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The Survived Poesis

Nilanjana Mukherjee

By Rabindranath Tagore
Harper Perennial, New Delhi, India, 2011, pp. 152, Rs. 250.00


Tagore and translation has had a tenacious relationship over the years. While an English translation of his own work won him the Nobel, some of Tagore’s English writer friends turned against him for trying too hard to cater to English tastes. ‘Damn Tagore’ wrote W.B. Yeats in a letter in 1935, for according to him, Tagore, ‘because he thought it more important to know English than to be a great poet, he brought out sentimental rubbish and wrecked his reputation. Tagore does not know English, no Indian knows English’. However, Tagore today commands a towering stature, almost sacrosanct, in the cultural vista of South Asia, often being referred to as Gurudev. At the same time, his works and personality have never entirely escaped scrutiny and debates on correct interpretations, some of which get carried over to the translations by various translators. Shesher Kobita, which was first serialized in a Bengali magazine called Probashi in 1928 has also followed the same trajectory. The original novella is credited as one of the finest of Rabindranath’s fictions, playfully intertwining prose and poetry and hardly refraining from light- hearted self-reflexive witticisms.   The first ever translation of Shesher Kobita appears to be the one by Krishna Kripalani, which, however, I have not seen. There now exists three published English translations from the original, the earlier two being The Last Poem translated by Anindita Mukhopadhyay and Farewell Song translated by Radha Chakravarty. The Last Poem translated by Dilip Basu was brought out on the occasion of Tagore’s hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary celebrated with much fanfare. The unique selling point of this book are the sketches and paintings of Dinkar Kowshik (1918-2011) used to illustrate various episodes in the narrative. Not only do they punctuate the narrative in a most comely manner, but promise interpretations themselves infusing a lyrical grace into the novella. Little is known of the man who spent his entire life devoted to art. Having graduated from the University of Bombay, he joined Santiniketan as a student of fine arts in Kala Bhawan when Tagore was still alive. Here, he was greatly influenced by the stalwarts of art and sculpture who dominated the cultural scene at that time, such as Nandalal Bose, Ramkinkar Baij, Binod Behari Mukherjee and Somnath Hore. His contemporaries at Santiniketan were noted personalities like Satyajit Ray and Sankho Ghosh who were to make an indelible mark in ...

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