Why I translate poems?

Siddique Mahmudur Rahman

 In 1954, I was eight, when my father started subscribing two English newspapers at our home, ‘The Statesman’ of Kolkata and ‘The Dawn’ of Karachi. We were then living at Calcutta (Kolkata), because my father, Fazlur Rahman, used to work at Pakistan Deputy High Commission in the visa section.

Abba used to return from office at three in the afternoon, take his bath and food, then lie down on his bed, and call me, ‘Choto (that’s me, I was the youngest, the choto, of the family), I don’t know English now, read these papers for me and translate, so that I can understand’. I used to read out the news, editorial, sub-editorials and other serious write-ups loudly and tried to translate those into Bangla for him. These went on for quite a good number of months.

Those were the first steps of my translation. Since then, whenever I find a piece of article, written in English, I am in a habit to translate it into Bangla and go through it to dig out the inner meaning. Gradually, it became my hobby, and then my obsession and later my profession.

I passed twenty years in my job in translating medical and scientific papers and those were either published or were shown to the audience in power point presentations. Most of my colleagues were medical professionals and whenever they had to speak to the non-scientific public to aware them of the problems of health and personal management, they used to come to me with their papers, obviously written in English to be converted into easy Bangla. This went on and on.

Though at first I was easy in translating scientific papers, novels, and short stories, I was not happy with a few translations of poems that I did earlier. To me, those works were not worth mentioning, but recent works are becoming more and more engrossing with inner feelings and unseen meanings and also have the stance of poems.

Bangla language is different from all other languages of the world. It has so many words in the vocabulary, which could never be converted into other languages.One day, one of my literati friend came to me and asked me to translate fifty poems of fifty poets of Bangladesh. He wanted to publish a book of poem in six languages, including English. I was skeptical at first. Because I was not sure how my acumen in translating scientific subjects can be switched on to a subject, where emotions are at forte and theme is absolutely different. When I started doing the work, I got mesmerized with the ideas, the words and the language that speak of some other things, convey other feelings, than is understood superficially. It was not so easy a work. No, I could convert the Bangla words into English easily, but it took my some more engrossing hours to select appropriate, meaningful and melodious word for each of its words.

There are many words like, abhiman (it is different from conceit) or Joytsna (its not as simple as moonbeam or moonlight) or lojjya (it is not bashful or timidity), which I fail to convert into English. How could I? But somehow I managed to express the feelings and tried to impose the melody. That book was published and was accepted by the  readers.

And then, one by one, my poet friends got interested, and I kept on converting the Bangla words into English and books of poems started to come out. Publishers got interested. They too started to request me to give them more translated manuscripts.

I got the reward. I have now fourteen books of translations on my credit. If I counted all the poems I translated in numbers, it surely would cross one thousand figure. I don’t know how, but I became fascinated in translating poems more than other subjects.

Bangla literature is rich – outstandingly rich. It dates back to the period, when literature of most of the countries of the world has not seen light. When Rabindranath Tagore got Nobel Prize on literature in 1913 (well, Gitanjali – Songs Offerings, was a translated work!), no other Asian, African or Latin American literature were known to world literary connoisseurs. Since 17th century, Bangla literature is thriving happily. Since 1971, after Bangladesh came into existence, a good number of works are being published each year, though its international exposure remained at its lowest level. Dailies, both Bangla and English of this country give least importance to literature. They have two pages on sports each day, but only half page on literature per week! Let aside a single periodical, weekly or monthly journal on literature are only a few. Whereas during fifties and sixties, there were dozens of journals of literature, which were very rich.

Our litterateurs DO NOT write in English or in other European or Asian languages. A huge quantity of world literature were translated and published here in Bangladesh since 1940’s, whereas only a handful of books of Bangla novels, short stories or poems have been translated from Bangla to other languages.

During the last decade, I have been able to translate seven books of poems, five volumes of Shahabuddin Nagari, Bimal Guha Rabindra Gope, Tapan Bagchi and Murshida Ahmed, an Anthology of Poems published with poems of 65 poets were translated into seven languages and another volume Selected Poems, ten poems of twelve contemporary poets were translated into English and published. All of which attracted the readers.

I will keep on translating Bangla literature till my last days, especially the poems, because I like translating poems, I like reading poems, I understand poems and I love poems.

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