BOOKMARK Two noted poets have translated a selection of Tagore's poems into Urdu nazms

In the last phase of his long and illustrious life, Rabindranath Tagore had endearingly beseeched to posterity, Mone rekho, tobu mone rekho (Remember me, still remember me). The poem proved prophetic. Tagore has been long dead but one remembers him through his poems and music that has managed to transcend not just the barriers of time but languages too. Only last week, a book containing a selection of over 100 of his poems translated into Urdu nazm (verse) — perhaps for the first time — was released by the Prime Minister in New Delhi. The book titled Romancing Tagore (Basu Media), has been put together by Delhi-based poetess Indira Varma and Urdu poet Rahman Musawwir. The poems have been culled from all the phases of Tagore's prolific career.

However, as Varma pointed out at the launch event, “The translations are not verbatim.” Interestingly, the phrase she used for it is “transcreation, whereby the feeling and ideas contained in the songs are conveyed in the finest manner possible without strictly adhering to the verbal and grammatical arrangement of the original.”

But could translations ever do justice to the spirit of the original work? Rathikant Basu of Basu Media said, “The shared sweetness of the two languages — Urdu and Bengali — would facilitate a more faithful translation and give the readers in the other language a fair idea of Tagore's sensibilities and art.”

Visva-Bharati, who were for long the custodians of Tagore's more tangible and even intangible legacy, were convinced and brought on board, they even allowed the book to be published under their own banner. As per Kumkum Bhattacharya, a former director of Visva-Bharati Publishing Department, “Visva-Bharati was not involved in the project in any financial sense but we provided them with all the possible intellectual resources and support they required.”

The book does not merely bridge the gap between Urdu and Bengali, it also brings together two countries — India and Pakistan, through the medium of music.

About 12 nazms contained in the book have been sung by Pakistani singer Najam Shiraz and Indian classical singer Shuba Mudgal. The music has been composed and arranged by Debjyoti Mishra, but none the less “retaining the Tagorean feel of the music,” said Basu. He further pointed out, “It is perhaps for the first time that Tagore lyrics are being sung by someone from Pakistan.”

The book designed by Varma's son, fashion designer Suneet Varma, is designed as a collector's edition, perhaps attempting to create a befitting gift in this 150th year of the poet's birth.