lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

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Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, October 12, 2007

The train you intended to board

There is immortality of a sort in being quoted. When the origin of the quote is forgotten and the lines pass into collective vocabulary, the author lives on in his words. Shakespeare comes to mind. There are so many things we say to sum up a situation that are his words. That it should come to this. What's in a name? The list is endless.

A line from my father's work, TvamEvaaham is one such. "The train you intended to board is always a lifetime late."

I grew up with the work, but first read it fully when it was published for the third time in 1971. It was written in July 1948, and was published in 'Telugu Swatantra' in 1949. It was published again in 1962, with a prologue, Avahana, and annotations, an explanation and commentary by Dasarathi and Sri Sri added. It needed them; it was criticised for being incomprehensible and infuriatingly obscure.

All that didn't matter to me. I read it for the flow, and the images that the lines conjured, and because my father wrote it. Whether it was a controversial work, a masterpiece or political commentary was immaterial; I read it for the lessons it gave on combining technique with content, integrating style with substance. I have read TvamEvaaham many times since. It might have been written about the Razakar atrocities in Telangana, but it is a timeless poem.

TvamEvaaham is a rather difficult kaavyam to read casually. When it was first published purists were offended by the free use of English words and even the obscure 'reach for the dictionary' Telugu words irritated many. The host of images that flash by too fast, figures of speech, allusions and associations bewildered lazy readers who confuse the unfamiliar with the incomprehensible. They ask how can

బ్రెయిన్‌లో బ్రెన్‌గన్
రెయిన్‌లా ఆలోచనల ట్రెయిన్
స్పయినల్ కార్డులో స్పెయిన్
గ్లూమీ తిమిరాలు చెరిషించి
సైతాన్ మనల్ని పరిషించునపుడు
నిర్వేదనా పవనాలు వర్షించు
సింతటిక్ చింతను ధరించు కవి
అంతట ఖెయాసు పెరిషించు

ఖెయాసు ఎడారి లోపల
ఒయాసిస్సు పొయిట్రీ
కవిత్వపు ఖెయాసులో
ఖెయాసుకి ఉరికొయ్య…

బ్రెయిన్‌లో పెయిన్
ప్రతీ వెయిన్‌లో మెషిన్‌గన్ రెయిన్

be considered serious poetry? But it is.

The above loses potency in translation, and needs copious footnotes, but here is a transliterated version. This is from the first section of the work. After a prologue that ponders upon the nature of time, this section treats time as a river that rises in the mountains and makes its way down to the plains. Thus it's clear why those English words are perfect there-- for the cadences, for sheer rightness; and how well the excerpt reflects the turbulent out-flowing of a river from the glacial beginning. You can sense the cataracts and rapids of the river in the section.

breyin lO bren gan
reyin laa aalochanala treyin
spayinal kaarDu lO speyin
gloomee timiraalu cherish-inchi
Saitaan manalni parishinchunapuDu
nirvEdanaa pavanaalu varshinchu
sintatik chintanu dharinchu kavi
antaTa kheyaasu perish-inchu

kheyaasu eDaari lOpala
oyaasissu poyitree
kavitvapu keyaasulO
kheyaasuki urikoyya

breyin lO peyin
pratee veyin lO meshin gan reyin

Later come the clocks and their hands to symbolise societies down the ages, the big small and seconds hands of a clock, and the pendulum to signify social classes. But first comes the warning of the alarum:

Lo ! Hallo!
Oh! Hallo!
Hallo! Hallo!
pramaadam!
pramaadam!

And so on. The tyranny of the poem is that you have to read it at the poet's pace as he sets it. The structure is such; this is not just wordplay but tyranny of rhythm in seemingly free verse and mastery of sound. What images and events it invokes are timeless, you can make your connections, for all that the poem TvamEvaaham is about the Razakar atrocities during the Telangana movement a year after Independence. But the reading is entirely as the poet intends it to go.

idi naagali
idi daagali
idE punaadi
saitaanuku
idE samaadhi

It is impossible to read these lines fast.

When Time is the theme and a river the metaphor, there is symbolism of the mountain stage, to placid flowing, acquiring tributaries. We measure time because we need to make sense of things. Sundials, hourglasses or water clocks, we have measured time always, with ever-growing sophistication.

The clock in TvamEvaaham stands for social classes and divisions. The stopwatch counts down to the events unfolding. The hours, minutes and seconds themselves are commentary on contemporary events. Thus the poet focuses our attention on a single event in the river of time.

My favourite part of the kaavyam is the section nimishaalu - Minutes. Written as a monologue, with acid unpunctuated prose commentary alternating with supposed free but tightly written verse, this section mirrors middle class mentality, the woes, aspirations and traps thereof. There is a rhythm to the monologue and the mutters of commentary that is achieved partly by eschewing punctuation and partly by the rhythm of spoken language itself. The leitmotif of 'mamu brOchuvaaru' and how it evolves, using images evoked by Carnatic kritis is masterly.

The Water Clock is one of the few segments that can be translated at all and that famous line is from here:

నువ్వు ఎక్కదలచుకొన్న రైలు
ఎప్పుడూ ఒక జీవితకాలం లేటు
ఏళ్ళూ పూళ్ళూ నిరీక్షించలేక
ఎక్కేస్తావేదో ఒక బండీ
నీ ఆదర్శాల లగేజీ
ఎక్సెసంటాడు టి. ఐ. సీ.
నీ ఈప్సితాల ట్రంకు పెట్లు
కలల బ్రేకులో పారెయ్యాలి
నువ్వు తెచ్చుకొన్నవన్నీ
ఎక్కించీ లోపున
కదిలిపోతుంది బండీ
అందుకే అందులో కొన్ని
నీ అభిమాన హీరోల దగ్గిరే
ఒదిలెయ్యి
నువ్వు వెళ్ళదలచుకొన్న ఊరు
నువ్వు బతికుండగా చేరదా రైలు
దేవుడా! ఇంత చేశావా అని
ఉన్న ఊళ్ళోనే ఉండు!

the train you intended to board
is always a lifetime late
unwilling to wait for ages
you board any that comes along
your luggage of ideals
is excess, will say the T.I.C.
trunk-loads of your hopes and desires
consigned to the brake van of dreams
the train will set off before
you can load all your baggage
so, leave some behind
with the heroes that you idolise
that train won't reach your destination
during your lifetime
bemoan in god's name
and stay put where you are.

Maybe one day I will have a go at translating the other sections, but TvamEvaaham should be read in Telugu and aloud, to experience it best.

Cheers!

9 Comments:

Blogger netizen said...

yes. you are right.
to enjoy TvamEvaaham one should read it in Telugu and understand it in Telugu.
wonder how many of those readers of this blog could really enjoy your transliteration leave alone your explanation!

6:15 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

You are right about confusing the unfamiliar with incomprehensible. It was surprising to read you talking about the monologue in Nimishaalu. then I remembered that "bedaramoku sister temperature tiyyamoku doctor" is in Pravaaha dasha. A good translation, Lali.

7:09 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Netizen- That is the point, you see? TvamEvaaham is old news to Telugu poetry enthusiasts, but new to my blog's handful of readers. Full many a gem of purest ray serene...

Ash- Hmm. I was sloppy, it seems. bedaramOku sistar is another segment that won't translate well. Thanks.

8:21 pm  
Blogger Kadambari said...

From someone who struggles with the script, the transileration was rather good.

But a podcast would have done nicely! :)

7:33 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Kadambari- Give me lessons, hold my hand through the tutorial, and teach me HTML and all, I still can't do a podcast--lost voice, you know and all that.

9:46 pm  
Anonymous Sri said...

Wow, you are aarudhra gari's daughter.I read his "Koonalamma Padaalu" many times.

A good translation indeed from you.

-Sri

9:18 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sri- Thank you. Have you read Intinti Pajyaalu? They are fun.

1:57 pm  
Blogger Sivaram said...

The poem and the translation are so profound. The difficulty today is that the quote " nuvvu ekkadaluchukunna ..." etc have got so overused, it is hard to recapture the original emotional boquet. A translation has absolutely no chance there anyway.
And the great part is, the original line manages to suit all the later situations, even if we have no idea or grasp of what it was to be in nely independant India in 1948, the strange relationship between Congress, Communist Party, the Swatantra Party, and so on [ I know a little from random narrations from my father on some evenings].
Thanks that you reawakened those memories.

3:06 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sivaram- It is ironical that the quote is used in irony to describe a no-win situation and resignation to status quo, while the rest of the work urges exactly the opposite.

No need to say thanks, it was my pleasure.

3:43 pm  

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