Monday, September 29, 2014


                                                     BHASHANTARA ANUBHAVA--
Neela Padmanabhan
(Talk as Chairperson in the first session of National seminar of Sahitya Akademi at
Thiruvananthapuram on August 30 2014)
Nowadays when one turns the pages of periodicals or supplements of newspapers one cannot but come across short poems on light and heavy subjects. Most of them deal with contemporary social problems with sharp and piercing diction. In between serious cerebral and hair-splitting analysis of current topics, it is no surprise that these crispy poems easily catch hold of readers’ mind kindling their emotions as well as thoughts. I think it is common not only in regional languages but also in English. It does not mean that lengthy poems like epics on grave issues being written with great efforts are either under estimated or neglected.

As a vast country of many languages, it is not surprising that readers those who have an aesthetic urge desire to share their reading experience to another language quite familiar to them. As Jean Paris pointed out that a poet is first a translator, the translator of an unknown world to which he gives a tangible form, a sensitive expression. In effect both the poets and translators are re-creators or co-creators.

Though the form, content and development of poetry in all Indian languages including southern ones are uneven, there are certain common features like poverty, hunger and diseases, social evils, tension and conflict between idealism and realism, between tradition and modernity etc. Of these, translations of contents of contemporary nature to another language win the popular attention easily and quickly. I recollect here the English translation by late T.K.Duraiswami(Nakulan) of a short Tamil poem of late Shanmuga Subbiah appeared few years ago (1974) in the anthology New Writing  in India edited by Adil Jussawalla. Let me read that poem which is quite relevant not only to law framing houses but also to the whole country, even today;

Of the top floor

 Of Parliament House

A dead rat


 Is there no one

To sweep it away

And bury it

 Fathoms deep?

 In this land

The only thing

That can be said

For the likes of us


 We can smell things.

 You great ones

 Who rule over us

 Haven’t you the heart

To feel it?
                        I shall read the Tamil original;


 Arasiyal veettin

Mel thattil

Eli chethu


Athai eduthu



 In nattil

 En poondrookku


 Muukku mattumthanaiyyaa.

Emai yaalum


Athai unara


 Ulamendru ondru

Undoo aiyyaa!

 Since the translator is a scholar cum poet in the both languages he more or less succeeds in bringing the form along with the content of the source language to the target one. However, in most of the cases form, diction, phonetic elements, ambiguity-dhwani etc of the individuality of a particular poet cannot be brought to another language.

In fact, translation means introducing the culture of one language to another one. To find out exact equivalent of the words that have minute meaning in one culture to another culture is a Himalayan task. Also there are entirely different colloquial terms-snags and proverbs even in one language which are not popular among the usage of that particular language itself. That is why Robert Frost has made the cryptic comment, “Poetry is that which is lost in translation.” However, even if all translations are imperfect in the larger sense, it is somewhat a necessary evil, which cannot be avoided in a pluralist society like India.  

When one comes specifically to the translating  experience-Bhaashaanthra Anubhava of poetry in Southern languages, even though   above mentioned aspects hold good in general, there  may be some ease because of the historical and geographical nearness of the four languages of these regions viz Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu. On approaching the translation among these languages from one to another one can make use of the Sanskrit words, as they are prevalent in all the three, except Tamil. As all these four southern languages belong to the same Dravida Gotra, other three languages have no aversion to Sanskrit; instead they have some affinity with it, like English has to Greek and Hebrew.     I don’t want to discuss here the age old historical, political and social background of Tamil Nadu which led to this puritan attitude of the anti-Sanskrit feeling.   But, when I was engaged by Sahitya Akademi a few years back to translate Ayyappa Paniker’s Malayalam poetry collection in to Tamil, Sanskrit words used by the poet have not been substituted with equivalent pure or standard Tamil words, as far as possible because of my ambition to bring the individuality and sweetness of the poet to Tamil. Of course, no particular language can claim that Sanskrit is only its possession and all Indian languages have an equal right to Sanskrit. 

Another major problem to be tackled in translation is slang or colloquial terms and proverbs, as I mentioned earlier. For example, Ayyappa Paniker’s original Malayalam version of one of his cartoon poems Moshttaavu in Ayyappa Panikerude Krithikal Volume 2 (1994);
Verumoru Moshttaavaayorenne
Kallanennu Vilichille,   (page 102)

Here the two words Moshttaavu and Kallan have the same meaning thief, but different effects in the poem. In Tamil, I had to translate the lines as follows, though I am not fully satisfied;

Verumoru Thirudanaana Ennai
Kallanendru Azhaithaaye,

Of all Indian languages especially southern I find Tamil and Malayalam have many resemblances-similarities and nearness not only in the languages but also in people’s culture and behaviour. Hence translation between these two languages is not painstaking and tiresome if it is done with enthusiasm and enjoyment. When a few years ago some modern Tamil poems were transliterated to Malayalam alphabets in Kerala Kavitha-a Malayalam poetry journal, as requested by Ayyappa Paniker, Malayalam readers experienced not much difficulty to understand them. The spirit and overall poetic beauty of even many stanzas of the classical Tamil literature, for example in world famous Thirukkural- one of the great classics of Tamil literature authored by the Saint poet Thiruvalluvar in between 2nd century B.C. and 8th century .A.D. can be communicated to a certain extent to Malayalam readers by transliterating it. Here, I shall quote-transliterate the first stanza of Kural hereunder in English, as a sample;

Akara Muthala Ezhuthellaam Aadhi
Bagavan Muthathre Ulaku.

Meaning; just as all the alphabetical letters have the letter “A” for their first, the whole universe has God, the Eternal as its first.

Before concluding, as I indicated earlier, I would like to point out that it is very difficult to bring to another language the individuality in the craft of writing, namely diction, form of expression to another language. Nowadays, there is a common tendency among most of the translators content themselves by translating mechanically only the main content or central idea as a newspaper report in the conventional or standard style of the target languages, ignoring completely individual flavour of the poetic language in diction, rhythm etc. Of course, it may be appreciated as it can be read like the original work in the translated or target language. But, how can a sincere or genuine translator neglect or sacrifice the unique individuality or personal stamp achieved by the poet after a long period of efforts, experiments and experiences, trial and error method, as penance. Hence, a good translator of poetry should have at least an inner consciousness to segregate translation or trans-creation from adaptation. For example, though Thirukkural is a work of ethical aphorisms on high moral ideas and ideals applicable to the whole universe, its greatness lies not only on this aspect; but also the peculiar-unusual way of expression of the content or form that compressed in one and half line metre-stanzas. Even a couplet cannot be fully interpreted in many pages. Most of the translations in other languages are only commentaries. A few attempts of translations in verse form have not succeeded, as the lines in them could not be suppressed within crispy one and half or two lines, as in the original. However, we may content ourselves with the view that something is better than nothing.

On the whole, as indicated earlier, the translator should have at least this consciousness and awareness of bringing not only the content and dimensions of the poem he intend to translate but also the individuality of that poet’s particular diction and craft from the source language to target language.

I shall conclude my words with reading of one of my recent short poem Vanaprastham. First, English version, then Tamil original and Malayalam version;


                                                                            Neela Padmanabhan
Same sex mingling has now a social license

And no bar nowadays….

Under the veil of friendship

first ashramam has cracks

without waiting for next ashramam

and without the fear of society…..

There is no forest in these days

for the third ashramam to live…

One may practice it in home and outside….

Though no scare from life partner

who is now interested

neither in sex nor in lovemaking ,

one should know to overcome

the pinpricks  on materialistic necessities

that come from that partner everyday…..

If the urge due to past experience

on biological necessity arises

and jumps to other places,

should  know to suppress and succeed it

as abandoned bitter fruit…

Though the superficial materialistic inclinations and desires

could be controlled to a certain extent,

if one cannot  conquer the hidden

minute feelings and urges

inherent, in born ,

the mass media

to give world wide publicity,

let the conquering practice continue

till the last breath….

be careful……

                                                                    (Translated from Tamil by the poet)
                      நீல பத்மநாபன்
                   ஒரின சேர்க்கைக்கு
                      சமூக அங்கீகாரம் ஒரளவுக்கு
                      நட்பெனும் போர்வையில்
                      ஊரார் பயமின்றி
                      அடுத்த ஆசிரமம் வரை காத்திராமல்
                      உடைபடும் முதல் ஆசிரமம்........
                      மூன்றாவது ஆசிரமத்துக்கானால்
                      இன்று போக காடில்லைதான்....
                      நாட்டிலே, வீட்டிலே பயிலலாம்.....
                      காம உணர்வுகள் அற்றுப்போன
                      வாழ்க்கைப் பங்காளி பற்றி
                      இவ்விஷயத்தில் பயமில்லாவிடிலும்
                      வேறு பல லௌகிகத்தேவைகளுக்காக
                      வந்துகொண்டிருக்கும் சீண்டல்களை
                      மறிகடக்கத் தெரியவேண்டும்....
                      “பட்டறிந்த தேக சுகம் விட்டுப்போகாமல்”
                      வேறிடங்களுக்கு தலைகாட்டித் தாவினால்
                      சீ சீ புளிக்குமென ஒதுக்கிவிடமுயலவேண்டும்...

                      ஸ்தூலமான லௌகீக வாசனைகளை
                      ஒரளவுக்கேனும் கட்டுப்பாட்டுக்குள்
                      நிறுத்த முடிந்தாலும்
                      புதைந்து கிடக்கும்
                      சூக்குமமான பிறவி வாசனைகளை
                      அடக்கி ஆளாவிட்டால்
                      அனர்த்தங்களை பாரெங்கும்
                       பறைசாத்த காத்திருக்கும்
                       ஊடகங்கள்.... கவனம்.....
                       அடக்கியாளல் அப்பியாசம்
                       தொடரட்டும் கடைசிவரை.....
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