Monday, August 14, 2006

Have mercy

I wrote yesterday about our own innate natural urges and faculties, such as that of turning to, or seeking refuge, at times of acute duress and distress.

So there could be “secular” expressions of that inner voice.

Last year, I had heard the Bengali singer Moushumi Bhowmick – and had been overwhelmed and mesmerised by her voice and songs. Rooted in the local Bengali soil and symbols, they took me to another plane altogether, of mood, feeling and fragrance.

Moushumi is also part of an ensemble, Parapar. Their site on MySpace is here.

The first song of Moushumi Bhowmick I heard was a prayer, a song by Ranen Roychowdhury, from Sylhet (now in Bangladesh). The song begins 'Mayani rakhibay moray’ (Keep me with affection). What feeling she impregnated into this humble expression of folk devotion, though she herself is presumably "secular" and non-religious!

Here's the song.

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Hear more songs of Moushumi and Parapar here.

I searched for her albums, bought several copies and gave them to my relatives and friends!

One of her songs is Doya koro (Have mercy). That can also be seen as a “prayer”, independent of “religion” or “God”.

In my ecstatic enthusiasm listening to Moushumi Bhowmick’s songs, I translated a few songs, so as to be able to share my own delight and entrancement with others who did not know the Bengali language, who I knew would be powerfully drawn to her songs and would want to sing them. This was not a polished literary translation, but more like a literal translation, which would enable someone who loved a song to know each word of it and thus understand something of the feeling expressed by the singer's voicing of each word.

But the songs are very difficult to translate, because simple common words are so full of nuance of meaning and cultural connotations and associations. Nevertheless, quite insensitively and immodestly, I posted my translation on a public discussion board on the internet, besides sending it to the writer / singer. Thankfully, she responded shortly thereafter, expressing her unhappiness with my “translation”, and especially the song Doya koro (Have mercy), and with my having gone public with this.

I immediately apologised for and retracted my “translation”. Through this experience I got a good introduction to what translation entailed, when it came to literature. That has stood me in very good stead in the translation of Subimal Misra’s writing, which I took up soon thereafter.

But I do want to share the words of the song Doya Koro, through English, with my non-Bengali friends, to illustrate a “secular prayer”. The deceptively simple text of the original, which masks the subtleties conveyed by various words, phrases and tones is very hard to render into any other language, without making it sound prosaic. And this is definitely not the case with the original. My literal, aural conversion into English does not do justice to Moushumi Bhowmick's work. Yet I want to share the words, because I know even that is so rich.

So with a prayer for mercy, I give that below.

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Have mercy
this drought has burnt my whole body
to ashes
have mercy
this city, body, time
all burnt to ashes
have mercy
O dear rain,
shower down
on the thirsty body in the bosom of the city
O dear rain
have mercy,

Have mercy
the blind closed body and mind inside this room
so have mercy
the paralysed sultry suffocation
inside this room with closed doors
where the air can’t play
have mercy
these wall-boundaries
the Picasso scroll hung on the wall
has become salted over
have mercy
O dear storm come
and strike and break down everything
have mercy

Have mercy
this nice luv-luv-loving
I’m tired of playing
have mercy
this being nice, loving, doing good
does not feel very nice
have mercy
I will stand outside just once
once, just once
so have mercy

Listen to more songs by Moushumi Bhowmick here.

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