- Rubee Barooah
It was over a phone call that I agreed to translate some of Jaideep Saikia’s poems into Assamese for his recently published poetry collection Susupti. I had absolutely no idea about the poet prior to his sending me his two poetry collections Lyrics from the Amygdala and Twilight Hour. After a first glance at the poems, I called him up to tell that I needed to talk with him before engaging with his poems. He agreed hesitatingly. After all, we were strangers until then.
Poetry is “special” when compared to other genres of literature and consequently rather difficult to translate. I started conversing with the poet in order to understand his mind and his poetical idiom. The long chats were intriguing for at the other end of the phone there was a top notch terrorism and conflict analyst and an internationally reputed academic on security studies. Poetry is only a leisurely pursuit for Jaideep Saikia!
Susupti reminds me of the Armenian film director Sergei Parajanov’s masterpiece The Colour of Pomegranates that begins with I’m he whose life and soul are in torment, Sayat Nava poems. The very first poem in Jaideep Saikia’s Susupti, Smriti Kator (In Memoriam) sets a similar mood. Most of the poems are introspective, about melancholic reflection, yearning, about angst and disillusionment. These are metamorphosed into painful lamentation.
As I set out on my translation journey, a repertoire of hidden treasure began unfolding before my eyes in the form of wordplay and allusions from a different world, time, and space. The poems deal with diverse subjects such as Karna of Mahabharata, Rohana Wijeweera, the Sri Lankan revolutionary, Buddha, conflict of ideologies, the poet’s inconsolable grief on his father’s demise, his feeling of guilt and remorse, his scorn for certain aspects of society, invocation to Anubis, the idiosyncratic Mo (M), ardent Priyam, and the atypical Bheeti Gohbaror Kaabyo (Lyrics from the Amygdala).
It is remarkable that Jaideep Saikia deals with each and every subject with the same frenzied intensity, whether it is One day (Edin), Stone woman of Calcutta (Kolikotar Stone Woman), Dewta-Resurrected (Dewta-Punarujjeewita), Priyam or Lyrics from the Amygdala (Bheeti Gahbaror Kaabyo). The poems depict a dreamlike tableau in the mind of the reader conjuring psycho-social quandaries of the sphere in which the poet makes frequent forays. Each one of those recalls an array of emotions entailing a course of events or a particular incident. His compelling diction and captivating canvas with Eliot-like expanses made it more and more imperative for me to continue my discourse with him.
His admiration for Buddha, Jesus Christ, Gandhi, and his own father has shaped his convictions. He also told me about his admiration for Hermann Hesse’s works among others. For Siddhartha, where everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearnings, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world. All of it together was the flow of events, was the music of life… (Hesse, H. Siddhartha). Susupti is primarily a voyage of spiritual transformation; the poems are deeply personal. However, the spiritual transformation is not an easy one as it is an ongoing process and seemingly arduous as it is endless. Jaideep Saikia’s recent experimental poems written in the form of trilogies like Beads of Remorse (I, II, III) and Priyam (I, II, III) are replete with striking images; thematically moored in high ground of philosophy, medieval history, geography, lust and mysticism.
The poems are a treasure trove of stylistic elements, exotic and faraway allusions including Shakespeare, Indian philosophy, Buddhism, Egyptology, contemporary history, politics, personal experiences, and the mysterious! The symbolism of colours and the poet’s obsession with light and dark shades are extraordinary. ‘Spacecraft’, ‘lilac imagination’, ‘cassock clad’, ‘twilight’, ‘dawn’, ‘Jurassic’, ‘necrophilic, ‘war drums”, and ‘evening’ are some predominant words and expressions from his lexicon, loaded with subterranean connotation. The sheer richness and emotional resonance of the poems had already set a huge challenge for me. My task was not only to derive the meaning of his imageries, loaded expressions, and references to various classics, far-fetched tales, and anecdotes but also to transcreate them into Assamese with equal fervour.
Eugene Nida has defined translation as reproducing in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the source language message, in terms of meaning and also in terms of style (Nida & Tabler, 1982). Literal or word-to-word translation of poetry mutilates the aesthetic value of the target text. That is why I decided to give more importance to the sense of the source text rather than to the word.
It has not been possible for me to do justice to all levels of Jaideep Saikia’s poems. It is impossible. That I admit. Keeping pace with the contextual meaning of his poems with faithfulness was the biggest challenge. For example: The opening lines of the poem Xoradh (Funereal Thoughts) have reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
Funereal notes merge with nuptial tones/ Thrift, Thrift, Horatio… (Reference: “Thrift, thrift, Horatio! The funeral baked meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables,’’ (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2)
After a prolonged search, I came up with an equivalent for the first line Bilapor Xur Ayoteer Naam Hoi Bajise. Here, the composition Funereal notes is alien to Assamese society and culture and it was an obvious socio-cultural difficulty in order to be translated. Hence, I tried evoking a cultural association (domestication method) by using Bilapor Xur for Funereal notes and Ayoteer Naam for nuptial tones.
The last stanza of Kolikotar Stone Woman (Stone Woman of Calcutta) goes such:
Friends she spies, sleepy little heads/ Heaving/ Mates for fornication/A mute Paleolithic priest/Weds them was translated into Assamese as:
Tai Anuxondhaan Kori Phure Bondhur/ Ji Nidrabibhor/ Gobhir Proshwaxorota/ Byabhichaaror Xongi Tair/ Pratna Prastar Nirbaak Ek Purohite/ Saptapodi Mantra Porhe Xihotor Babe
Here, for A mute Paleolithic priest weds them, that Jaideep Saikia makes allusion to the stone which kills the pavement dwellers, I have used the cultural Assamese equivalent Pratna Prastar Nirbaak Ek Purohite/ Saptapodi Mantra Porhe Xihotor Babe, because Saptapadi mantra is chanted in a Vedic marriage. Hence, to maintain the beauty of the diction Saptapadi mantra is used as equivalent word for the word wed.
In the poem Luxoror Anubis (Anubis of Luxor) the poet says:
And Hatshepsut’s need for/ Musk and mutilation/ Anubis is vulpine/ Scavenging his terrestrial/ Fare/ Necrophillic, his spoors/ I follow
Aaru Bilaxi Xomragyee Hetshepsutor Babe/ Sedito Ongor Kosturee/ Shrigaal Mostok/ Xowo Xondhaanee/ Anubisor/ Prithivit Nostoddhar Jatra/ Aru Jaar Podo Chohnor Anuxoronoroto/ Mur Mayamoi Astitva
Here, I have coined a new word Shrigaal Mostok to make sense of the word vulpine. I Thank Jaideep Saikia for making me understand the essence of the jackal headed god of death from Egyptology. It was not easy!
There is a soul-stirring story behind the poem Edin (One Day). It would not have been possible for me to understand the expression Oxohoj Bhaar (awkward weight) he has referred to in the poem had I not known how he had met old Tegpu in Tawang monastery from who he almost forcefully bought the Lama’s prayer beads. After some years when he went back to return the beads with great remorse, the old Lama was already dead! It took him years to transform the agony into the poignant poem One Day and the poem is not only about the heartrending incident but also Jaideep Saikia’s profound understanding of Buddhist philosophy.
Bouddha Mathor Xei Dukmokakali Tu/ Pouranik Nohoy/ Othoso Xi Boi Nibo Mur Oxohoj Bhaar/ Aru Urbanar Mur Xei Skandhaalankaar
It is a monastery, the dawn,/ not ancient/ But one which will carry my awkward weight/ And my epaulets from Urbana
It would not have been easy to translate Jonakir Dol (Fireflies) had I not known the political ideologies of the poet and his inclinations during his growing up years as a student. Translating Bheeti Gahboror Kaabya (Lyrics from the Amygdala) was one of my greatest challenge as it is one of his most complex poems with multi-layered meanings, references and metaphors drawn from biology, geology, Shakespearian dilemma, Buddha and conflict-ridden North East India. There are thoughts that breathe and words that burn and its beauty lies in the tonal variations in each and every stanza.
Mur Xote Kotha Pata, Moiteroyo/ Tumiyei Muk Disila Raaj Danda, Bidruhunmukh Dristi/ Kintu Moi, Swabhav Xulabh Nirbhotare/Mur Ei Prak-Oitihaxik Xorisip Laukhulatur DopakiI-Tepaki Oboxexor Majot Put Khai/ Birodhor Majot Xondhan Korisu Orthoboho Alaapor
Talk to me Maitreya/ You gave me the scepter, the rebellious eye/ But, I, a natural fool, buried/Among tortuous relics of a reptilian skull/ Seek discourse in duel
Ahaa Konwar, Jiswashmor Dore Kothin Hoi Pora/ Tumar Uposthiti Dangi Dhora/ Kaaron, Moiyu Asilu Khonomat/ Trikoniya Bijoyor Prachestare Jana
Come prince, reveal your lignite presence/ For I too was in Khonoma,/ Courting triangles of triumph
I confess that it would require years of labourious research to unravel the nuances of Jaideep Saikia’s poetry, so steeped in style, metaphors, and engagement they are. Indeed, with Jaideep Saikia’s poems a new standard in poetry has come to the fore. He stands out as a path breaker.
Related links: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaideep_Saikia, https://nenow.in/neighbour/china/interview-most-people-who-write-about-india-china-boundary-issue-have-no-idea-about-ground-reality-security-expert-jaideep-saikia.html; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcspWt0uUVs&feature=youtu.be