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

18-and-under category, third prize

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


Anusha Gautam

Blind Man on a Spinning Chair


Listen to 'Blind Man on a Spinning Chair'

All day
Like dried bamboo,
dozing
in my own hollowness,
regretting;

All day
Hurt,
like a sick pigeon,
pecking at its own wound;

All day,
Sobbing with unexpressed suffering
like the wind
through an empty pine forest;

All day
Like a folio mushroom
stuck in the vastness of the distance
between heaven and earth,
stuck in a small corner,
digging my feet into the ground,
hunched under a small umbrella;

In the evening,
When Nepal cowers into Kathmandu,
And Kathmandu scrunches into New Road,
And New Road, trodden under innumerable footsteps,
fragmented,
shrinks into newspaper, tea and betel stands;

Numerous noises come and go
dressed in different outfits,
Newspapers walk about
clucking like laying hens,
Rumours flinch,
frightened by the headlights
as darkness descends;

Panicked by the angry humming and stinging of bees,
I arise,
Exactly like spirits on the Day of judgement,
Unable to drink the oblivion of Lethe,
I dive into another glass of wine,
and forget my lives and deaths;

From a tea kettle,
rises the sun,
And always,
from an empty glass of wine,
it sets;

The world on which I live continues to spin, as always,
only I am an outsider
to the changes around me,
to the scenes,
to the joy -
like a blind man at an exhibition,
forced to sit upon a spinning chair.

Translated from the Nepali by Anusha Gautam
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Ghumne Mech Mathi Andho Manchhe

View the original Nepali as an image

Dinabhari
sukēkō bām̐sajhaim̐
āphnō khōkrōpanamāthi
um̐ghēra,
pachutā'ēra,
dinabhari
rōgī malēvājhaim̐
āphnō chātī āphnai cuccōlē ṭhum̐gēra,
ghā'uharu kōṭṭyā'ēra,
dinabhari
sallāghārījhaim̐ ēkalāsamā
avyakta vēdanālē sum̐kka sum̐kka rō'ēra,
dinabhari
pātē cyā'ujhaim̐
dharatī ra ākāśakō viśālatādēkhi ṭāḍhā
ē'uṭā sānō ṭhā'um̐mā āphnō khuṭṭā gāḍēra,
ē'uṭā sānō chātālē āphūlā'i ḍhākēra,
sām̐jhamā jaba nēpāla khumci'ēra kāṭhamānḍau
kāṭhamānḍau ḍalli'ēra nayā saḍaka
ra
nayām̐ saḍaka asaṅkhya mānisakā pā'umuni kulci'ēra, ṭukri'ēra,
akhabāra ciyā ra pāna kō pasala bancha,
kisima kisimakā pōśākamā
ōhōra dōhōra garchan? Tharitharikā hallāharu,
phula pārēkō kukhurājhaim̐ karā'udai
him̐ḍchana akhabāraharu
ra
ṭhā'um̐ ṭhā'um̐mā andhakāra pēṭimā uklincha
mōṭaraharukō prakāśadēkhi tarsēra,
ani asaṅkhya maurīkō bhunabhuna ra ḍadā'idēkhi ātti'ēra
ma uṭhchu
n'yāyakō dinamā prētātmāharu uṭhējhaim̐
ra
napā'ēra bismr̥tikō 'lēthē' nadī,
raksīkō gilāsamā hāmaphālchu
ra
birsanchu āphnō pūrvakathālā'ī
pūrvajunī ra mr̥tyulā'ī
yasarī nai sadhaim̐
ciyākō kiṭalibāṭa ē'uṭā sūrya udā'um̐cha
sadhai raksīkō rittō gilāsamā ē'uṭā sūrya astā'um̐cha
ghumirahēkai cha ma basēkō pr̥thvī —pūrvavat
phagata ma aparicita chu
variparikā parivartanaharudēkhi,
dr̥śyaharudēkhi,
ramā'ilōdēkhi,
pradarśanīkō ghumnē mēcamāthi
karalē basēkō andhō jastai.

Bhupi Scherchan

Reproduced by kind permission of Bhupi Sherchan estate

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Translation commentary

I chose this poem because it provides an esoteric snapshot of a period of cultural upheaval within Nepal, contrasting nature and modernity and their effect on humanity. It presents a disconnect from the world around the speaker, which is part of the reason I picked this poem. There's a sense of bitter poignancy as the speaker feels unable to adjust to the sweeping changes taking over society, consumed by their own suffering, wanting to forget and being unable to. I also think Sherchan's voice typifies the voice of Nepali poetic satire, and I enjoyed this process for that very reason, as I could connect to my culture.

The expression of nuances through the word choice was particularly difficult for me, as many words trigger a 'collective consciousness' shared by the Nepalese population, and much of the emotion is deeply engrained within these words – preserving this was a challenge. Sherchan's use of free verse gave me a lot of freedom to take liberty with the structure, especially as tenses in the original language are differently expressed, being very fluid and ambiguous. I have attempted to preserve the fragmentation of the original form, which I think is very important in presenting the mental state of the narrator, and thus, the depth of the poem. However, translating this fragmentation, while also making sure the poem made sense, was quite difficult – due to the use of colloquialisms.

Anusha Gautam