Some utter nonsense

The first book I remember reading was a book of Bengali nonsense rhymes, Abol Tabol (which means “gibberish”) by Sukumar Ray (Satyajit’s dad). When I was 5, I knew many of those poems by heart. Recently, in an idle hour, I wondered if I could translate one of them. This is the result. I am not very pleased with the ending (which seems to me rather anticlimactic in English) – but what the hell! – I’m not a professional translator, and this is the best I could do. Since I’ve now done it, and don’t know what to do with it, I thought I might as well stick it up here.

Our office head, a lovely chap,
Forever calm and gentle,
Who’d have thought he’d be the sort
To go completely mental?

There he dozed upon his chair
Contented as a child,
But then his nap broke with a snap –
He was raving! He was wild!

He gave a shout and rolled about,
His arms and legs went flying,
“Help, help!” he cried, “Come to my side,
“Come hold me up! I’m dying!”

“Doctor! Nurse!” some people called,
“Police! There’ll be a fight!”
Others there were more circumspect,
“Careful now! He’ll bite!”

Here and there and everywhere
Was bedlam, bash and crash,
As tumult spread, the office head
Cried: “Someone’s nicked me tache!”

Moustache stolen? What a thought!
Well, that’s not very clever!
They stood and stared: his facial hair
Seemed sprouting strong as ever.

They gathered round, and said to him,
“Look in the mirror, sir!
“Your tache has not been nicked or pinched –
“Such things do not occur.”

He raged like fire, like chips in frier,
“How dare you have the gall!
“How dare you lie! How dare deny!
“You’re traitors, villains all!

“This filthy rag upon my lip,
“This fetid, threadbare broom,
“You think I’d place this on my face?
“You think I’d give this room?

“I’ll soon teach you a thing or two –
“Come here and take a gander!
“If you opine this eyesore’s mine
“I’ll sue you all for slander!”

He moped and muttered, spat and spluttered,
And in his diary wrote:
“Never cut anyone any slack –
“They’ll all be at your throat!

“Those dunces, neds, those dung-filled heads,
“They can’t see! No-one knows!
“My tache is swiped in broad daylight
“From under my very nose!

“If I’d my way I’d dance all day
“While pulling at their taches,
“And scrape their heads with massive spades –
“Those birdbrained loons! Those asses!

“Moustaches can’t be bought or sold –
“Who mocks my tache maligns me!
“I am my tache! The rest is trash!
“What’s on my lip defines me!”



8 responses to this post.

  1. Well, it’s very entertaining nonsense – thank you for sharing! :))


  2. What fun! This reminds me of Edward Gorey. Is there an ABAB rhyme scheme in the original? Are there more translations forthcoming?

    On this side of the pond, we say ‘stache.


    • Actually, the original is in rhyming couplets, often with internal rhymes. But Bengali, for some reason, can take longer line lengths than English can, so I broke up each of the lines in the original into two, and went for an abab pattern, with internal rhymes wherever I could fit them in. I haven’t made any substantial changes, but I have made little adjustments and modifications all the way through to get it to scan and rhyme, and, most important, get the tone right.

      The original poem (in Bengali script) is here:


      • Correction: I didn’t obviously go for an abab pattern, since the first and third lines don’t rhyme. So effectively, it’s the same pattern as the original, with each line broken into two.

      • I don’t know why I wrote ABAB. This is good work, though. I hope you do more. I’ve had a lot of fun on my blog translating Hungarian poetry (from German-language editions). You can safely assume that I know nothing about Bengali poetry. I have a slender volume of Tagore at home that I should dig out.

  3. Posted by janet on October 17, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    Well, that was way better than all my other email this morning. Why are you not a professional translator? As far as I can tell you do a wonderful job of it.


  4. That was utter brilliance!


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