Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Song of Envy

Last week I posted an English translation of a Bengali poem by the Late Sukumar Ray who, inspite of being a multi-faceted genius, is primarily known for his nonsense poems for children. Here is another one of his short poems , on a special request from Kuntala. My translation is evidently unable to decipher the complete humor hidden in the Bengali original, but I have tried to maintain the rhyme and the essence of the poem.

The Song of Envy

~Sukumar Ray

All of us are good and nice, you are bad and nasty,
You will drink a bitter serum, we will eat a pastry.
We will get all toys and dolls, we will get sweet vittles,
None of you get any of that, and if you do, too little.
We will sleep on spacious beds right by mother's side,
You sleep in the dark alone, scared and trying to hide.
We will visit a hill station and we will ride a train,
If you cry, "Take us too" we'll say "Eat plantain!"*
We strut with a proud gait, clicking colourful shoes.
You are dirty, with runny noses, greedy, brains no use.
The clothes we don are rich brocade, we wear jewelry too,
Since you never get all those, they're unbearable to you.
We will be all lavish-minded, you will be stingy folk,
Ask us for something, and we'll squeeze you till you choke.

(Translation by Sugata Banerji)

* "Eat Plantain" is a mildly offensive Bengali idiomatic phrase which one says when one wants to deny someone's request in a mocking manner.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Humans of New York

Being a photographer myself, I am always on the look out for eye-catching shots to steal ideas from. That is how, about two month ago, I landed on a Facebook page called "Humans of New York." It was maintained by one man, Brandon Stanton who walked around New York City with his camera and took portraits of strangers. His ambition: to make a photographic census of New York City. He also has his own website.

I was an instant fan. I have always wanted to take portraits of strangers on the street but could never muster the courage to ask them. Now here was a guy who spent his entire day doing that very thing. I closely followed his updates on Facebook. He uploads about three to four pictures each day, and each one tells a story. Each one is unique. All the photos in this blog post (other than the last one) are taken from Brandon's Facebook page where there are hundreds more.

As I looked at his images over the last  two months, I realized a lot of things. Firstly, beauty lies in the eyes of the photographer. A good photographer can simply ask a stranger for a picture, and turn him or her into an Internet sensation overnight. Secondly, it can be said with certainty that not all the humans of New York City are muggles. Here are some examples. The gentleman on the right even has a card that says, "Jean-Louis Bourgeois, Professor of Limerick Infliction at Gotham University, A student-free university encouraging S.L.O.T.H. (Slow Luscious Opportunities Toward Happiness)"


Thirdly, I learnt that apparently unimportant strangers can be inspiring. Take a look at this lady. The text accompanying this photo says, "Unemployed librarian employs herself by collecting donated books and setting up make-shift libraries around Brooklyn."

Also, I learnt that one can never know what apparently different people may have in common. Take these two, for example. Could you ever imagine they share a passion for chess?

Speaking of diversity, Humans of New York made me feel that while we are immensely different from each other, we are also very, very similar in a way that transcends culture and race barriers. Take a look at this young man selling jokes. He reminds me of this other man I photographed at the Kolkata Book Fair in 2008. There is something so similar and so honest about their effort at making a living by selling jokes that you feel good knowing such people exist.(The bottom gentleman's sign says, "Buy for two rupees. You'll read for twenty minutes and laugh for half an hour. As you start reading, you'll start laughing. When you stop reading, you won't stop laughing.")
New York 2012
Kolkata 2008

So here's wishing you all the best Brandon. Keep photographing the people of New York. We, the (112,325 and counting) people who like your Facebook page will keep refreshing our newsfeeds several times each day for fresh updates from you. Because we know, nobody sees the people of this city like you do, and so, nobody can show them to us like you can.

Someday, I hope, I will bump into you on one of my visits to the city and then each of us can be a subject for the other.

Fear me not!

I usually choose Rabindranath Tagore's poems when I feel like translating Bengali poetry to English. However, today I felt like doing something different - I chose an all-time favourite poem by noted Bengali poet and author Sukumar Ray and translated it to English. The original can be read here. The illustration is by Sukumar Ray himself.

Fear me not!

~Sukumar Ray

Fear me not, fear me not, I'm not going to hit you;
If you were to wrestle me, I could never beat you.
My heart is terribly tender, my bones devoid of anger,
I could never chomp you down even to sate my hunger.
Are the horns upon my head making you afraid?
Don't you know I don't head-butt, due to a diseased head?
Welcome, welcome to my den, stay for just four days,
I'll preserve you properly, with the greatest care always.
Are you not approaching because of the club I carry?
A clubbing wouldn't hurt you, my club is light and airy.
You're ignoring my assurance, eh? Should I grab your feet?
You'll be forced to listen, when your head becomes my seat!
There's me, there's my wife, and my nine sons -
Shed your baseless fears, or we'll bite you all at once.

 (Translation by Sugata Banerji)

Monday, May 07, 2012

Small and Big

Here's my annual Tagore translation, on yet another birth anniversary of the poet. This one might seem a little concocted at places, since I lost my original translation in my hard drive crash and hurriedly had to cook up this version from what I remembered of my own translation. The original poem can be found here.

Small and Big
~Rabindranath Tagore

I am not grown up yet,
          I'm young hence I'm still small.
I'll be much bigger than big brother
          When like father I grow tall.
Then, if brother doesn't study,
Wants to play with his little birdie,
How I'll chastise him then!
           "Study quietly!" I'll scold.
"How naughty you are!" I'll say,
            When like father, I'm old.
      Brother's bird-cage I'll get,
      And keep little birds as pet.

When the clock goes past ten,
            I won't hurry for my bath.
With an umbrella on my head
            I will amble down the path.
Seeing my tutor on the porch
I'll call him to sit indoors.
If he asks, "Where's your slate?
             Don't delay, read your book."
I'll say, "I'm no longer a child,
             I'm as big as father, look."
       Hearing that, he'll say,
       "Then, Sir, I'll go away."

In the evening, when Bhulu comes,
             To take me to play in his tow,
I will scold him and say,
             "I'm working, don't make a row."
However crowded be the fair,
I'll go alone, without any fear.
If uncle comes running and says
                "You'll get lost! Ride me, son."
I'll tell him, "Uncle, don't you see,
                 Big as father I've grown!"
       Seeing that, uncle will say, "Wow!
       Our child is not so small now."

The day when I first grow up,
                  Mother, after her river-dip rite,
Comes wondering through the back door,
                  "Why is the house so quiet?"
Meanwhile I've learnt to use the keys
And I'm paying the maid as I please.
Mother, seeing this, will say,
                   "Child, your game is so wrong!"
I will say, "I'm paying her salary, mother,
                    Like father, I'm now big and strong.
          If we ran out of money, or food,
          Replenish it mother, I would."

In October, in the festival-break,
                   During Gajantala's annual fair,
Father's boat will come from afar,
                   And dock at the Babuganj pier.
Father, with his simple mind,
Will think his son's still a child.
Tiny shirts and shoes he'll buy,
               Give them to me and say, "Wear!"
I will say, "Let big brother don them,
               I am now as big as you there.
         That shirt is too small, don't you see?
          If I wear, it will be tight on me."

(Translation by Sugata Banerji)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Attention Seeking Problem

I always say machines have a mind of their own but people laugh at me. Now, it is once again proven beyond any doubt that machines not only have a mind but thet have serious attention seeking issues.

Not that I needed any proofs, of course! The incident with the car was enough to prove everything.

We had a very old Fiat car (with the registration number DLX 666) from 1989 to 1997. It was our first car and all of us liked it very much. However, it was getting older each day and finally, the inevitable happened. My father sold it. He was going to buy a newer car. I don't know about others, but I felt the kind of stupid sadness you feel when you are in school and your father sells the first family car. But it had to go.

About a fortnight later, our second car arrived. A Maruti 800. Father brought it home that evening and parked it in the driveway for the night. Next morning, my mother opened the door and started shouting for us. We ran out to see DLX 666 parked across the street. Our old car had come back to see the new shiny thing that had replaced her. She was standing there for about an hour afterwards. Of course, one may argue that the car had merely been driven there by its new owner who was free to do as he pleased, but I know better. Why else would the  old car turn up just the day after the new car arrived? We never saw it there ever before or after that day.

That is why, when I wrote a whole blog post from my newly acquired iPhone last weekend sitting close to my laptop but still ignoring it, I should have expected some nasty tantrums from the latter. Next morning, my laptop refused to start up.

"Cannot find boot device" it said. "Please try reseating the hard drive."

I tried that in vain. I took out the drive, cleaned it, rubbed it, caressed it, blew on it and, when all else failed,  knocked it on the floor to get it to work. Nothing! My computer insisted there was no hard disk attached. The hidden message was, of course, "Why do you need me? Where's your iPhone now?"

So here I am, typing out a blog post from my lab laptop which is my home computer at the moment. I am about $80 poorer by ordering a new hard disk for my laptop and an adapter for my old hard disk. I have to try to recover some of the data from that disk - it contains all my reserach work from the last one month, and all photos that I took in spring 2012. I have a feeling that the crashed hard disk will work once the new hard disk has been delivered.

Meanwhile, I want to make it clear that this laptop that I am using now is just a stop gap arrangement. I do not like it at all (it runs Fedora) and it does not come close my personal laptop. As for the iPhone, I have stopped giving it too much time. How can a pesky device like that even compete with a versatile laptop  like the one that I own?

I hope my laptop will be satisfied with all this attention it has got for the time being. On the other hand, it may not take kindly to my sleeping with this other laptop - or the other laptop may not be very happy to go back to live alone in the lab. I don't know what will happen then.

I think I need to buy a lot of external drives and back up my data more often if I plan to switch my attention from device to device in the future.