Survival: An Experience and an Experiment in Translating Modern Hindi Poetry

Survival: An Experience and an Experiment in Translating Modern Hindi Poetry

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Item Code: IDE415
Author: Ed. By. Dainel Weissbort & Girdhar Rathi
Publisher: Sahitya Akademi, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 1994
ISBN: 817201774X
Pages: 146
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5" X 5.5"
Weight 190 gm


From the Jacket:


Ten distinct voices in the contemporary Hindi poetry brought together for the first time in English, in a unique experiment in translation by a group of eminent translators.


The Poets:




I shall always be grateful to the Sahitya Akademi for having sponsored and Girdhar Rathi for having organized the ground- breaking translation workshop in New Delhi, in January 1990, which brought together ten Hindi poets, translators, and scholars, for the purpose of assembling an anthology in English translation. I, the one foreign import in the midst of this splendid array of native talent, was to be instrumental in carrying the translations across into Anglo-American English, it being widely held that much literary translation, especially of poetry, done into English in the subconti- nent by native translators failed to engage the interest of English readers abroad. Whether or not this belief is, in fact, still justified is problematical. In any case, a number of highly contentious issues raise their head here and some of these are discussed in Harish Trivedi's essay and my response, printed as appendices to the present volume.

Professor Trivedi and I both agree, however, that the experi- ence of the workshop was a most memorable one. Indeed it can be truly said to have been electrifying! This was not, I think, just because ten fine poets, spanning three or four generations, were gathered 'together in one room for a fortnight, day in day out, morning and afternoon, to explicate their own work and comment on that of their colleagues. It was the translational focus that gave these meetings their special charge. As Goethe remarked some- where, no one can be said to know his own language who has not translated into it! Translation obliges one to take an inventory of, to scrutinize and assess, the linguistic means at one's disposal, to test also one's own language's frontiers, its apparent or conventional limitations. I think that to translate or to be involved in translating out of one's own language, too, concentrates the attention wonder- fully - on sound, sense, on intent. Perhaps a. certain universalization takes place, when one begins to act as a sort of ambassador or, an interpreter not just of one's own work, but inevitably of the culture of which one is part. That is, suddenly that which has been nurtured in the warmth, the darkness or privacy, so to speak, of an indigenous environment, finds itself under a kind of arclight. The question then is how to preserve its identity, its specific character, how in short to prevent homogenization. The special status of English, furthermore, not only in the world, today, but in the subcontinent itself, complicated matters for us immeasurably.

It is these implicit pressures which no doubt partly account for the extraordinarily energetic, insightful, adventurous discussions that took place in the course of our two weeks of encounters. The critical analysis or appreciation of the poems was enormously heightened, too, by the group attention each one received. But the approach was not coldly critical or analytical, nor was the apprecia- tion unqualified. Rather, we journeyed within and with each poem, sharing its uncertainties, provisionalities, agonizing with it, rejoicing with it. The poet was for once companioned in his passage, even if in retrospect! For most it was a highly emotional experience, a loneliness temporarily shared. In other words, the poet was not called no to explain himself, but further to join with others in exploring his own work.

What helped to make this so positive was that all could co- operate in seeking ways to improve the English rendering. The original, while aspects of it were disclosed in the process, remained inviolate. But the translation, the unfixed, unstable translation, be- came a kind of index to our developing evaluation of the work. It functioned both as the means of registering or tracing this, and as a record of our engagement. It was a dynamic embodiment of hopes and expectations. It was, in more senses than one, the crux of this whole affair. As I said at the time, what we attempted to do, in a way, was to discuss the poetry from one language into the other. In short, the impulse to translate the work, as it were, collectively, was implicit, even if it was also a given that I would take away with me the results of our deliberations and supply that glossy finish which we hoped would make it visible and marketable in the world En- glish language literary marketplace!

Clearly there is, as Professor Trivedi points out, something of a contradiction here, though I do not think that, under the circum- stances, we could have been expected to see this. We were advanc- ing pragmatically into relatively little known territory and it was only in the process that we were able - because of the openness of our forum - to disinter a number of juicy bones of contention. It remains problematical - though the King James Bible translators, for instance, would seem to contradict this - whether literature can be translated even by committee. Perhaps, in the end there has to be a single individual (or maybe pair of individuals?) who, however, multiply informed, is responsible for the version as it enters the world of letters. It is doubtful, furthermore, whether that individual can function (be relied upon to function?) simply as the agent of a group. In other words, you cannot have your cake and eat it!

If we brought these issues more into the centre of the debate, which is where they ought to be, we were not, as I have suggested, in a position to resolve them. As for the translations themselves, they inevitably - and properly, I think - represent a compromise between at least two forms, modes, manners, or versions of English. I happen to believe that the exchange (clash!) has been a productive one and that the translations are the richer for it. The reader, of course, will be the final judge, although it has also to be said that the reader may judge variously, depending on his/her English language background!

As for myself, I must end as I began this brief preface, by paying tribute to the true initiator and inspirer of the workshop Girdhar Rathi. There always must be a single individual behind such an enterprise, or nothing at all will happen. But above all I wish to express my admiration for, and convey my thanks to the poets in the workshop: the much lamented Raghuvir Sahay, Kedarnath Singh, Kunwar Narayan. Prayag Shukla, Vinod Kumar Shukla, Rituraj, Mangalesh Dabral, Asad Zaidi, Alok Dhanwa, Girdhar Rathi again and the translators, many of them poets in their own rights: Anil Saari, Pragati Saxena, and especially Balu Rao, alini Taneja and Ajit Khullar. My personal thanks go to my old friend the poet, translator and scholar Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, who helped accli- matize me to my surroundings, in the wider as well as narrower sense. and I should like also personally to thank Harish Trivedi. with whom I enjoyed a plethora of stimulating conversations and who has left me with more than a little food for thought. I think we were all astonished as well as delighted at what transpired, at the intensity of the group experience. I hope that some of this creative energy will have been conveyed, via this anthology, to the reader. Most certainly the muses, too, were present in the halls of the hospitable Sahitya Akademi.

Hindi poetry, like poetry in several other Indian languages has in the past few decades been quite vigorous and alive. It is fortunately sited in many ways. It draws upon the huge reserves: ancient classics in Sanskrit and other languages, its own almost thousand-year old channels of written tradition, and the oral, folk, tribal, and dialectic traditions. No less intense has been its interaction with almost a score of major Indian languages, besides of course the vast corpus of the European and other literatures of the world - ancient, medi- eval, and modern. Though Hindi as we know it today came to be used only about 150 years ago, and in a certain sense it still is in a 'formative' phase, and although the post-independence cultural milieu with its all out emphasis on things Western and things En- glish has kept our languages somewhat clouded in spirit, there is an almost inevitable gushing forth of creativity.

Let it be stated that the present anthology only partially 'repre- sents' the Hindi poetic scene, with its rich variety of themes, styles, diction, attitudes and so on available to any reader of any sensibility. As one reads it today, however, one finds the contemporary Hindi poetry in a reflexive and reflective mood. Past the nationalistic passions of late 19th and early 20th centuries epitomized by Bharatendu and Maithilisharan Gupta; past the ambivalences of colonial confrontations, religious identities, and delvings into the glorious past and oppressive present; past the Romantic overtones of a special Indian kind in Nirala, Pant, Prasad and the mystic devo- tional Mahadevi Verma; past the ecstacies and agonies of personal lives vividly articulated in Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Balkrishna Sharma Navin, and others; past the fiery rhetoric of the Marxist variants in the Progressive, Janavadi and Navajanavadi movements, represented by Sheel, Kedarnath Agrawal, and at times even by Dinakar, Nagarjun, Sharnsher Bahadur Singh and Trilochan; past the various experiments looking up to Eliot and the West in general,with high hopes pinned on the city, on the age of machines and science and technology as in Girija Kumar Mathur and others, on the individual shell of the self as in Agyeya (Ajneya); past the tortured visions and undefined utopias of Muktibodh; past the mythical, uncanny rumblings heard in Vijaya Dev Narayan Sahi; past the juxtaposition of terror and the absurd delineated by Srikant Verma; past the vast thematic, stylistic and linguistic terrain traversed by Raghuvir Sahay - the poetry in Hindi now is poised at a mature, colourful and bustling moment. Lest the listings .above are construed as rejection of them all, it should be pointed out . that most of the names represent various peaks, so to say, and passing a mile-stone does not obliterate its presence, not in literature at least.

One can safely state that anybody picking up a representative selection of Hindi poetry over the past fifty years, or even just the last ten years, will only be richer aesthetically and spiritually. The newest poets may not have broken new grounds in a spectacular way, yet they show the command and the promise available only to those steeped in their multiple tradition with an intelligent and talented eye for the distinct.

. The mood today is hot expansive but reflective. The poet has neither love lost for revolutionary utopias, nor any nostalgia for golden pasts, imagined or real. The social and the personal for him are inter-twined. He has been, and has seen, through the phenomenal rise and fall of political, social and moral stances over the last one hundred years. Though ideologies have played some positive role in the process, the poet now is searching within rather than without, for his or her answers to almost intractable questions. It is largely a poetry of negation: it rejects the present which is tortuously disturb- ing; it rejects vain hopes of a golden future; it rejects nostalgia of all kinds. Yet, quietly, it is deeply moral. Without professing aloud any big ideals, the striving of the pining heart is quite clear. It's a poetry of moral anguish aspiring to freedom, equality, justice, beauty, and new equations between man, nature and society. It negates the negative, amoral stance all too evident in the various phases of modernism and post-modernism. It names not the values, perhaps because it is not too sure of the prevalent and available nomencla- ture. Yet the orientation towards values is unmistakable. The best way [0 describe the poetry in Hindi today would perhaps be the way of our ancient seers. While describing the First Principle, they usually took shelter in the ineffable, 'Neti, Neti' - Not this, Not this.

Poetry in all Indian languages has passed more or less through identical phases, but the crossing of the barriers has been timed differently: nationalism, search for identities in confrontation with alien powers, romanticism, didacticism, revolutionary rhetoric, Eurocentric experimentation, amoral scepticism, even cynicism, etc., etc. Hindi seems [0 have dared more and ventured farther afield. The Hindi language has seen immense playing around with itself, yielding infinitely novel moulds that the poets were able to make out.

But all translation is by nature Janus-faced - none more so than poetic translation. What becomes available even as the best possible, eminently readable and appreciable piece of a poem in the "target" language, invariably invites the reader [0 look over at the other side, where numerous subtleties and nuances in the origi- nal might still be lurking to be discovered for enchantments or shocks all of their own. Insofar as the translation is also a process of transformation, the attempted verisimilitude tends to get thinner in direct proportion to the distance between the two cultural-linguistic grids involved. One is aware of the dissatisfactions expressed with regard to the translation within broadly the same grids, e.g., Euro- pean/Indian/African. It has been said, for example, that neither Pushkin nor Pasternak nor Blok have ever been adequately trans- lated into English. Or, for that matter, Brecht and Rilke in English rendering do not quite satisfy the fastidious native German. Yet, the "double labyrinth" that the translation process is, as Daniel Weissbort aptly names it, at times it becomes quite impenetrable when the nature of difference between the two languages is much more than linguistic.



Preface: Daniel Weissbort ix
Introduction: Girdhar Rathi xiii
1. Breaking free from suffocation 1
2. Reality 1
3. Cancer 2
4. Your thoughts 2
5. A Sitar concert 3
6. The handicapped on camera 4
7. Cycle-rickshaw 5
8. History of a bridge 6
9. Hindi 7
10. Tocsin 8
11. Survival 8
12. My home 9
1. Around ten 10
2. Ibn Batuah 11
3. To the mound 12
4. He never slept 13
5. Greenwoods 14
6. Remaining human 14
7. To Delhi 15
8. Description of the missing one 15
9. Off centre 16
10. Horoscope 17
11. Laughter 17
12. Through words 18
1. The two 20
2. Encounter 21
3. Banaras 22
4. Words 25
5. To know a women 27
6. Things 29
7. Broken down truck 30
1. One dry leaf falls, then another 32
2. I told my friend it was like a city built on the site of a drained lake 32
3. While we were discussing the political significance of the drought 33
4. There is only tree left in the garden 34
5. The girl sees lush green trees 34
6. Those that will never come to my home 35
7. It affirms that there is a child 35
8. The deer is swift 36
9. One should see one's own home far off 36
10. In tattered tree khaki 37
1. Bygones 39
2. Here 40
3. Sleeping on the roof 41
4. Resting place 41
5. A dream 42
6. On this earth 43
7. Night tree 43
1. An old man buying apples for his son 45
2. Poets 46
3. What's an eye alone 46
4. Things past 47
5. Condolence 48
6. Her touch 49
7. The poor 50
1. On Street 52
2. Past midnight on the streets in rain 52
3. 1980: Words in the rains in winter 53
4. Diary 53
5. Master! 54
6. Instruction 55
7. Children 56
8. Ward no. 15 56
9. Lullaby of the sleepless 56
10. Unilateral 57
1. Good for a lifetime 58
2. City 58
3. The death of leaves 59
4. The quiet house 59
5. Poem of dreams 60
6. Grandfather's photograph 61
7. A dream 62
8. My face 62
9. The other hand 63
10. Women in love 64
1. Bruno's daughters 66
2. The Kite 73
1. Seeing your interest in things past 77
2. A life of poetry 77
3. The demand 79
4. Wretched women 81
5. Durga Talkies 81
6. Last night in my dream 83
7. Bloodstains 85
After word
I. Translating Together: An Experiment and an Experience: Harish Trivedi 86
II. A Response to Harish Trivedi: Daniel Weissbort 112
Notes on the Contributors 122


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