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The Stephen Spender Prize 2019 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

14-and-under category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2019 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years

Iona Mandal


by Nirendranath Chakraborty
Listen to 'Amolkanti'

Amolkanti is a friend of mine.
We were together in school.
He came late to class almost every day,
and never knew his lessons.
When asked to conjugate a verb,
he looked out of the window
in such puzzlement,
that we all felt sorry for him.

Some of us wanted to be teachers;
some doctors, some lawyers.
Almolkanti did not want to become any.
He wanted to be the sunlight!
The timid sunlight of late afternoon,
when it stops raining
and the crows call again.
The sunlight that clings like a smile
to the leaves of the jaam and the jaamrul trees.

Some of us have become teachers,
some doctors, some lawyers.
Amolkanti could not become the sunlight.
He works in a poorly lit printing press.
He drops in now and then to see me,
chat about this and that
over a cup of tea, then gets up to go.
I see him off at the door.

The one among us who's a teacher
could easily have become a doctor.
If the one who had wanted to be a doctor
had become a lawyer,
it would not have made much difference.
Yet, all of us got more or less what we wanted.
All except Amolkanti,
who could not become the sunlight
he always wanted to be.
The same Amolkanti
who pondered and pondered
over wanting to become the sunlight.

Translated from the Bengali by Iona Mandal

View the original Bengali as a larger image

Attempts have been made to contact the rights holder of this poem.
For more information please contact
bengali Nirendranath Chakraborty

Translation commentary

My parents have brought me up as bilingual. I speak and read Bengali fluently, my mother tongue. This is the only other language I can handle confidently besides English. As such, when translating a poem, Bengali seemed the natural choice.

The poem Amolkanti, in Bengali literally means pure radiance. It is one of Nirendranath Charkaborty's most beautiful creations. It is close to my heart for its simplicity and deep philosophy. Its message is universal, transcending barriers of language, country or nationality. Amolkanti, the name of the main protagonist, suits his character very well as he wants to become sunlight, which here refers to the source of inspiration. The poet has used irony to express whether Amolkanti is successful in becoming the sunlight or not.

Our real world is driven by ambitions and dreams but greed is the power that has overcome them. Everyone in the world is inspired by someone, to become somebody. Many in this world also do not intentionally want to become that inspiration, but end up becoming one. So, although the idea of becoming sunlight may appear unrealistic in the real world, it is definitely not that foolish a proposition when perceived as a source of inspiration.

I had to read the poem several times to delve into the inner mirth. I tried to retain its original flavour so that a minimal amount was lost in translation and yet the beauty of the key message was intact for all to appreciate. However, there were a few typical tropical fruits growing in Bengal such as jam and jaamrul, which I tried to retain but for which I could not find the perfect English equivalent. The imagery of this poem is vivid and while translating, I have tried to retain that clarityThe original poem is in free verse. I have tried to stick to it so as to keep alive the natural flow of words in Bengali.

Iona Mandal