As the book provides both the Nepali and the English versions, the reader is likely to look up both versions together. What will surprise you while doing so, is how the translated versions carry the same expressions, while becoming poems of their own. And to borrow Muna Gurung’s words: ‘As in any translation, I’ve struggled with the question of ‘accuracy’ for the project. Should I stay close to the source of language and the poem’s forms, or should I move freely but stay true to the emotional heart of the poems as they travel from one language to another?’
The poems that they have become in translation are like snatches of thoughts caught, and held to be relished in more than one language, surpassing the challenges of translation.
Translating poems is not easy to do because with poems, it is not enough to make sure every sentence is carried forth accurately, it has to also carry the tone and the mood. When reading Night, what comes across clearly is the collaboration between the original writer and the translator — the understanding of the poems as a collective expression and work of dedication and friendship between two women.
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Some of the poems carry different titles from the original and some words have been changed to maintain authenticity to the English language. For Newa words, while their meaning is lent in repetition in the first instance (chatamari bread), they appear in their own right in the second reference (Silently, I watch/the chatamari slowly/disappear).
To Sulochana, night is many things, many sentiments, many thoughts. But night, is also mother. So, while night becomes the personification of a mother who allows the poet to fall asleep in the warmth of her lap, night, is also freedom in the form of a black canvas on which one is free to draw any shape.
Night, is also a friend, but also the one who seeks friendship with the offering of its dark, quiet stretch. Night is a picture, a journey, a country, a conversation, but also pain and disorder.
Some of the poems in the book are half a sentence, spoken in one breath — the perfect thing to read aloud to yourself on a sleepless night. Or repeat sometimes like a chant, just like we do with our thoughts on sleepless nights. While there is some anxiety trailing at the heels of the thoughts that cloud the darkness, there’s also the assurance that if one is to receive the night as a gift, as an extension of the day, then it’s possible to silently watch it ‘meld into the soft light of dawn’.
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Then night becomes something you could not cling to, even if you so desire, but only watch as it leaves with the promise of return, like a lover who leaves you in torment as much as the fulfillment of having been with you.
While the persona of most of the poems is speaking to the night and about the night, in some of the poems, it is the night who becomes the dominant voice, even without speaking: ‘I will become night/ and wait/Just to watch her at play’.
The beauty of poetry lies in how they speak to the reader. While in the day of Instagram poetry, a lot of criticism has been hurled at IG poets who have shot to popularity with their succinct verses that appease the masses, it is also true that some readers of poetry seek to understand the poetry they are reading.
That lightness of comprehension is what Sulochana’s poems carry in their original form. They are poems we all want to read because they bear a familiarity that comes from simplicity. And Muna Gurung deftly interprets them in English, giving us a set of poems that makes the reader feel like these lines could be their own.
(Night will be released on 21 August, 2021. For launch and related events, follow @kathasatha and @qcbookshop on Instagram and Facebook.)