All About Rabindra Sangeet

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English translations of Rabindra Sangeet

Managing inter-lingual transformations and reveal the philosophy. Translations brought down to the scanner.


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Author: Anjan Ganguly, Editor, Geetabitan.com

A column, titled English translations of Rabindra Sangeet, written by Anjan Ganguly on 13.08.2017.

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Published on 13th August, 2017.

Applying punctuations while singing a song is as important as its tune, rhythm and tempo. Written lyrics contain punctuation symbols. Singers can pickup them from the write-up, rehearse them and put into practice. Applying breaks or gaps is equally significant for good singing. One cannot sing breathlessly. In order to breathe singers must select positions and apply the breaks within a piece of verse.

Now the questions arise in how to select the correct positions. Songs based on lyrics demand prominent emphasis on the words. Reproduction of the theme is seen as the key factor. A song is said to be spoiled in case the basic theme is interpreted incorrectly. Restoration of the basic integrity of the verse is of greatest importance. For this purpose singers have to reveal the meaning of the piece of verse. Without having the meaning understood songs are rendered mechanically and meaningless. Breaks for breathing are best applied if the meaning of a song is truly revealed.

Bangla is a complex language in terms of its vocabulary, spellings, pronunciations and grammar. The rich vocabulary of the language contains words from different sources like the Sanskrit, Arabic, and Farsi etc. A large number of words, in practical application, have deviated in meaning from their original one. Bengali or Bangla being vowel-rich, spellings differ for words with trivial differences in pronunciation but completely different in meaning. For example করি doesn't make any sense if replaced with করী. In case of spellings too Bangla has several complications. Words with different vowels may not differ when pronounced. The situation is even more complicated with consonants and semi-vowels.

In literature references are often linked with mythology. These references must be analyzed well in order to reveal their significance. I would like to clarify my point with an example. Krishna. This is a name of a deity whose reference is used in Indian literature perhaps most frequently. He is believed to have at least one hundred and eight names. Each of which depicts one of his exceptional character. It becomes a necessity to decipher the code that a poet has used to depict a situation. It is the character which is important.

All these elements along with the grammar are absolutely necessary for one who tries to find out the meaning of a song and delves into the philosophy of it. It is not very uncommon that a singer with mellifluous voice may find it difficult to find the extract that result in an erroneous application.

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We have continued our support for publication of 'Translations' of each song in the site. The word 'translation' in the site has a wider meaning. Literal meanings, gists, inter-lingual transformations all are included within this section. We have the main focus on English language for the transformations, although for some songs were have managed to publish Hindi translations too. For these interpretations the English versions transcreated by Rabindranath are the ones with highest importance. It is because those are the best interpretations, although some of them are merely gists.

I have tried to focus categorically to present the meaning of songs. This site has visitors across the globe, a section of which cannot read Bengali text. Some of them can speak in Bengali but due to their long stay outside Bengal they are out of practice, some of them are non-Bengali people. It is really difficult to overcome the shortage of vocabulary for me. Thanks to the online as well as offline thesauruses that are available these days. Some regional feelings and traditions, nevertheless, can pose challenging task when an acceptable translation is sought. To solve this problem I started adding notes to the translations. For instance the word 'Alaktak' is never an easy to be interpreted within a word or two. It indicates towards a tradition, a ritual. Mare literal meaning must fail to satisfy a serious follower. Often a qualitative character is imposed for an object with the name of a month or a season. These words demand more analysis than a literal explanation. References from mythological contexts are not uncommon and people are left clueless about the theme unless a proper clarification is provided alongside.

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I had tried to convert these songs, at a primary stage, to verses that are fit for singing or at least for some kind of oral representation. I do not feel ashamed to declare that my infantile project had failed miserably not only because of my inept linguistic capability but also for not having immaculate idea of what I was in pursuit of. Then I found many of the translations by the poet himself to be in prose form. Several other translators too have produced prosy translations. A French proverb says - A good translation is like a wife who is either beautiful or honest. Either you lose the meter or the essence in quest of a good translation of a poem. Songs are of course more difficult than that. After a lot of trials I have finally resorted to a form that is lucid in meaning with notes to follow for the words that may need cross-references. I desperately try to avoid complicated words in order to substitute a Bengali word that is already complicated. When a word is encountered substitution for which is beyond my capacity, I prefer to keep original Bengali word unaltered. My earnest desire is to deliver the meaning with the expressions kept as close as possible and not to create another art form. It is never possible for me to reproduce a similar auditory sweetness with the help of another language.

At the end I would like to make it clear that it is Rabindra Sangeet that is most important with all its grandeur. I am ready to accept my errors in my interpretations and amend them if someone makes a point. I welcome debate on the subject and finally reach to a conclusion. After all we are sailing across an ocean. Each drop of it is precious. Each corner of it is capable of huge amazement. We need to make a team in order to get through. Chances are there to get lost.

………… End …………

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