A Casa e O Mundo: Telo de Mascarenhas’s Translation of Ghare Baire

 When Ghare Baire was written in serial form (between May 1915 to February 1916), Tagore had already gone through some serious deliberation over the questions about patriotism and nationalism. The novel clearly shows the poet’s preoccupations with the kind of nationalism that was emerging at home and abroad. The dangers of nationalism had already manifested before the First World War. The Home and the World, English translation of Ghare Baire generated considerable discussions and debate over its message when published in Europe in 1921.

Though Tagore was introduced in the Lusophone world in 1914 through the Portuguese translation of Chitrangada, it took almost twenty-six years before any of his novels to be available in that language. The Portuguese translation A Casa e o Mundo was done by the Goan political-literary figure Telo de Mascarenhas (1899-1979) and published in 1941 by a famous Lisbon publisher called Editorial Inquérito. The  title page mentioned that the Portuguese translation was done from the original Bengali (“Tradução do original Bengali”).    

Telo de Mascarenhas together with his compatriot Adeodato Barreto (1904-1936) deserves credit for inspiring interest in studying Tagore’s literature and philosophy not only among the   aportuguesado Goans but also among the Portuguese intellectuals in general. Their literary activities in Portugal started after the First World War. Interest in Tagore was ebbing away in most of the European countries with the approach of the Second World War. It is to be noted that in Portugal, because of certain existing socio-political circumstances, Tagore’s thoughts continued to attract the intellectuals, writers and also the general readers of the country. This resulted in a number of Portuguese translations of his works.

The aspect of inclusiveness and harmony in Tagore’s philosophy always received special treatment in the writings of the nationalist Goans. In 1926, Telo de Mascarenhas founded in Lisbon the Centro Nacionalista Hindu to concretise the nationalist yearnings of Goa. Some Goan writers felt the need of translating modern Indian literary works into Portuguese. It was, in fact, in their agenda of passive resistance to the ‘politics of assimilation’ of the Portuguese colonial power. These translations, like other form of literary writings, were supposed to serve the primary purpose of educating the Portuguese people about India, thus creating a conspicuous cultural space in the so-called Pan-Lusitanian identity. With Ghare Baire, Mascarenhas initiated his plan of translating contemporary Indian literature.   

Why did Mascarenhas select Ghare Baire for translation at that point of time? The answer lies in the contemporary socio-political conditions of the Iberian Peninsula. In the 1930s the Peninsula was passing through one of the most egregious political conditions. Militant nationalism, whipped up by the European dictators, was a great concern for the writers of the groups Seara Nova (1921-1961) and the Renascença Portuguesa. Democratic systems in the Continent had already been falling apart rapidly and fascist powers were in league with one another. Salazar praised Franco’s nationalism and sent “legião de Viriato” for his help. Salazar’s patriotism turned into aggressive nationalism. This nationalism was responsible for suppressing or effacing non-Christian cultures.  Goans and the peoples of the Portuguese colonies in Africa bore the brunt of this imperial nationalism.

When Mascarenhas started working on his translation, perhaps the Civil War was already ravaging the neighbour-country Spain; or Europe had already entered into another spree of sacrificing human lives at the altar of the monster called Nation. Mascarenhas found in Ghare Baire the echo of Tagore’s criticism of the political civilisation of the West that was all devouring and without a human face.   

 Mascarenhas left a very brief and lucid elucidation of the poet’s ideas of nationalism and patriotism in reference to Ghare Baire in an article written in 1928. He underlined the uniqueness of Tagore’s patriotism which has a solid base of inclusiveness, unlike the patriotism that was fast spreading in the post-World War Europe. Though some European scholars read Ghare Baire as a novel of triangular love, Mascarenhas considers it a discourse on a type of nationalism that brings unity of Mankind. He thinks that the greatness of Tagore lies in placing patriotic discourses in the realm of domestic affairs in the novel.

A compariosn of the Portuguese and the English versions of the novel leads to some interesting findings. It is to be noted that what is “atmakotha”(autobiography) of Ghare Baire has been called “narração” or story in A Casa e O Mundo. The narration of each character is further subdivided by numbered sections in the Portuguese version. A Casa e O Mundo is reorganised into thirteen chapters, unlike the original Bengali version with eighteen and the English with twelve. As a translator, Mascarenhas could make successful transposition in the Portuguese translation capturing most of the nuances of the original Bengali text. The diction of the translated version shows Mascarenhas’s deep understanding of Indian culture. Some  parts of the Bengali text have been deleted  in the Portuguese version. Whatever changes were made by the translator, the discourse of nationalism of the novel was skilfully introduced through the translation to the readers of the socially and politically ravaged Iberian Peninsula in the1940s. I would like to draw my readers’ attention to the fact that between 1941 and 1955, there appeared four editions of A Casa e O Mundo in Portugal, whereas in neighbouring Spain, though several works of Tagore had already been translated, Ghare Baire failed to attract any Spanish translator till the 1970s! It won’t be preposterous to say that the question of nationalism/patriotism was more disturbing for the Portuguese nation-- still with colonies--than for Spain which had then none.  The writers of the Seara Nova and the Renascença Portuguesa were attracted by Tagore’s universalism and search for unity of mankind in the midst of all round spread of fascist doctrines in Europe. The members of these literary groups were sincere advocates of democracy and non-violence in politics, and were highly critical of any apolitical position of a writer. Transcending all narrow racial, religious and national boundaries, Tagore emerged for them as a true internationalist. Agusto Casimiro, a prominent poet of the Renascença Portuguesa, expressing his reverence for Indian thinkers, explained how they imbibed Tagore’s nationalism that was built on a solid base of cooperation and understanding among peoples beyond their narrow political boundaries. It’s nationalism that begets unity of mankind. Casimiro affirmed later that the members of the Renascença Portuguesa synthesised Tagore’s kind of nationalism with their own.

Thus reception of Ghare Baire in Portugal in the 1940s and the 1950s needs to be examined in the backdrop of the country’s dictatorial government and its official jingoism.