Sleep Burglars, Flying Lizards and Myth – Diving into the Vernacular @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2018 (Part 3)


This time vernacular books were high on the list of favorites. The idea behind this BYOB Party was to encourage readers to share their favorite poetry books. Amit who heads the Poetry & Storytelling club at IISc spoke about Gulzar’s translation of two of Tagore’s books, Baaghbaan and  Nindiya Chor. Gulzar is one of India’s finest poets and lyricists. There is a story about how the first book he officially stole from a library was Tagore’s. The poems that he has translated are a compilation from some of Tagore’s collections including Chitra, KshanikaSonar Tari, Shishu. The books are bi-lingual and so the reader benefits if he or she knows both Bangla and Hindi. Amit read us the poem Nindiya Chor, a delightful lullaby that shows a mother who worries about who has stolen her baby’s sleep. If you want to listen to Gulzar himself recite it, you may want to head to this Youtube link.

Amit explained how translations often put him in a dilemma. How could a translator remain true to the original? Was this even possible? In this case, instead of losing the essence, the book has only gained, as Lalita said: ” Gulzar has only added ornaments to this work.” There then ensued a discussion on the merits and demerits of translation. On the one hand, translation can ruin the experience of the book and on the other as Jaya mentioned, referring to Sheldon Pollock’s championing of that one rare translator who could get the meaning right, translation is essential as it gives writers more mileage and readers more opportunity to read. How would any of us could enjoy writers like Tolstoy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Elena Ferrante otherwise? Priya mentioned how besides translation, even reinvention of the epics (she talked about Joan Roughgarden’s sci-fi version of the Ramayan) only adds to the beauty of the existing story.

4116AKqJ3qL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (319×499)Megha spoke about Maithili Sharan Gupt’s classic work Saket (Saket means Ayodhya-vasi or one who lives in Ayodhya). In this rendition of the Ramayan, he speaks from Lakshmana’s perspective and portrays his wife’s Urmila’s resilience and poetically renders the pain of separation that she must endure. Maithili Sharan Gupt was a proponent of plain dialect poetry and he was a recipient of many awards including that of Rashtra Kavi; he is most loved for the way he deals with his female protagonists as he was progressive for the time. Another writer who empathized with the female was Tamil poet laureate Subramaniam Bharati in whose famous work Panchali Sapatham compares Panchali to India (Bharat Mata).

English somehow doesn’t seem to be the right vehicle for Indian mythology, some readers opined unless you are fond of Amish Tripathi’s trilogy. So much of what vernacular writers have succeeded in doing is lost when translated into English. “What we need is more translations from one Indian language to the other,” Jaya said, “That way we can preserve the cultural nuances of these works.”  Abhaya spoke about a three-part series based in Benares by a writer called Shiv Prasad Singh, “Such details are impossible to find in English,” he said. Even then, Jaya emphasized the usefulness of footnotes in such cases.  Translation is slowly catching on- check out the Murty Classical Library.

“I can only learn two or three Indian languages,” Abhaya explained,”and so for someone like me a translated work is essential.”

51QON2i2lxL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (338×499)Maanasa who heads the Ranade Library at IISc also got a vernacular book, a Kannada novella called Karvaalo by Poornachandra Tejaswi, Kuvempu’s son and one of Karnataka’s favorite writers. The story is a surprising example of what sounded like an ecological thriller. The book is set in the 90s and tells the adventure of how four very different sorts of people–a scientist, photographer, farmer, village boy with a keen sense of observation–go out in search of a rare species of flying lizard. The scientist eventually transforms into a Seer. This is a book that Maanasa finds hard to get out of her head. Since she herself from Malanadu in Karnataka where the book is set, she identified with the humor and later on as she reread it, she was amazed by the depth and relevance of the story. There is an English translation of this book as well: Carvalho.

More books in Part 4.

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