lalita larking

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

Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Ode to my Muse

"వెలగమంటే వెలుగుతాను
వెన్నలాగ కరగు

వెళ్ళమంటే పోతాను
వీధిలాగ పరచుకో"

I recited, tracing circles on his shoulder. "That is how it begins and those are the lines I remember best." He shrugged under my fingers. "Translate it for me."

That was the first time I was confronted with translating a poem. I was reasonably fluent in three languages and could grasp nuances of poetry therein, I'd thought. Always before, if I quoted Tamil or Telugu, I never had to translate; the allusion or the tangent, the reference or the jests were always understood. Translate it for me, was a mountain to be scaled.

When you are newly in love, when you are discovering each other, there is a lot to talk about. You trade life stories, you tell each other the deepest secrets of your life so far, you marvel at how much you like the same things and wonder if there is something about the other's particular craze, after all. You are receptive, and you receive a lot. Sex is one thing, and then there are hours spent talking, bodies snuggling into each other or sitting sprawled on a sofa among books. If you speak different languages, you learn more poetry as you learn about each other and what moves the other to tears.

I always had an unjustified and indefensible idea that if it is poetry it must be Telugu. Granted, English has some nice stuff, but Telugu rules, okay? I'd have stuck to it, with a qualification that Tamil poets knew what they were about too, and that would have been that.

But he recited bits of poems to me. I did too, but his were surprisingly evocative. I forgot to sneer in a superior fashion that befits a speaker of a language that was carved into inscriptions long before the Brits thought up parliament. Because the poems moved me, the songs he sang moved me, I fell in love with another language and its poetry too; because I was in love.

"Ask me, I will burn; melt like butter," I said. "Tell me to go, I will; spread like the path."

"I am not sure I got that."

That is the trouble with translating from Telugu to English; a bare bones translation doesn't carry the nuances and implied stuff. venna laaga karagu is addressed to a person. But the 'you' is understood, it didn't need to be stated. I should have translated it as, if you ask me to, I will burn; you melt like butter-- which is awkward.

I remember smiling. "It is a matter of reciprocity, you see? I translated just the bare words. The poet is saying, I will burn, if you ask me to, except in Telugu the word velugu means to shine, too. Stars shine, and do so by burning, that is as fierce a fire as you can get. All light is fire at some point, so it is not just a paltry lamp or fire we are considering here. So. I will burn if you ask me to, but you must melt too. Likewise and more seriously, I will go away if you ask me, only if you agree and spread to be the path I am treading. There is also an allusion, a connection you can make to ritual fires and the feeding of such. That the relationship is special, not a trivial campfire."

"Ah. So how does it go on?"

I confessed I'd have to look it up. I knew the gist, of course. The poet goes on talk about the importance of the person. It ends with a poignant plea to the person to remain being a Muse.

Decades after that night, I came across the poem again:

నన్ను నీ రక్తం పిలిచినప్పుడు
కన్ను పరధ్యానంగా ఉంది

మొన్న నీ మౌనం పగలనప్పుడు
పొద్దు పొగ చూరింది

దాచిన అశ్రులన్నీ పూచనప్పుడు
సంధ్యారాగం మబ్బుకొన్నప్పుడు

గుండె గుబాళించనప్పుడు
నరాలు గుర్రాలు దిగనప్పుడు

నిన్ననో మొన్ననో పూర్వజన్మలో
నిద్ర చైతన్యాన్ని వలచింది

నీ నిట్టూర్పు నన్ను దొలిచింది
నీ కన్నీరు నన్ను కలచింది

నిచ్చెనలు విరిచి పారేశాక
పచ్చిక వెచ్చగా నవ్వింది

నీ మీద నేను పాడలేనుగానీ
నా మనస్సుగా ఇలాగే స్పందించు.

velagamanTE velugutaanu
vennalaaga karagu

veLLamanTE pOtaanu
veedhilaaga parachukO

nannu nee raktam pilichinappuDu
kannu paradhyaanamgaa undi

monna nee mounam pagalanappuDu
poddu poga choorindi

daachina aSrulannee poochanappuDu
sandhyaaraagam mabbukonnappuDu

gunDe gubaaLinchanappuDu

naraalu gurraalu diganappuDu

ninnanO monnanO poorvajanmalO

nidra chaitanyaanni valachindi

nee niTToorpu nannu dolichindi
nee kanneeru nannu kalachindi

nichchenalu virichi paarESaaka

pachchika vechchagaa navvindi

nee meeda nEnu paaDalEnugaanee

naa manassugaa ilaagE spandinchu.

But there is always trouble in translating, and it didn't get easier over the years; if anything it got worse. But I got better at ignoring his nitpicking- like how the puns will carry over, like the mention of ladders. It is alluding to worldly aspirations, but how can you translate it in less than a full essay about metaphors and images? I learnt to say piffle.

So here is the poem I tried to recite to him.

I will shine if you ask me to
And melt like butter yourself

Ask me to go, I will leave
If you spread like my path.

Eye was preoccupied
When your blood hailed me

The other day when your silence
Was unbroken, the dawn was smoky.

When all secret tears didn't flow-er
And sunset hues clouded

When heart did not bloom perfumed
And nerves stayed on high horses

Yesterday, day before, in an earlier birth
Sleep was smitten by consciousness.

Your sigh ate into me
Your tears unsettled me.

Once I smashed the ladders
The meadow smiled warmly.

I can not sing about you, but
Be my mind, respond just like this.



Blogger Kshama said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:36 am  
Blogger Kshama said...

Clinging to him!!!!!

Can I say, there is desperation in this poem or is it feeling of love. Somewhere there is feeling that she is holding on to something which may not be hers now.Oh,why am I assuming it is she???


Sundara Telugu they say na.....Language, which I tried to learn, but alas....

10:39 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Kshama- Actually, the poet was male. :-)

I always felt it was surrender asking for surrender, rather. Do you really read desperation and clinging in those lines? Strange how perceptions of the same lines change from reader to reader.

Telugu is a beautiful language, much neglected and mauled these days, but still...

11:33 am  
Blogger Guruprasad said...

hi, i think this is a problem with poetry in all languages. they can never be translated into another language, especially english, without losing the original magic!

here's something i had written recently in the same vein -

have you experienced
anguish before?
i am sure you haven't.
not the kind of anguish
i'm talking about.

the kind which
rubs your nerve-ends raw,
and every breath
a painful reminder.

while i wait
for a glimpse,
a whisper,
some clue.

anything that would help
me get through this day
and make it to the next.
with a dream to span
the night.

2:36 pm  
Blogger RS said...

Amazing! I really enjoyed it - though not very fluent with Telugu... Have just started to blog myself and hope to express so well-someday!

8:50 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Guruprasad- I am a little taken aback at your prefacing your poem with the words,'in the same vein', I must say.

I thought the poem I translated was a nice little romantic piece, and here it is, evoking a sense of clinging for Kshama, and reminding you of intense pain made worse by loneliness and despair!

RS- Hi. I am glad you, at least enjoyed it. :-) Do drop in again, and keep blogging. The trick to writing is to do a lot of it, and regularly. Cheers!

4:43 am  
Blogger Sivaram said...

Ma'm, can you do a light poetry this time ? You are so good at word-play and so on, and the emotional overloads are difficult to handle.
If you can get your mood to that setting; it is only a request.

3:12 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sivaram- I promise, next poem is going to be Ogden Nash eat your heart out. :-) But seriously, I thought I posted a nice little sappy poem but readers all seem to differ about how it speaks to them. It is bewildering.

I am sorry that the next post up is fiction and you will grumble about emotional overload, but I wrote it before you commented, I so plead.

10:21 pm  

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