Books Reviews

Abdul Manna’s translation “Bengal, Thy Name is Beauty”: Philosophy and Thoughts

By Mohammad Jashim Uddin

Poetry translation is the most difficult task for many reasons. Still now, it is undecided whether translation works should be treated as an original work like other genre of literature, but everyone believes that only translation can convey a nation’s ideas, thoughts and philosophy to the other.  Moreover, it is an old strategy to transfer an idea from one language to the other.

A lot of translation on Jibananda Das’s poems is being done from Bangla to English. Fakrul Alam, Joe Winter, A H Jaffor Ullah, Lopamudra Banerjee, Faizul Latif Chowdhury, Souradeep Roy, Shamsad Mortaza, Begum Aktar Kamal, Abhijeet Roy and Clinton B. Seely, and many other people have translated his poems. Recently, Abdul Mannan has attempted to translate Jibananda Das’s Rupashi Bangla. However, problems remain, especially for many of us who attempt to translate from Bangla into English.

“Amiya Chakravatry discusses the difficulty of translating from Bangla in general and Tagore in particular and notes that resonances of the language and its cultural undertones are often lost in translation.” He stresses that, to have a “valid” translation, as he puts it, it must be done in the language learnt by a poet at his mother’s knee, a poet for whom it is the language of his subconscious.”

Besides limitations, Abdul Mannan has stepped to translate the poems of Jibananda Das’s poems in exploring the new ideas, thoughts and philosophy that he believes. Some questions may arise that why he has choosen Rupashi Bangla whereas Jibananda Das composed a number of poems, short stories and some novels. What especiality he has given to the readers, and what canon he has used in his mind while he was translating the poems.

Moreover, Jibananda Das is known as a poet of river, nature and woman. He is read from postcolonialist, new-historicist, subaltern studies, Marxist, structuralist, and many other perspectives. These tell that his poems are not read only for pleasure. The translated work of Abdul Mannan titled Bengal, Thy Name is Beauty was published in October 2021 from Anya Prokash. The original book (Rupashi bangla) was published in 1957 though he completed the work on or before 1934. It is still now a great mystery.

Fakrul Alam named the book The Beauty of Bengal, and Joe Winter entitled Bengal, The Beautiful.  None of these two are appropriate to express the deep meaning and appeal of the poems in the book. So undoubtedly and interestingly, Abdul Mannan’s title is the most poetic and perfect. After Joe Winter, Abdul Mannan has translated all the sixty one poems of Rupashi Bangla; whereas, Fakhrul Alam translated twenty three poems.

Before translating the poems, the translator may have read the whole works of Jibananda Das, and then has been able to get the philosophy that influenced him much. Instead of an introduction, he has written “An Apology” where Mr. Mannan has expressed his philosophy and thoughts. To quote him, “I [Abdul Mannan] believe in only one God, i.e. I am monotheist, but I equally respect other religions.” He also believes that “The poet feel strongly against the inequality in gender. I do the same and feel disgraced for inequality inflicted to women.”

Moreover, his philosophy expresses when he opines that “To understand the poems of Jibananda Das, I think it is important to consider the issues given below:

  1. Generation gap between the poet and myself [Abdul Mannan].
  2. Flora, fauna, rivers, meadows, crops and so on and so forth have changed substantially over the decades.
  3. The poet’s concept and perception eight decades ago might not have been on the same footing to that of mine.
  4. Technological advancement has taken newer dimensions.
  5. In those days cholera, small pox, T.B., malaria and typhoid etc. diseases were deadly. Now many new ones have emerged for some of which medicines are yet to be discovered.
  6.  There have been many socio-economic, geo-political changes. In many cases, it may not be possible to cope in a short time, as ways are yet to be explored.
  7. When the poems were composed it was a united Bengal i.e. in pre-1947 days, the conceptualization was on different platform, now the overall scenario is different. “Bengal” meant united Bengal. Now it should be Bangladesh because most of the pictures inplaced in the poems are from the land of Bengal, which is now Bangladesh.”

Abdul Mannan has translated all the sixty-one poems of Rupashi Bangla though the title was named after the death of the poet. In the book, most of the poems are Petrarchan or Italian sonnets but the translator could not maintain the form of sonnets, so did Fakrul Alam. Though he has failed to keep the sonnets remain unchanged, he has been able to convey the message of the poet clearly.

Interestingly, when he translated, he may have emphasized the contemporary facts and issues because Jibananda Das’s poems entangled the tradition and time of his age but later it should be read or interpreted from the present perspective. When Fakrul Alam used the present tense, Abdul Mannan used the past tense because he could realize the gap between two periods.

 The language of Abdul Mannan used in translation is very lucrative and easy for readers and they can understand without any dictionary or difficulties. But, without any introduction, it too difficult for readers to understand the background of his translation though his philosophy has come in “An Apology”. One example can be mentioned here. “Would come again [Abar Ashibo Phire]” is translated as follows:

I would come again on the bank of the Dhanshidi river

In this Bengal, perhaps not a human being,

But as a brahminy kite or myna

Or might be as morning crow

In this autumnal harvesting land,

One day I might come floating through the mist.

Finally, it can say that such kind of translation will inspire the younger generation to build up their ideas, thoughts and philosophy to the every corner of the earth.

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The reviewer is an assistant professor of English at Northern University Bangladesh.

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