An uneven relationship
Supriya Chaudhuri has succeeded admirably with her translation of Tagore's Jogajog.
Relationships (Jogajog), Rabindranath Tagore, translated by Supriya Chaudhuri, The Oxford Tagore Translation, Volume 5, Rs 395.
A TRANSLATOR, particularly of fiction and poetry, walks on a razor's edge. While he or she has to be constantly on guard while trying to capture the mood and literary essence of the original, he or she also cannot dismiss altogether the presence of the watchful reader in the background who is quite likely to find fault with the quality of the work, or compare the original with the finished product. Then there are also those who constantly hammer on the fact there is something "lost in translation", to borrow the title of Sofia Coppola's acclaimed film, lamenting that a translation does not do justice to the author, conveniently forgetting that some of the world's best authors down the centuries would have never been available to readers had they not been translated.
All these little problems multiply when it comes to translation of works by iconic literary figures like Rabindranath Tagore. Supriya Chaudhuri, however, has been able to respond to the challenge admirably with her translation of Tagore's complicated novel Jogajog as Relationships. No mean feat that. As Chaudhuri points out in the introductory chapter itself, "The first problem that the translator of Rabindranath's novel Jogajog encounters is the title itself, untranslatable into any acceptable English equivalent. The word may be rendered as contact, connection, or even communication in one meaning; in another it clearly implies coincidence... It would be useless to speculate as to which of these meanings was foremost in Rabindranath's mind when he chose the name."
A mix of styles
Chaudhuri has employed an interesting admixture of styles in the text: sometimes retaining the Bengali words so that the flavour remains, sometimes using English terminology because the meaning can easily be conveyed that way or the equivalent when it is available in the language. The names of plants, animals, and objects of everyday life have been rendered eclectically, whereas in many places Bengali and even Hindi words have been used. It is innovative indeed and importantly, they do not jar.
Written nearly 80 years ago, the book unfolds a Bengali society in transition when the entrepreneurial Bengali class was emerging but was looked upon with suspicion by old money, the gentry. The story revolves around the underlying rivalry between two families the Chatterjees, aristocrats now on the decline (Biprodas) and the Ghosals (Madhusudan), representing new money and arrogance. Kumudini, Biprodas' sister, is caught between the two as she is married off to Madhusudan. She was brought up in a sheltered home where she had followed the traditional way of life and observed all the religious rituals like all the other womenfolk in the family. Her mental image of the husband is as someone who embodies all the qualities of the God she worships. Now, she is rudely shaken by the crude display of wealth and power by Madhusudan. Even if brought up to be a good, submissive wife, she balks at the idea of sharing the conjugal bed. "Madhusudan repeatedly used (this) money-worshipping strain to sneer at Kumu's family. His natural vulgarity, the coarseness of his speech, his arrogant discourtesy, the uncouthness of his body and mind that so deeply characterised his life: all this was something from which Kumu's whole being shrank every moment."
Her pain at having to adjust to values she did not corroborate, tutored as she was by her sophisticated brother, and the rebellion, is central to the dramatic conflict of the novel. The novel ends when she has to go back to Madhusudan because she is pregnant with his child. But instead of revelling at this coming together, like the Ghosal household, it leaves the reader with a strange sense of sadness, as if witnessing a tragic event.
Chaudhuri analyses that "The incompatibility of Kumudini and Madhusudan reflects the conflict of class and property focalised through them and represented through the description of manners, domestic interiors, material attachments, appearance, and taste." Chaudhuri's Relationships is a valuable addition to the growing literary genre of translation in the country.
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