Week-end Book Review: Wordygurdyboom! The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray by Sukumar Ray

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Sukumar Ray, translated by Sampurna Chatterji
Wordygurdyboom! The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray
Puffin Classics (India), 2008.

Ages: 8+

Sukumar Ray was a Bengali writer born in Calcutta in 1887.   After being educated in India and England, he returned to his father’s printing press business U. Ray & Sons in Calcutta. At that time, the older Ray had begun publishing a children’s magazine called Sandesh. When Sukumar took over the press in 1915, he began to write for the magazine, producing poetry and stories, as well as illustrations for SandeshWordygurdyboom! is a collection of Ray’s writing and illustrations, translated from the original Bengali by Sampurna Chatterji. As noted in the introduction by Ruskin Bond, Bengali is a language that ‘lends itself to rhyme and rhythm, to puns and wordplay.’  Ray, influenced by the nonsense verse of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, carved out his own unique style of verse in Bengali and, thanks to Sampurna Chatterji’s excellent translation, readers can really enjoy his ‘non-sensibility’ in this English anthology.

The book is made up of a selection of Ray’s writings which include poems, stories, and even a made-up hunting diary of a Professor Chuckleonymous. Throughout the book, strange creatures abound like the Limey Cow which is “not a cow, in fact it’s a bird” or the Billy Hawk calf who “is forbidden to laugh.”  There’s the Wonster who is a pining, whining, ‘nag-nag’ or the Pumpkin Grumpkin who looks like a walrus-manatee. In the poem Mish Mash, there are all manners of creatures combined to become such oddities as the ‘duckupine,’ the ‘elewhale’ or the ‘stortoise.”

In Ray’s stories, various odd characters appear like the calculating Raven of Haw-Jaw-Baw-Raw-Law or the mischievous school boy Dashu of “Dashu the Dotty One.” There’s Professor Globellius Brickbat who experiments with cannonballs made up of “nettle-juice, chilli-smoke, flea-fragrance, creeper-cordial, rotten-radish extract,” the result of which, as you can imagine, is not flattering to the appearance of the man post-experiment.

Wordygurdyboom! is a delightful collection of writing. What is astonishing, however, is the fact that this is a work of translation. Non-sense verse relies heavily on the nuances of language; that the Bengali could be translated into English in this manner is truly, as Bond points out, ‘deserving of a medal.’ Much credit has to be given to Sampurna Chatterji for bringing this lively, witty writer’s words into English for a new generation of readers to appreciate and enjoy.

Sally Ito
April 2012

Poetry Friday: a bit of nonsense from Sukumar Ray

Friday, October 8th, 2010

The Select Nonsense of Sukumar RayDuring Poetry Month in April, Mary Ann Dame’s wrote about Imaginary Menagerie: A Book of Curious Creatures by Julie Larios and Julie Paschkis and challenged us to concoct some weird and wonderful hybrids of our own. It didn’t, I have to admit, have the result that I now have a brilliant piece of my own poetry to flourish – however, it did make me think of one of my favorite nonsense poems by Sukumar Ray (1887-1923), whom I first heard of via Swapna Dutta’s portrait of the poet for PaperTigers (and Swapna has also writen a Personal View for our current issue). Here are a couple of couplets from “Haans chilo sojaru” translated from the original Bengali by Sukanta Chaudhuri as “Hotch-Potch” in The Select Nonsense of Sukumar Ray (Oxford University Press):

A pochard and a porcupine, defying the grammarians,
Combined to form a porcochard, unmindful of their variance.

A stork upon a tortoise grew, exclaiming ‘What a hoot!
A very handsome storkoise, now, we jointly constitute.’

You can read, or at least look at, the original Bengali poem here, along with the whole poem in a different English translation by well-known filmmaker Satyajit Ray, Sukumar’s son; and the poem is also discussed here. I love comparing the two translations, with the different ways they have combined the animals, and I wish I could reproduce the whole of Sukanta Chaudhuri’s “Hotch Potch” so that you could do so too… And I wish I could read the original so that I could see what Sukumar Ray himself actually wrote – ah, well…

Anyway, the whole book is worth getting hold of: here’s what I wrote about it a couple of years ago(!):

Each poem has to be savored and the sounds enjoyed. Sukanta Chaudhuri’s translations from the original Bengali are truly amazing – lots of delightful rhymes and rhythms; and nonsense that is both nonsensical and convincingly English. Sukumar Ray’s own sketches and silhouettes sometimes give a visual lead into the poems and it hasn’t worried my two that some of the language is archaic: they expect to be baffled because it is, after all, nonsense! I think the word porcochard from “Hotch Potch” is set to become a new family word.

This week’s Poetry Friday is over at Carol’s Corner

Books at Bedtime: Reading Challenge (Update 2!)

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

It’s hard to believe that a month has gone by since my first update on our rising to the PaperTigers Reading Challenge but it has and we are just about managing to keep up! Our three books this month are all very different and once again Big Brother and Little Brother have prepared their own reviews. It is quite coincidental that both their ‘solo’ books are illustrated by Ed Young – and that they both feature piercing eyes on their front covers!

The Select Nonsense of Sukumar RayMeanwhile our joint choice has been The Select Nonsense of Sukumar Ray. We still have quite a long way to go and I suspect we’ll be dipping into it right to the end of the Challenge: you can’t rush Nonsense Poetry! Each poem has to be savored and the sounds enjoyed. Sukanta Chaudhuri’s translations from the original Bengali are truly amazing – lots of delightful rhymes and rhythms; and nonsense that is both nonsensical and convincingly English. Sukumar Ray’s own sketches and silhouettes sometimes give a visual lead into the poems and it hasn’t worried my two that some of the language is archaic: they expect to be baffled because it is, after all, nonsense! I think the word porcochard from “Hotch Potch” is set to become a new family word. But of course this is a translation – and here is another version, equally virtuoso, of the same poem, this time translated by Sukumar Ray’s son, Satyajit Ray. Here the extraordinary combination of a pochard/duck and a porcupine has become a “Porcuduck”…. Which of course leads into all sort of questions about translations… but that’s for a later date!

SadakoBig Brother’s book was Sadako in the picture book version by Eleanor Coerr, illustrated, as I said, by Ed Young. I said how much I was looking forward to seeing this book in a post for World Peace Day; here’s what Big Brother (aged 9 ½ exactly!) has to say: (more…)