‘Your Smile’: Poetry Translation by Carol D’Souza

Your smile


Like a curtain rippling at the door

your smile


I step forward—

And your smile spreads

Like fresh pressed oil on water


In the morning

when no shadows form on the floor

it alights like sunshine in an egg

Springs back like an unlatched window

And like a small road, it falls in step

accompanying me for a long while


Your smile

falls like seeds into the soil

Jamun like eyes well up with relish

And look, colour blue—

my teeth.



तुम्हारी हँसी


दरवाज़े पर लहराते पर्दे जैसी

तुम्हारी हँसी


मैं बढ़ता क़दम—

और फैल जाती तुम्हारी हँसी

पानी पर कच्चे तेल की तरह


सुबह के समय

जब ज़मीन पर नहीं बनतीं परछाइयाँ

अण्डे में धूप—सी उतर आती

खिड़की के खुलने सी लपकती वापिस

और पगडण्डी—सी चलती

देर तक साथ


तुम्हारी हँसी

पृथ्वी पर बीज—सी झरती

जामुन जैसी आँखों में भर आता स्वाद

और नीले पड़ जाते देखो—

मेरे दाँत।



Translation from the Hindi to the English by Carol D’Souza

The Hindi poem by Sourav Roy

The poem is selected from Roy’s latest collection Kaal Baisakhi, Vani Prakashan, 2022, page 25.


Carol D’Souza lives in Chennai. A collation of her work can be found at linktr.ee/cblaizd. Her poetry in English has previously appeared in ASAP|art, The Sunflower Collective, Almost Island, EKL Review, Hakara, Indian Cultural Forum, voice & verse, the Economic and Political Weekly, and elsewhere. It is forthcoming in Qurbatein. Her translation of Uday Prakash and Amrita Pritam’s poetry from Hindi to English is forthcoming in the Red River Anthology of Twenty First Century Hindi Poets and Usawa Literary Review respectively.
Sourav Roy is a bilingual writer, poet, journalist, and translator. He currently works as a teacher, and has been a visiting faculty at Azim Premji University and NIFT Bengaluru in the past. He is also a core member of Anjuman, a literary club that promotes Hindi-Urdu literature in Bengaluru. A blogger since 2010, Sourav has worked as an Editor at YourStory Media in the past, where he wrote about India’s social sector. He continues to write regularly for Bengaluru Review and Deccan Herald newspaper. His published work includes Kaal Baisakhi, Yayavar (Collections of poems) Karnakavita (Editor: Anthology of Hindi-Urdu poetry from Bengaluru), Teen Natak by Abhishek Majumdar (Editor), Soho Mein Marx (Translator: 3 Plays by Howard Zinn), and Os Ki Prithvi (Translation of Japanese Haiku).

“All writing is essentially translation”: An interview with Maithreyi Karnoor

Maithreyi Karnoor writes in English and translates from Kannada. She has won the Kuvempu Bhasha Bharati prize for translation and was shortlist for the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize. She is a two-time finalist of the Montreal International Poetry Prize, and her poems are published in Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry Wales, amongst others. She is the recipient of the 2022 Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship for creative writing and translation at Literature Across Frontiers, University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Her novel Sylvia is published in India and the UK.

In this interview, she shares her thoughts on writing and translation with publisher Neeta Gupta. Neeta Gupta has been working towards creating publishing connectivities across different languages and cultures for over two decades. She is the co-Founder of the Publishers’ Exchange, a group of Indian Language Publishers formed during the Pandemic to facilitate a sharing of ideas and resources; and Executive Member, Ashoka Centre for Translation. She is also the chief editor of Anuvad, the Bhartiya Anuvad Parishad’s quarterly journal on translation. She was formerly the publisher at Yatra Books and is now the Publishing Director at Tethys Books. Neeta Gupta has edited a volume of essays on translating from and into Indian languages, titled, Translating Bharat, Reading India.

Let’s start with a question about all your literary lives—as a poet, translator, writer—and which hat is your favourite one to wear? 

I write poetry and fiction in English, and I translate literary works from Kannada. I don’t see them as separate and all three processes are largely intuitive. I think all writing is essentially translation—of abstract, amorphous thoughts into concrete words. And when I translate, I don’t focus on the meanings of individual words alone; I also look at the mood and the music and seek to recreate the gestalt of the text as a whole. So, vice versa, all translation, for me, is essentially writing.

How do you balance your work and literary pursuits? Does your writing and translation work pay the bills?

I don’t know of many English writers in India who make a living from their writing (I cannot speak for commercial writing—fiction or otherwise—of course). I don’t. I barely make a living even. It helps that I have no dependents. Although I’d love to live off my writing someday, I don’t want to count on it. I recently quit a job teaching creative writing in a design college and am living on my obscenely meagre savings. But I have no regrets. I think it’s ironic to spend all of one’s time teaching writing and not be able to actually write. My only method with writing is to not have a method. It is an intuitive process, and teaching it—which is essentially talking about it—was exhausting. The only principle I go by is ‘read well to write well,’ and I was weary of having to constantly unpack that in the classroom.

Perhaps because I am a translator, language and its magic hold me in their sway. I love a good story. I love a well-written story even more. I can read and reread a beautifully written sentence until the cows come home—and inversely (to borrow from Groucho Marx) I can look at the cows until a beautifully written sentence comes home. I am rather old-school in my art-for-arts’ sake inclinations. While messaging and subverting and that sort of thing is important, I prefer it to not dominate the narrative. Humour, wordplay, satire, cleverness (that does not take away from the gravity of the situation), wry acceptance, honest self-deprecation—these things are important for me in what I read and what I write.

I am not a student of literature in the traditional sense. And I’m glad about it—I think an academic relationship with literature would have killed its joy for me. Now, every story, every poem I read is a new discovery unbound by theoretical frameworks.

Who are the Kannada authors—past and present—that you like the most? 

I admire Bendre’s poetry—there is so much more than mere meaning in them. I don’t want to go through the bother of acquiring permission from his rather elusive estate, which is why I don’t publish my translations of his works. But working with them gives me great joy. Vasudhendra’s works offer a different kind of challenge in translation—the complex plotlines he weaves into rich tapestries require care and attention to be rendered in all their beauty into English.

Linguistic nuance and difference from the mainstream interests me. I admire Shrinivas Vaidya’s work for that reason. Translating his novel felt as natural and joyful as chatting with my mother owing to his easy and quirky use of the north Karnataka Kannada (which I refuse to call a dialect). I have had the urge to write in Kannada for some time now but have lacked the courage for it. But I made a beginning recently and it is scary to say the least. Vaidya passed on around the same time and the coincidence of the events makes me wonder if he has handed me the baton of our language.

Given the rise in interest in translations studies in universities like JNU, Ashoka, Jadavpur—what can we do to promote marginalised writers and translators and their works in mainstream discussions? I’m asking this because it seems to me as if Indian writers who write in English and those who write in the languages exist in two parallel universes.

It’s heartening to see increased academic interest in translation. Mainstream publishing is also looking more keenly at translation than before—and that is definitely a good beginning in the endeavour to subvert some of the hegemony of language and what counts for the canon. But we have a long way to go before translated literature comes out of the ‘also-ran’ category and is taken seriously for itself. What we lack majorly are resources. Unlike in the west, literary translation in India is not a career option. Except for a handful of well-established ones, translators don’t get paid by wordage or a share in the royalties. One is lucky to be paid an honorarium. It remains something of an indulgence that one does for the love of language and literature and is, therefore, prohibitive as a sustainable activity. Also, while one may talk about inclusivity for dialects of the disempowered within the language of a state, there is a standardising endeavour in English however careful the translator may be in preserving difference. And all said and done, English remains an elitist enterprise in India—more so a literary sensibility in it. Translation is, after all, not a simple discipline. It is an art and a craft of language and is not free of its power trappings. This impasse—like everything else plaguing us—can only be addressed through education (access and quality) and greater social democracy.

How was your experience as a Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow in Creative Writing and Translation in 2022? Do you recommend it to emerging translators—what are the opportunities that they can look forward to?

The CWIT fellowship at Literature Across Frontiers (LAF), Wales, was a shot in the arm for my literary endeavours. It is one of the few places that recognise the close relationship between writing and translation and aim to nourish it by encouraging early-career writers who are also translators. After India where the paperwork for existence alone can fill entire libraries, I was pleasantly surprised by how refreshingly unbureaucratic University of Wales was. I was given the time and space to think, write, and translate at my own pace, and I was more prolific in those three months in Aberystwyth than I could have been in a whole year in India. I had an office in the Celtic studies building and it was lovely. I remember a lady I met in Lampeter making a friendly jibe at me for trying to be creative in what she thought was a dull room with no view. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her how coming from where I do, having a quiet place to myself—however lacking in view—and the freedom to use it as I pleased was a huge luxury. I completed the last part of my translation of Vasudhendra’s novel Tejo Tungabhadra there. I also finished the first draft of my short fiction collection of social satire Gooday Nagar. I am waiting for my agent Kanishka Gupta to find me a publisher for it. I also filled an entire notebook with poems, several of which were published in highly regarded British journals.

What are your thoughts on awards in the international translation world—has it affected the status of translators/translations in India in terms of finances and recognition or both? Do you believe this will mean that more books will be translated, or there will be more support for translations, even translation between Indian languages? 

Awards, prizes, and grants acknowledging translation is certainly good news. But they aren’t nearly enough and it is a bit of a lottery. It is, ultimately, a competition in a highly subjective field. They are great as pats on the back but the work of those who don’t win must also be accounted for. The pressing need, therefore, is for translation to be recognised as work. Paid work. Ultimately, only time and longevity decides the quality of one’s writing.

What are you working on next?

I am currently working on my third book and second novel. I am writing it in Kannada which I will then translate to English. Although it is my first language, I have never written in Kannada before and it is a daunting—albeit fun—prospect. For me, wordplay and the clever and beautiful use of language are as important as the plot. The title of my forthcoming novel is a play on a famous, modern Kannada natak. I won’t reveal it just yet, but it came to me as a joke, and it is so idiosyncratic to Kannada that the novel also begged to be written in it. I will have to come up with a creative alternative for it in English as it is an ‘untranslatable pun’. I will have to take some liberties with it, but I have always had great relationships with the authors I have translated, and I fully intend to continue the trend with myself.

I am also working at publishing Skinny Dipping in Tiger Country, my poetry collection soon. The title poem was published in PN Review earlier this year. I have been biding my time to find the right publisher for it.

Poems on the Mother Tongue

Poems on the Mother Tongue

By Nabanita Sengupta


Her mother tongue




I searched for my language

along the uneven surface of

Chhotanagpur, words rolled down

like pebbles, that we had

kicked with the tip of our

Bata shoes – jet black, polished

to shine and we bantered or

laughed. The boys cursed,

mothers and sisters at the

edge of their lips, meanings

versatile, occasions numerous.


I sought a language of my own

along city streets, in buses

and cars, in friendly quips

in the poems and stories,

juggling between tongues,

from Chota Nagpur to Delhi

to Kolkata, exchanging words

across states, across rituals

yet all I found were borrowed tongues


heart pumped words into the

veins, spreading from limbs to

mind to lungs.


words breathed, words mouthed,

aliens in my body, transfused in

the system by donors everywhere.

body rejects.

failed transfusions

colour my poems red.

I, a woman,

shed off the borrowed tongues

in search of a language called

my own.

I seek her

in each tongue I speak.




in an auction of words,

the meekest ones came

to me. Bidding, I raised my

bar higher, to grab the

powerful, yet each time

was outdone, a baritone won.


at a friend’s birthday,

words were packed

in coloured wrappers

and kept in a basket. my

turn to choose came

I unwrapped, delicate

dainties, pretty words.


my inheritance from

my mother were the words

dutiful and docile, spelled

to please and comfort. my

streedhan for the future,

assets to sail through rough weather.


I city hopped

cruised the seas

bartered words

swapped lingos


everywhere I found

women bartering


yet her body

spelt the same





Metamorphoses of Tongue


In a growing war field of languages

my body turns multilingual

and lives in translated spaces.

On a sleepy afternoon

it breaks down the imperialism

of everyday prose

and metamorphoses

into cottony clouds,

floating high up in infinite,

cooing love songs

in a new parlance.


Then it becomes a sea

hiding in its deepest deeps

stories of desires

prohibited in arid land;

with the chiming of a bell,

in the music of a waiting conch

it ushers in a whole new carnival


And when it turns into a forest –

whispering wind chants

its magic mantra

the ancient abracadabra

of the world before Babel

and valleys, mountains

wetlands sparkle

in a million blooms


Nothing gets lost in translation

as I pick up each touch

that metamorphosis incurs

and weave them tight into my skin

my multilingual self celebrates

freedom of warring tongues.


Harlequin Soul


What brush do I use

if not words

when polychromatic tongues

paint me in their hues


Crimson Bangla buried deep,

flowed quiet in the veins,

beneath the sun soaked epidermis

আমার প্রাণের ভাষা শিখে ডাকে পাখি পিউ

Bangla, placidly drifted, hidden

beneath the other tongues –

till she revealed herself

in the fertile green of a matured sun


in the courtyard of childhood

seven colours played,

तू जहाँ जहाँ चलेगा

मेरा साया साथ होगा

the rainbows of life –

friends and playmates,

shared lunches or kabaddi

brown and ochres on uniforms white

claimed a space in the

flowchart of time


yet English sparkled

irradiscent, multicoloured

structuring the faiths,

and the visible mien,

weaving dichotomies,

fab india cottons and fulia taant

and a world full of Plath

Kafka, Atwood or Achebe

all across the globe, they

housed in my mind,

shaped up my world


a bit of maithili here, or Assamese

and even splashes of French

Punjabi, Kannad, Tamil

made me friends,


limited potential…

i learned nought



each language is a home

a riot of colours


a polyglot – a harlequin soul



* – আমার প্রাণের ভাষা শিখে ডাকে পাখি পিউ  – a line from a Bengali song. It can be translated as –the bird learnt the language of my heart and cooed.

Transliteration: amaar praner bhasha shikhe daake pakhi piu

** तू जहाँ जहाँ चलेगा/ मेरा साया साथ होगा – translated as – wherever you go, my soul will be with you. a popular song in Hindi

Transliteration – tu jahan jahan chalega, mera saya saath hoga


About the author:

Nabanita Sengupta teaches in an undergraduate college in Kolkata as her profession and engages with poetry, fiction and translation to nurture her creative self. She is also actively associated with two literary groups, Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library and Kolkata Translators’ Forum.

Mother Tongues, Twisted

“I once saw, in Germany, a small exhibition of Samuel Beckett’s correspondence to his German publisher… Beckett wrote to his publisher not in German but in French, a language in which he was of course deeply at home; but in the final year of his life, he switched to English. “Going home,” I thought.”
~ James Wood, “Secular Homelessness”

In Satyajit Ray’s ‘Sonar Kella’ (The Golden Fortress), Mandar Bose, one of the antagonists, is a conman who pretends to be a globe-trotter. When asked by his compatriot why he chose to don the guise of a globe-trotter, he says, “Matric e 56 peyechilam, Bhugol e!” (“I got 56 in Geography in my Matriculation exam!”) This is quite a high score, but there is a strange ambiguity of validity here. This exchange takes place in a moment of inebriation. One expects this assertion to imply that his act will be quite informed. He is delightfully mischievous, sprinkling trivia to drum up his credentials.  The protagonist, however, on meeting him, is surprised by his Bengali, which sounds typically untouched. 

“Your Bengali seems as clear as ever,” he’s told. 
“The thing is,” he replies, “if you want to forget your mother tongue, you can do so at home. And if you don’t want to, no amount of globe-trotting can affect it.”

The image of this masquerading globe-trotter has returned to me over the years. One can appreciate the conviction with which he defends his apparently unsullied mother tongue. I would often find myself equally charmed and disturbed by this sense of anchorage; being reminded of the importance of home, I was moved to think about the other side of this binary—the unrelenting presence of homelessness. For those of us who grew up in a world pretending to do away with borders, “homelessness” was both a privilege and an affliction. The rootedness of a “mother tongue” required the privilege of stasis. What about those of us who had moved around throughout our lives? What, or indeed, where was my mother tongue? 

There was, of course, a simple way to answer this. My mother tongue was the language I was born in, the language my parents were born in. Bengali. Bangla. But this couldn’t explain the homeliness that I felt in the other languages I walked into. And it couldn’t, at the same time, explain the alienation I felt within what was supposed to be my “mother tongue”. I had grown up in Kolkata, Yokohama and then in Delhi. Now I was in Oxford. Bengali, with its deceptive simplicity, was a blanket. But there was also Hindi, rebellious and proud; there was Japanese, stoic, silent and determined. And then there was English, the conduit of interpretation. In a strange game of exchange, I saw Kolkata’s Esplanade in Delhi’s Connaught Place and London’s Trafalgar Square. I looked for Japanese words in English, Indian words in Hiragana.

And my mother tongue, like home, soon became a shifting ground. A mirage, a promise of eventual arrival grounded in myth. Homer writes that when Odysseus returned home to Ithaca, he was surprised to find that the home he returned to was not the home he left behind. His countrymen were interested in telling him what had happened in his absence, while he wanted to tell them how he had filled in this absence. Olga Tokacrzuk writes that ours is a generation of transit. We spend more time in airports than in landings. Perhaps this is true. Perhaps the old, grand Odyssean myth of an epic journey away from home, of grand homelessness no longer appears to fit onto our current conditions congruently. Speaking about myself, I can say that ours is a generation of movement. And those of us who have the privilege of a chosen homelessness come to the realisation that we are neither too far from home, nor ever at home. Home is altogether collapsed into a flight ticket. Our mother tongues become ‘twisted’. There is something playful about the image of something twisted. Twisting implies similarity but not sameness. The twisted thing looks almost like what it used to be, but it isn’t quite that anymore. My Bangla looks for similar word-shapes in English, Hindi and Japanese.

Translation is strangely tied to exile, to homelessness. To those of us who prefer both the peril and privilege of a self-imposed exile, translation, perhaps, is not merely an act of remedy but a condition of survival. A refuge. For what is translation after all, if not the location of this very loss?  My mother tongue is the spaces in between, the translated no-man’s land which is simultaneously orphaned and public. 

Mandar Bose, in trying to show off his cosmopolitan geography, often equates landscapes in the film with their supposed counterparts encountered through his travels. But his is a geography which is inaccurate, even misinformed. Looking at the hills of Eastern Rajasthan, he exclaims, “Ah, this reminds me of Spain!” Soon, his excesses take a turn for the ridiculous. He argues that there are wolves found in the African Sahara. When told that he must have mixed up wolves and hyenas, he exclaims,

“Hyena toh moshai China te pawa jay!” (My dear fellow, Hyenas are found in China!”) 

Growing up, these scenes were exclusively meant for levity, a laughter which we kept locked up in the tiny boxes of memory. But today, I find myself thinking about this lapse as the condition of homelessness, of our mother tongues being ‘twisted’. Words walk out their houses and visit their neighbours. 

The man with inaccurate geography ultimately gets caught. But what if we choose to read this inaccuracy as invention? What if this failure is a generative joke? Perhaps the act of translation (whether by choice or circumstance) requires this very suspension of maps, an exile of possibilities, a chosen, wilful inaccuracy of geography. In our twisted mother tongues, a word begins somewhere and ends, ends up somewhere else. All we can do is be the rivers in between these journeys, bridges which belong nowhere and everywhere. 

About the Author:
Utsa Bose is a first year MPhil student in Modern South Asian Studies at the University of Oxford, and formerly an intern at Mother Tongue Twisters.