Mulligatawny Dreams

I’ve just retweeted an announcement about Meena, so I might as well post it here as intro to Roselyne’s translation: ‘A couple of sharp poems by @meenakandasamy and an interview

This is a poem I’ve done a version of into Scots (‘Cockaleekie Dwaums’, onywan?), so I’ll also be posting on it shortly.


i dream of an english
full of the words of my language.
an english in small letters
an english that shall tire a white man’s tongue
an english where small children practice with smooth round
pebbles in their mouth to the spell the right zha
an english where a pregnant woman is simply stomach-child-lady
an english where the magic of black eyes and brown bodies
replaces the glamour of eyes in dishwater blue shades
and the airbrush romance of pink white cherry blossom skins
an english where love means only the strange frenzy
between a man and his beloved, not between him and his car
an english without the privacy of its many rooms
an english with sufixes for respect
an english with more than thirty six words to call the sea
an english that doesn’t belittle brown or black men and women
an english of tasting with five fingers
an english of talking love with eyes alone
and i dream of an english
where men
of that spiky, crunchy tongue
buy flower-garlands of jasmine
to take home to their coy wives
for the silent demand of a night of wordless whispered love…



Je rêve d’un anglais
plein des mots de ma langue
un anglais en petites lettres
un anglais à fatiguer la langue d’un blanc
un anglais pour lequel un petit enfant s’entraînerait
avec des cailloux ronds et lisses dans la bouche
à prononcer le zha exact
un anglais où une femme enceinte serait simplement une dame-enfant-ventre
un anglais où la magie des yeux noirs et des corps bruns
remplacerait le glamour des nuances bleues en eaux de vaisselle
et le roman d’aérographe des peaux du blanc-rose des fleurs de cerisiers
un anglais où amour signifierait seulement l’étrange frénésie
entre un homme et son aimée, et non pas entre un homme et sa voiture
un anglais sans l’intimité de ses nombreuses pièces
un anglais avec des suffixes pour le respect
un anglais avec plus de trente-six mots pour parler de la mer
un anglais qui ne rabaisserait pas les hommes et les femmes bruns ou noirs
un anglais qui sente avec les cinq doigts
un anglais qui puisse parler d’amour seulement avec les yeux

et je rêve d’un anglais

où les hommes
de cette langue à pointes, croquante
achèteraient des guirlandes de fleurs de jasmin
à rapporter chez eux à leurs épouses réservées
pour demander silencieusement une nuit sans mots d’amour murmurant…


About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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2 Responses to Mulligatawny Dreams

  1. Thalak says:

    read the translation in French. am rather disappointed by her translation. ’cause, she
    deoes not seem to have grasped all the nuances of Meena’s lines.
    E.g. 1)
    Meena’s “an English in small letters”, is it not an allusion to the fact that in
    Indian languages there is no different forms of ‘capital’ and ‘small’ letteres in writing. I feel that the French ‘en petites lettres’ do not convey it. Don’t we say
    ‘en minuscules’ in French?
    Eg.2) “coy wives” = épouses réservées”, inacceptable!!!!!
    Eg. 3) Meena’s last line ” for the silent demand of a night of wordless, whispered love” (so beautiful in English!) is rendered blandly ‘passable’ in French!
    Dear Meena, you should find Indians living in France and fluently francophone, with
    a love of poetry, for this kind of task. You can thank your fellow poetess in France for
    the job she has done out of love and admiration for you, but she or any other western writer should not pretend to understand/feel you, for, you write in English.
    Another of Mme Roselyne’s blunder made me aghast( ‘agaçant’). Here it is: your
    “an English of tasting with five fingers” is put into “un anglais qui sente avec les cinq
    doigts”! Are you not making an obvious reference to eating/tasting food in India? If
    that be so, the French poetess has missed the whole thing by the use of ‘sentir’ which
    means ‘to feel, to sense’. I wondered why she did not go for the more picturesque,
    sensuous ‘gouter’ which is what we say when we want to taste something, even
    figuratively. This said, these kind of lapses are common in translations from non-
    European cultural contexts, though transited thru English. Courage and Kudos!!!!

  2. Roselyne says:

    Je réponds en français à ce commentaire puisque le correspondant semble bien maîtriser cette langue.

    Merci pour votre avis. Mais vous n’avez pas besoin d’être aussi acerbe ! “La critique est aisée mais l’art est difficile.”

    Je note et modifie néanmoins selon votre avis les points 1, 2 et 4. Je maintiens le 3 qui est la formulation la plus chantante en français.

    Et j’envoie à Meena la nouvelle traduction.

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