CHAT Dilip Basu on retranslating Tagore and the effect of Gurudev on Satyajit Ray's films
I've been interested in poetry all my life, used to write when young and was delighted at 15 my first poem was published. That was decades ago, then I got interested in post-Tagore poetry, namely Jibanananda Das, Bishnu Dey, Sudhin Datta and others. When I first read Sheshar Kavita ( The Last Poem ) I was blown away. It was not just great romance but also verse and prose rolled into a wonderful tale,” says Dilip Basu, the outgoing Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California and Founding Director of the Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at UC Santa Cruz.
But what motivated him to retranslate an uncharacteristic Tagore work. Basu elaborates, “When I visited Santiniketan last December I saw four beautiful paintings inspired by the book by the late Dinkar Kaushik. That was the motivation. I asked the artist whether he would do some additional paintings if I translated the novella. By the end of the month he gave me 12 colour sketches highlighting other aspects of Sheshar Kavita . I went back and finished the translation within a month. I approached HarperCollins, and it was accepted.”
He states, “I never read Tagore in English except for Gitanjali which won him the Nobel. But now I read quite a few, and was shocked. I think all of Tagore in translation is, by and large, atrocious. No wonder he doesn't enjoy a high reputation with the non-Bengali. I hope my modest attempt at translating this gem of a novella will fill the void to some extent.”
Considering he finds existing translations sub-standard, would he attempt retranslation of other Tagore works as well? His reply is instant: “Yes, I am now inspired to translate more. I have already finished translating the stories of Satyajit Ray's famous film, Teen Kanya ( Three Daughters ) and about to turn to Noshtonir , Ray's Charulata , and finally Ghare Baire ( Home and the World ) which will take time as it is a wonderful novel. Stills from the restored films, illustrations and sketches will accompany the translation.” Basu also reveals that the centre at UC Santa Cruz, in collaboration with the Academy of Film Archives in Los Angeles has successfully restored 22 of Ray's film oeuvre. They are being showcased across the globe except India. “Last year we held complete Ray retrospective at film museums in Zurich, Munich, Basel, Paris and Singapore.”
According to Dilip Basu: “Without Tagore, there would not have been a Satyajit Ray, and the five wonderful films he got to make on Tagore stories.”