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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2012
14-and-under, joint second prize

Read the judges’ comments
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Read the winning entries from previous years

Damayanti Chatterjee


Omolkaanthi, my friend,
We went to school together,
He always arrived late,
And he never tested well,
When asked about Sanskrit declensions,
He stared so dumbfounded out of the window,
It was painful to watch,

Some of us wanted to be teachers,
Some doctors,
Some lawyers,
Omolkaanthi didn't want any of that,
He wanted to be the sunshine!
The type of sunshine, that
On rainbowed afternoons filled with birdsong,
Lingers like a shy smile,
On the leaves of tropical trees.

Some of us became teachers,
Some doctors,
Some lawyers,
But Omolkaanthi didn't become the sunshine,
He now works in a dark printing shop,
From time to time he visits,
Drinks tea,
Makes small talk,
Then says 'I'll be rising then',
I show him to the door,

The one amidst us who became a teacher,
Could have easily been a doctor,
The one that became a doctor,
Wouldn't have lost out by becoming a lawyer,
However, their dreams all came true,
But not Omolkaanthi's,
He couldn't become the sunshine,
That same Omolkaanthi,
Who, every day, was enchanted by the sun,
  wanting nothing but to be it

Translated from the Bengali by Damayanti Chatterjee

The original poem may not display properly in older browsers or on computers running non-unicode-compliant operating systems. To view an image file of the poem, click here (opens in new window).


অমলকাি আমার বন্ধু,
ইস্কুলে আমরা একসঙ্গে পড়তাম।
রোজ দেরি করে ক্লাসে আসতো, পড়া পারতো না,
শব্দরূপ জিজ্ঞেস করলে
এমন অবাক হয়ে জানলার দিকে তাকিয়ে থাকতো যে
দেখে ভারী কষ্ট হত আমাদের।

আমরা কেউ মাষ্টার হতে চেয়েছিলাম, কেউ ডাক্তার, কেউ উকিল।
অমলকাি সে সব কিছু হতে চায়নি।
সে রোদ্দুর হতে চেয়েছিল!
ক্ষান্তবর্ষণে কাক ডাকা বিকেলের সেই লাজুক রোদ্দুর,
জাম আর জামফলের পাতায়
যা নাকি অল্প একটু হাসির মতন লেগে থাকে।

আমরা কেউ মাষ্টার হয়েছি, কেউ ডাক্তার, কেউ উকিল।
অমলকাি রোদ্দুর হতে পারেনি।
সে এখন অন্ধকার একটা ছাপাখানায় কাজ করে।
মাঝে মধ্যে আমার সঙ্গে দেখা করতে আসে,
চা খায়, এটা ওটা গল্প করে, তারপর বলে, 'উঠি তাহলে'।
আমি ওকে দরজা পর্যন্ত এগিয়ে দিয়ে আসি।

আমাদের মধ্যে যে এখন মাষ্টারি করে,
অনায়াসে সে ডাক্তার হতে পারত,
যে ডাক্তার হতে চেয়েছিল,
উকিল হলে তার এমন কিছু ক্ষতি হত না।
অথচ সকলেরি ইচ্ছাপূরণ হল, এক অমলকাি ছাড়া।
অমলকাি রোদ্দুর হতে পারেনি।
সেই অমলকাি, রোদ্দুরের কথা ভাবতে ভাবতে
যে একদিন রোদ্দুর হতে চেয়েছিল।।

Nirendranath Chakraborty

Translation commentary

I chose this poem because the original is simple, with no rhyme or metre, but still conveys a profound message. If I chose a poem like this, I could focus on getting the message and emotion of the poet across, which I believe is the most important part of any poem. It's about an ordinary person, who wanted to do something extraordinary. And when all the other ordinary people got their ordinary wish, he, Omolkaanthi, was left without his extraordinary dream. The poet leaves us without an explanation for this, so we're left coming up with our own reasons why and how. Most of all, the poet leaves us thinking about the injustice of it, and makes us want to change it somehow.

When approaching this poem, I decided to twist some of the exact translations to get the emotion across because I felt this was more important than a word-for-word translation. For example, the phrase 'rainbowed afternoon' was a problem as, in the Bengali, one word was used to describe this, which exactly meant 'a summery afternoon just after the rain stops and the sun peeks out just before setting'. I felt I should keep the translation to one word to follow the poetry of the original, so I chose 'rainbowed', as this word has similar connotations.

Another tricky bit is the line 'Then says "I'll be rising then",' – the natural verb to use there is 'getting up', however in the Bengali, the verb for 'getting up' is also the one used to say the sun is 'rising' – and this is a direct reference to Omolkaanthi's dream of becoming the sunshine. But in English, the pun's lost if I use 'getting up', so I used 'rising' as this is the verb we use for the sun.

Damayanti Chatterjee