A Wound from a Dream

[From Prem Gilhari Dil Akhrot प्रेम गिलहरी दिल अखरोट by Babusha Kohli बाबुषा कोहली]

स्वप्न में लगी चोट का उपचार
नींद के बाहर खोजना
चूक है

होना तो ये था
की तुम अपनी दिल की एक नस निकालते
और बांध देते मेरी लहूलुहान उँगलिओपर
मेरी हँसली पर जमा पानी उलीचते
और रख देते वहाँ धूप मुठ्ठीभर

हुआ ये
की जीन परबतों पर मैंने तुम्हारा नाम उकेरा
वहांसे बह निकली कल कल करती नदियाँ
और मेरी गर्दन से जा चिपकी कागज़ की एक नांव

It’s futile to try and heal
a wound from a dream
when one is awake

What if
You had plucked a nerve from your heart,
tied it over my bleeding finger,
wiped dry the tears from my collarbone
and sprinkled fistful of sunlight there …

But,
from those mountains —
where I had carved out your name —
came rippling down the rivulets,
and left behind a crumpled paper boat,
on the nape of my neck.


Found this gem thanks to a lovely rendition by Rasika Duggal on a charming Youtube channel: Hindi Kavita

Special thanks to Atul Sabnis of Gaizabonts for assisting with “उलीचते”. I went to him with what I thought was the word, and what I thought was the meaning, and he went through hindi dictionary to find it out for me. Such is life with friends.

 

socha na tha (a loose translation)

Inspired (lol!) by the snippets of this Labi Siffre song, thanks to Atul‘s beautiful post, I tried my first translation into an Indian language (typically I attempt translations from Marathi/Hindi into English). And as always, I’ve taken enough liberties with translation, that it’s anything but authentic.

Thanks Atul, not just for the song, but for a spate of blogs that’s helping me break my (now perennial) writers-block.

सोचा  था  तुम्हारी याद आएगी
थोडीसी, और करेगी बेचैन
थोडासा..

पर इतना, ये  ना सोचा था

ना सोचा  था
हाल-इ-दिल ऐसा भी होगा कभी
की आँख खुलते तुम ख्वाबोंसे
खयालोमे में उतर आओगे
और तुम्हारी कमी का अहेसास
दिलाएगी याद हर सांस

ना तुम्हारी याद, ना ख्वाब
दिलाएंगे सुगुन अब
सिर्फ तुम्हारी आहट
इस बेचैनी को भुलाएगी दो पल

और सिर्फ तूम
भूलाओगे अहेसास
इस कमी का
सिर्फ तूम…

The Skeletons

[This is a translation of my first real poem. It was written in Marathi (will shortly upload the original on my marathi blog, which needs some attention anyways), and although there is no date on the first (and only) draft that I found recently while sifting through my notebooks, as far as I can remember it was written while I was in junior college. That’s 1992-93 time frame. Phew! So I’ve been writing crap for 15 years now]

Just the skeletons remains now
the ashes have half dispersed
and sparks have long extinguished

Why expect revolution from these skeletons,
when the bodies were never alive, even
we are the progenies of the padavas
stoically watching Draupadi‘s public stripping

Why feel sad, about these skeletons?
at least they don’t give a false hope …
one cannot get angry
at their inertness

PS: Well, as the luck goes, I got my first critical feedback on this poem too. It was a much older cousin who read it and said, “it will be much better if the poem’s meaning is translated into action too”. No prizes for guessing I didn’t heed it. Even back then I believed in “art for art’s sake”, I guess :-).

PS2: I’ve taken liberties while translating, given that it’s my own work, so I am goddamn supposed to know what the poem wanted to say.

nirAkAr, nirarthak!

I was listening to Wasifuddin Dagar’s Dhrupad recording (live concert, Adidam Center, New York, Jun 2001: legal mp3s available here, although low quality). At the start of one performance, he explains the meaning of ‘nirAkAr‘ to the (presumably) predominantly western audience as: “nirAkAr is shapeless”. Of course, a classical vocalist is not supposed to be versed in the fine art of translation but, it’s a fine example of how tricky the whole business is.
Even ‘formless’, (or without form, or better: not bounded by form?) a word usually used for nirAkAr, doesn’t quite fit. That’s because ‘nirguN/nirAkAr‘ are metaphysical words that cannot be translated one-to-one. They have to be defined in the context of the target culture/language.

Just like Kitsch?

The Destination, Take 2

Long back, I translated a poem by Marathi poet, Borkar. At that time, I didn’t have the original text with me. I translated through memory. Finally, I found the paper on which my cousin had written it down for me in his beautiful handwriting. For those who can read devnagari script, here is the original.

I’m not attempting to mend the translation; mainly because I’ll have to rewrite it completely. And now the bluff is called. I can see clearly my own mess. Thankfully, those who understand Marathi, can at least enjoy the poem now that I’ve posted the original text.

Lost and Found, In Translation

No mirror can capture your beauty
No shadows can dull your luminance
No words can capture you essence
No garden can mask your fragrance

How do I describe this boundless happiness
That my heart cannot hold within
Let me just close my eyes
As this bliss drowns me in

Note: These lines are inspired from Atul’s blog where he entrusted me to translate a few lines from hindi (I didn’t know when I wrote down the following, that those lines were from a song from film Ek Baar Muskurado). I think I misread the lines completely (sigh! I’m getting old), and so this is not really a translation. I just tried to translate and then decided to take liberties.

(Sorry Atul, I haven’t really kept the trust, but I hope you enjoy this half-hearted attempt)

Here are the original lyrics:

Roop tera aisa darpan mein na samaye
khushboo tere tan ki madhuban mein na samaye
ho mujhe khushi mili itni ki man mein na samaye
palak band kar loon kahin chalak hi na jaye

saavali

Here is a small poem by Nana Patkar (yes the well-known film/stage actor) that I had come across long back, in one of his interviews. I don’t even remember where on when, just that I had copied it down because I had liked its simplicity and depth. Today I picked up that diary after a long time and felt like translating it. With due apologies to Nana …

The poem’s name, if it had one, was never mentioned in the interview, so I’ve christened it saavali. Read the note below if you don’t know Marathi.

Saavali

tired to the bones
he slept peacefully
by the roadside;
a rock for a pillow

later sometime
he got up suddenly
the stone
was hurting

you were such a comfort
for a while,

he said to the rock,
why are you hurting
me now?

i was always a rock
it replied
for a while
you had turned
comforting


The Original:

saavali by nana patekar

Note: Saavali in Marathi means shadow/shade — although in the poem it is used additionally as “comfort” the first time around (which is not a very standard usage, to say the least — as far as I know, that is), and the poem has played with this double meaning very effectively. Obviously I couldn’t do that in English. As a result, the end lacks the punch of the original, and some of it is my limitation; can’t always blame the medium.

Trapped in translation

Trapped in translation

Conventional wisdom tells you not to blow your trumpet, but then I was never conventional, and rarely had any wisdom to speak of. So yes, this all (this as in this thought process) started when Vivek posted a Translation of my poem A Death Foretold. Vivek is a gifted poet (note, I’m not saying also :D), and normally the narcissist in me would be happy that my poem is being translated. Incidentally someone had posted a translation of one ghazal I wrote long back, on Sulekha. I cannot recall who, and which ghazal, even. But then I sort of didn’t think much about it. This time around, since I know Vivek and how good he’s at poetry, I was kind of disappointed with the translation.

There are different factors why it’s probably not effective, IMO. One is, as identified by a friend, the mixing of Urdu and high-brow shuddh Hindi, which doesn’t gel well. But that apart, it’s the inherent tone, and I think this is where Vivek has was constrained by the language, and not by his ability. The original has this dry, ironic, third-person tone (note not pov, but tone), where as the translation has a first person tone (and pov). The irony is almost lost in translation — the poet using poem against itself, or even himself. Not that this cannot be done in Hindi, but I doubt if it will need a complete rewrite, rather than a translation? What Eco calls translating the meaning and not the words…

I remembered the whole thing again in context of some breakfast time conversation. My (late) grandfather, who grew up in Ratnagiri, Konkan (the coastal area of Maharashtra) had this habit of greeting old friends with a “are wa, aahat ka ajun!”, which translated means: “oh excellent, you’re still there” (as in still alive). It was ironic, in the sense that the guys would be typically years younger to him. People who don’t know the konkani culture well would frown at such a greeting. Even people who know Marathi might not get the feelings behind such an outrageous greeting, imagine it being translated into English! He’d typically end the meetings with, “Punha bhetu, aapaN doghehi aslo tar” (we’ll meet again, if both of us are alive the next time). Not particularly great parting words, eh? But that’s Konakani, and to some extent, curiously, Solapuri (my home town) culture for you. Another very good friend of mine, who’s done his PHD from IIT, routinely uses phrases like, “are to xyz jivant aahe ki gachakala? (is xyz alive or did he die — that’s very rough literal translation) he’s not responding to my mails”. That even shocked my wife, who’s raised in Mumbai, another informal cultural pot.

“Antu Barva”, a character sketch (literal translation of vyakti-chitra, or is it the other way round?) in celebrated Marathi author P.L. Deshpande’s book “Vyakti aNi Valli” (People and Characters, again a literal translation — characters as in, “he’s a character!”), is an excellent stereotype of the konkani people. I shudder to translate that piece into English (or most of P.L. Deshpande’s writings for that matter). It will be a complete mess, however hard I might try. Maybe someone else will do (or has already done) a decent job, but I’m skeptical. I was reading Gaurav Sabnis’s translation of another P.L. classic. It can be found here. Although it’s a pretty good translation, I think it doesn’t do justice to the original P.L. piece. Again, not the translator’s problem, but the inherent pitfalls of translation. For the record, although I’ve attempted to translate a few Marathi poems, I’ve never been happy about them either. Although I got positive comments, none of them have read the Marathi originals. And I fear if someone who’s read them reads those translations, they will be appalled.

So does this mean translating is futile? Surely not. I mean I’ve read Eco, Pamuk, Camus … all translated. Without translations Neruda would be lost to most of us, so would be Marquez! So it’s a necessary evil. And while we’re at at, we must think a lot about them, to make sure we don’t destroy the essence, although compromise we will, however well we do. I cannot get my hands on an Eco article/interview where he discusses some of these perils of translation, but that was a very useful piece. Will put up a link if I find it.

Eco, Translations and The French Connection

Umberto Eco fascinated me with his Foucault’s Pendulum. So much, that I haven’t dared to read any of his other books. Sounds crazy, but when you start with something like Foucault’s Pendulum, you fear if the other books are going to live up to it.

Anyways. I was surprised that I didn’t know Umberto Eco was recently in India, something that I got to know from Element’s of Eco-logy, Antara Dev Sen in The Week. The article was more relevant for me, as it talks about travails of translation:

The context is important, he said while chatting with us later. “If you say ‘my nipote’ in Italian, I know that it cannot be your grandchild—you are too young!” he said, which reassured me. “So it must be my niece or nephew,” said I breezily, trying to pass off as a native Italian. “You have read Mouse or Rat!” said he, reassured in turn. Indeed my knowledge that nipote means any of the above was based solely on this book, where Eco lucidly explains the concept of translation as negotiation.

Speaking of translations, TOI has an interesting article (surprise surprise!) that has a title that’s abused left and right these days: Lost In Translation, which incidentally also mentions Eco’s India visit.

The organization that brought Eco to India, Transcultura, has been campaigning for alternative anthropology and “is constructed on the principles of reciprocal knowledge, respect and mutual enrichment, it develops methodologies of transcultural analysis applicable to different situations and intercultural contexts”

The French Connection is the context, of course, but then what I liked about the article is that it exemplifies how anthropology can affect perceptions and can cause havoc. In India, we ignore it almost as a irrelevant discipline and let others define us in any way they please, not realizing that the images that float in air come back to haunt us.

Coming back to the original article, let me end on a lighter note, with Eco again. Lighter, not frivolous, mind you:

Similar situations may seem completely baffling in different languages. “If I say I went into a bar, ordered a coffee, gulped it down in an instant and left,” said Eco, “it is perfectly understandable to an Italian audience. But in America, where coffee is served too hot, and in large mugs, it is confusing. Similarly, if I say, I ordered a coffee and sipped it for half an hour thinking of my beloved, it is okay in America, but in Italy they would not know how I could take half an hour over a coffee served at room temperature in a cup barely an inch tall!” The translator needs to negotiate such difficult terrain when rendering a work into another language.

The Destination

Here is a loose translation of a Marathi poem by B. B. Borkar, a poet with deep sensibilities and a zest for life. It’s almost impossible to translate some of his works, for they are rooted in the local culture, but at times he touches a chord that’s universal. I’m sure someone else might have done more justice to this poem in particular, but then I’ve waited long enough for that 🙂

This poem is meant as a monologue by an accomplished elder person to someone who’s just starting his life’s mission, and who apparently looks upto the former. The rest should be self-explanatory — even this but I’m not too happy with the translation, so thought I’d give a glimpse of the impressions that I had from the original…

No, don’t wait anymore for me
We must part our ways here
Shadows have cast their spell
On the long roads that I’ve traveled

I’ve basked in many a moonlight
Only the shadows fascinate me now
I’ve enthralled people with my songs
(But) only the silence enthralls me now

You must taste the charms of fame
It has an endearing shine
(But) I’m mesmerized
By that that’s way beyond

there, is the coolness of the moonlight
And trees filled with the glow of fireflies
Like a mind that shines from inside
While utter darkness surrounds it

Follow the roads where they take you
Eventually you’ll reach (me) here
(For) however twisted and tortured a road
It rests right here …