Dec 6, 2009

Benares

False and impenetrable
like a garden traced on a mirror,
the imagined city
which my eyes have never seen
interweaves distances
and repeats its unreachable houses.
The sudden sun
shatters the complex obscurity
of temples, dunghills, prisons, patios
and will scale walls
and blaze on to a sacred river.
Panting
the city which a foliage of stars oppressed
pours over the horizon
and in a morning
full of steps and of sleep
light is opening the streets like branches.
At the same time dawn breaks
on all shutters looking east
and the voice of a muezzin
from its high tower
saddens the air of day
and announces to the city of many gods
the solitude of God.
(And to think that while I play with doubtful images
the city I sing persists
in a predestined place of the world,
with its precise topography
peopled like a dream,
with hospitals and barracks
and slow avenues of poplars
and men with rotting lips
who feel the cold in their teeth.)

- Jorge Luis Borges

(translated by Charles Tomlinson)

Dec 5, 2009

Translating Das

Arijit sent me this poem by Jibanananda Das.

হয়তো আকাশের বুকের গভীরে
কিংবা তার থেকে গভীরতর কোন এক অজানায়
তুমি বসে আছো নিবিড়, অসীম স্তব্ধতার মুখোমুখি |

নিঃশ্বাসে তোমার পাললিক প্রেম
অবিরত মিশে যেতেছে বাংলার মাটিতে,
যেথায় তোমার ক্লেদাক্ত হৃদয়
অবিরত খুজে ফেরে সন্ধ্যার আবির আকাশ |


My translation:

In the deep recesses of the sky
Or perhaps in some deeper unknown,
Facing the infinite stillness,
You sit still.

Your breath,
Suffused with alluvial love
Continually infuses Bengal's earth;
There, your weary heart
Looks out relentlessly
For the vermillion sky of dusk.

Oct 19, 2009

Translating Tagore

Arijit Sen sent me this poem by Tagore.

ছবির জগতে যেথা কোনো ভাষা নেই
সেথায় তোমার স্থির দৃষ্টি
যে কাহিনী করিতেছে সৃষ্টি
ঘটনাবিহীন তার বোবা ইতিহাস
ছায়া দিয়ে ছেয়ে ফেলে চিত্ত আকাশ
করুণ বিষাদ করে বৃষ্টি

My translation:

Amidst images, in their still silence
You rest your steady stare.
The tale, that unto itself tells,
its own uneventful, mute past;
Clouding the mind's open sky
Lets rain pitiful despair.

Sep 19, 2009

Translating Auden

আর বাড়ব না আমি |
আমি ছায়াহীন,
নিজের ছায়ার থেকে 
পালাবো না আমি আর |
আমি তাই শুধু খেলি |

আর ভুল করবো না আমি |
কেউ নেই, আমি যার |
কাউকে কষ্ট দেবো না আমি আর |

আমি পরাজয় -
যখন সে জানে
কিছুই হবে না আর
কষ্ট সহ্য করে |

যে জীবন তোমার গেছে চলে ,
সে আসবে না আর কোনো কাজে |
তাই তুমি আছ মেতে, নিজের নাচে |

আর অন্যরকম হবো না
আমি কোনোদিন |
আমায় ভালোবাসো |

My translation of a section from Anthem for Cecilia's Day by W. H. Auden (see previous post)

From Anthem for St Cecilia's Day

I cannot grow;
I have no shadow
To run away from,
I only play.

I cannot err;
There is no creature
Whom I belong to,
Whom I could wrong.

I am defeat
When it knows it
Can now do nothing
By suffering.

All you lived through,
Dancing because you
No longer need it
For any deed.

I shall never be
Different. Love me.

- W. H. Auden

Sep 11, 2009

Requies-cat in pace

Jackson was our neighbor's cat. He has been a constant visitor to our house over the past two years. He was all of 21 years and had not been keeping too well in recent times. Today, he was put to sleep.

Jackson. RIP.



This is Jackson. Lording over our porch at 112 Trinity Place.

Image: (c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved

Aug 30, 2009

Quiet flows the Ganges

And the madness of life continues on its banks.
Varanasi. Summer of 2009.



Images: (c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved

Aug 29, 2009

Darkness Visible

I saw the solar eclipse from Varanasi last month (on July 22). It was quite astounding. As I watched the eclipse this time, I was reminded of Milton's lines from Paradise Lost:

... yet from those flames
No light; but rather darkness visible (I. 62 - 63)

I had seen a total solar eclipse in 1996 but this year's event was grander.

Way more grand.



The eclipse made me realize just how long four minutes can be: that's how long the eclipse lasted. It took place early in the morning. Sometime past 6 am, if I am not mistaken. The birds woke up and before they knew it, it was dark again.

Were the birds feeling a tad jet-lagged from the experience?



There is something extremely awe-inspiring about a total solar eclipse. It is a celestial spectacle. And the sun (and the moon) did put up quite a show.

Take a look.


Images and Video: (c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved

Aug 24, 2009

If the one I've waited for

If the one I've waited for 
came now, what should I do?
This morning's garden filled with snow
is far too lovely 
for footsteps to mar.

- Izumi Shikibu 

Translation: Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani

Aug 20, 2009

Lessons in Lovemaking

I just got back from Calcutta, the city I grew up in. My thoughts on the city shall be for another blog post, but here is a snippet: Oxford Bookstore, Calcutta has a "Sexology" section.

Why sexology and not sex? I don't know and I suspect they don't either. The -logy probably gives the hormones and the carnality a twinge of respectability.

This was on display at the Sexology section of Oxford Bookstore, Calcutta.

What were they thinking? Clearly not a great deal. And it does say something about the city that is desperately trying to give up its ghost.

Image: (c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved

Aug 18, 2009

In Memoriam: Naughty Boy

Those who knew my ground floor apartment (D 735) in New Delhi were well acquainted with Naughty Boy.

Naughty Boy was, well, neither naughty nor a boy. He was the world's coolest tom cat who had allowed my landlord and landlady to take care of him. And he had condescended to let me live in the ground floor apartment. He would of course make sure you knew who was master: during the day, he was often found taking a nap on the bed in the spare bedroom of my flat.

Naughty Boy once had a fling with the road-side tabby. Two incredible kittens came off his exertions. Named Tom and Jerry by my landlord's grand-daughter, they found two extremely caring homes in the ground and first floors of D 735. And after my friend Rudraneil moved in two storeys above, the second floor also became an extension of their home.

This summer in Delhi I learnt that Naughty Boy had left the house one day and not come back. That is how cats behave when they are about to die, Rudraneil explained to me. One of course could expect nothing less from the cat who embodied a wonderful nobility of spirit.

So here's to Naughty Boy: something he inspired me to write a while ago. He made my two years at D 735 very special.

Naughty Boy. RIP.
___________________

A RANDOM CAT MORNING

There are three friendly cats in and around my house.

One is called Naughty Boy.

This is my landlord's tom cat and the most adorable cat in the universe. Naughty boy is big, red, usually scared-shit and not naughty at all. He sleeps at my place sometimes, never behaves badly and from time to time decides he is a decorative piece. At those moments he can be found sitting very still at strange places. Like on top of the bookshelves and such.

Naughty Boy was horny once. The consequence was the other two friendly cats of the neighbourhood.

One of them is a tom, the other a tabby. The tom looks like the mother (black and white) and is everything Naughty Boy isn't. The tabby looks and behaves like naughty boy. She is also incredibly shy. They have been evocatively named Tom and Jerry by my landlord's granddaughter. I do not like these names so I usually call them things like Jagabondhu, Byomkesh, Harinarayan, etc. For those who don't have the context - these are the more extended and extensive names of Hindu divinities. This is in part my Hindu upbringing that teaches me to see the divinity in all things (as also in the beef steak).

Anyway, I digress.

This morning I was woken up by a howling cat. My landlord's granddaughter's Tom aka - depending on my mood - Jagabondhu, Byomkesh or Harinarayan was howling his guts out. Because the little thing was on my neighbour's fourth floor terrace. Head sticking out, it was crying madly. So I roused my landlady Mrs Mitra, who in turn roused roused Mr Mitra - the neighbour, not the husband - and then Mrs Mitra and I set off on our cat expedition.

The terrace door was opened and we found the object of our undying affection on the terrace of the room on the terrace. Hearing us, Byomkesh came and checked us out, still howling away. So I fixed a makeshift ladder and began climbing up on to the terrace of the terrace. And then the cat did what one can expect of all cats. It came up to me. Then went away. And then jumped from the top of the room on to the terrace and ran for its life down the steps. Mrs Mitra and I (standing midway up the frigging ladder) looked on.

A little later I heard from the first floor of my house the voice of admonishment of Mrs Mitra. "Keno gechili? Keno? Kotobar baron korechi na jetey." (Why, why do you not listen to me and keep going outside?). A wonderful communion. Wonderful. Puts the Wordsworthian daffodils to shame, if you ask me.

Then, there was more.

A little later - about half and hour later - I heard two babies crying. I came out to look. It was Naughty Boy and his father. The mews had taken on a cataclysmic pitch as they prepared to launch into combat.

A historiographical digression that may sound straight out of Robert Graves's Greek Myths: Naughty Boy was adopted into the Mitra family as a child because his father had tried to kill him. Naughty Boy has since adopted the best that the civilizing ethic of Bengal has to offer. For instance, when he met his lone male son and heir (Tom for some, Byomkesh, Harinarayan or Jagabondhu among others - depending on my mood - for me) he did what you would least expect a Tom cat (and what you would most expect a Bengali, according to some learned authorities on this subject) to do.

He stuck his snout out.
Smelt him.
And then sprang back twenty paces, either ashamed or frightened (both?) at the outcome of his passionate time out with the neighbourhood tabby.

Rudraneil (some of you know him: my e-mail editor's spellcheck insists he be called Quadrangles. I suppose he should have an opinion on this) and I concurred a couple of days back - over cream and bacon pasta and strange Mediterranean fantasies - that Naughty Boy could not fight. If he were called to fight, he wouldn't and it would be Harinarayan who would do the fighting. This came up as we had spotted a fat grey cat (It must have been Eliot's Mungojerrie) and Naught Boy's dad - terrible, ugly, red and white son of a bitch (I'm being metaphorical here) hovering around our house.

But Naughty Boy proved us wrong.

So where were we? yes, mewing and such like. By the time I figured out what was happening, the two had got into the act. On my cornice, father and son battled it out. Actually, bit and scratched it out. And then they were in a bloody embrace, dad's teeth in son's front paw and son's teeth in dad's left ear. Naughty Boy had entered - with this one act - into the Bagha Jatin Memorial (aka We-Bengalis-despite-being-labeled-non-martial-by-the-Brits-can-also-fight) Hall of Fame.

I am unfortunately a Bong - body, heart and soul. I do not like bloody insurrections. I suspect I would have been a clerk in Calcutta's Writers' Building if I were born under Pax Britannica. So I decided to put an end to this. And like a good Bengali, I wielded the broom screaming "hoosh, hoosh" in my incantatory best.

Hoosh, hoosh be damned.

The bloody balls of fur rolled on. Naughty Boy and Naughtier Boy in bloody embrace still. Then the ball(s) became still. The embrace (and respective sets of teeth) in place. I have seen a trailer of Anaconda on Star Movies (or was it HBO?) and these two looked incredibly like an anaconda swallowing a..a...whatever. Extremely disconcerting to see Naughty Boy - teeth still sunk in dad's left ear - looking me in the eye while lying dead still on the ground.

I then decided to continue the Bong routine. I ran into the kitchen. Filled a jug with water. And ran back and chucked it at them.

Water be damned too.
The rolling continued.

Then, disengagement. But only for a wee while.

They went up the metallic spiral staircase, braving the cold water that lunged at them.

Re-engagement. And how. It was a complete dulce et decorum est pro patria mori moment.

They jumped at each other (just as in the 70s Bollywood films the hero and the villain lunge at each other, including that completely ludicrous jump-lunge just two seconds before engagement).

I go, I go.
Look how I go.
Faster than an arrow,
From a Tartar's bow.

Into my landlord's house they went. Through the back door. And then into my landlord's loo. (For some inexplicable reason, the metallic spiral staircase led to the first floor loo. This mystery I have not been able to unravel.)

Synchronised fighting had now given way to synchronised playing decorative piece. The sets of teeth intact, and inside each other's furs.

As I manoeuvered the broom and jug, I was, even then, struck by my act. A tad matronly, I dare admit. Seeing none of my anythings had any impact on the happenings I called my landlord. He is a sweet and somewhat senile man nudging the eighties.

He came.
He saw.
With Caesarean imperiousness, he entered the fray.
And conquered.

A rap with a clothes beater on the back of daddy cat sufficed. Daddy cat went off, roaring, into the unknown.

It was now time for Communion II.

There was an air of haughtiness, coupled with hurt, disbelief and disgust as my landlord - the sweet, somewhat senile man nudging the eighties said: "Amaar baritey dhukey, amaar beral-key kamracchey!!" (Entering MY house and biting MY cat!!)

We were quite clearly a surreal tableau.

The sweet, somewhat senile man nudging the eighties with a hearing aid in one ear, a beret on his head and a clothes beater in one hand standing on the first floor landing of the metallic spiral staircase. Naughty boy, bloodied, shaken, stirred, his marbles (olives, to keep the metaphor going) intact, his voice quavering at a point in-between a violent miaow and purr. Me, below, green jug in right hand and broom in left. Ready to take on the universe and its second cousin.

Then, Communion III

" Aajkey kom jol esheche. Shamley" (We have got less water than usual today. Be careful)

Jul 8, 2009

Elsewhere in the Himalayas

In and around North Bengal and Sikkim.
With friends.



Images:
(c) Sandeep Banerjee, Arijit Sen, Shamya Dasgupta - All Rights Reserved

Jun 8, 2009

Tunganath

This summer I was at Chopta, in the Garhwal Himalayas. From there, I made the short trek to Tunganath (literally: The Lord of the Lofty Heights). Tunganath, at 12,072 feet, is possibly the highest temple (as opposed to shrine) in India. And it is one of the five kedars, the most important of which is, a few valleys away, at Kedarnath.

But Tunganath is exceptional for the views of the neighboring peaks that it allows the visitor. On a good day you can see the Yamunotri, Gangotri, Trishul, Sumeru, Kedarnath and Neelkanth peaks. And all the khambas of the Chaukhamba (lit: Four Pillars: chau: four, khamba: pillar). Thankfully, before the monsoon arrives in the mountains, good days are aplenty.

So this is what the traveler saw.



Video: (c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved

Jun 7, 2009

Lord of the Lofty Heights

Views from (and around) Tunganath.



Images:
(c) Sandeep Banerjee - All Rights Reserved