Original vs Derivative: Reading Syed Shamsul Haque’s Ballad of Our Hero Bangabandhu in Translation
To aptly celebrate the Birth-Centenary of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, one initiative, among others, by Bangla Academy has been to publish Syed Shamsul Haque's Ballad of our Hero Bangabandhu, together with its translation in English, as part of its grand project named "Birth-Centenary Publications of the Father of the Nation Bangabadhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman." What could be more becoming for a prolific and multitalented author like Syed Haque and an all-round academician, writer, and translator like Fakrul Alam than writing and translating respectively a ballad portraying the versatile writhing life of a great man of Bangabandhu's stature? Inexplicably enough, it is not the original that interests me in the derivative called translation; rather, it is the derivative that draws me toward the original. The Ballad is a page-turner that can drag one from the beginning to the end, barring distraction of any kind.
The book comprises of 18 small episodes preceded by a "Forward." First two episodes can be looked upon as a synopsis or a prelude to what follows in the subsequent episodes, while focusing on how stories surrounding Bangabandhu and his life have been passed down since his demise on to posterities and reflected in natural objects and phenomena like the sun, the moon, stars, the deep blue sea, shimul flowers, both alluvial and hard rock soils, and our various seasons. And the events happening through all episodes are abutted by two untitled verses opening and closing the Ballad respectively that correspond to birth, death, and immortality of the great soul. The episodes have had a panoramic view on a great life capturing various events and activities of Bangabandhu: his birth, childhood, boyhood, meeting with Sher-e-Bangla and Suhrawardy, frequent imprisonments, education in Kolkata, Baker hostel life in Kolkata, participation in anti-British movements, the Language Movement, movement against British-Raj, 1970 General Election, his conjugal life with Fazilatunnesa, Ayub Khan's Martial Law, Six-point Movement, Agartala Conspiracy Case, his exoneration and reception, being Bangabandhu, 7th March Speech, Operation Searchlight of 25 March, 9 months War of Liberation, the Surrender of Pakistani Army,his days in West Pakistan prison, murder of Intellectuals, his Return to Independent Bangladesh, reception in Suhrawardy Maidan, creation of Constitution, speech in the UN in Bangla, the brutal murder of Bangabandhu, aftermath of his death, and the like. The list is not an exhaustive one in that Syed Haq confined the vast ocean of events and actions to a dot, as it were — such a meticulous artist as he is!
The Ballad is more of a prose poem, indeed — with its connate rhythm, resonance, consonance, alliteration, and other figurative speeches like metaphor, simile, frequent uses of personifications to create particular effects and images in readers' minds and hearts. If poetry is the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" (just to mention Wordsworth), we cannot help regarding the Ballad somewhat as a big poem divided into 18 cantos having, moreover, all but all the qualities of an epic (but for its length) narrating the deeds of a heroic or legendary figure and the past history of a nation. As regards "powerful feelings," the Ballad has come to be highly emotive and evocative by enthralling the readers in a moving and tragic story of the rise and demise of a man with its recourse to the history of creating a nation, and concomitant movements that eventually gave birth to it. As to its epic stature, our conviction of its being so goes in line with assertions of the bard (Haque): "Bangabandhu's story is really the history of Bangladesh. The story of his life is legendary—it is the ballad of a hero (my emphasis)." Does it make any difference if we use the word "epic" in place of "ballad"? A serious reader going through the book will come up with a reply in the negative: "No." And Syed Haque left no stone unturned to create a milieu of "powerful feelings" and an epic grandeur in matter and manner in his book while Fakrul Alam, the translator, did not compromise at all in retaining these strains, tenors, and contours to recreate the same in terms of wording, phrasing, and collocation, thus remaining faithful to the original that is quite contrary to the sheer economy he usually practices in case of his academic writings. If Haq's is a creation with its originality, then Alam's is a transcreation with its, at once, sticking to the original but, at the same time, going beyond mere transliteration to give it an extra edge of creativity: thus crumbling down the traditional precincts between the author and the translator, the original and the derivative, and the creation and the transcreation. One reason, among many, may be that both Haque and Alam have grown up with the same culture and language, Bengali, and spoken firsthand in it as they have inherited it as mother tongue. That said, perhaps they have drawn on different languages for professional reasons, but they are well-versed in both languages in theory and practice. While Fakrul Alam has been translating iconic maestros of Bengali literature like Rabindranath Tagore and Jibanananda Das for quite a long time now with much ease and scruple, Syed Haq translated Shakespeare's Macbeth and American novelist Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King with a dexterity unparalleled. In fact, they are not strangers either to Bengali or to English; rather, they have made both languages of their own in passion and profession.
When it comes to the question of facilities available, our children lag behind many a nation, and in case of education and entertainment, they not only fall behind or are deprived of but also ignored variously. And here comes the efficacy of the works of Haque and Alam who have offered the children the greatest icon of our national culture and heritage Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as gift, the greatest Bengali in thousand years, whose life and actions would inspire them in a number of ways.
In the process of lionizing Bangabandhu at the time when we are celebrating the Birth-Centenary of the Father of the Nation, Haque and Alam, wittingly or unwittingly, have sealed their names with Bangabandhu. Although Syed Haque used lucid language in the Ballad
conducive to children's understanding, youths and elders can equally draw on it as he registered the events and actions in it without compromising the grandeur and meaning of them — hence, it is a food for adults too! The opening verse ends in with: "Come boys, come girls/To Tungipara let us go/There we'll take with us/Heart-red roses we will grow…The reddest rose there will belong/To the father of our nation—/Sheikh Mujibur Rahman!" Likewise, like Haque, I am, as a reader, making a clarion call to you all: Come men, come women, along with boys and girls/Let us all buy a copy of the Ballad of our Hero Bangabandhu each that contains the story of a red-heart pumping "crimson blood" taking the hue of "crimson roses" and "crimson shimuls." After all, this is the ballad of a great soul Bangabandhu that will not ever fail us. Should we fail ourselves? No way!
Zakir Majumder teaches English in the Department of English & Humanities at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB).