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Thursday, May 24, 2018

The joy of rediscovering a classic

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The storyline centers around the female protagonist Jaigun, firstly widowed and then divorced. She is abandoned by her second husband Karim Baksh as she has given birth to a girl child. Failing to survive in famine-hit Calcutta, she returns to her ancestral home with her daughter Maimuna from the second marriage and son Hashu from the first. She also takes with her, her brother's widow and the latter's son Shafi.

However, their house stands across East-West and the local legend considers such houses ominous. There are many ghost stories circulated time to time among the locals. The storyline of the novel proceeds as Jaigun scrambles to feed her children by working outside home.

This gesture passes as an anti-religious act. Local superstitions coupled with bigotry make her life tougher. Her second husband Karim Baksh comes in to the plot as a typical patriarchal man who does everything to keep his son Kashu, born via his marriage with Jaigun, under control.

His stubbornness in doing so tests the mother in Jaigun. However, Zobed Ali's lascivious advances to Jaigun, Gadu Pradhan's lusty motive in effort to marry her, Karim Baksh's crazily patriarchal outlook, society's conservative make-up, Jaigun's struggle for survival, transitional phase in the history of Eastern Bengal make up the core of the novel. The novelist Abu Ishaque spins the plot with his real life experiences.

He uses local dialects and registers seamlessly at a free-wheeling ease. He employs local proverbs, sayings, snatches of folk songs in a bid to keep the story down to earth. These commendable aspects of the fiction, however, make translation of it a challenging task.

Abdus Selim takes up the challenge and mostly wins it. He is a winner of Bangla Academy Award for Translation in 2015. His is an illustrious career of an academic, playwright and translator.

As I have picked up the English translation of the book, I find brilliant marks of the translator's caliber and scholarship throughout. The translator has successfully retains some of the artistic qualities of the original text. He deftly negotiates cultural nuances and specificities.

He offers a smart transliteration of songs and rhymes. To give an example, the song below shows his ear for music and ability to keep up the musical aspect in the translation. Whoever gives alms to this poor blindAt 'hashar' the grace of Allah will he find.If he gives me one 'paisa' with his mind freshSeventy 'paisa' he'll get from Allah as grace.

His earnings will be doubled for sureWith sons & daughters he'll age mature.
A-l-l-a-h!
Likewise, his translation of an oft-quoted Bengali proverb into what reads 'Vice doesn't even spare your father' not only faithfully carries the original message across but also offers gem of an expression to the treasury of the English language.  His management of tense and timeframe is commendable as well.

In addition, he italicizes the local words and terms and offers their explanations parenthetically. You need not look down below for a footnote or move toward the end of the text to look up their meanings in the glossary section. In fact, his translation reminds me of a quote by Megan McDonald who says, "Translation is like creative reading. You have to read really deeply and have an interpretation and feel for a text in order to re-create it."

However, in my reckoning, dialogs and dialect of the source text should have been given a special treatment. An equivalent of the Bengali dialect used in the original should be offered in the translated version. For example, Cockney English or Black American English might come up as a viable counterpart to a regional Bengali dialect. I believe the realistic flavor of the text could be retained through such an innovative trick.

 This experiment, of course, runs some risks as well. Be as it may, English transcription of some words like 'hujur' 'namaj' should have been like 'huzur' and 'namaz' to in order to approximate their proper sounds. A few typos scattered throughout the text, nevertheless, could not spoil the overall texture of the text.
The landscape of translation of Bangladeshi literary works is small in terms of both scale and quality. This pathetic reality deprives the global literary community of enjoying very many quality works produced in this land.

Nonetheless, a wind of change is happening in this arena. Many young minds are coming up to the translation business and making their statements. Rifat Munim, Mohammad Shafiqul Islam, Zaynul Abedin, Tusar Talukder, Razu Alauddin et al. represent the club of young Bangladeshi translators who are carving out their own avenues. Veteran translators like Abdus Selim, Kajal Bandyopadhyay, Kaiser Haque, Fakrul Alam, Syed Manzoorul Islam among others are setting a good precedence. This silver lining offers us something to be happy.

To wrap up, Abdus Selim's translation of Surya-Dighal Bari is a venture worth it. For me, it has been a rewarding experience going through the text. In addition, a catchy blurb and an inviting foreword clue me on the text. Hardly have I felt that it is a work of translation. Here maybe lies the credit of the translator at his best.

Moreover, Bangla Academy merits our appreciation and thumbs-up for its forward-looking project of translating Bangladeshi works into English and other languages to reach out to a global audience, of which this translation work is a part. I consider the book as a brilliant contribution to the globalization of Bangladeshi literature. I also wish the book a deservingly wide readership.


(The reviewer teaches English at Central Women's University and can be reached at lcmithun12@gmail.com)

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