A Note on Literary Translation
Women’s Movements are myriad and the more recent Feminist Movement is an offshoot of Women’s Liberation fighting for liberation and equality. These movements not always go to the root of the problems of women-kind at the basic life of women as fair sex but with the problems starting with the biological aspects.
Telugu women have come out with a bang hitting the nail on the head in the following seven poems. They laid bare the horrors of the condition of women dealing with the fair but painfully seething weaker fair sex. The solutions are simple and what is imaginatively demanded is a little kindness and humane understanding. The poems below are not part of a strong movement for fair sex rights. It is a plangent threnody pleading for sympathetic, hearty empathy. The translations of all the seven poems were published first in my book Voices on the Wing in 2000. Later they were included in my book in Telugu, Anuvada Darshini (published in 2005), which came to be used as an aid for teachers teaching literary translation in the graduate courses in Andhra Pradesh. The voices of the seven poets are not the same. The vehemence and the voice level vary. The heights of the expressive feeling are different and the practising translator needs to get into the hearts and souls of the speakers of these poems.
Translating these poems is not easy. The psyche of womenfolk and the limitations of the body with its delicacies are dealt with both sensitivity and scathing truthfulness. The poem by Mandarapu Hymavathi talks about the act of the male who is some times utterly insensitive to the fine qualities of the woman whom he wedded. Loveless act is pain. Coition needs to be soft, sweet and satisfying but in the poem it is not so for the woman and the act of he man is loveless and self-serving. For the practising translator it is highly challenging if he does not have understanding and appreciation for the feelings of the woman.
Embrace Serpentine: Mandarapu Hymavati
Everything would be fine
Till that moment
Through love exceeding
Or, through lust
The bodies two become one
The condition of oneness attained
The world forgotten
In those moments immortal
From out of the inexhaustible quiver
You aim an arrow of a question
“When do they disburse salaries?’
Even a prostitute at that juncture
Wouldn’t bring up such subject
A beast wouldn’t behave like that –
Just at once
Like a thousand lizards
Crawling on me
At that moment when manas has taken flight
From my life
Far, far away I’d like to fling you away.
But being a Bharat Nari,
Wriggling, struggling, breathless
In the living grave of custom
Into the quick sands of wedlock
Not from life, but
Even a whit from the body
It’s not in my hands to be away.
Every moment, making compromises like this
Till death, the very end,
I’d go on living away
In your embrace serpentine.
Vimala’s poem is about the hard, uneasy and enervating responsibility thrust on the wife with ruthlessness. The speaker is sour with the system and she vehemently argues that it should be chastised equally ruthlessly. It is painful that the name on pots and pans should be the man’s. The agony of the faithful and slogging housewife reaches its crescendo in the last lines.
This kitchen: how wonderful, wafting aromas
How it makes mouths water,
Like an open shop of sweets
It breathes spices, incense from the pooja room
Wakes in the morning to the churning of butter,
Or vessels being scrubbed.
The earthen oven gets a fresh mud-wash
Decks herself for the burning.
From the small change in the box of spices and seasonings
We bought ourselves sweets,
Played house, played at being cooks,
With jaggery and lentils: it was a magic world
The kitchen ensnared my childhood
Remained a spell, a passion.
Wisps of childhood shadows lifted,
It’s no longer a playground.
I was taught ‘kitchenness’ here;
My shaping started here.
Mother, grandmother, all the mothers in the house
They say learned womanhood here.
Our kitchen now is a graveyard with corpses of all kinds,
Tins, dishes, sacks.
It hangs there in the smoke, clouds from damp firewood.
Fears, despair, silence lurking there
Mother floats like a spirit.
She herself looks like the morning kitchen
Her eyes ran out of tears long ago
Her hands are worn out with endless scrubbing.
Look, she doesn’t have hands anymore.
She looks like a ladle, a pan, a bowl:
A piece of kitchen bric-a-brac.
Sometimes she looks like a flaming oven,
Sometimes a tigress trapped.
Restless, she paces the kitchen floor, bangs pots and pans.
How easily they say, with the flick of a ladle
Her cooking gets done!
None comes this way, except to eat:
My mother is empress of kitchen,
But the name on pots and pans is my dad’s.
Fortunately, they said, I fell into a good kitchen:
Gas, grinder, sink, tiles and all.
I make cakes and puddings
Not old-fashioned things my mother does.
Even now the name on all utensils is my husband’s.
My kitchen wakes to the whirr and hiss
Of the grinder and cooker.
I move like a modern kitchen, a wound up toy.
My kitchen is like a workshop:
It’s like a butcher’s shop with its babble.
Washing endlessly what has already been washed.
Cooking and serving, cooking and serving,
There’s kitchen even my dreams:
The smell of spices even in jasmines.
Damn this kitchen.
Inhuman, it sucks our blood, robs us of hopes and dreams
A demon, a vulture, eating into us bit by bit all our lives.
Kitchen culture, kitchen talk, we’re reduced to cooks and maids..
Let’s smash these kitchens for making ladle-wielding our duty
No more names on kitchenware
Let’s uproot these separate stoves.
Our children are about to enter these lonely kitchens:
Come, for their sake,
Let’s demolish these kitchens now.
Volga, an enthusiastic front liner in the movement for women’s liberation, expresses a woman’s passion for freedom. Advaita is philosophy of oneness denying duality. The way the speaker of the poet enjoys getting into the world of oneness is the thirst for real and lasting ecstasy.
Advaita – Not being two: Volga
About joy I cannot write
But when it is joyful or not I can.
Body becoming moonlight and a ball of butter
Pollen and finally a rainbow
Like a pigeon’s wing
Lightly, freely flying
With movements continuous
Breaking all dams
Unleashing floods inner and outer
Masked joy breaks into a dance.
Around my body there is no world
With my body I go penetrating the world
Wonderful is this sensation
It’s like falling in love again and again:
Like delivering a baby for the first time.
Silalolita’s poem is a powerful call to the women to assert independence coming out of the shackles they are bound in. The nail marks of the beast-like man are edicts on the rock. They cannot be deliberately obliterated. So, the need for rewriting history all over once again.
Let’s rewrite history: Silalolita
In the drawer of eye-lid chests
Drops of water frozen
Huddled in throat’s way
Tribulations lurking noisily
Around life solidified
Experiences that fence like barbed wires
On the foreheads
Marks of masculine scrawls
Rock edicts of generations
By any eraser not to be obliterated
Except by you
None can erase
Again, let us ourselves
Jaya’s poem ridicules the promise and the judgement that woman is half of man and she is half world. Fine words butter no parsnips is the old saying. The actuality is different and hence the fierce anger and frustration for utter helplessness. Only women could have written these poems.
Half world: S. Jaya
Arthanareeswara – half woman, half Eswar
You say, or, half of the sky
Both sound the same.
Cleaving the globe vertically into two
Half light and half darkness
Darkness is only the shadow of light
That’s the lesson taught at school in childhood.
Three rooms in our home:
Drawing room, bedroom, and kitchen
One half is mine
For my hubby the drawing room
For me the kitchen
For us both, the bed
Responsibilities we share half-and-half
Bearing the baby mine,
Giving the family name, his.
When dusk falls
Shivers in the spine
On being raped
As though rising from graves
Before lamps run out of oil
If these snigger and tease
If wan and feeling wretched
The differences aeon-long
Are those of light and dark.
Groping in the dark
Claiming half world as mine
How long can I feign Urmila*’s sleep?
Not in the answer sheets in the exams Alone
For life too should a margin be left.
Life should be securely held and protected:
Even from the one to whom the heart is given.
(*Lakshmana’s wife in the Ramayana. She spends all her life in sleep during his exile.)
Rajani’s poem is the most powerful and with that she has carved a niche for herself in the temple of poetry. For a woman the birth of a baby is birth whether it is a boy or girl. Killing the girl child heartlessly makes the mother seethe with anger doubled by her helplessness. The speaker goes into the heart-rending actualities of the operation theatre, the bed and the bucket underneath.
Abortion Statement: Patibandla Rajani
Naughty, violating the limit, ridiculing the safety period
On this side or that of the fourteenth day
While thinking ‘no’ and when carelessly I let in contrary cells
Why did you become the other half to merge, the little one!
Isn’t it since there isn’t enough blood to share with you
Since no leisure to bring you up
Since your elder sister to crawl is still unlearnt
That I thought that I wouldn’t have you!
For your crime of getting
Being without my consent
When my job and health are shaky
I confirmed the sentence.
Anguished and faltering between right and wrong
Getting up the table becoming a head-chopper
Covering your face with mask of rubber gloves
Wailing like the Pandavas
After consigning Abhimanyu to enemy arrows’
Losing you in Pethidine sedation,
Wan and wafting like fibre
Burying the mom in me, becoming pale bagasse
Finding you like a lump of plaster of Paris
Swallowed by the plastic bucket, Kamsa’s sword
Yearning to take you into my lap and hug
Sculpting you as lips wetting in search of mother
To join the broken fragments again into a statue whole
Wishing to spit the amniotic fluid
At those who found a way so easy to kill
Belly ripped, the sensibility wound lacerated
It’s grief, my dear, a pot of tears.
As there are tablets to drive the milk run dry
If there were to be drugs,
The sensibility to parch
How nice it’d have been!
There is Geeta’s poem on menstrual pain which no man could have written. And then, unless one has experienced it at least by parakaya pravesa (entering another body) even a woman could not have written this. Translation of all these seven poems needs getting into the hearts of those poets. For a rendering of each of these poems, the practitioner should get into the body of the original speaker, which means he should go into another body for seven times to bring out the power of the feeing in another language.
The time I’m my period: K. Geeta
When the whole body is frozen into an abscess
When a private mount explodes silently
I make efforts vain to catch the pain in my grip
All of a sudden it gives a jolt
I in myself, solid becoming liquid
Then become a solid gain
And then shattered to pieces.
Every month, having no other go
I transform myself into pain
Unable to plaster the wound that would’nt surface
Unable to grind the ribs into powder
Even unable to draw myself into a bundle of cosy sleep
Embracing the thirty-six hours of turbulence
Unable to remain a forced untouchable
Walking forward a few paces in civilisation
Becoming gasping leaps and sprints
Desiring to flatten the spine on the anvil
Toying with the idea
To bundle this bother with chains of iron
Again and again, once in every thirty days
Taking rebirths one after another
The period when crushed in gut-twisting agony
This period …
About the Author
Dr V.V.B. Rama Rao is a scholar and well-known writer. He has to his credit more than 50 books in English and Telugu. These publications include Novels, Biography, Collections of Stories, Literary Criticism, Hagiography and works in Literary Translation from English to Telugu and from Telugu to English. He has been on the Faculty of Maharaja’s College, Vizianagaram from 1957 to 1995. He retired as a Reader and Head of the Dept of English in 1995. His awards and honors include – ‘Teacher Fellowship under the UGC F.I.P. Programme’ (1976-79), ‘The British Council Merit Award’ (1988), ‘A.P. Govt.’s Best Teacher Award’ (from Andhra University) 1989. ‘Academy of Indo-Asian Literature Award (2004) and ‘International Poets Academy Awaed’, Madras.