Which is the language that the largest number of people sing their national anthem in?
Is it English? Is it Chinese (Mandarin)? It couldn't be English as only 940 million people in the world sing English anthems while 1.25 billion people sing the Chinese anthem. But Mandarin isn't the correct answer either. Bangla is the winner here with 1.3 billion people singing their national anthem in Bangla. This figure is the total population of India and Bangladesh combined. This seems more surprising because we are used to looking at Bangla as a regional language and never think that our national anthem is written in it. I won't be surprised if the rumours floating around the Internet saying UNESCO has selected Bangla as the sweetest language in the world turn out to be true.
Coming back to the national anthem thing, it is a mighty impressive achievement for a language that the largest number of people sing their national anthem in that language, but even that achievement pales in comparison when we realize that all those 1.3 billion people sing national anthems that were written by just one man.
Today is that man's 149th birth anniversary.
Here is my attempt at translating one of his better-known poems. Unlike my earlier translations, this poem does not have rhyming lines. That is because the original Bangla version is also non-rhyming. However, I have tried to maintain the relative lengths of the lines and preserve the alliterations wherever possible.
In that chaotic early age
When The Creator, dissatisfied with Himself
Was repeatedly destroying His new creation,
In those days of His impatient head-shaking
The angry ocean’s arms
From the eastern earth’s breast
Snatched you away, Africa,
Locked you up under the dense guard of trees
In the inner chambers of meager light.
There, in solitary leisure you collected
The mysteries of the impenetrable,
Learnt the complex language of earth and sky,
Nature’s unfathomable wonders
Were enchanting your superconscious mind.
You were mocking the terrible
Under the guise of dissatisfaction,
Attempting to defeat fear
By turning fierce in the aura of the terrifying
Dancing to the drumbeats of destruction.
Alas, Shaded Lady,
Under your black hood
Your human face lay unrecognized
To the clouded vision of neglect.
They came with iron handcuffs
With claws sharper than your wolves’,
They came, the human-catchers
With arrogance more blinding than your sunless forests.
The barbaric greed of the civilized
Bared its shameless inhumanity.
In your jungle paths steamy with wordless sobs
The dust turned to muck with your blood and tears;
Under the nail-studded boots of the plunderers
That horrifying mass of mud
Put an indelible mark on your insulted history.
At that very moment in their hometowns across the ocean
Worship-bells rang in temples
At daybreak and dusk, in the name of gracious God;
Children were playing in their mother’s laps
Poets were singing to music
Their odes to beauty.
Today, when on the western horizon
Evening holds its breath before a storm,
When the animals have come out of their concealed caves,
And announced the end of the day in their ominous voice,
Come, O new-age poet,
In the last rays before the impending night
Stand at that disgraced damsel’s door,
Say “Forgive us” –
Amidst the violent delirium
Let these be the last sacred words of your civilization.
(Translated by Sugata Banerji)