Translated from Hindi to English by Tuhin Bhowal
Translating Sourav Roy’s poems, I believe, or to be more succinct, translating his narrators, one has to be politically aware. If not aware, at least politically charged in ways that the same questions which are being posed demand answers. These are questions about the democratic system, which easily transcend to being about one’s awakening of their own political beliefs. On that same note, his narrators, in these poems, tend to be reserved, with a smear of confusion all over their sharp quivery voices because of the chaotic space and time around.
He writes, in ‘Smile: YOU ARE ON CAMERA,’ ‘I can slit anyone’s throat with my credit card / I can’t elect my government.’ This economy of words (in Hindi) to suggest hopelessness remains one of the key junctures in his translations. This also serves as being one of the most prominently exciting aspects of reading his poetry. Along with political critique, the satire of capitalism is inherent in these poems as well. The movement, as translation is, into a language as foreign and familiar as English needs to be precise. The very narrator who declares loss of democratic rights with conviction goes on to choose his toothpaste from ‘five hundred and seventy-five’ different ones. Is the narrator a hypocrite? Has the narrator given in to the system, smiling at closed-circuit cameras, or does his circumstance leave the reader with a trickle of energy to question back? The translator must decide.
The sense of satire throughout Roy’s poems is vivid and taut—subtle in language but impactful in meaning-making. His narrator in ‘Emblem’ employs rhetoric rather playfully and quite funnily too: ‘Although lions have gone extinct in Europe / Britain’s national mark has nine lions.’ Often, his endings, which might seem assertions from a place of knowing, are not so many announcements as much as they are apprehensions from places of wonder.
Four free lions lean
against each other’s backs
on the wheel—
of my country’s emblem.
One lion suffices
for Sri Lanka
on three legs
carrying a sword with its fourth.
is upright with Singapore’s lion
on top of its seal
holding the same banner.
Bulgaria’s imprint has three lions:
two identical hysterical ones smiling at each other
on both sides of the banner
and one printed on it
hoisting its arms in the air
hostile with itself.
Although lions have gone extinct in Europe
Britain’s national mark has nine lions:
one lugging the banner
seven on it
and the ninth sitting on top of the banner’s crown
wearing its own.
Only the king is the lion
everyone else its prey.
Smile: YOU ARE ON CAMERA
I’ve bought a coke—
the more we gulp the thirstier we get
provided we finish the bottle
before it turns warm.
I’ve ordered an appetizer
which we eat before our main course
to only get hungrier.
Here, the aged walk not with
canes but scrolling against shopping carts
and the adolescent baby in diapers sags
getting squashed between two counters.
What does the baby know—that
a time arrives in every child’s life
when their mothers drop them from their laps
to pick them up never again.
I can slit anyone’s throat with my credit card
I can’t elect my government
and yet, battling among five hundred and seventy-five options
I’ve chosen my toothpaste.
Won’t you smile too?
Illustration by Nadhir Nor
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