Conversations: An Art of Learning

I’m not a huge fan of the Facebook Ticker, that annoying thing that keeps on posting you updates of actions of your friends, as if the news feed isn’t enough distraction in your life, anyways. Lately, though, I’ve installed a Chrome extension called Todobook. This turns your Facebook newsfeed into a todo list, and only after you have cleared it, do you get to read the newsfeed. That too for some grace time. The thing is, muscle memory trumps (no pun intended) you. So I still go to Facebook tab. And I am presented with a, sometimes empty, todo list instead. And so I look at the tickler. I know, it defeats the whole purpose. But I never claimed I’m perfect. Or any tool is perfect.

Long story short, I saw a friend reacting to a post by someone named Gauri Brahme, whom I did not know. The post was written in Marathi. And when I read it, my first reaction was “this needs a wider audience”. And so I asked for her permission to translate and repost it with attribution, which she gave pronto. As it happened, I sat on it for couple of days, which isn’t that bad, considering I’m an expert procrastinator. So here is the post. I don’t know whether I plan to translate every post in the series, as they come. But I’m translating (bit loosely, as is my habit) this one with the whole context.


Here is the original post, in case you read and understand Marathi. Translations can never be as good as original. But they can strive to be the next best thing. In any case, any shortcomings are mine alone. Here goes:


As it happens, both of our children are on the cusp of teenage. naturally, they are full of those questions. As parents, we are often challenged to answer the questions. After all, no one’s omniscient. Perfect parents are as much a myth as perfect kids. But many times, some answers manage to hit a bulls-eye, so to say. Sometimes in the flow of conversations emerge some interesting answers that the children can make sense of. I’m planning to jot down some such conversations, under “Conversations with Neel and Radha” series. At present targeting at least five posts. And if they help at least some other parents like us, with kids of that awkward age, teenage and thereabout, in their upbringing, even a little, I will consider that a success of these writings.

Conversations with Neel and Radha #1


Daughter: Mom, what’s a divorce?

Me: Divorce is a quarrel between a married couple, a mom and a dad for instance, that ends in a decision to stay in two different houses.

Daughter: But everyone quarrels, right? That doesn’t mean they go and stay in separate houses.

Me: Yes, but that’s when the quarrels end and are forgotten. Your dad and I, you and your brother, we quarrel all the time, don’t we? But then later we forget it all, and are all smiles. But sometimes people cannot forget their quarrels; cannot forgive one another. They can’t bear to stay together anymore. And so they decide to split up.

Daughter: But is that right or wrong? Why does everyone go silent at the mention of a divorce? Why does the atmosphere become so tense suddenly, when the subject crops up?

Me: How can we decide that? It all depends on the individuals, and the situation. Sometimes people make wrong decisions.

Daughter: But then how come they don’t understand (that they’re making a mistake)?

Me: It happens. Remember, you used to like those floral frocks till last year, but this year you only wear the jeans. We change as we grow older. Our likes/dislikes change. Situations change. It’s like that.

Daughter: Did you and Daddy ever think it — after a quarrel — that you should get a divorce?

Me: Many times. But it’s in the spur of the moment. It has never affected our friendship. We’re still each other’s best friends. So we can forget it all. That’s’ why we are together.

Daughter: So living separated is not a wrong?

Me: No, it’s not wrong. If you’re happy alone/separated, rather than unhappy together, what’s wrong with that?

Daughter: So why do they say divorce is bad?

Me: Again, who are we to decide what’s good/bad, right/wrong? It’s a personal decision. We should accept it. Many times we don’t know the full story.

Daughter: You mean, Prajakta should not feel sad when talking about her parent’s divorce?

Me: Of course she’ll feel sad. It’s only natural. Any child would want both their parents together. But when she tells you, you have to take care that your reaction doesn’t make her feel worse.  [Translator: Emphasis mine]

Me: It’s fine. Some things just don’t work out in life and it’s ok. Got it?

Daughter: Yes, got it.

Original copyright: ©गौरी ब्रह्मे (Gauri Brahme). 

आमची दोन्ही मुलं “Teenage” च्या उंबरठ्यावर आहेत. सहाजिकच त्यांना सतत “असले तसले” विविध प्रश्न पडत असतात. पालक म्हणुन आम्ही अनेकदा त्यांच्या प्रश्नांना योग्य उत्तरं देण्यात कमी पडतो. सर्वज्ञ कोणीच नसत.परफेक्ट किड्स जशी नाहीत तसे परफेक्ट पालक ही नाहीत. पण बऱ्याचदा काही ऊत्तरं जमुन जातात. संवादातुन काही गोष्टी उलगडत जातात आणि मुलांना थोडी फार पटतील अशी उत्तरं दिली जातात. आजपासून असेच काही संवाद “नील-राधाच्या गोष्टी” या सदराखाली इथे लिहीन म्हणते आहे. निदान पाच पोस्ट्स सध्याचे टार्गेट आहे. माझ्यासारख्या अनेक पालकांना, ज्यांना टीनेजमधली, अलीकडची, पलीकडची मुलं आहेत , त्यांना संगोपनात या पोस्ट्सची थोडीफार जरी मदत झाली तरी उद्देश सफल होईल असे वाटते.


लेक :आई, डीव्होर्स म्हणजे काय?
मी: डीव्होर्स म्हणजे भांडण. एका आई आणि बाबाचं भांडण होतं आणि ते वेगळ्या घरात रहाण्याचा निर्णय घेतात, तेव्हा त्याला डीव्होर्स म्हणतात.
लेक : पण भांडण तर सगळेच करतात. पण म्हणुन काय सगळे वेगळ्या घरात नाही ना रहायला जात?
मी : हो, पण नंतर भांडण मिटत सुद्धा न? मी, बाबा, तु, दादा भांडतोच की आपण सगळे. पण नंतर भांडण मिटवुन हसायला लागतो. भांडण विसरतो. काही लोकं त्यांची भांडणं विसरुच शकत नाहीत, एकमेकांना माफ करु शकत नाहीत, मग ते एकत्र राहु शकत नाहीत, म्हणुन मग ते वेगळे रहातात.
लेक : पण मग हे चांगलं आहे की वाईट? डिव्होर्स म्हणल की सगळे एकदम चूप का बसतात? इतका टेन्शन का येत वातावरणात एकदम?
मी : चांगलं की वाईट हे आपण नाही ना ठरवु शकत. ते त्या त्या व्यक्तीवर आणि परिस्थिती वर अवलंबुन आहे. कधी कधी निर्णय चुकतात.
लेक : पण मग ह्या लोकांना कळत नाही का, की ते चुकीचा डिसीजन घेतायत?
मी: नाही समजत. तुला नाही का फुलफुलांचे फ्रॉक मागच्या वर्षी खूप आवडायचे. पण या वर्षी फक्त जीन्स घालते आहेस. आपण वयानुसार बदलतो, आपल्या सवयी, आवडीनिवडी बदलतात. आजुबाजुची परिस्थिती बदलते. तसच असत हे.
लेक: मग तुला आणि बाबाला नाही असं वाटलं कधी? की भांडण झाल्यावर डीव्होर्स घ्यावा?
मी: अनेकदा वाटलय. पण आमच्यातली फ्रेंडशिप संपली नाहीये. आम्ही अजुनही एकमेकांचे बेस्ट फ्रेंड्स आहोत. त्यामुळे भांडण विसरुन आम्ही पुढे चालायला लागतो. म्हणुन एकत्र आहोत.
लेक: पण म्हणजे वेगळं रहाणं यात वाईट काही नाही.
मी: वाईट काही नाही. एकत्र राहून दुःखी राहण्यापेक्षा वेगळे राहून सुखी रहात असतील तर काय हरकत आहे?
लेक : मग डिव्होर्स वाईट अस का म्हणतात सगळे?
मी : चांगलं, वाईट हे आपण कोण ठरवणार? हा त्या व्यक्तीचा निर्णय आहे आणि तो आपण मान्य करावा. अनेकदा आपल्याला संपुर्ण परिस्थिती माहीत नसते.
लेक : म्हणजे प्राजक्ताला तिच्या आई वडिलांचा डीव्होर्स झाला आहे हे सांगताना खर तर वाईट वाटायला नाही पाहिजे.
मी: तिला वाईट वाटणारच ग. कुठल्याही मुलाला त्याचे आई आणि बाबा दोन्ही हवे असतात. पण हे तिने तुला सांगितल्यावर , तुझ्या रीऍक्शनबद्दल तिला वाईट वाटायला नाही पाहिजे , याची काळजी मात्र तू घेतली पाहिजेस. तिला वाईट वाटण हे सहाजिक आहे , पण तिने हे तुला सांगितल्यावर तु अस काहीही बोललं नाही पाहिजेस ,जेणेकरुन तिला अजुन वाईट वाटेल. It’s fine. Some things just don’t work out in life and it’s ok. Got it?
लेक : ह्म. Got it.
©गौरी ब्रह्मे

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 …

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

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


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.


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

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.