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[My inept attempt to translate a well known song by Rabindranath Tagore]

“I’ve earned my leave, pray, let me go —
I bid adieu to all;
I return the keys, I’m done with them —
Pray, bless me one and all!

Good neighbours we were, I borrowed more
Than I was able to give;
It’s nearly dawn, the lamp’s gone out —
My turn has come, must leave!”

[The original, as it appears in Gītavitāna, Pauṣa 1380 Vangābda edition, Kārtika 1412 V reprint]

পেয়েছি ছুটি, বিদায় দেহো ভাই—

সবারে আমি প্রণাম করে যাই৷৷

ফিরায়ে দিনু ঘরের চাবি, রাখি না আর ঘরের দাবি—

সবার আমি প্রসাদবাণী চাই৷৷

অনেক দিন ছিলাম প্রতিবেশী,

দিয়েছি যত নিয়েছি তার বেশি৷

প্রভাত হয়ে এসেছে রাতি, নিবিয়া গেল কোণের বাতি—

পড়েছে ডাক, চলেছি আমি তাই৷৷

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[I hereby publicly acknowledge my indebtedness to a Hindi post by Mahendra Goyal titled सामान्य ज्ञान टर्पण २ that was shared by Anindita Chatterjee, a close acquaintance of mine from my Jamshedpur sojourn, on Facebook dated September 11, 2013. I have merely retold it in English with much more liberty than is usual, have suitably embellished it for the taste of the very limited readership that I enjoy, and have written in the contemporary continuity pieces.]

You, gentle reader, only know one half of the old woodcutter’s parable if you know it at all, narrated to you by well-meaning elders. It is an old story, as old as the woodman himself and his wife of many winters. To jog your memory, fading undoubtedly with advancing age, I iterate the tale in its entirety — the half you knew and the rest that you didn’t — to complete the moral education that was well begun but never finished.

The Well-worn Tale

The woodman, sweating from overwork one sweltering afternoon in the rain forest, took a dip in the river keeping his age-worn axe on the shore. As he scrambled ashore after the much needed bath, he accidentally dropped the axe in the river and, carried by the turbulence, the axe was gone in a trice, vanished in the muddy stream. The poor woodcutter began weeping for the terrible loss in all his abject Bengali-ness, for he could not afford another one and, in that event, he and his wife would starve in these terrible times.

God heard him weep and came to him without bidding to test him, as is god’s wont, whether spelt  with an upper case G (2G, 3G or 4G, as the case may be, and contemporary scam headlines dictated) or not.

Posing as a mere passerby, he dived in the river and brought out an axe, exactly the same as the one that got drowned but for the blade; it was solid platinum, slightly worn off, and no good for the poor man’s work.

“Here’s your axe,” he proffered it to the hapless woodman. “That’s not mine,” the poor man continued to sob. God dived again and brought up a gold bladed one. The woodman sobbed on without let, vehemently shaking his head.

In the third try, god retrieved the original axe. The woodman, still in tears, thanked him profusely.

At that point god got back to his own likeness (so much nothingness to some like vacant space, but different images to people of different faiths). To the woodman he came as Śiva, clad in illegal tiger skin tie-around and fly-ash talcum.

“I’m pleased with you, for you are poor but honest. You may keep all the three axes as a reward from me for your singular virtue. You may do with them as you please.”

Thus ends the tale you must have heard before.

The Untold Intermediate Tale

Before returning home the woodcutter trudged along to the distant City, the city once spelt with an upper case C and presently with a ditto K, where dwelt the right honourable chief minister of the realm and her assistants, the wealthy merchant class (mostly outlanders), the up-and-coming yuppies, and the owners of all the parcels of the land living far off from the ones they owned in this realm (and others).

An authorized dealer gave him a handsome price for the noble metal axe-heads and kept the hafts to chase stray dogs with, for they were a menace in the City. He inquired about property prices in the City (oops! Kity, by the new diktat), only to find that it was not enough to buy even a flat in a reasonable locality, let alone live off it unless judiciously invested in the right direction. Dejected by the paucity (or, is it pauKity? I’m utterly confused!) of capital, he scratched his pastoral head real bloody (for nail clippers were too expensive) but to no avail, and so sought the help of an investment consultant. Under his advice his own iron headed axe he sold in the kabadi market for just about a Rupee and, that too, only because smaller coins were out of circulation.

As advised (and ably assisted) once again, he bribed the powers that be with part of the gross proceeds, net of taxes, party donations, consultation fee, brokerage and extortion honorarium, to make a small parcel of land in the dense forest (where he dwelt) over to his own name, and got the needful permission to build a cottage, with one or two spare rooms to let out now and then, where his humble hut once stood.

And thus he began his humble business for naughty (but never immoral) purpose for pāpī city dwellers to wallow in. Unused to any kind of hospitality in their previous incarnation as hardworking woodsfolk, he and his humble wife eked out an existence from that. But the sins of the city sinners never visited them by the lord’s grace.

The Final Part of the Fable

One day, his lawfully wedded wife went to take a dip in the same river, at the same spot where her husband had once bathed, but this time in their previously owned Nano, the only vehicle they could afford, what with the rapidly rising fuel costs. Despite their newfound riches, they could not afford a chauffeur at the going (and growing) rates.

It is not clear as to why she had to go to the river when they had a well-appointed attached bathroom in the barsati of their mansion where they dwelt, leaving the lower floor for the naughty Kitizens (got it right this time!). They also owned the swimming pool meant for their pleasure-loving occasional guests. But go to the river she did. And, as luck would have it, she drowned at the very spot where the axe did several moons ago.

The housemaid alerted the woodman when she was inexcusably late for her midday pūjā. They traced the car, and also her flip-flops (made famous by the honourable chief minister herself), red Bengal towel (worn thin and almost transparent), and a change of fresh clothes. As the truth dawned on him, the erstwhile woodman, inconsolable as he was, began sobbing like a child…

… And eventually Śiva appeared as himself, heard the cause of the woodman’s woe and, without wasting any further words, dived to retrieve an unconscious woman — Aishvarya.

“Is this your wife of fifty years?” he asked.

“Yes lord, she’s mine!”

Śiva assumed his angry aspect — the four-handed rudra murti in the tāṇḍava pose — and berated the woodsman in his most truculent manner.

“How dare you lie to me, me, the destroyer of all sinners high and low? And how could I have granted you a boon not so long ago, you avaricious and lustful old fool!”

“But, my lord, you can’t curse me before hearing me out,” before the lord could utter puarmūikobhava(पुणर्मुषिकोभवः), the woodman interjected, “Or else I may have to go to the Human Rights Commission!” Livid that the lord was, he too balked at the mention of the dreaded authority of HRC.

“Had I shaken my head in denial, my lord, you’d leave the unconscious Ash on the shore, and dive again,” continued the woodman to get in his point edgewise, “And bring up Katrina, perhaps.

“At my repeat denial you’d dive a third time to bring up my age-worn wife the same way you had once retrieved my equally age-worn axe. I’d nod affirmative at her sight, for that’s how I’m built, for honesty is my genetic policy. And then you’d ask me to take all the three women as my own.”

“Hmmm… I might have done just that,” said Śiva.

“That’s why I lied to you, lord, for I’d surely have been charged with immoral trafficking if I took them to the Kity (spot on again!) for due disposal. What good would that be? If not, I’d be stuck with these extra dames, assuage their needs — hunger for Bollywood ishtyle food that tastes good but wouldn’t fatten them to scapegoat dimensions and would cost a packet; hunger for ever-new raiment, footwear and ornaments to match, hairstyles to resonate with their kaleidoscopic moods, and other esoteric beauty treatments; and several other physical and spiritual demands. I’m ill equipped to do any of those, my lord,” he said with a pained expression writ large on his countenance, “and I don’t even speak Hindi!”

“And then my lawfully wedded wife would be jealous, even without my being physically able any longer, for she avidly watches all the lewd commercials on our television every evening (being a snake charmer in another aspect, you’d surely know all about it) — now that she no longer has to cook for ourselves, nor sweep and wipe the floor, nor wash our meager clothes in the stream yonder.

“And I request you to put yourself in my humble pair of Shreeleathers, think my thoughts, feel my wife’s irate strokes with her besom made of coconut frond spines, sharper than porcupine quills, on your own bare back! Why would you want to put me to so much trouble, lord? Why do you grudge me the white lie that I had to utter in self-defence? Eminent people seek and are granted anticipatory bail every day of the week; call this my anticipatory lie.

“Now that I’ve had my say, pray do revive my old woman and take the other two off with you to your harem.”

What Śiva did and said thereafter is not known to yours truly, the mere narrator of a tale that I repeat as I had heard it said, just as Vālmikī had retold the oft-repeated Rāmāyaṇa.

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খুব কাছের, তবু দুরের, ভালবাসার, অনীহার,

তাঁর সে প্রিয় অভ্যাসের নিত্যকার বারান্দাতে বসা,

এশিয়া মহাদেশের মত পৃথুলা আর বেপথু তিনি হাসির ভূকম্পনে,

অঙ্কে তাঁর জুড়িয়ে যাওয়া চায়ের কাপ বিস্মরণে হতাশ,

পাড়ার খোঁড়া কুকুর আর আহত পাখি নিখাদ কোমলতায়

অভিভূত; কিন্তু যেই মিছিলে তিনি হাঁটেন অনুদ্দেশে

সেখানে কেউ পারেনা তাঁর সামিল হতে, শুধু

তাসার বাজনদারের দলের পিছু নেয়া কুকুরছানার মত

দূর থেকেই দাঁড়িয়ে শোনে, দুকান খাড়া, ধ্বনিমুগ্ধ চোখে!

হঠাৎ যদি বিপদ ঘনায়, শত্রু দেশের আকাশপথে হানা—

অভয়লোকের নিরাপত্তা থাকেনা তাঁর মানসসন্ধানে,

বিপৎকালেও নজর রাখেন—বিমানে নয়, পায়ের নিচের ভুঁয়ে,

ত্রিকূট পর্বতের মত অনড় থাকেন আরামকেদারায়৷

তাঁকে তো শুধু টলাতে পারে একান্ত তাঁর নিজস্ব বিশ্বাস৷

আমিও তাই তাঁকে পাঠাই আমার সব প্রতীতি, ভালবাসা,

প্রাতিস্বিক এই বিশ্বাসে যে তারই জোরে তিনি

দুঃখরাতের আঁধার থেকে দিনের আলোয় পৌঁছে যাবেন একা!

Scansion of the penultimate line is as under. <প্রাতিস্বিকেই­ \ বিশ্বাসে যে \ তারই জোরে \ তিনি> This clarification became necessary, for one of my very few readers thought that this line and some others didn’t scan properly. I’m rusty, no doubt, but not that rusty.

A few friends might remember that less than a month ago I had posted this George Barker poem on the Facebook — on an inexplicable impulse. Though Barker’s mother doesn’t resemble mine (not in her obesity and gin addiction, at least), nor does her time (WW II, I presume) coincide with my mother’s, a wispy desire to translate it into Bangla began haunting me at odd hours, till early this morning it began to take shape over my first cup of coffee. As I sat at my laptop after breakfast and having finished my daily four compulsive crosswords, it took me less than an hour to put it down. The result, partly portraying my mother, and Barker’s in part, is given above.

I took several liberties to fit my mother in Barker’s mother’s raiment — she who used to sit aloof in the first floor southern verandah attached to her bedroom with a cup of tea in her hand, never seismic with laughter, never with a gin, but wistfully looking at the verdant scene of rural Latbagan, and thinking forlorn thoughts of my long dead father, perhaps, our dog curled at her feet.  Here’s the original for comparison.

Most near, most dear, most loved and most far, Under the window where I often found her Sitting as huge as Asia, seismic with laughter, Gin and chicken helpless in her Irish hand, Irresistible as Rabelais, but most tender for The lame dogs and hurt birds that surround her She is a procession no one can follow after But be like a little dog following a brass band.

She will not glance up at the bomber, or condescend To drop her gin and scuttle to a cellar, But lean on the mahogany table like a mountain Whom only faith can move, and so I send O all my faith and all my love to tell her That she will move from mourning into morning.

My two other blog sites are <apsendotcom.wordpress.com> and <jonakiblog.wordpress.com>, the latter in Bengali.

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Two: Birth of Maya

She was born Maya, nine years after independence—nine years of Right reign for the whole country, as also for the non-nation of the eastern ethos that was extensively covered in the first chapter of this yarn. That entity of doubtful name—the land of her birth—was cleaved uncleanly in two, as Jarasandha was, when the overseas rulers had handed over the reins to the duly elected Right.

The entire country was passing through an economic and cultural upheaval—more pronounced in the amputated Western Half of the Eastern Nation (WHEN, for short), as it was christened after the bisection, where the wounds were still too raw and sore for comfort.

Millions had crossed into WHEN—from the other half, for the rulers there did not want the tainted infidels, many more from the neighbouring entities within the realm too, for it was far better for the livelihood of the have-nots of the region. WHEN tolerated them as it did the countless blue-bottles that descended noisily from nowhere in the mango season; her neighbours within and outside the border did not. So you could see them infesting railway stations and city pavements of WHEN, cooking what little they could get by begging (from the less unfortunate), borrowing or stealing, sleeping and breeding there with the imagined privacy of plastic sheets, and braving bad weather.   

Might to muster the support of the millions, natives and aliens, with false promises, money, casteism and muscle was the policy of the Right, while the Left was too busy in rabble rousing. When they wrested power after three decades of struggle, the LEFT did exactly the same for the next three decades and more…

… Now, why was the just-born little girl of our fairy tales christened Maya, too grandiose a name for a lower middle class child, a girl child at that in a land where there is a history of the poor folks killing new-born girls by feeding them salt in place of mothers’ milk?

If you look up the antecedents of that name, you will come across a number of explanations. In Buddhist annals, that was the name of the queen who gave birth to Siddhārtha. It is also somewhat, but not fully, synonymous with prajñā or wisdom; illusion or sorcery; ahakāra or awareness of oneself; bonding or attachment with objects, places or persons, especially in the dialects spoken in WHEN; a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilisation; and a 3-D computer animation software. In everyday WHEN idiom, contrary to all etymological theories, it also means fellow-feeling. Was it the last that her parents meant? Or did they mean ahakāra—pride, hubris (ὕβρις)—in the modern WHEN sense? Both had been a subject of intense speculation ever since she emerged as a public figure.

It was not her fault that her parents belonged to the lower middle class— economically speaking and, perhaps, intellectually too. That should have been reason enough—the sense of being wronged by the upper crust of the soceity—for her to side up with the rebellious Left. That she chose the Right to launch herself surprised many of her colleagues and detractors. There is not an iota of truth in the rumour that she was inspired in her politics by Orwell’s 1984, for she had never even heard of it, though she had a Master’s degree in some obscure subject and also an overseas PhD without ever being abroad.

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One: The Background

There was once a riverine nation on the eastern coast of a vast land of far too many realms, small and middling, kingdoms—proud or tired, suzerainties—oppressive or benign, principalities—effervescent or decadent, often at war with each other, for each had time, men and funds to spare at the cost of its hapless, oppressed denizens. Mountains and snow-peaks defined its north (though not in the tongue of its majority, nor in culture); a turbulent bay its east; the ethos changed abruptly to its south (where the dialects became increasingly agglutinative); and its west was blurred in a confusion of customs, cultures and lingos.

Much of it was once covered in lush forests, often secondary, for the land was perpetually underpopulated then, thanks to strange banes called Burdwan fever and chronic colitis, despite its fertility obvious from the lush growths everywhere.We call it a nation for want of a better term but, in reality, there were several separate realms of strange names: Gangaridae (Γανγαρίδαι), Samataṭa (समतट), Rārha (राढ़), Harikela (हरिकेल), Pattikerā (पट्टीकेरा) and many others. It was collectively and variously referred to as Land of Stinking Fish Eaters, Land of the People of Birdlike Speech or Land of the Treacle (गुड़) Mead (as opposed to the one made in the north from honest, forest honey) in ancient Saṁskṛta literature. By some never-defined curse cast, either by Mahavira, unto whom the unruly locals had set their dogs, hissing choo choo (hence the Saṁskṛta word kukkura for a dog), when he came to preach his newfound, atheistic and outré  religion, or by some other ascetic of Aryan descent who was likewise rankled by another set of indigènes, it was destined never to stand united for long enough to achieve anything significant.For brief spurts, when the stars were favourable and chances presented themselves, valiant local kings like Śaśāṅka (seventh century) or Divya (the upstart Kaivarta) did bring much of the diverse elements under one notional flag. But so powerful was the curse that they proved to be either too unwise or simply unlucky to hold the Pax Gaua (गौड़) or its equivalent for any meaningful length of time.

Eventually it was overrun by monotheistic Islamic conquerers who descended out of nowhere to take over the sleepy nation, fertile and full of skilled craftsmen, unskilled adminstrators, and womenfolk unbeautiful by Arabic or Turkic standards of aesthetics. Even before that, quite a few Sufi dervishes, minstrels and saints had already begun the process of conversion to their energetic faith. But so great was the inertia of culture that, in several centuries, only about a third of the population had converted, and that too with most of the old superstitions, prejudices and customs intact, despite the seeming servility. But decadence had set in after several centuries, during which the elite of the land and their underdogs flourished under a very open regime of overseas trade—not to speak of the local baniya class, and the avarice of distant and infidel foreigners was roused.

The new lot, with their pale skin (often ruddy), curiously coloured eyes and hair, and unctuous, tradesmenlike manners, took over the reins stealthily. So much so and in such small steps that not many noticed. And then they ruled for the better part of two centuries till some of the masses woke up as if from carefree and drunken slumber.

When they finally shook off the foreign oppressors, new ones came to the fore from within their own ranks by a new process of government formation. The process involved exercise of the peoples’ will, in theory, if not in practice. As one local poet (honoured recently by posthumously naming a metro station in the capital city after him, though he had never lived there or known to have used the mass transit facility) had aptly put: “The people were shocked/ When they looked aloft/ To gaze at the throne/ After the king was gone,/ Tho’ his moustache glowed in glory, Oh…”

Right Wing leaders, those who sat to the right of the king (when he was reigning) and enjoyed certain privileged rights, made room for the Left Wingers who were deliberately left behind. The six long decades after the freedom from the foreign rule were equally divided between the two lots—the Left and the Right—but the lot of the people at large remained as it ever was.

This fairy tale begins with the overthrow of both the Right and the Left by the exercise of Feminine Will, backed by unstinting support of a group called (but never defined) the Civil Society...

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The King of China’s daughter,

She never would love me

Though I hung my cap and bells upon

Her nutmeg tree.

For oranges and lemons,

The stars in bright blue air,

(I stole them long ago, my dear)

Were dangling there.

The Moon did give me silver pence,

The Sun did give me gold,

And both together softly blew

And made my porridge cold;

But the King of China’s daughter

Pretended not to see

When I hung my cap and bells upon

Her nutmeg tree.

_________________________

সুদূর চিনের রাজকুমারী
কোনও দিন ভালবাসবেনা, জানি,
যদিও তাদেরই জায়ফল গাছে
টুপি ও ঘুঙুর ঝুলিয়েছি আমি।
কারণ কাগজি এবং নারঙ,
সুনীল আকাশে উজ্জ্বল তারা
(আমিই তাদের করেছি হরণ),
সেইখানে ঝুলছিল দিশেহারা।
চাঁদ দিয়েছিল রুপোলি টাকা, 
এবং সূর্য স্বর্ণ খণ্ড,
তারপর দোঁহে মৃদু ফুৎকারে
উষ্ণ খাবার করেছে পণ্ড;
তথাপি চিনের রাজকুমারী
না-তাকিয়ে ফিরে গেল চুপি চুপি
যখন তাদের জায়ফল গাছে
ঝোলালাম আমি ঘুঙুর ও টুপি।
[অনুবাদ ৩০।১০।১৯৭১]

[Please also visit my other web logs at <apsendotcom.wordpress.com> and <jonakiblog.wordpress.com>]

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The locale of Debjān by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay

Aniruddha Sen
6 November 2010 10:22
To: support@academic.ru

Debjān (দেবযান), one of the weakest novels by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, is set in Śāganj-Keotā (শা’গঞ্জ-কেওটা) by the river Bhāgīrathī, usually called the Hooghly. The post office goes by the erroneous name Sahaganj (সাহাগঞ্জ). I have lived in Śāganj continuously from age two to age forty eight, seventeen of them in Śāganj-Keotā – mostly in a house that my mother had built after my father’s death.
Being very fond of BB’s work and the geography of its locales, I had explored, whenever I could, several of them; Śāganj-Keotā was no exception. In the mid-sixties, when my attention was first drawn to Debjān and its locale, there were still a few very old local patriarchs living in the same general area. One of them, who claimed to have known BB, had even pointed out a thin-brick house where, he said, BB had lived once. I was a bit skeptical since it was not strictly in Śāganj-Keotā but in a place nearby then known as Nikiripādā (নিকিরিপাড়া), on the other side of the Bandel Church, nearer Bālir Mor (বালির মোড়). He may also have been right, for someone had later put up a marble plaque on its road-facing wall to that effect. It was inhabited by an unrelated family then, though almost in ruins.
The place-name Śāganj was, without much doubt, derived from Shah Azim, one of Aurangzeb’s grandchildren, who had once set his military camp in the vicinity. The etymology of Keota, I believe, is a corruption of Kaivarta-pada, for there were several Kaivarta families (fisherfolk) still living in the vicinity, and several Śāganj precincts were similarly called Kānsāripādā, Kumorpādā and Khāmārpādā. Overbuilt with ugly, box-like modern structures today, the general area was distinctly sylvan and sparsely populated even in the second half of the nineteen sixties. It was a fitting locale for BB of Niśchindipur fame and the place where young Apu had gone to Prasanna Guruthakur’s pāthaśālā.

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