Experiments with Translation

Translating life's journey in poetry, prose and pictures

śatakatrayam 1.61: bhavanti namrāstaravaḥ (trees laden with fruit)

भवन्ति नम्रास्तरव: फलोद्गमै-
र्नवाम्बुभिर्दूरविलम्बिनो घना: ।
अनुद्धता: सत्पुरुषा: समृद्धिभि:
स्वभाव एवैष परोपकारिणाम् ।।६१।।
नीतिशतके

trees laden with fruit
bow down low.
clouds dense with water
also hang low.
so too, wise men with
riches abundant
are not puffed up.
their character alone
is a boon for the world. ||61||
nītiśataka

śatakatrayam 1.60: namratvenonnamantaḥ (let me tell you about real gentlemen)

नम्रत्वेनोन्नमन्त: परगुणकथनै: स्वान्गुणान्ख्यापयन्त:
स्वार्थान्संपादयन्तो विततपृथुतरारम्भयत्ना: परार्थे ।
क्षान्त्यैवाक्षेपरूक्षाक्षरमुखरमुखान्दुर्जनान्दु:खयन्त:
सन्त: साश्चर्यचर्या जगति बहुमता: कस्य नाभ्यर्चनीया:।।६०।।
नीतिशतके

let me tell you about
real gentlemen.
they are distinguished
by their humility.
they relate their own virtues
by praising others’ virtues.
they accomplish their own goals
by enthusiastically working towards others’ goals.
by patience alone,
they crush the wicked’s wicked words.
who would not respect such individuals? ||60||
nītiśataka

śatakatrayam 1.59: yaḥ prīṇayetsucaritaiḥ (he is a son who delights his father)

य: प्रीणयेत्सुचरितै: पितरं स पुत्रो
यद्भर्तुरेव हितमिच्छति तत्कलत्रम् ।
तन्मित्रमापदि सुखे च समक्रियं य-
देतत्त्रयं जगति पुण्यकृतो लभन्ते ।।५९।।
नीतिशतके

he is a son who delights his father
with good behavior.
she is a wife who wishes only the best
for her husband.
he is a friend who is
even-keeled in both calamity and joy.
take note, only the pious are fortunate enough
to have all three in this world. ||59||
nītiśataka

śatakatrayam 1.58: saṁtaptāyasi saṁsthitasya (a drop of water vaporizes instantly)

संतप्तायसि संस्थितस्य पयसो नामापि न श्रूयते
मुक्ताकारतया तदेव नलिनीपत्रस्थितं दृश्यते ।
अन्त:सागरशुक्तिमध्यपतितं तन्मौक्तिकं जायते
प्रायेणाधममध्यमोत्तमजुषामेवंविधा वृत्तय: ।।५८।।
नीतिशतके

a drop of water vaporizes instantly
from a block of red-hot iron,
it glistens with the sheen of a pearl
on a lotus leaf,
and metamorphoses into a pearl
in an oyster’s womb in the depths
of the ocean.
so too, whether people are
wicked, mediocre or virtuous
depends on their social circles. ||58||
nītiśataka

In loving memory of Koka (B. N. Gogoi)

“The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.” William Wordsworth

A framed black and white photograph of Koka, my maternal grandfather, rests on a circular table in my grandmother, Ahalya Gogoi’s drawing room overlooking the Brahmaputra. The photograph was taken when he was in his 50s. Dressed in a jacket and tie, he faces the camera confidently. His eyes have a warm glow—twinkling with laughter behind a thick set of spectacles, much like in real life. A jasmine garland adorns the photograph. Flowers are strewn at its edge. An oil lamp burns nearby. A potent marker of his absent presence.

Koka breathed his last on 14 May after a six-month-long valiant struggle with the debilitating effects of two strokes. He was 90. A pioneering civil engineer, he supervised the construction of numerous flood control dikes, irrigation dams, bridges, and roads. He retired in 1988 as Commissioner & Special Secretary, Public Works Department.

When I contemplate Koka’s life, especially the last six months, I feel incredibly blessed. What a miracle that—although my husband and I live in the United States —I saw Koka the day before he passed away. We arrived in Guwahati on 13 May and rushed to his side. Koka was lying in his room, unconscious and breathing heavily. At the end of our visit, I bid him good-bye promising to come see him the following day. Next morning, instead of greeting him, I found myself preparing to cremate this body: daubing him with a paste of turmeric and moong beans and then gently cleaning him with a gamusa.

My penultimate memories of Koka are at my wedding last December. He blessed my husband and me from his bedside after we got married at Kamakhya. A few days later, he attended our reception in a wheelchair, his left side paralyzed, tears of joy streaming from his eyes. Looking further back, I remember spending December evenings with him reading Lakshminath Bezbaruah’s Joymoti Kunwari with embers glowing by our feet. I also recollect our morning walks, down Nabagraha hill, along the Brahmaputra’s banks, past the Vivekananda Center toward Judges’ Field and then around Dighalipukhuri. I remember opening a Gmail account for him, and teaching him how to use Facebook, LinkedIn, and WhatsApp. Rewinding even further back to my childhood and early teenage days: during winters, when Koka visited our Rajgarh home, he would tenderly rub my chest and feet with nohoru tel to fend off cold. I recall visiting him one afternoon after his heart surgery. His chest was then permanently scarred with the doctor’s incisions. He held my hand and told me that he was afraid that at the moment of his death, he might not be surrounded by his loved ones. I remember accompanying him when he plucked fragrant flowers from the garden and lovingly offered them to deities installed in our puja room. He would sing Madhabdev’s Tumi citta britti mora. I would follow him. Memories of snuggling besides him and being regaled with story after story from the Pañcatantra and the Bhāgavatam and my entreaties, “Koka, golpo eta kua na,” also come back. What a master storyteller he was!

Soon Koka’s ashes will mingle with the swirling waters of the Ganga. No more goodbye hugs, kisses, or waves from Koka when I drive by their home on my way to the airport. But I believe that he will still look at me from the grand photograph in my grandmother’s drawing room. And he will live on in my memory.