in doing so he at times loses direction on his chosen path and flounders between the literal and language-specific —making it more palpable in English. Most Indian translators do not move away from the temptation of the simple word-to-word or line-to-line transportation between the two languages, mainly because lack of familiarity with the subtleties of the language into which it is sought to be communicated. This results in making the flow of expression somewhat distracting. Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharya is also guilty of moving away, unconsciously perhaps, from the selected modus operandi. He could be forgiven, for, it is not always easy to sail safely between the erotic and the esoteric: the underlying metaphor of all Das’s poetry.
In his brief introduction Bhattacharjee, who accomplished the translations in collaboration with the poet himself, writes, “through constant conversations, discussions, analysis, and even long distance readings” making “paraphrase draft” in the “complex poems” in order not to “miss out on any hidden meaning or a subtle nuance” and making valiant attempts of retaining the “all-pervading sexuality” but not seeming to believe “that the highest evolution of the mating rituals of the animals in art”. But both in the latent and the obvious the nuances do not necessarily come through. But a poem like ‘Bitter Moon’ rises above the mundane. The erotica of sorts is the poet’s tribute to Immanuel in Roman Polansky’s film with the same name. A poem dense with imagery is capable of arousing ire in the dormant sexuality of even a hardened feminist: “In every frenzied night a moon rises between your thighs—a bitter moon, Immanuel, a bitter moon, it feels like a man’s head to you.”
Unfortunately, while the profundity and the intensity of thought come through in translation, the same cannot be said about Das’s prose poems – an effective form once now completely out of vogue – they seem to feel and taste like meanderings that go away with the reading itself, and tend to diminish of vibrancy—latent as well as dormant in verse form.
By Suresh Kohli