Abol Tabol Questions and Answers


Abol Tabol Questions and Answers

1 . Show the use of illustrations in the poems of Sukumar Roy.


One of the most prominent children’s writers and pioneer of nonsense literature in Bengali, Sukumar Ray (1887-1923), father of Satyajit Ray was an inheritor of his father Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury’s genius of artistry. A graduate in Physics and Chemistry from Presidency College and then trained in photography and printing technology in England, Ray invented new techniques of halftone block making that he carried forward from his father.


Ray was actively involved in his family’s publishing business, U. Roy and Sons which was the most advanced printing press at that time. Coming to literature, the press used to publish the most popular children’s magazine of its time,- ‘Sandesh’, which was the prime abode of Ray’s literature. The magazine was primarily contributed by members of Ray family and just after his father’s death; he took over the magazine and started his cult nonsense rhymes, limericks, stories and essays on various topics in Bengali for filling up the pages.


Ray’s literature was dominantly inspired by the works of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. The illustrations that accompanied his poems in books like Abol Tabol, Khai Khai or novella Ha Ja Ba Ra La are unique in their own right. Ray’s illustrations are mostly character oriented that depict a particular character, fantastic or real. He rarely drew scenes and even if he did, that rarely is edge to edge, except his comic fillers. Thus we rarely see boxing or panels in his graphic art.


Sukumar Ray, like his father Upendrakishore, was not a trained artist. One cannot detect that from Upendrakishore’s illustrations but Sukumar’s work is faulty in places. Yet, he has his own style of drawing that made his fantastical characters from his literature come alive.


The advanced technical knowledge of printing and photography helped Ray to make illustrations for Sandesh. For example take the iconic illustration for ‘Tyashgoru’, a nonsense rhyme of his about a fantastic cow. The lines drawing are very precise, though the wings of the creature does not blend with the whole figure or the placement of the can could be closer. Yet, in his inimitable style, Ray has given it a precise look so that the poem looks incomplete without this illustration even today.


Again, take for example the illustration in ‘Ekushe Aine’ a satirical rhyme about some bizarre rules in a fictional country. Here the figures in the illustration look like wooden dolls. It’s like the people are so bound by the absurd laws that they have become puppets. It is not mentioned in the poem, but the illustration delivers this idea and makes the poem complete.


In another poem ‘Khudor Kawl’ that ridicules Bengali’s love for food, Ray blended his passion for mechanics and science with humour. In his final poem, the title poem of the book ‘Abol Tabol’, where the lines signal Ray’s own consciousness about his upcoming death, the cartoon accompanying the poem resembles much of his father, laughing out pointing at some geometric calculation on paper. It seems a tribute to Upendrakishore and Sukumar’s own passion for science and mathematics before his own death. He was a very scientific man and in his illustrations, which is very action oriented and European/Victorian in mood. Sometimes, he incorporated even European character,e.g.-there is clearly a European lady in the illustration for the poem ‘Kandune’ in the book Abol Tabol. In most illustrations, the male characters are sporting European blazers and dhotis or sometimes blazers and baggy trouser combinations while the females are wearing sarees.


Ray’s works have been illustrated later by other artists like Satyajit Ray, Anup Roy among others in later editions by publishers like Signet Press etc, but the poet’s own illustrations are still inseparable for his texts for the Bengali readers. His most remembered and decorative works are for his most prominent work ‘Abol Tabol’. In his other poetry book Khai Khai, he used minimal illustrations which are basically scribbles with comparatively straighter lines.


Not only illustrations, Ray have explored comic strips with rhythmic dialogues that used as filler for Sandesh. These strips are without speech bubbles or text boxes. The text is written under the panels that are arranged vertically. Here Ray, being way ahead of his time, played with the literal meanings of phrases that are very visible in modern graphic novels. For example in one panel, the text is-‘Haru, a dull boy got zero in class test Ray showed the teacher has handed over a sphere to him. In the other panel, his father is fiery angry after knowing his son’s result. Ray showed that the father has become fire himself!


In one of his most prominent prose Ha Ja Ba Ra La, a Bengali adaptation of Alice in the Wonderland, which shows strange creatures with social satires of colonial India,Ray drew characters that may have figurative defects but blended so perfectly.


In another series ‘Pagla Dashu’, Ray used minimal, bushy line drawings that are similar with the Abol Tabol illustrations, though less decorative..


In another story, ‘Heshoram Hushiyarer Diary’, Ray again incorporated illustrations of some more fantastic beasts that resides in some unexplored region of the Bandakush Hills. In Satyajit Ray’s word, after seeing these illustrations, it feels strange when we do not see these creatures’ skeletons in museums.


In his scientific essays in English like- ‘Notes on System in Halftone Operating’, we can see his hand-drawn scientific diagrams, which are noteworthy for the time they were made in. He also sketched literal meanings of various Bengali idioms for word puzzles for Sandesh. Apart from these, he was a pioneer for making the human alphabet for Bengali letters. He drew some posters and banners for Monday Club, a cultural gathering that used to held in Ray’s residence in 100, Garpar Road, Kolkata.


Another gem is his ‘Kheror Khata’, the diary of the rough sketches of his. There we can see sketches of many unrecognized characters that are not written. After his short life of 36 years, Bengali literature still misses those unwritten characters that remained a mystery in those enigmatic unfinished sketches.


  1. Discuss the The Perils and Nonpereils of Literary Nonsense Translation.


After the 1923 publication of Sukumar Ray’s seminal book of Bengali nonsense literature, Abol Tabol, nobody dared to translate it into English. Bengalis tended to revere Ray’s masterful, layered language and cultural clout as sacred-a kind of perfect, and perfectly impenetrable literary play. It would take Ray’s son, the famous author and filmmaker Satyajit, to break that taboo with his small, limited-run translation of his father’s book, in 1970. Even Satyajit Ray, however, contended that certain pieces were impossible to translate-until 1987, when the next translator, Sukanta Chaudhuri came along, who in Satyajit Ray’s own words, produced a “very able and imaginative translation which is a refutation of my contention”. Still, pieces were left out, to be partly filled in by more recent translators, most notably Sampurna Chattarji in her celebrated 2004 volume. These ever-bolder attempts at translation have not happened because Bengalis have suddenly discovered new means of translation-nor because they have simply compromised more. Rather, they have come to realize that nonsense literature, though it presents special challenges, is, like most other texts, translatable.


In the West, translations of nonsense literature have also been “far and few, far and few,” so much so that Langford Reed, in the introduction to his 1926 anthology of nonsense verse, outrageously concluded that “Nonsense versification is […] essentially a British and American art”. Only in more recent times, particularly with Hugh Haughton’s anthology, The Chatto Book of Nonsense Poetry (1988), my own The Tenth Rasa: An Anthology of Indian Nonsense (2007), and John Agard and Grace Nichols’ Pumpkin Grumpkin: Nonsense Poems From Around the World (2012), have significant strides been stridden towards English translation of nonsense literature not without peril, but also not without moments, dare I say, of the nonsense nonpareil. And many of the nonpareil perils have indeed turned out to be nonpereils. In this brief essay, I’ll attempt to explain some of the reasons for nonsense’s rocky translation history and give examples of the special challenges I’ve faced in editing volumes of the stuff.


Often when I ask scholars, writers, or librarians for nonsense material to translate and anthologize, I am met with the classic stages of Nonsense Denial: blank stares, a baffled sense of pity for what must obviously be a worthless endeavor, and an indignant protest that there is no nonsensein their culture’s literature. These responses, I would say, stem from misunderstandings of the problematic word “nonsense” and the lack of distinction between its literal meaning and the name given to the genre. The former, of course, is senseless gibberish. Call it piffle, twaddle, or codswallop, but do not call it literary nonsense. Of course, it’s understandable that one might take offence at the idea that one’s sacred literature contains codswallop. The idea that there is “no nonsense” in any particular culture’s literature is a matter of semantics. To give an outrageously brief and extraordinarily faulty definition: nonsense literature is a kind of structured, playful subversion of language and logic, or as T. S. Eliot claimed, a parody of sense, and thus, it is far from being inconsequential, meaningless, or simple silliness. It maintains a balanced tension between meaning and lack of meaning, skirting “sense” in many ways, but creating it in other, unexpected ways. Understanding the definition, and the (ig)noble pedigree of nonsense better, my sources confess to nonsense commission but they still object: how can one possibly translate nonsense?


This last step in denial often comes from exposure to an old friend, Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” It turns out that “Jabberwocky,” despite its reputation as the quintessential nonsense poem, is actually more of an outlier: that is, unlike most nonsense literature, it shies away from play with logic, creating the nonsense effect, instead, with neologism and language manipulation. Of course, translation of this particular type of nonsense might indeed seem impossible, or highly fraught at best, which is why “Jabberwocky” has always been a kind of holy grail of translation. As Alice protests when asked to translate “fiddle-dee-dee” to French, how does one translate a word that isn’t a word? Luckily, most nonsense literature actually is dominated by logical, rather than linguistic play, making it far easier translate than deniers might imagine. This issue arose when I was editing the translation from Tamil of S. Ramakrishnan’s “The History of the Ramasamy Lineage: The Hidden Truths,” and I came across the odd phrase, “Outside, a person was selling non-linear lollipops”. In this story, thousands of people named “Ramasamy,” one of the most popular surnames in Tamil Nadu, are gathering for a Ramasamy festival. Exalted, exaggerated, and ridiculous Ramasamys from national and international locales mingle, and in the scene in question, we have “Counter-Culture Ramasamy” claiming his fandom of “Umberto Ramasamy”. When Umberto arrives, however, Counter-Culture “beats a hasty retreat”. Just then, the dubious, postmodern sweet-selling takes place. I immediately wrote off to Latha Ramakrishnan, the translator, to ask about this phrase, and to the author, as well. It could have been an issue of language play or some language oddity or difficulty, rather than intentional nonsense technique. It turns out that, indeed, this was quite a literal and accurate translation. The author intended it, the translator translated it perfectly, and we are left with a characteristic nonsense tension of logic, rather than language: Counter-Culture’s retreat certainly is not “in line” with his professed devotion, and yet, well, lollipops? Meanings do clunk around, related to commercialism, dum-dumbing things down, placating the masses, and more, but the arbitrariness and tension between the inconclusive meanings loop us in a lemniscate of nonsense. That is, perfectly translated nonsense.


Such successes, and certain challenges like idioms and cultural references, make nonsense translation, in many ways, like any other kind. Of course literary nonsense sometimes presents a whole other kettle of “brainlesse butter’d fish.” To be sure, the inventiveness and baffling polysemy of language manipulation present particularly difficult challenges to the translator, but even these are not always insurmountable. In Nanda Kishore Bala’s poem “Raven, O Raven,” for instance, the Tinimanjika beast lurks in the hills. In the original Oriya, this name is a kind of portmanteau, with “tini” meaning “three” and “manjika” meaning “whore,” but also being a variant of the word “seed.” Our solution was to name the creature “Threeseedy,” a word that captures much of the word play, keeping at least some connection to the “seediness” of prostitution. The original word’s sound, which conveys a vague sense of foreboding, was lost, though I hope our new word also resonates mystereeouslee


Keeping semantic integrity, however, is not always desirable when we realize, as Susan Stewart states, that nonsense tends to function by “bringing attention to form, to method, to the ways in which experience is organized rather than to the ‘content’ of the organization”. In Sukumar Ray’s “Mish-Mash,” for instance, we are presented with a bestiary of portmanteau animals, such as the “duckupine,” a curious combination of duck and porcupine. The last couplet mostly operates according to Bengali wordplay. The original line, “Shingher shing nei mone bhari koshto,” translates literally to “The lion was desperate to own a pair of horns,” but the play here is that the word for horn, “shing,” is a part of the possessive from of lion, “shingher.” In English, a lion wanting horns is simply arbitrary and doesn’t capture the humor, but it just so happens that another animal with “horn” in its name also lacks horns, the hornbill bird. Our translation thus reads, “The hornbill was desperate because it had no horns,” capturing the method of the humorous wordplay, rather than the exact creature portrayed. I would argue that the method here, as with much nonsense, is what creates the nonsense world.


Sukanta Choudhury comments in his Translator’s Preface to Ray’s Abol Tabol: “Clever men might debate whether nonsense can be translated; but I reassure myself that at worst, the result will still be nonsense”. It all comes down to what he, or any translator, means by “nonsense.” Choudhury’s response may be a bit glib, but for a text to remain “still” nonsense, even after translation, means it must engage in similar kinds of sense-frustration, using similar methods. In the example of “non-linear lollipops,” meaning and method are translated with the same tension of logic. But the “sense” of nonsense literature is also, as Stewart notes, the mechanics of the vehicle rather than simply where it takes you. In “Threeseedy” both method and meaning approximate the original linguistic play, but in “Mish-Mash,” it is primarily the method that brings us the nonsense: the “meaning” is the vehicle, in a manner of speaking. This is a mixed victory, but one where it counts the most, where it engages with the unique workings of literary nonsense.

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