Vaishali, who co-hosted the party with us, was in search of August, the Month of Winds (Translated from the Russian by Raissa Bobrova). It was a book that she read when she was young, the kind of story that makes an imprint on you, one so deep, that when she spoke of the blind boy in a serious story for children it was almost as though she were flying a kite of her imagination and the story though unavailable to her any longer as a physical copy was forever accessible in a single heart.
Language has a remarkable ability to transport one elsewhere, even in translation. Baraa Al Mansour, a Syrian writer of a book called Look Around You spoke about how Arabic is a language of emotion. “Once when I was in China,” she said “I saw and beautiful girl and told her that she was beautiful like the moon. That was a little too much, I later understood.” Although she writes in English, her sentiment translates another language.
Shyamala, the wildlife artist, agreed that Arabic was more like French. “May Sarton, a French writer, preferred to write poetry in French as poetry was too easy. The craft came to her in English”
Baraa expressed how translation could create a distance from true meaning, but even awkward literal translations worked better sometimes as it was closer home to the real thing.
Abhaya who is an ardent reader of Hindi poetry prefers raw untranslated mother tongue as far as poetry goes, “Nothing beats Braj Bhasha poetry,” he said bringing up the true Hindi speech which has ever since been diluted by multiple tongues. He found the case of Kamala Das intriguing. She wrote a great deal of poetry in English and prose in Malayalam, her mother tongue, Malayalam, a language of southern India as well. The book that Abhaya was reading at the time was a translated version of her prose called My Story, a controversial book. “Perhaps she was able to say things in English poetry that she couldn’t express in Malayalam,” he mused.
“Well as they, you can speak French to your lover, English to an accountant and German to your horse,” Shyamala said. In terms of precision, there is no better language than German as the adage goes.
In one of the books I had got to the party How to Read a Book (by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren), there was a section about how to read poetry. I’ve talked about this book earlier on this blog— it’s a mandatory read for readers of books, as so many times we read books in a hurry and words are lost on us. Instead of reading becoming an exercise in futility, it is best if we pay attention when we are reading by using a highlighter or a pencil.
When you read a poem, it is best to read it aloud (even plays should be read, Abhaya added). What sounds like gobbledygook makes sense when you listen to the rhythm of the words. A poet wouldn’t necessarily want to make sense in a rational way, so she must be read and listened to with an open mind. Incidentally Shyamala mentioned a book by Adler which focused on how to listen. The book is called How to Speak How to Listen. The interesting thing about listening is how it can be an exercise in formulating your own response rather than paying attention to what the other person is saying.
Attentive listening reaps rewards. The post script to this party was that Nilesh dug up August, The Month of Winds, a book that Vaishali so much craved.
Have you had any happy book surprises you want to share?