She thought she knew acrobatics rather well.
That she could juggle time with both hands,
Play with the now, right next to the then,
She would make both dance, she thought, fist to fist –
And she would glide, so smooth, along the tightrope,
She thought she could do absolutely anything at all.
Only once in your life will the rope shiver.
I translated this poem on the sly nine years ago. This was my plot: on my mother’s 75th birthday, I would present her with 75 copies of Make Up Your Mind, a bilingual book of my translations from Ma’s new book of poetry, Tumi Monosthir Koro. I translated the poems on my honeymoon in Spain, and though we spoke to each other every day, as we always did, I didn’t consult Ma on any of the translations, since I’d planned this as a grand surprise for her.
So, when I translated the poem ‘Acrobat’, I couldn’t ask Ma if she would prefer its protagonist to be a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, the Bengali third-person singular pronoun not being gender-specific. To me, this poem had always invoked the precarious multi-tasking every woman must perfect to survive, so that’s the direction I chose. After giving her the book, I asked Ma if my choice had been right.
‘Actually, I wasn’t thinking about…