A translator’s job at its best is an art form. It goes beyond mere transliteration and tries to recreate the original while retaining the essence of the same. Satyajit Ray excelled in this just as he did in so many other areas. Transcreating and not merely translating, he more often than not added his own free flowing touch and linguistic innovations to the original text. Ray published four books of translation: Braziler Kalo Bagh (translated into Bengali from Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury), Nonsense Rhymes (translated into English from Sukumar Ray), Molla Nasiruddiner Galpo (translated into Bengali from Idris Shah), and Torai Bandha Ghorar Dim (translated into Bengali from Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Hilaire Belloc and Darmi Thompson).
Ray’s main engagement was with children. Therefore it came as no surprise Ray translated the humorous stories of Molla Nasiruddin for his young readers. Molla was possibly an imaginary character, almost folklorish. “Many stories ascribed to Molla Nasiruddin have been handed down by word of mouth in various countries of the world for about a thousand years,” wrote Ray. “According to some, these stories originated in Turkey, because they observe Molla Nasiruddin's birth anniversary there every year.”
“It is hard to see from the stories exactly what kind of man Molla Nasiruddin really was,” Ray continued. “Sometimes he comes across as a fool, sometimes as a very wise man.” Evidently, Ray left the answer to his readers: “It is for you to form your judgment.”
As the son of Sukumar Ray, one of the most celebrated poets in Bengal, Ray’s preoccupation with nonsense verse and his perfect sense of rhythm and metre led him to translate nonsense rhymes by his father, as well as poems by Lear, Carroll, Belloc and Thompson.
As Ray wrote in an untitled foreword to his Torai Bandha Ghorar Dim: “Nearly all poems included in this collection were published first in Sandesh magazine. If nonsense works are translated verbatim the spirit of the original cannot be retained more often than not. So liberties had to be taken with some of the poems translated. The limericks by Lear were no direct translations; fresh ones were composed by following the illustrations done by Lear.” Ray’s eloquent translation of Sukumar Ray’s Nonsense Rhymes contained ten poems which had originally appeared in Now, an English weekly, in the
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