Sundeep Bhutoria

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bengali poems and Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann

In one of my blogs few days back, I had written about how Ashok Vajpeyi, head of Lalit Kala Akademi, had shared with me his experience in USA about a Noble Laureate in chemistry who had translated some of Joy Goswami's Bengali poems.
Vajpeyi ji, who had met many people, could not recall the name of the Nobel Laureate.
This had aroused my curiosity and I had decided to find out some more information on this.
Vajpeyi had delivered a lecture in February 2011 on “How Not to Approach Indian Art, Literature, and Culture" & "Poetry Reading in Hindi and English" at the picturesque Ithaca Campus of Cornell University, nestled in the heart of New York's Finger Lakes region.
During the course of his lecture, Vajpeyi emphasised the fact that some words used in poems in Hindi and other Indian regional language carry and convey a deep sense, often rooted in its culture, which is lost during translations in other languages. This happens because there isn't any appropriate word in English to correctly express the sense and the meaning it carries.
After he had delivered his lecture, a gentleman who happened to be a Nobel Laureate in chemistry, walked up to him and said that he had edited an English translation of select Bengali poems of Joy Goswami and had even written a different introduction but was yet to find a publisher in the United States. He said that after hearing out Vajpeyi he knew the reason why the publishers did not come forward.
I thought Joy da knew about all this. But when I spoke to him he was pleasantly surprised to learn about a Nobel Laureate based thousands of miles away found interest in his poetry.
Next, I did what anyone these days on a search mission does – I Googled. And then I came to know about Roald Hoffmann, a holocaust survivor who won the Nobel in Chemistry in 1981. He currently teaches chemistry at the Ithaca Campus of Cornell University.
Hoffmann, an accomplished poet and playwright, had visited Kolkata in 1999 to deliver a lecture at the Indian Association of Cultivation of Science and was moved by Ritwik Ghatak's Meghe Dhaka Tara that he had watched at the Jadavpur University Film Club. I also learnt that two of his published poems - The Reflection and The Bond - have been translated into Bengali (www.roaldhoffmann.com).
I am aware of the fact that many Latin American embassies in Delhi are working on Bengali to Spanish translations and also Spanish to Bengali translations of works on various subjects. During the past three years at the Kolkata Book Fair, Peru, Brazil and other countries have launched many translated works. But it is not very often that one hears about a Nobel Prize winning scientist evincing keen interest in Bengali poetry.
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