Friday 7 December 2012

Long Post Alert!

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Like most Bengalis I have grown up with Tagore, probably heard him hummed by my mother first when I was still unborn.  I certainly remember Tagore poems being recited, and sung as lullabies, and enacted. Told and retold as bedtime stories, on holiday afternoons, snuggling close against my mother and aunts and grandmother, whoever was available.  And years later I have crooned his poems as lullabies to my own son in his babyhood. Whether I like it or not, Tagore colours every perception of poetry that I might grasp.  Two of his poems that were bundled and sung to me as a child are "Shubhokshan" (Auspicious Moment) and its sequel "Tyaag" (Sacrifice), I loved them as a child without really understanding the philosophy behind them, and that naturally deepened as my understanding grew.  Here is Tagore's own translation:


O mother, the young Prince is to pass by our door,--how can I
attend to my work this morning?
Show me how to braid up my hair; tell me what garment to put on.
Why do you look at me amazed, mother?
I know well he will not glance up once at my window; I know he
will pass out of my sight in the twinkling of an eye; only the
vanishing strain of the flute will come sobbing to me from
But the young Prince will pass by our door, and I will put on my
best for the moment.
O mother, the young Prince did pass by our door, and the morning
sun flashed from his chariot.
I swept aside the veil from my face, I tore the ruby chain from
my neck and flung it in his path.
Why do you look at me amazed, mother?
I know well he did not pick up my chain; I know it was crushed
under his wheels leaving a red stain upon the dust, and no one
knows what my gift was nor to whom.
But the young Prince did pass by our door, and I flung the jewel
from my breast before his path. ~ Rabindranath Tagore, from The Gardener.

Tagore says in his preface that the translations are not always literal - the originals being sometimes abridged and sometimes paraphrased. Well, these are both abridged and paraphrased.

I often translate poems of Tagore (and others) when I can't find anything much of my own to say/write.  Here is my translation of this one from the original Bengali, maybe a little longer than it in terms of word count.

Oh mother, the beloved son of the king,
the prince will pass our door
how can I be focused this morning
on mundane household chores?


Tell me instead what should I wear
how should I style and braid up my hair
in what colours should I drape my fair
self? Mother, why do you look at me so?
I know where I’ll stand by the window
he’s not going to glance up there
in a  twinkling of an eye this whole show
will be over and he’ll be gone, his entourage disappear
only from some far-away route
the yearning strains of the flute
will waft its lament back to me here.


But still, the prince will pass my way
How can I not dress my best today?


O mother, the beloved son of the king
the prince has gone by our cottage
the rich sunlight of this morning
flashed resplendent on his carriage.


I’ve flung back my veil, and standing alone
for a split second seen him and then he’s gone
I’ve taken the ruby from my breast and thrown
it on the dust before him. Mother why are you
so amazed? This jewel that I’ve torn from my throat
he hasn’t picked it up, or taken any note.
It’s been crushed to dust, and now only two
parallel wheel tracks mark the dust
what I gave and to whom no-one knew
it reddened the road, then lay hidden and crushed.


But still the prince passed by and before him
how can I not throw down my blood-red gem?



  1. wow what a story..the unnoticed stone torn from the throat...the chest to be run over and crushed to dust....real emotive part there...i will admit i am unfamiliar but will be now...smiles.

  2. Well done Nilanjana! I had read this poem many many years ago. This one brought back memories in a rush! Your translation does great justice too. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. oh wow...really like this emotional..the hope and then crushed...also love that they sang it to you as a awesome when we kinda grow up, soaked in poetry cool..