I have published quite some pieces of poetry and prose writing of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother from English to Bengali. I translated other authors from Bengali to English in various journals; short stories and poems. I also translated short pieces from French to English. Here is an example of my translation.
The Maid Juggler
By Tarashankar Bandopadhyay
In an autumn morning they suddenly flew in, as if a flock of noisy ducks in the wavy limpid water of a tank. It was September. The sky was blue with golden glaze. People were expectant. The air was festive. They were preparing themselves to participate in the ensuing Durga Puja. The opulent village looked like a big tank full of wavy water. Amidst all these came 10 or 12 maid jugglers accompanied by about four male companions. The party made the villagers spell bound.
Juggler is a peculiar tribe. They are not seen anywhere else in Bengal. They live in Sithal village in Birbhum district. They are not Bedias but in their nomadic habit they resemble them. They are Hindu by religion but even after consulting ephemerals their race and clan could not be determined. The males show their tricks while beating their small tom toms. Wearing necklace of basil beads and coarse cotton dhotis, they are honey-tongued, speak sweet words very softly. They always have two cloth bags and a small tom tom hanging from their shoulders. Soft voice, sweet tongue and calm nature reveal their type. But their women are quite different from them. They remain ornate. There are very particular about the hair-do. Before going to bed they comb their hairs and repeat it just after leaving the bed. They wear beautifully designed saris. Their arms are full of glass bangles of myriad colours or gilded bangles. Their bodies are ornate with gilded necklaces, armlets, nose-pins and ear-rings of different designs. They hold on their waists nice but peculiarly designed, cow dung finished wicker baskets, which contains basket for snakes, items of jugglery and begging bowl. All these are covered with old cloths they received from clients. They entertain people with dance and songs written and tuned by them. No one other than the maid jugglers know to dance that way.
It is said that they may dance nude unruffled if silver is offered instead of copper. While the audiences look downward, the wizard dances unhesitatingly without even a wink. While men of the world look down upon them, there is no question of upbraiding them for this is permitted in their society. None of them feel any uneasiness in the usual rhythm of their mental flow.
After entering the village they dispersed. They do not beg in groups. What of groups, not even husband and wife approach the same family for begging.
‘Give me alms, o queen, moon-faced marixorius, o mother of the king!’
Mrs Mukherjee was cutting vegetables siting on a bnoti (raised knife), while two drops of tear were floating in her eyes. Sitting before her, Rama, her daughter, was digging the soil with her nails quite unnecessarily.
Disturbed, she said, ‘Hey, give her some alms and show her the door. Just as Puja has approached, they have appeared.’
‘See my dance, hear my song. Where’s our lady Rama?’
‘No, I don’t feel so happy to see you dance now. Hei, who’s here?’
‘God forbid! Let the enemies be unhappy. What’s your sorrow. . . ‘
‘Don’t blab, I tell you. I haven’t ever seen such buffoons. O Rama, maid servant has gone somewhere. Then you give her some alms. ‘
As Rama came with alms, the juggler keenly observed her and instantly was pleased. Laughing up to ears she said, ‘I was deprived of the feast, was it good lady?’
‘Take, take your dues,’ Rama said irksomely.
‘Which month were you married and where?’
The mistress of the house came out and roughly said, ‘If you wish take the alms, take or simply go without it.’
‘O my God, I didn’t get the marriage gift or special feast, can I today go with the alms only! Today I’ll sing and dance and get your award. Then she kept her basket on the ground, raised the border of her sari, tucked it on her waist and said,’ I must take today sari and ornament from you, cost for glass bangles from Rama didi and then I’ll take rest. Just after finishing her talks she started dancing and singing-
‘O didi, glass bangles are jingling
Urr-ra jug jug jugin ghina
Sun rays on the bangles are sparkling
Myriad colours on it are breaking
Gold and silver are discarded, jewellers are crying.
Shiploads of bangles they are importing
Ur-ra jug jug jugin ghina
While dancing and singing she was jingling her bangles. Planted at one spot, her whole body was dancing snakily. A line of slight smile was now visible on their grumpy faces. Other women from the house, from neighbours’ houses gathered round her. The juggler continued to shake her body, dancing and singing in a strange tune.
‘All the married women of the locality
Are wearing glass bangles forsaking the conch bangles,
Red fairy, green fairy, in between the yellow fairy
O, all of you come, the beauty of the bangles to share.
If you still don’t give me bangles
Leaving the home I shall hang myself.
And yet I’ll wear the bangles
Breaking the conch bangles in the ghat of a river
I’ll shed my salty tear.
Uurr-ra jug jug. . . ‘
Finishing her song she stood. Keeping the end of their saris in their mouths, ladies were chuckling, hearing her promise to hang herself for the sake of bangles. Some one said, ‘Death indeed!’
The maid juggler, while giggling said, ‘Mother, without the bangles it is better to die.’
Then turning to Rama she said, ’Rama didi, you give me cash for bangles. I’ll realize sari and ornaments from your husband. Tell me when he’ll come. You write him about me.’
Neither Rama nor her mother spoke. A young girl said, ‘Silly girl, you go to him.’
‘Give me train fare, address and an introductory letter. Instantly I’ll go and bring him dragged by a rope tied to his nose and place him at Rama didi’s durbar.’
‘Death indeed! Does one require boarding a train to go to that locality?’
Placing her palm on her cheek she wondered, ’A marriage between the adjacent villages?’
‘Aren’t you pretending not to know it?’
‘How could we know didi? It’s only three days since we have come back.’
Jugglers move round far and near places with begging bowls but they are not landless, homeless like the gypsies. From the ancient time they enjoy land without tax and yet they beg. They come home before the Durga Puja and after the festival they become nomads. Again, when the time for harvesting is near, they come to take and store the crops, to distribute their lands to the share croppers for the next season and to move out again after the Gajan festival at the end of the Bengali year. Gajan is of special interest to them.
‘Do you know Debu of Banerjee’s family?’ The girl asked.
Goggling her eyes she said, ‘Khokababu, with a reddish- white complexion, with drowsy eyes like Lord Siva, who reads in a college at Kolkata?’
‘Yes’, was the reply.
‘Oh my goodness, where should I go now!’ The maid-juggler was rollicking. After restraining herself a little she said, ‘See dear young lady, ever since I saw him I thought, whom would he exchange garlands with? Similarly, as I used to see Rama didi, I thought, ‘To whom this gracious young lady would offer her garland?’
With a sigh Mrs. Mukherjee said, ‘Don’t make fuss. Be quiet. Sheer ill-luck goaded me to marry my daughter off to that family.’
‘Why mother?’ She seemed to be worried. Looking around she felt everyone became grave. Rama stood aside lowering her head. Even without a glance at her, the shrewd felt that her eyes were tearful.
Mukherjees were wealthy people. The village was quite big. It was almost a town. Trade and commerce made the village wealthy and bigger. Quite a few rich businessmen were there. Yet the Mukherjee family was considered rich. Rama was the only beloved child of her parents. They married her to a family in their village as they could not accept the prospect of marrying her to a bride-groom at a distance place. But the karta hated to see the bride-groom living with them. Banerjees were respectable and rich family in the other locality. Though they lost the riches, their respectability was in tact. Debnath was a very good boy. When he passed B.A. and began studying M.A., Rama was married to him. Rama’s parents dreamt of sharing whatever good vegetables and fruits would be produced in their garden, with the family of Rama’s in-laws and they expected that their daughter would remain with them during a portion of the day and night. But the conflict and disagreement lay only there. The respectable Banerjee family could not accept such gifts from them as they felt insulted. Even they objected to Rama’s passing a portion of the day with her parents. The dispute of urging and opposing to each other by the two families continued. The maid servant from Mukherjee household would come daily in the afternoon to fetch Rama to their house for the apparent reason of feeding her milk and sweets. One day when Debnath was holidaying at home, his mother strongly protested saying that Rama would not be permitted to go as her husband was present. Irked, she said that there was no reason to feed her on milk daily. However much poor they had become, could she not feed her daughter-in-law milk? ‘Tell them that we won’t send her daily,’ she concluded.
After a pause the maid requested, ‘Please send her for today only as her parents have arranged for her a grand dinner.’
‘No, no, no!’ was the strong reply.
The maid returned but the darling child of her parents was not found at home after some time. She was well aware of the locality so she had no trouble in reaching her parents home alone.
After some time came an old lady, a relative from Mukherjee house to invite their son-in-law with proposal that both of them would stay the night at Mukherjee house as they had arranged a grand feast which would include meat and other things.
The mistress simply said, ‘Please sit.’
‘No sister, I won’t sit. I came only to invite them as Debu’s mother-in-law herself prepared the food and invited them. Your daughter-in-law is already there. They will be back by tomorrow morning.’
She kept mum with a face as cloudy as the morning sky of the rainy season.
‘I’m going then. Please send Debu in the evening.’
‘You better address him directly.’ She said.
‘How’s that?’ The old lady was surprised.
‘I don’t wish to interfere in their affairs.’ Mrs Banerjee replied.
Even Debnath was aggrieved at his wife’s behaviour. He did not like that much indulgence by her parents. Moreover, he could not disregard his mother so he did not go. Thence the fissure of dislike between the families increased.
Debnath’s mother passed a verdict: ‘Both the parents of my daughter-in-law have to come to our house with her and admit their faults.’
Rama’s mother said, ‘My daughter is in a huff. Debnath has to come to placate and take her home.’
Dejected Rama wept that day. The conflict widened and slowly proceeded toward an inevitable end. Debnath stopped writing letters to his wife and his mother warned that she would marry off her son suitably after three inauspicious months.
Rama’s mother did not shrink. She planned to get a separate house constructed for her daughter. Of late she started counsulting a lawyer for demanding alimony from the court. The hope was that the two warring ladies’ husbands were indifferent about such things.
While Mukherjee was busy running his business, Banerjee, a teacher for life, was busy in studies even after retirement. A collector of broken statues, old manuscripts and pot shreds, he moved from village to village. Both the housewives shouted at their husbands from time to time but never could they have them in tow, so they beat their foreheads in despair.
The maid-juggler was tittering. They gathered in one of the neighbouring houses of the Mukherjees. Annoyed to some extent, the lady of the house asked, ‘What’s there to laugh so much?’
‘Did I laugh? Have you seen goat-fight mother?’ Saying this she again started giggling.
‘Stop all giggling. Tell me if you have any remedy for what I asked.’
‘Looking at her the girl said, ‘No mother, you can’t serve the medicine for enchantment.’
The young wife sought some medicine to enslave her husband. Wondering at her words she asked, ‘Why can’t I serve?’
‘Don’t be angry, you live shabbily. You must clean yourself to be able to take and serve my medicine.’
‘But I take bath daily.’
‘Not only bathing, there are many other ways to keep clean. You have to use collyrium under your eyes, put up your hairs in a bun, put a vermilion dot on your forehead and perfume your body. You should paint the border of your feet with red lac-dye, wear flowers on your chignon and give those flowers to your husband. If you can do all this, bring cardamom. I shall sanctify it with incantations.
She looked straight at her eyes and said, ‘Yes, I shall be able to do.’
‘Then bring cardamom, both big and small and cinnamon. I’ll spell them. You’ll have to prepare cone shaped pan with betel leaf and the spelled things. You will have to chew them and then to give it to your husband. But you’ll have to follow the procedure thoroughly as I said, otherwise the whole exercise will be futile. Don’t blame me then if the medicine becomes ineffective. Further, you’ll have to bring five paise and with it rice for five paise, five betel nuts, vermilion and one used cloth. Go and fetch them.’
The juggler woman was passing through the market. There was a crowd in front of a shop where a male juggler was making magic show.
‘Let the magic work. Work, work, work as I say, leave as I ask you to leave. Upon honour of king Bhat, drown yourself fully. Aree bah, bah!’
A wooden duck was drowning and rising up in accord with his call.
‘Hain, hain boy, don’t remain submerged for long, lest you may catch cold and fever.’
The duck stopped moving.
‘O my wooden duck, hear me! I’m feeling giddy out of hunger. O you cackle and lay an egg, so roasting it in fire I may take.’
The juggler then put the wooden duck under a basket and incanting some mantra, touched the upturned basket with a bone. Upon honour of king Bhatt, rise up cackling, o duck. Upon your honour, o king Bhatt.’
In no time, as he opened the basket, a real duck was seen nibbling its feathers with its beak. By its side an egg was laid.
The audience rejoiced with loud clapping. The boys continued to clap. The maid juggler passed them by with a smiling face.
‘O maid-juggler, o maid,’ called the police men who were seated in the raised outer terrace of the police station. Three gentlemen were seated in chairs before them. The maid came and keeping her basket before her, saluted the Station Officer.
‘This gentleman has never seen your dance. Do dance now,’ said the officer.
In between the first and the second officers of the police station, a third was sitting in a chair. The clever maid immediately recognized him to be another police officer. No one other than a police officer has such a big moustache, mark in the forehead and half sleeved khaki shirt. Saluting the first officer she said, ‘Would you leave us sir?’
‘Do you want me to suddenly depart?’
‘I’m asking as the new officer has come, sir.’
‘He’s come here with some assignment.’
‘Yes, he’ll arrest you. A warrant has been issued in your name.’
Tittering, she asked, ‘In my name?’
‘Are you laughing? You hussy! All of you are hardened thieves.’
Smilingly the maid juggler replied, ‘Yes, but when the mind is stolen, the object of theft cannot be identified. What will you do arresting us?’
Astonished, the new officer uttered, ‘Oh my goodness!’
Clapping her two hands she started dancing,
‘Urr-ra jug jug jughin ghina jar ghinina
Nicely designed fine clothes, earrings bangles ornaments,
Assets and savings do not remain with girdle in the waist,
plate in the breast and necklace.’
After the performance she was going but two constables followed her and as soon as she crossed the big banyan tree, they accosted her. As pleased as ever, she asked,
‘Tell me what you want.’
‘You have to dance separately before us.’
‘You’ve to dance nude. They’ll see. They’ve come from Bharatpur.’
Looking at them she said, ‘But my fees will be full one rupee.’
‘You’re Bharatpur constable?’
Bulging her eyes she said, ‘Why have you come?’
‘It’s about a job for the police to perform.’
Grinning, she said, ‘You must have come to ruin someone!’
The constable too grinned. Walking beside him very closely, the maid juggler said, ‘Who’s it, friend?’
The constable looked at her. She fixated her infatuating gaze at him. Her lips signified amorous smiles.
Then the girl took off all her clothing and started dancing with her dinky, youthful body without shame, without the least of hesitation. Her eyes had a different far off look. Though all the lustful eyes were riveted at her, she did not look at any of them. While dancing, she was singing in a mild tune-
‘O let me die, hang myself,
O Hari, are you to make me coy?
O let me die, hang myself
O Hari, are you to make me coy?
I die ashamed of you
For my bashfulness no other clue.
Leaving my family I surrendered to you
Accepting stains of all disrepute
O let me die, taking my clothes
Will you make me ashamed?
Urr-ra jug jughin ghina.’
The new comer constable paid her a rupee and walked with her for some time. The girl said, ‘Now go back philanderer, no more.’
‘Why don’t you tell me that!’ she smiled luridly.
It was Ashwin, mid October. The great noon time Sun was dazzling in mid sky. In summer the Sun is hotter but not so bright. Heat was radiating from the soil, which was drenched due to last rains. Men were sweating profusely. The jugglers were still moving around places in the village. For meals they managed to secure the sympathy of the house holders. Now that maid juggler arrived at the Banerjee house for her lunch.
‘O great mother, have you finished your lunch? Are there any leftovers for me?’
Mrs. Banerjee said, ‘Sit, sit, don’t shout.’
Debnath, the son of the house, while going out of the door chewing betel leaves with nuts, called her.
The maid came near him, bowed and then said, ‘You really have a stone heart.’
Frowning, he said, ‘Have you said to mother?’
Bulging her eyes she said, ‘If I lie it must be at the cost of my children.’
‘Have you seen?’
‘While both her parents are weeping, she remains unmoved.’
They were interrupted by the house wife, who called the maid from inside, ‘O maid, where have you gone?’
While vanishing from the scene, Debnath said, ‘Go, mother’s calling.’
The house wife said, ‘Hear from her.’
Mr. Banerjee looked at her and asked, ‘Are you jugglers?’
‘Yes Sir, a dust at your feet.’
‘Hum, have you snakes with you? Can you control it, cause it to play? Can you sing? Do you know mantras and remedies?’
‘Do you know Bhat Raja, king Bhat?’
The obeisant girl made repeated pranamas to the absent king and said, ‘O my God, he’s our God, we still live in his land, in his name we make all shows.’
Smilingly he tried to amend her notions, ‘But his name was not Bhat Raja, he was Bhabadev Bhatta. And do you know the name of your village? It’s not Sithal but Siddhal.’
His wife was raging inside. She said, ‘Hear me, did I call you to ask all this? All idle talks.’
‘Not idle talks. In Siddhal, in the west of Bengal, Bhabadev Bhatta was a very powerful king. He. . .’
‘See now, shall I strike my head against the wall and die?’
The head of the family was stunned.
The maid too wondered that Sithal village was actually Siddhal and king Bhat was actually Bhabadev Bhatta. She asked the man, ‘O karta, how do you know all these?’
The missus said, ‘Ask her about our daughter-in-law, she’s seen with her own eyes.’
What’s there to ask? I’ll arrange everything today itself.’
He left for his studies. After seeing the maid juggler he remembered that the history of Siddhal was kept incomplete.
It was the end part of the afternoon. Groups of jugglers were moving toward their dwelling place, the Sithal village. Coming toward the end of a village the maid juggler said, ‘You move on but wait for a while at Sabrajpur. I’ll come and join you in no time.’
No one questioned her but one responded, ‘O.K.’
‘O Natabar, would you plelase give me the juggler’s bag and the tom tom?’
Natabar looked at her and said, ‘But you’re going too far!’
The maid only smiled. Natabar handed her over his bag and the tom tom. The girl covered the basket held on her waist with cloth and entered the village with quick steps. She came to a locality called, Dome para. Dome para was famous for its inhabitants who were thieves and decoits. Each resident was infested by germs of stealing profession.
‘Will you hear me sing? See my dance?’ Thus calling from a distance she entered the house of Shashi Dome. Without waiting for anyone to come, she began singing. While singing she cast her piercing sight here and there. Suddenly a face, peeping from an upper storey window, came to her notice. The face of a young man of 22 or 24 years. She liked the face. Finishing the song, she called Shashi.
‘What are you calling for?’
‘Who’s the young man standing, up there?’
Shashi became furious with anger.
‘Why do you lose your temper? I know that he’s your son-in-law.’
Bewildered, Shashi fixed his look at her.
The maid said, ‘Police officer and constable have come from Bharatpur with arrest warrant against him. They’ll come to search your house tomorrow.’
Shashi was overwhelmed with fear.
‘Spy is looking after your movements. By evening police will surround your house.’
With a sigh Shashi said, ‘I know.’
‘Do as I suggest. Give this tom tom in his hand and this bag may hang from his shoulder. A napkin may be tied to his head and mouth. I have a snake with me. Let me hold its head and let him hold the tail. All of you would shout as if you’re afraid of the snake. This way I shall take him out of the village. Police will take him to be my partner, a juggler.’ Then she started laughing loudly, as if inebriated.
The maid juggler was quickly covering her way through villages with the pseudo juggler. Dakshin para was a locality where lived all middle class gentlemen. A palanquin was being carried by bearers with two other men walking by its side. They had boxes, baskets and other gift items on their heads and hands.
The palanquin came to a halt at the gate of Banerjee house. Rama, the daughter of the Mukherjees and the daughter-in-law of the Banerjees, alighted. Mrs. Banerjee sent Debnath in the morning by a palanquin to bring back her daughter-in-law in an auspicious time before dusk. Mr. Mukherjee never thought of objecting to such a proposal. Mrs. Mukherjee too did not pose any problem for she vowed that she would send her daughter only when her son-in-law would come in person to console and take her. Since he had come and her daughter was not in a huff, she readily agreed to the proposal. She even wept holding the hand of her son-in-law and promised that she would call on them the next day. Oh, could she speak anything contradictory against the mother of her son-in-law? Saying this and after seeing them off, she went to her husband with a list of items to be bought for the ensuing Puja.
Entering her room she felt ashamed for what she saw through the open window of her neighbour’s house. Their neighbour’s wife was somehow aged. Today she wore a new sari and blouse, her hair-do was excellent with bun containing fragrant flowers. She, who was often found squabbling with her husband, came smiling with betel leaf in hand and offering it to him. And he smilingly took it.
Coming out of the palanquin, Rama paid her obeisance to her mother-in-law and stood silently like one who committed sin. Realising her feeling, the elder one touched her forehead with vermilion benediction and said, ‘Oh my dear, what would have happened!’ A few drops of tears rolled from Rama’s eyes. The missus said, ‘I’ve arranged your things as much as I could, how could I do more at my age! Go and see for yourself. Then she headed for her husband’s room and saw him engaged in writing.
‘See, what she said was true. Why would she cry had she not wanted to take opium?
It’s our luck that the maid juggler saw it. I will give her a sari when she comes next.’
The householder laughed for some time and then said, ‘They don’t give wrong information, missus. Do you know who are they?’ Chuckling, he continued, ‘They themselves don’t know it! Just hear me.’
The king of Rad Bengal, Bhabadev Bhatta of Siddhal created a fine community of spies. It was composed of the off spring of the dancers and courtesans. Both males and females worked as spies. They were taught jugglery, mantra, incantations, technique of taming serpents and capacity to live like anchorites. Women were experts in dancing and singing. This community moved round places like gypsies and gathered information. Many other kings, inspired by his example. . .’
The missus was going. The householder requested her to hear the end.
‘I don’t have time to hear all those hocus pocus talks,’ she said and was gone.
At the end of the village the maid juggler took leave of the pseudo juggler saying,
‘Let me go, paramour, you go straight.’
She walked fast toward Sabrajpur.
The big bodied youth of the Dome community could not speak so long even after efforts. At last he said, ‘Please hear me!’
No one replied. Piercing the darkness of the night with his accustomed eyes he could not find any body. The maid juggler just vanished.
Translation of renowned Bengali novelist and fictionist Tarashankar Bandopadhyay’s Jadugari
© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2005
Published in Pratibha India, July-September, 2005