Across the pale parabola of joy
Many critics, no defenders,That pithy and prolific writer, Anonymous.
Translators have but two regrets:
When we hit, no one remembers,
When we miss, no one forgets.
Translation is a tightrope walk. The question that lies before a translator is always whether to follow the spirit of the work or the exact text. Voltaire says that literal translations, by rendering every word, weaken the meaning.
To translate, one must have a style of his own, for otherwise the translation will have no rhythm or nuance, which come from the process of artistically thinking through and molding the sentences; they cannot be reconstituted by piecemeal imitation. -- Paul Goodman.
Then there is the question of idiom and syntax. What works in one language will sound awkward in another. 'All over the sky lay strewn comparison to your laughter' reads perfectly awful, whereas akashey akashey aachhilo chhadaano tomaaro haashir tulanaa is beautifully evocative. How does one translate 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' Metaphors sometimes can't be carried over. Summer's day won't work in Indian languages, as it evokes sweating and sweltering. Coolness is the same as aloofness, distance, being formal, in English. In Telugu coolness is nice, not nasty, being pleasant and benevolent and more. Different climates produce different idioms, and different cultures shape the languages.
Cultural references and classical allusions are hard to translate. How does one translate జీవితవైతరణి jeevita vaitaraNi? As it was my own poem, I translated it as 'the Styx of life', but would I have approved if somebody else did that? What does 'generous as Karna' mean to readers who didn't grow up with the tales of Mahabharata?
If prose is difficult, translating poetry is even more fraught. There are always layers of meanings, and the same word can have several meanings in Indian languages.
When I wrote about the songs in Malleeswari, I'd said that I wouldn't even attempt a translation of manasuna mallela maalaoogenE. Garlands of jasmines swayed in mind, is the literal translation of that line. It is metaphor for idyllic bliss. Does one translate the sense or the text? Will a faithful translation of that languid imagery evoke the same sense of joy and elation?
A couple of days ago, a reader who happened to come across my blog searching for pilachina biguvaTaraa wrote to me, sending his translation of the two songs. An interesting discussion ensued, as he chose to interpret 'vEnuvu savvaDi' as sound of wind in bamboo shoots rather than sound of flute. While I agreed with it, I quibbled at his rendition. If one can manage to translate in approximately the same length and word order, always excepting grammatical considerations, it is better to follow the original as closely as one can; he didn't.
The pleasure of translation lies in picking and choosing the words, dithering over word order, looking up exact meanings and finding the best way to render the original into another language. So I had a wonderful couple of hours with the song, once I yielded to the temptation to translate the untranslatable.
Do I say garland or wreath or chaplet or lei? Is festoon better? Is bratuku life or existence? Is haayi peace or comfort or happiness? Can galagala be rustle or should it be chuckle? Is kolanu a lake or a pond? Past tense sounds awkward in English, should I make it present perfect? Present continuous? panduTa is to ripen but it means completion, so how do I say it?
Such are the pleasures and perils of translation. And here is my version of 'manasuna mallela' that brilliant lyric of Devulapalli Krishna Sastry.
మనసున మల్లెల మాలలూగెనే కన్నుల వెన్నెల డోలలూగెనే
ఎంత హాయి ఈ రేయి నిండెనో ఎన్నినాళ్ళకీ బ్రతుకు పండెనో
కొమ్మల గువ్వలు గుసగుసమనినా రెమ్మల గాలులు ఉసురుసురనినా
అలలు కొలనులో గలగలమనినా దవ్వుల వేణువు సవ్వడి వినినా
నీవు వచ్చేవని నీ పిలుపే విని కన్నుల నీరిడి కలయచూచితిని
గడియయేని యిక విడిచిపోకుమా ఎగసిన హృదయము పగులనీకుమా
ఎన్నినాళ్ళకీ బ్రతుకు పండెనో, ఎంత హాయి ఈ రేయి నిండెనో
manasuna mallela maalaloogenE kannula vennela DOlaloogenE
enta haayi ee rEyi ninDenO enninaaLLakee bratuku panDenO
kommala guvvalu gusagusamaninaa remmala gaalulu usurusuraninaa
alalu kolanilO galagalamaninaa davvula vENuvu savvaDi vininaa
neevu vachchEvani nee pilupE vini kannula neeriDi kalayachoochitini
gaDiyayEni yika viDichipOkumaa egasina hRdayamu pagulaneekumaa
enninaaLLakee bratuku panDenO, enta haayi ee rEyi ninDenO
Garlands of jasmines sway in my mind
Moonlight shimmers in eyes.
What sublime peace suffuses this night!
After so long, this existence fulfilled.
When doves murmured on boughs
Or breezes sighed in sprigs,
If waves gurgled in the pond
And distant woodwind sounded
Thinking you arrived, hearing only your call
I looked all round with brimming eyes.
Don't leave me now, even for a moment
Lest this exultant heart break.
After so long, this existence fulfilled;
What sublime peace suffuses this night!