Chinese Whispers

Bei Ta, in a blue blazer holding his tanned laptop bag, has the air of a research scholar.

Published: 04th February 2019 11:15 PM  |   Last Updated: 05th February 2019 10:10 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

HYDERABAD : Bei Ta, in a blue blazer holding his tanned laptop bag, has the air of a research scholar. With around 30 published books, there’s every reason he appears and talks like one. He was in the city for Hyderabad Literary Festival. Balancing the fragile glass frame on the bridge of his nose he adjusts on the wrinkled sofa, goes deep into his thoughts and begins the conversation. Ask him about Tagore and his face lights up. Ask him what he likes about the Bengali Bard the most, and he smiles sharing, “He’s a great musician. His music is not just in words, they are full of holy spirit. I follow the trails of his notes and reach to a space where you get to meet what is spiritual.” 

Despite Bei Ta’s association with Tagore, this is the first time that he visited India. So what about Bengal? Is he going to visit that state? “Of course. I am coming back in the month of October. I will be visiting Calcutta, particularly Jorasanko. For ten years I have been reading and translating Tagore’s works, it’s time to visit the place to which Tagore belonged,” says the general secretary of Chinese Shakespeare Society.

pic: S Senbaga Pandiyan

It was China Publishing House – an important academic publishing house in China – which commissioned the poet-translator-critic to translate the Indian poet’s works – the best poems as he thought. So what drew Bei Ta to Tagore’s poems? “It was during school years that I began studying his works. His verses affected me deeply. Though several of his poems appear to revolve around the relationships between man and woman, but the essence hints to spirituality which pulls you deep within its centre – pantheism. He actually utilised the relationships between man and woman to symbolise or explore the relationships between man and God.”

It took Bei Ta around six months to complete the translation. His research material was in English, not in Bengali. He rues saying, “I regret that I do not know Bengali. So as a translator I had to rely a lot on the English translations. What can compensate for lack of knowing the original language is that the English translations are believable because they were done by the poet himself.” 

Another strong aspect of Tagore’s poetry that Bei Ta concludes is the complexity of music involved. “I try to include the tunes in the translations,” he says. But he finds it difficult saying that Tagore is a brilliant musician and his musical nuances, elements and structures aren’t easy to incorporate in a different language. 

So how do the Chinese readers receive Tagore’s poetry? “He’s been loved and celebrated across the country for the past 100 years,” he shares with a twinkle in his eyes, “When I was a boy, quite a shy one, I used his poems to impress girls. And even now, young guys like to do that by employing his poems although they might not really feel or know his theist tendency.” It’s not just Tagore that Bei Ta’s translated into Chinese, he has also translated the works of V.S Naipaul, W.B Yeats, Milosz and Coetzee and other Nobel Laureates. Shakespeare? Yes, he’s translated his works, too. 

Talk about Bei Ta’s own poetry and he calls himself a literary cat with three legs. But not the feline with nine lives? “No. The three-legged animal has specific representation in Chinese traditional context. Since I am a poet, translator and critic, the cat’s three legs symbolically represent my cultural identities,” he says. That’s how one of his poems titled ‘The Cat’ appears surreal. Is the city, where he comes from, the source of all that beauty? “I belong to the Southern China, the city of Suzhou,” he shares. The place is called ‘Town of Fish and Rice’ thanks to her many water bodies that make its geographical DNA. He went to the North of the country for studies, but now lives and works in Beijing. “In my writing, I try to bridge the North and the South of my country in cultural temperament, namely to get the balance between hard and soft, dry and wet, vast and fine.” he informs. 

Bei Ta has earned the reputation of ‘Stone Poet’ in Chinese world of poetry through his poems on stones. In these verses he tries to symbolise the three most important or basic fields of the whole universe for everyone: nature, culture and oneself. He has published a book with all the poems focused on stone as the subject, which is titled ‘A Rolling Stone Gathers Mosses’. 

Talking about freedom of speech in China, he says, “There are restrictions, but I feel free when I am writing.” But what about social media restrictions over there? “We have our own social media, nowadays, the most frequently used is ‘wechat (Weixin)’”, he smiles. And poetry for protest? “It’s a problem of figure of speech!” How? “Almost all great writers and poets in the whole world are always rebellious. The hallmark of good writing is fully loaded with inner conflicts, especially internalised fissions.” he signs off. @Sfreen

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