The English Translations of the Bengali writings of Rabindranath Tagore are of two distinct categories, one done by the author himself, and the other by different translators. Whatever be the deficiencies of the works belonging to the second category, unfaithfulness to the original texts is one of them. The first category, on the other hand, is conspicuous by the excessive liberty taken by the translator, causing serious distortion to many texts. The proper history of the first category of translations dates from 1912, if one ignores the poet's sporadic exercises in translation before that, and continues almost till the end of his life. The other category has an earlier origin and is still very much alive.
Between these two categories, there exists an intermediary group which also originated around 1912, soon after the publication of the English Gitanjali, and ended, like the first group, with the death of Tagore. Translations included in this group were done by close associates of Tagore, quite often under his supervision, and in some cases, wigh very active collaboration. For a long time many of these translations were considered by the readers as the author's own rendering into English, and Tagore's British publisher did not think it proper to dispel that perception. For example, Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore,published by Macmillan in 1936 and reprinted several times since then, includes two plays, The Post Office and The Cycle of Spring, without any mention of the fact that they were not translated by Tagore. These translations, having been approved by Tagore himself, played an important role in the history of Tagore reception in the English-speaking world and also among a large section of readers in Indian. It is necessary, therefore, to go into some detail about this category 9of translations, since they are as important in Tagore studies as they are for students of translatology in general.
Looking at the texts translated by Tagore, and also those translated by others, one notices an interesting pattern, some kind of division of labour between him and his translators. We had related the history of Tagore translation preceding the publication of the English Gitanjali in the Introduction to the earlier volume: that Tagore, not satisfied with the English translations of his Bengali poems done by his friends and well-wishers, finally decided to undertake the task himself. But he did not express any particular unhappiness about others translating his non-poetical writings, particularly the short stories. Tagore's first collection of short stories in English translation appeared in 1913, a few months before the announcement of the Nobel Prize. Not much is known about the translator Rajani Ranjan Sen, a pleader and a lecturer in law at Chittagong College. But he certainly was not either close to Tagore or a known literary figure in Bengal. Although translations of the sort stories of Tagore had begun to appear from 1902 onwards, Sen was the first to think of putting them together in a translate and publish his short stories given to me nearly four years ago. Despite its limitations, the book played a positive role in the projection of Tagore Before the western readership. It may be mentioned here that this book was acquired by the Swedish Academy.
The enthusiasm generated in the British press and among the reading public in Britain and the United States by the appearance of the English Gitanjali, and the award of the nobel Prize to it next year, created an unprecedented situation in Tagore's life. There was increasing demand for more translations of his works. Apart from his poems, which he-had decided to translate himself-the success of the English Gitanjali emboldened him and convinced his of the judiciousness of the decision-he had also translated several plays. But as the demand from publishers began to mount, he felt obliged to share the burden of translation with others. It was never an easy task for him. At times his decisions were regulated by the opinions of his publishers and British friends, and at other times he himself faltered and hesitated, causing great harm to his reputation. The translations of some of his stories published in Indian journals were read by Sturge Moore and Rothenstein commented, 'translation of your stories those recently published are too monstrously ill done for words. Such observations, coming as they did from a sympathetic friend and admirer, induced to keep a close watch on the translations of his works by others. Apart from six volumes of plays (of which Macmillan published three, including Sacrifice and Other Plays, which included four short Plays) and four stories, Tagore did not translate anything else but poems. His novels, stories and other writings were translated by persons chosen by him. The following chart presents the two groups of English writings: the first group includes the original writings as well as the translations done by the author himself; the second group, in the right-hand column, includes works by translators approved by Tagore. It is what I would like to describe as the intermediary group. Both taken together the full picture of Tagore's bilingual creative live.
About the Book
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) become an international figure when his Gitanjali, an anthology of religious lyrics, originally written in Bengali and translated into English by the poet himself, was warded the Nobel Prize for literature- the first ever to an Asian-in 1913. since then he came to be known not only as a great writer but also as the most able spokesman of modern India. Till today he is the most widely read Indian writer in India and abroad. Although his reputation outside the Bengali-speaking area rests largely if not entirely, on his English writings no attempt has been ever made to put them together. Sahitya Akademi has decided to bring out a complete collection of Tagore's writings in English in three volumes. The corpus of Tagore's English writings is fairly large and diverse. In addition to translations of his own works, his original writings in English, mostly essays, also form a substantial part of his total works. The present volume includes all poetic works translated by Tagore including The Child, the only major poem he wrote in English. These works, distinguished by profundity of thought and beauty of expression, made a great impact on readers belonging to different countries and cultures. Their appeal is still fresh and abiding. For the first time The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore are presented with detailed annotations and information about the historical context to which they belong.
About the Author
Sisir Kumar Das is the Tagore Professor at the University of Delhi where he teaches Bengali and Comparative Literature. He received the Nehru Prize of the Federal Republic of Germany for his monograph Western Sailors: Eastern Seas (1969), an essay on the German response to Indian culture, and the Tagore Memorial Prize of the West Bengal Government twice for his works The Shadow of the Cross-Hinduism and Christianity in a Colonial Situation (1974) and The Artist in Chains, The Life of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1984). A poet, playwright and critic, he has also translated Aristotle's Poetics and several Greek plays into Bengali. His Bengali publications include Gadya Padyer Dwanda (Essays, 1984), Hayto Daroja Ache (verse, 1986), Abalupta Chaturtha Charan (verse, 1986), Socrates-er Jabanbandi (play, 1989) and Bajpakhir Sange Kichuksan (verse, 1992). He is the author of a A History of Indian Literature (1800-1910): Western Impact : Indian Response, published by the Sahitya Akademi.
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