Ode to the Bengal Autumn and to a Daughter

Often unknown to us, the workings of the universe mysteriously resonate with that of our innermost selves.

126_2009072214081023EjYpNina had recently put up on Facebook this beautiful photograph of our daughter Minnie, captured by her first Dance guru, Lubna Marium, during a performance. Taken with her back to the camera, the photograph epitomizes unselfconscious beauty, grace, charm and innocence – a combination that can manifest fully only in a little girl.

26915505And then coming from a completely different context, our friend Choton Haque wrote to me on Facebook about the splendors of the Bengal autumn as he was cruising down the waters of Bangladesh, quoting a song by Tagore – The bright white sails have caught the gentle winds (‘Amolo-dhobolo paale legeche, mondo modhuro hawa’).

ArijitAt this point, it may be noted that the autumn (‘Sharat’ – i.e. early-autumn in the strict sense) of Bengal is a study in total contrast to the autumn of the West. In Bengal, autumn comes immediately after the life giving monsoons. Hence it represents the end of a period of uncertainty; ushering in charm, quiet splendor, abundance, fulfillment, grace and gratitude, whereas in the West, glorious as it is, Autumn is often associated with a beginning of a decline, of pathos; symbolized by falling leaves and an imminent winter – cold, harsh, bitter and frigid.

274_2_1330348753In Bengal, autumn is synonymous with clear blue skies, rafts of soft, wispy white cotton like cirrus clouds, gentle breeze, the profusion of the ‘sheuli / shefali / paarijaat’ flowers, lotuses and water lilies,  lush greenery, the ephemeral silk-white ‘kash’ inflorescence on the edges of paddy fields, river banks and wastelands, and flight of the migrant cranes across the distant sky. Nature is at its beautiful, soft, subtle and gentle best.

6203638242_33be52ff59_zAutumn has now set in and so has a major festive season in Bengal, but you might wonder what that has to do with a little daughter. If you have heard Tagore’s ode to his adopted daughter Nandini, when she was a little girl, you will know exactly what I mean.

66574_446096341433_3442155_nIn the original Bengali song, the imagery of autumn is incredibly beautiful – sparkling and pristine, which then becomes a metaphor for the beauty, purity and innocence of a little girl; for the joy and contentment only a daughter can bring to a father’s heart – synonymous with what autumn brings to the Bengal landscape.

Tagore compares little Nandini with the fresh dewdrop on the exquisitely delicate ‘sheuli’ flower in the early morning. The imagery is exceptional in its silent and tender beauty – a feeling that could be put in words so perfectly only by a poet. It is so earthy, at the same time so liberating and other worldly!

unnamedWithout further ado, let me share with you a very crude translation of mine of the song by Tagore.


 A Drop of Golden Sun

32520_400088021433_7167393_nYou are the drop of golden sun at dawn
On the seashore of my heart
The very first dewdrop on the first ‘sheuli’ flower
of the early morning of autumn

The sweep of the rainbow across the sky on to earth 
The new moon, cradled by soft white clouds

A chance descent of heaven’s secret on earth
The object of the poet’s contemplation,
a memory from some previous birth
A forgotten scattered melody, gathered and sung again
Feelings that have no words, you utter in whispers

You come as my fretters yet you set me free
You open the door and call me out into the lotus groove,
in realm of pure bright light

You are the joy begotten from delight, caressed by moon beams
You are the drop of golden sun at dawn
On the seashore of my heart
                                         – Rabindranath Tagore

Concluding on the resonance I referred to at the beginning, it is interesting that sitting in remote West Africa, at a time when I am missing my daughter the most, Nina should put up a photograph of Minnie on her Facebook lotus-1cover photo. Then Choton should write to me about autumn in Bengal. The two streams should connect and Tagore’s ode to Nandini using the metaphor of autumn in Bengal should become my very own ode to my daughter.

Now if that isn’t resonance, what else is?

The song in Bengali:

Tumi ushar shonar bindu praner shindhukule

Sharotprater prothom shishir prothom shiuliphule

Aakashparer indrodhanu dhorar pare nouya
Nandaneri nandini go chandrolekhay choya

Protipode chander shwapon shubro meghe choya
Shwargoloker gopon kotha morte ele bhule

Tumi kobir dheyan chobi purbojanom smriti 252646_10150205299745745_6694262_n
Tumi amar kuriye paoya hariye jaoya geeti
Je kothati jai na bola koile chupi chupi
Tumi amar mukhti hoye ale badhon rupe

Amol alor komolbone dakhle duwar khule.
Tumi ushar shonar bindu praner shindhukule

Note: In the English translation, I have changed the order of a key line (‘Nandaneri nandini go chandrolekhay choya’ – You are the joy begotten from delight, caressed by moon beams) and placed it towards the end. Tagore mentions Nandini’s name directly in this song, in a marked departure from his poetic style, in which reference to any real human being is at best an allusion that often keeps his readers guessing of the identity of the person.

(Landscape photographs are from the internet and I hope I am not violating any copyrights.)


2959110988_7af3af1767_b547450_10150641888791434_1447145941_n394414_10150490570896434_2036116460_nRediscover Indiaganges_in_autumn59860_481361745870_829893_n 427954_10150815968335745_2017101174_n 541390_10151405969855745_202581208_n 558576_10151405972230745_1525892830_n248894_10150198742306434_5089073_n