Translation as Recovery 9788185753638, 8185753636

Articles on literary translation; with reference to India.

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Translation as Recovery
 9788185753638, 8185753636

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Translation as Recovery

With an introduction by m



Sujit Mukherjee

Translation as Recovery Edited by Meenakshi Mukherjee With an Introduction by Harish Trivedi

Pencraft International D elhi-110052

Published by Anurag Jain fo r Z .ÏO Pencraft International Sales Office: 4262/3, Ansari Raod, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110002 Head Office: B -l/41, Ashok Vihar II D elhi-110052 Phones : 23277084, 27443784, 27120156 e-mail : [email protected] Fax: 27443784


Copyright© Reserved with the Editor, Meenakshi Mukherjee

Copyright © All rights reserved. No part o f this publication may be reproduced in any form without the written permission o f the Editor, Meenakshi Mukherjee.

Translation Studies

First Edition : 2004 ISBN 81-85753-63-6

Laser typeset at Suneha Computer Systems WZ-526, Nangal Raya, New Delhi-110046

Printed at D.K. Fine Art Press (P) Ltd. A-6, Nimri Commercial Centre, Ashok Vihar IV, Delhi-52

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Editor’s Preface Sujit Mukherjee left on his table a file marked Translation as Recovery which contained some o f his published essays on translation and several unpublished ones. There was also a tentative Table o f Contents from which I know that he was planning to write a few more, among them the title essay which was probably going to explain why he chose this name for his proposed book. I would not have ventured to edit this volum e but for the encouragement and support o f two friends, Harish Trivedi and S.P. Jain. Harish came to Hyderabad in early 2003, soon after Sujit’s death, and rummaged through his papers to assure me that there was enough material for a book here. He and Sujit have been close associates in their work on translation ever since 1981 when Sujit found out that this young lecturer from St. Stephens College was the anonymous publisher’s reviewer for Translation as Discovery. Harish’s long report on his m anuscript, Sujit always said, was the best piece o f constructive criticism he ever received. These two friends of unequal age have exchanged views on translation (and other matters) for more than two decades, in conversation and through correspondence, and it is most appropriate that Sujit’s last book should have an Introduction by Harish. Even before the manuscript for Translation as Recovery was finalised Sujit had talked to S.P. Jain about it and offered to send him a Table o f Contents to help him to decide whether Pencraft would be interested in publishing it. Dr. Jain with his unfailing courtesy and generosity assured him that even without looking at the contents he was certain he would want to publish the book. I happen to know all this because I was sending and receiving these e-mail messages on Sujit’s behalf. He refused to use the computer and avoided communicating through e-mail as far as possible. The manuscripts o f most o f his books were prepared on his old Olivetti, precious to him because it was a gift from his daughter Rukmini who bought it out o f her scholarship money while a student in England.

I have tried to sort out as far as possible the tangled material o f various kinds that make up this book, some published essays, some handwritten on loose sheets, some typed papers presented at various conferences with many corrections scribbled in the margins and insertions in small pieces o f paper stapled here and there. Some o f the blanks in the end­ notes had to be filled in. If I have made mistakes in the process o f tidying up, I take the blame for those. Also, adding the book reviews as Section III o f the volume was initially my idea, subsequently endorsed by Harish and S.P. Jain. I do not know if Sujit would have approved o f this. For permission to reprint the reviews and the published papers I thank the editors o f the journals/volumes where they first appeared. I am grateful also to Subashree Krishnaswamy o f Chennai and A Dinakar, Librarian, SCILET, Madurai for help in locating the source o f the published reviews. I did not know the story behind the title Translation as Recovery until our friend Ashok Kelkar wrote to me about it. Kelkar had published an essay with this title in a feschtshrift volume for Lothar Lutze in 1994. His essay mentioned that title ‘Translation as Recovery’ “o f course alludes to Sujit M ukherjee’s Translation as Discovery (1981)” . K elkar’s letter says “When Sujit saw my artticle he wrote to me saying: while your title merely alludes to mine, I’m going to pinch yours straight away for my next book, it’s too good not to.” That ‘next book’ is being published now, posthumously and with some trepidation on my part. Sujit’s standards were exacting both as a writer and as a publisher’s editor. I will never know if my attempt at editing his manuscript would have passed his scrutiny. Hyderabad January 14, 2004

Meenakshi Mukherjee

Contents Editor’s Preface Meenakshi Mukherjee 5 Introduction Harish Trivedi 11

SECTION I ANUVAD - VIVAD 1. Re-slating Translation 21 2. The Craft not Sullen Art o f Translation 33 3. Transcreating Translation 43 4. Publish and Perish 53 5. The Absent Traveller: A Classical Text in Translation 63 6. Unfinished Song, Incomplete Road: Text, Film and Translation 73

SECTION II RABINDRANATH IN ENGLISH 7. Urvashi: When She Danced 83 8. Twice-Told Tales 99 9. Rabindranath into Tagore: The Translated Poet 113 10. The English Rabindranath 124

SECTION III REVIEWING TRANSLATION 11. Terminology and Practice 139 12. Third World Texts in First World Academy 144 13. Bankim in Translation 148 14. Penguin Reprints 152 IS. Operation? Mahasweta

16. Politics o f a Love Story 165

17. Unslating the Translator: A Review of Reviews 171

SECTION IV TRANSLATION AS RECOVERY: AN EXERCISE 18. History o f India as Revealed In a Dream by Bhudeb Mukhopadhyay, 1862 (Translated into English by Sujit Mukherjee) 177

Index 205

Introduction Translation as Recovery is, as its title signals, a younger sibling o f Sujit M ukherjee’s earlier book, Translation as Discovery and Other Essays on Indian Literature in English Translation (1981, reprinted 1994), which was quickly acclaimed as a path-breaking study; it remains probably the best book on translation by an Indian author. In it, he took up for comparative textual criticism not one but multiple translations into English o f some canonical Bengali works, such as Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s Pather Panchali and Jibanananda Das’s “Banalata Sen,” and through his patient and punctilious analysis, he demonstrated how the act o f making a translation or even the process o f reading one could become a moment o f revelatory literary discovery. Boldly, he characterized Rabindranath Tagore’s attenuated and simplified translations into English o f his own Bengali poems as instances o f “Translation as Perjury,” while he argued at the same time that for translators and publishers alike in the contemporary Indian cultural situation, translation was not the act o f a traitor (as a notorious Italian proverb has it) but rather “a high form o f patriotism.” In a broader perspective, he argued that translations into English of works from the Indian languages could - and should - constitute a body o f writing that could be termed, in his own coinage, as “IndoEnglish Literature” (as distinct from Indo-Anglian Literature, or Indian writing originally in English), and that this could then serve as a “ link literature” for India. As someone who always believed in practice rather than in theory, he sought to demonstrate how one could read, review and assess such translations and, further, how one could teach them in the classroom. He thus endeavoured to open up a radically new area o f study in the Departments o f English in this country that would serve to diminish our lingering allegiance to the literature o f our colonial masters and to literature written only in their language; it would also serve to prove that despite our linguistic diversity, there was, after all, a single discursive frame within which texts from different Indian languages could be read and studied together. (The timely importance o f Translation as Discovery is underlined by the fact that, at about the same time that the book was published, the award

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o f the Booker prize to Salman Rushdie and its enormous fall-out began to alter substantially the power equation between English and the Indian languages and between Indian Literature and Indian Writing in English.)

I The present book, Translation as Recovery, is a sequel that not only builds on the ground o f Translation as Discovery but also seeks to extend that ground. Here, too, Sujit Mukherjee takes a good long look at the big picture of Translation in India, while supplementing and reinforcing his general observations with what he perhaps liked to do best: to read actual translations not only with acute attention to detail and nuance but also to place them in a full historical and literary context. Altogether, Translation as Recovery is the long-awaited advance on Translation as Discovery and the culmination o f Sujit Mukherjee’s life-long engagement, both as a practitioner and a critic, with this vital literary and cultural activity which has grown to be more important in our times than perhaps ever before. In the first essay in this volume, titled “ Re-slating Translation,” he provides a lively history o f translation in India as it has been practised over a millennium or two, and as, in his view, it may be best practised now. It is not a neutral, objective overview but, as always with Sujit Mukherjee, also a statement o f his considered preferences in the matter. At the end o f the essay, he casts a backward look at his whole project in Translation as Discovery o f constructing a link literature for India through translations into English from the Indian languages, and wonders with wry wisdom whether, in the intervening two decades, he has not proved to be a prophet who has succeeded only too well in foreseeing the future! As the importance o f English in India continues to multiply in our so-called postcolonial times, the paradox inherent in promoting Indian languages through translation into English has become, as he is himself the first to recognize, more and more problematic. What started as an idealistic, integrative nationalist dream has now become, for him and for all those who hold an Indian language closer to their hearts than English, a bit of a double-bind, and Sujit Mukherjee with his characteristic candour acknowledges that there does not seem to be any obvious way of fighting free o f it. In the next essay, “The Craft not Sullen Art o f Translation” (which embeds in its modest title an apt phrase from Dylan Thomas),



Sujit Mukherjee begins by emphasizing how translation in India has always been something distinct from translation in the West, and then proceeds to offer personal testimony, as it were, by sharing with us his own manifesto and creed as a translator. He tells us what he translates and why, and for whom, and also how just much he translates and when he thinks the translation is over and done with. For someone like him, translation is a “habit or second nature,” and he believes translation to be not a secondary activity but “nearly equal” to the writing o f an original creative work. And yet he in uneasy about calling it an “art,” for that would be pretentious. In “Transcreating Translation,” he highlights yet again how translation in India is and has been different from translation in the West by investigating a notable Indian renaming and reformulation of this activity. In “ Publish and Perish,” he deploys his expert knowledge not only as a maker and reader o f translations but also as a publisher to bring to our attention several pragmatic issues concerning the material production and circulation o f translations that are often overlooked in more high-minded academic discussions, whether o f a theoretical or artistic kind. In the remaining two essays in the first section o f this book, he explores issues that are raised in two specific situations involving translation: in the one case when a classical text is sought to be retrieved from a remote period and a “dead” language, and in the other, when the translation o f a literary text seems to be affected by the changes already made in a universally acclaimed film o f the book, which has meanwhile become a canonical original “text” in its own right - as if it was the film o f the book that was translated and not the book itself. The four essays in the second section o f this volume are all devoted to various works, in English translation or in English, by that supreme icon o f modern Indian literature, Rabindranath Tagore, whose translations by himself or others into English are agreed to be quite as blasphemous as his original Bengali writings are held sacred. Through the profound insider knowledge that Sujit Mukherjee brings to bear on these discussions as well as through the issues of wider significance that he raises, he elevates the level o f the whole long debate that has been going on over this vexed question for nearly a century. He seems to know and love his Tagore as well as any o f the host o f Tagore’s devotees but, unlike many o f them, his gaze on Tagore’s translators and editors is clear and unblinking, and as for his attitude to the Poet himself, it is entirely free o f knee-jerk genuflection. And this when he


Translation as Recovery

had himself translated Tagore’s major novel Gora (1997) and his Three Companions (1992; Teen Sangi). The third section o f the volume brings together a small selection o f reviews by Sujit Mukherjee o f books in or about translation. It is not often that reviews are reprinted in a book but then, Sujit Mukherjee was no ordinary book-reviewer. Even in these occasional and apparently fortuitous pieces, he upheld the same high standards that he applied when writing more sustained pieces of literary criticism, and he invested in them the same richness o f knowledge o f texts and context. Unlike some haughty academics and critics, he kept up a lively engagement with the contemporary scene and thought o f reviewing not as a chore but as a job to be relished; he describes a book he reviews here as a “feast for someone who enjoys reviewing translations” - as if he can hardly wait before he falls to! At the same time, he was a tough customer as a reviewer and no aspect o f the book escaped his hawk-eye, from text and translator to the price, printing, paper, copyright, the preliminary pages and (in one memorable instance) even the wastefully large number of blank pages bound in on either side o f the printed text. Indeed, as the last piece in this section shows, his spirit moved him once to review even a couple o f reviews o f translation. The volume concludes with a substantial piece o f translation by Sujit Mukherjee himself o f a little-known text from our early colonial period; this is indeed translation as recovery. He had a strong distaste for arid and superior theory and firmly believed that only those who actually practised had a right to preach or perhaps even to open their mouths. Thus, through including this piece of translation in this book, he seems to come aboard the same boat in which all the other translators discussed in this book have already been sailing; it is as if, in a rare act o f democratic camaraderie and humility, he is also setting him self up to be similarly reviewed and scrutinized. The translation itself amply demonstrates his sturdily indigenist or “ resistant” translatorial practice, in which what is “Bharatavarsh” in the original does not become in translation “India,” nor does “ Dilli” turn into “ Delhi” nor “ Bangla” into “ Bengali” - just as, in his translation of Gora , it had begun to rain on the first page not in July nor during the monsoon but in the month o f “Shravan.” Though the proof o f this book may not quite lie in it, this piece o f translation is the pudding with which this feast o f a book concludes.


15 II

Through the seventeen essays and reviews collected in this volume, Sujit Mukherjee offers a modest, thoughtful, deeply engaged, closely attentive, widely contextualized, toughly interrogative and highly readable account o f a great variety o f issues to do with translation in India. He knew more about the subject than probably anyone else who has written on it, he had thought on it long and hard and had clear and forthright views or (as he modestly calls them) “ informed impressions” to communicate, and he wrote with infectious enthusiasm. Unlike many other scholars, he did not make an ostentatious display o f his vast learning and he wrote not to impress or daunt but to delight and persuade. Even hard-boiled academics have been known to laugh out loud when reading a book by Sujit Mukherjee, and he had a cult following whose members made it a point to turn first to a piece by him as they picked up a new issue o f a periodical. For Sujit Mukherjee, writing was a (user-)friendly act, a process o f live and warm human interaction. He was nothing if not an engaging and stylish writer and, if style is indeed the man, also a bit o f a stylist, as if it were part o f one’s good manners to be so. He set out to entertain the reader as a genial host entertains his guests, laying out delicious verbal fare. His style also served to lubricate what he had to say, which was often strong stuff. By his training as a student o f English literature and his vocation as a university teacher o f English (which he later traded for the profession of a publisher, not without residual hankering), he combined the best o f English and Indian sensibilities; he was a bhadralok gentleman. His mots were acutely juste while they were also full of jouissance, o f a rasika’s enjoyment o f life, language and literature. Deeply rooted in our own culture, he developed an intellectual grace and rigour with which he negotiated the West on his own terms. Many o f the most felicitous and insightful formulations in his writings show a confident independence and originality that a later generation o f Indian academics seems to have surrendered or frittered away. In this sense he was - though with his distrust o f jargon and theory he would instantly have disavowed such a label - a truly oppositional postcolonial. In this book, for example, with constructive (rather than deconstructive) word-play, he describes our complex multilingual situation in India not negatively as a Tower of Babel (nor, politically, as The Power o f Babel, in the title o f a book published in 2003) but rather as the Bower o f Babel. Again, in an original take on


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Caliban’s famous speech in The Tempest, he says that because our colonial masters taught us their language, our “profit on it” is (not “how to curse,” as Shakespeare wrote, but rather) “how to translate into English.” Even more exhilarating is his coinage of the Indocentric revisionist terms “Middle West” for the United Kingdom and “Far West” for the United States o f America. This is to look at the world not through colonial blinkers but with our own liberated eyes. Sujit Mukherjee’s original and substantial work on translation exists in the wider context o f his numerous other books on integrally related subjects. He was the enthusiastic and dedicated translator not only o f Tagore but also o f other favourite Bangla books o f his, notably The Book o f Yudhishthir (1986; Mahabharater Katha) by Buddhadev Bose. He was one o f the earlier Indian academics to go not to the U.K. but to the U.S.A. for his Ph. D. degree, for which he chose, resolutely against the grain o f Twain or Hemingway, a desi-comparative theme: A Passage to America: The Reception o f Rabindranath Tagore in the United States (1964). He stood behind the pioneering study o f Indian Writing in English by his wife Meenakshi Mukherjee - cherchez I ’hommel - to which his visible contribution was the arresting title, The Twice Born Fiction (1971; reprinted 2001). He himself explored the wider domain o f Indian Literature, and its very concept and past and potential historiography, in a book that he edited, The Idea o f an Indian Literature (1981) and in two others that he wrote off his own bat, Towards a Literary History o f India (1975) and Some Positions on a Literary History o f India (1981), in the last named o f which he characteristically set out not only some positions but also a “deposition” and a “disposition,” and some “pre-positions,” “post­ positions” and “propositions.” He compiled single-handedly an ambitious Dictionary o f Indian Literary Terms (1998), o f which only one volume could be completed. He also wrote a major book on Western representations o f India, alliteratively titled Forster and Further (1993), though it contains discussions o f several novelists who wrote not only after but also before Forster. Altogether, he was one o f the pioneering teachers and scholars o f English in India who went beyond mere English Literature to focus on and project a literature o f our own, and to deploy our colonial literary training to decolonize our indigenous literary sensibility. With all his multi-faceted achievement, there is reason to suspect, however, that Sujit Mukherjee fancied himself, first and last, as a cricketer. The game o f cricket has, in a rich postcolonial irony, become our national passion, and it has had few more fervent and articulate



converts than him. He not only played cricket but also wrote over the years six books on cricket, from The Romance o f Indian Cricket (1968) to An Indian Cricket Century (2002), o f which the foremost is his Autobiography o f an Unknown Cricketer (1996). Like Nirad Chaudhuri’s book whose title it echoes, Sujit M ukherjee’s Auto­ biography is also an intimate social document o f wide scope and value. He portrays in it the great game as it is played by hundreds o f thousands o f unsung enthusiasts at school and college, for club and district teams, and at the Ranji Trophy level. Sujit Mukherjee’s own somewhat fitful and not overly distinguished Ranji career is, with typical modesty, the least o f the book; its main appeal lies in the character-sketches o f a host o f young men who, with a bit more talent, opportunity or luck, could have become known cricketers. The book presents, with humour and compassion, a large panorama o f young and promising lives, with their hopes and aspirations, their fifteen minutes o f local fame, and then their fading away or going their own different ways. It is not only a subaltern’s view o f cricket but also a slice o f our Human Comedy.


Translation as Recovery is, alas, Sujit M ukherjee’s last book, and a little personal tribute may not be out o f order. In cricketing terminology, he was not only an all-rounder but also a good team man who thought o f all literary and critical activity as a collective enterprise, as is indeed implied in the etymology of the word sahitya. Translation as Discovery is dedicated: “Again/ for Meenakshi/ though she did not do her share,” i.e. she did not write half the book as the plan was. The opening sentence o f the “Preamble” o f Forster and Further expresses genial solidarity with fellow spirits he did not even know: “For the last twenty years or more, every time I wanted to write this book, somebody else wrote it - or wrote and published a book on the same general subject . . More generally too, Sujit Mukherjee tried to involve in a common pursuit any number o f persons whose lives he touched and irradiated in one way or another, the most organized manifestation o f this being the quarterly journal Vagartha, which Meenakshi and Sujit (themselves, in the view o f many o f their friends, joined together as closely as vak and arthd) ran for seven years. In his own mild, modest and unintrusive manner, Sujit was an enabling friend and inspiring example to many o f his younger

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contemporaries. One bleary-eyed early morning some twenty years ago as he drove me in his trusty black Fiat from his home in Hyderabad to the railway station (after we had sat up chatting at his dining table for the better part o f the night), he whispered into my ear a simple guru-mantra which would surely have turned me into a better or at any rate more productive scholar if only I had heeded it. More recently, just over a year ago, he wrote to me in his neatly squarish hand to offer me a half-share o f the present book, with six essays to be done by him and six by me. It embarrasses me to recall that I did not jump at it having gone I suppose into a funk. After a reminder a couple of months later in which he set me a deadline by which I could still come on board and after I had offered him my lame excuses, he proceeded to complete the book all by himself, an unmixed blessing for which all o f us have cause to be grateful but I more than most. When he passed away he left on his desk a file containing the nearly complete manuscript o f this book, with a blank sheet bearing on top the lone word “Preface.” In the “Pretext” (so called) to his Autobiography, Sujit Mukherjee invoked one o f the finest books ever written on cricket, Beyond the Boundary, by the radical West Indian journalist and author C.L.R. James, to praise it as “an autobiographical exploration into the making o f history and the sustaining o f a culture.” He then went on to say in his spirited yet incorrigibly self-deprecating manner: Such an ideal I set for myself when I began, and the sure knowledge of having chosen an unattainable ideal did not discourage me as I hung on to my wicket. At least I have aimed high - without worrying overmuch about a fielder in the deep.

Sujit was by his own admission a passionate hitter o f sixes, constantly aiming high to go beyond the boundary. He has now finally been caught in the deep, but not before putting up a high score and, what is more, playing a brilliant and hugely enjoyable innings. Delhi, January 2004

Harish Trivedi




Re-slating Translation Perhaps to commemorate its fifty years o f helping us to learn English better and further consolidate the hegemony o f this language in India, the Oxford Advanced Learner s Dictionary o f Current English (first published in 1948) embellished its fifth edition with an Indian English supplement, consisting o f “words and phrases commonly used in Indian English” . This supplement includes the word transcreation and appends to it the meaning “creative translation, seen as producing a new version o f the original work” . I have had the occasion to celebrate this inclusion in another essay. The word translation however continues to languish in the main body o f the aforesaid dictionary. Attached to it is the meaning “to change something spoken or especially written into another language.” The given meaning o f transcreation does not indicate whether the new version is in the same or in another language; as for translation , the meaning given does say “ into another language.” It is my sad but solemn prediction that before another fifty years have passed - in fact, much sooner than that - a subsequent edition o f the same Advanced Learner "s Dictionary will have an additional entry for this word to its Indian English supplement and there hang upon it the meaning “to change something spoken or written into the English language.” This will happen because, nowadays, whenever we talk about translation - especially about the translation o f Indian literature - we tend to mean only translation into English. Whether it is valid or not, this is the impression I gather when I read articles on translation in the Sunday supplements o f English newspapers, or when I occasionally attend seminars on translation, or when - even more rarely - get persuaded to talk about translation to participants o f a refresher course for college teachers. The medium o f expression and exchange in such situations has to be English, and the

Keynote address delivered at a conference on Indian Literature in English Translation at Delhi University, February 1999.


Translation as Recovery

main or mainly shared area o f discussion turns out to be translation into English. In another version o f that long-enduring pronouncement, the medium has become the message. That is, although collectively we probably command twenty odd Indian languages and perhaps half a dozen European languages as well, just because we happen to be speaking in English, we get nudged, pushed, shoved into talking only about translation into English. If I retreat for a few moments from these our post-colonial times - which I feel are too much with us, sooner or later - varieties of literary translations existed during our pre-colonial times, which, at present, are much longer than the post-colonial.Our ancients may not have invented translation - they didn’t even seem to have coined a term for it - but there is ample evidence o f a literary text passing from one language into another. The most re-assuring example o f this from the very early pre-colonial times is that o f Brihatkatha o f Gunadhya, who composed this voluminous cycle o f stories in prose in the 4th or 5th century A.D. in a Prakrit speech somewhat dismissively named as Paisachi. The original text is lost but versions were preserved in other languages - three Sanskrit texts, two Prakrit abridgements, and one Tamil fragment. An even older example would be that o f the Jataka tales, each telling o f a former birth o f the Buddha, first collected in Pali and forming the tenth book o f Khuddanikaya. These stories were later developed in Sanskrit, mixing prose and verse, as full-fledged narratives. Neither of these two examples is o f translation in the modern sense o f the term, but they both embody the choice as well as compulsion which required texts to be reborn in another language. The practice o f translation surely relates to such choices and compulsions. The later pre-colonial times witnessed further growth o f translation o f the kind we had known and practised for several centuries. Whereas earlier the exchange was confined to Sanskrit and Tamil, Pali and the Prakrits, once each o f the so-called Modern Indian languages reached a state o f literary development, it declared its independence by producing its version o f Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavat Purana , until every developed language o f the country had its own Mahabharat and Ramayan and Bhagavat and other wellrespected texts from other languages. Again, these are re-tellings rather than renderings, and in most cases the author felt free to add material o f his own composition. Thereby, such acts o f appropriation proceed, at one level, as academic exercise - inasmuch as the writer had to learn the language o f the older text - and at another as free

Re-slating Translation


enterprise, since he, seldom she, took great pains to innovate and leave his own mark upon the production. Whatever translation activity that underlay such composition depended a great deal on the right adjustment o f individual talent to tradition. Until the end o f the pre-colonial times, the source texts taken up for linguistic transformation were generally in the older languages like Sanskrit, Tamil or Persian. Texts from a more recent language did not as yet move so easily to another recent language, though we have the instance o f the mid-16th century Hindi work o f Malik Muhammad Jayasi, Padumavat, being turned into the mid-17th century Bangla work, Padmabati by the poet-soldier Alaol while he was in the service o f a nobleman of Arakan. However, more than one version o f the same story was known to exist in different languages. Even a minor work telling the tragic tale o f the musician Madhavanala and the dancer Kamakandala was available not only in several Sanskrit versions but also in Gujarati, Marathi and Hindi re-incarnations. At least six different versions have been traced in Hindi alone. The Hindi version by Alam, a poet in Aurangzeb’s court, is apparently based on a Sanskrit version by Jodh, a poet in Akbar’s court. In the opening lines o f his work, Alam admits that apart from what he has himself composed, he has translated from a Sanskrit poem and also borrowed from the Hindi versions o f other poets. As he puts it: Kachlihu apni kachhu prakrit choro / Yathashakli kari akshar jodo H

Again: Katha Samskrita suni kachhu tltodi / Bhasha bandh chaupai jo d i II

From such casual statements made by our pre-colonial poets, someday we may be able to construct a coherent account o f the theory and practice o f translation as it obtained in this country until the later years o f the 18th century. The advent o f English and its growing ascendancy changed the translation scene as never before. The colonial times have been our most productive where literary translation is concerned. At least three areas of translation grew and prospered. One, translation o f Indian literary texts into English; two, translation of English language texts into Indian languages; three, translation from one Indian language into


Translation as Recovery

another. The trajectory o f each kind was different, but the total outcome was a tremendous enrichment o f our literary culture. The first area, the translation o f Indian texts into English, made highly select items o f Indian literature available to England and other parts o f the English-reading world. The first such text was Shakuntala translated by Sir William Jones into English and published in 1789. How these early translations o f ancient classics and sacred texts from India crossed the Atlantic by mid-nineteenth century and were read or sometimes misread by a group of people in and around Concord is a story students o f American literature are familiar with. But these early translations inaugurated a long tradition which continues even today o f British and American scholars translating from Sanskrit and Tamil, Pali and the Prakrits. By late nineteenth century Indians also began to contribute to this tradition with Romesh Chandra Dutt translating Lays o f Ancient India (1894), Maha-Bharata (1899) and Ramayana (1902) - all published in London. In our own time the tradition continues with the work o f A.K. Ramanujan translating from ancient Tamil and medieval Kannada, P. Lai’s long-term engagement with Mahabharata, and other Sanskrit texts, and Velchuri Narayan Rao’s recent rendering o f old Telugu poetry into English. The second area mentioned above is particularly significant. As soon as Indians managed to learn enough English in order to be able to translate from that language, they not only began translating into their own languages literary texts originating in England, but also translated texts available in English translation from European languages. Without having to learn French or German or Russian - it was toil enough to learn English - we could read, at second remove, Flaubert and Goethe and Tolstoy and many others we could never have approached for a long time but for the mediation o f English. I have sometimes wondered how reliable these translations are and whether our pre-colonial practice of translation as re-telling did not affect these undertakings o f the colonial times too. I would urge our university departments o f Modern Indian Languages to examine and advise us on this issue. When the Indian reader o f 1930 or 1940 felt he was in touch with world literature even if he read only Hindi or Malayalam or Marathi, was he really deceiving himself? About the third area - namely, translation o f literary texts from one Indian language to another - it had already begun in pre-colonial times but it revived and expanded during the later years o f colonial subjugation. What was earlier more o f a literary exercise now became an aspect o f the new nationalism which sought to become familiar with

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other regions o f the country through writing originating there. Unlike the sponsored translations o f early post-colonial times (at the initiative o f the Sahitya Akademi or the National Book Trust for example) the earlier development was entirely spontaneous. The translators acquired other Indian languages on their own while publishers o f such work were willing to invest their money presumably because there was prospect o f sale. A point to be noted here is that not all Indian languages were equally favoured for literary texts to be rendered into other Indian languages. By virtue o f earlier long-term association with the British, Bengalis not only landed jobs with them before other Indians did; concurrently, Bangla literature got a head-start over literature in other Indian languages where modern literary developments were concerned. What was really an accident o f history began to be considered a natural endowment o f the Bengali people, especially o f those who flocked to Calcutta, the second city o f the then British empire. Thus, while Bengalis translated European literature - not necessarily from the originals - many Indian languages translated Bangla literature. Bankimchandra or Rabindranath or Saratchandra earned a pan-Indian readership long before eminent writers in other Indian languages did. This is no longer true today, but it does suggest that intra-language literary translation, even within India, is not free o f extra-literary considerations. For some years after independence, a kind o f foreign-aid became available to translation activity in India, when through Indo-American and Indo-Russian and other such programmes, Indian translators were commissioned to produce Indian language versions o f foreign works, mainly novels. We have heard o f our kings and sultans o f yore who commissioned translations - that is, paid individuals or groups to translate texts o f the ruler’s choice. This form o f literary patronage was continued by the British in the early colonial times - for example, at Fort William College - when they employed persons to translate. Now another set o f foreign patrons appeared on the scene in newly free India. Many o f the translators commissioned now were and are among our leading writers, who thus drew double sustenance from these assignment« - their own writings will have absorbed some influence o f what they were translating, while the remuneration they received must have given them welcome relief for some time from the necessity o f making a living. In several cases, Indian writers were invited to go and live for several years in the countries whose literatures they were translating. This experience of living abroad


Translation as Recovery

could not but have enlarged, literally, their world view, which would get expressed in their own writing. As part of a larger move towards cultural diplomacy, in which USA and USSR competed for influence in our newly formed state, these foreign-aid supported translations became a part o f our post1947 literary scene. Perhaps taking a cue from what other countries had to offer, the government o f independent India - busy enough as it was with establishing democratic institutions, laying out heavy industry plants, constructing large river dams, and countless other such nationbuilding activities - decided to support translation. The central Sahitya Akademi took upon itself the gigantic task o f translating world classics as well as major Indian literary works into all the Indian languages recognised by the Akademi. On a more modest scale, the National Book Trust launched the A adan-Pradan program m e, w herein outstanding modem Indian novels and short stories began to be translated into twelve Indian languages, other than that o f the original work. Neither o f these two projects is likely to be completed in the foreseeable future, but both have made a great deal o f Indian as well as world literature available to Indians in their own languages. If only these institutions could match their interest in production with success in distribution and sales, many more works in translation from one Indian language to another would reach the reader concerned. Is the reader concerned truly a reader o f translation ? That is a question that needs to be answered - or at least considered in some depth and due seriousness - by the new generation o f students and teachers who are being drawn to the field of Translation Studies. I began my essay with the lament that these days whenever we talk about translation, we seem to be talking about translation o f Indian languages into English. It so happens I translate into English and have been doing so for over forty years, and admit to having written in the past about various aspects o f such translation. What I cannot remember is forgetting altogether the other areas o f translation that abound in a multilingual country like ours. As with Indian writing in English, Indian literature in English translation seems to have moved centrestage with our publishes, reviewers, seminar-organizers, and other groups interested in the advancement o f Indian writing. To take a few random examples o f what appears to me as excesses: Some years ago when the Times o f India published a review o f the English translation o f Shrilal Shukla’s Hindi novel Raag Darbari, it was accompanied by a photograph - not o f the author, or o f the publisher, not even o f the reviewer, but of the translator. I do not

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know whether such a thing has happened ever before or after in the history o f reviewing of translated works. What we all know, however, is that the Times closed down their book reviews section soon after. Sample Two: A fairly earnest teacher o f English writes in the editorial note to a collection o f essays on translation compiled by her: It must be acknowledged that it is only in English that much o f our ancient literature is accessible to us today. The English translations of Indian texts, both ancient and contemporary, have done the signal service o f enhancing the awareness of the variety and richness o f Indian literary culture not only abroad but, more importantly among the people of our own country.

If we were to turn this astonishing statement around, it would seem that this good lady and possibly others like her would have no access to our ancient and contemporary literature unless it got translated into English. Sample Three: A friend of mine, another teacher of English who later became also a novelist in English: When I asked him twenty odd years ago to help us to find literary texts in a particular South Indian language that were worth translating into English for a journal I was then associated with, he dismissed the whole notion saying although this was his mother-tongue, he did not care to read any literature in it - in any case there wasn’t any literature in it worth translating. Therefore I was taken by surprise a few years ago to see an anthology o f ‘classic’ stories from that language translated by him into English, brought out by a leading publisher in Delhi. In his preface to the volume he is candid enough to admit that he was awarded a National Fellowship by the University Grants Commission to undertake this task and given two years’ leave by his university to do it in. I am fairly certain this has never happened before in the history o f higher education in India. I remain curious to know if it has happened again. Sample Four: Another friend, yet another English teacher, well known now for his work in many areas of literary studies, including that o f Translation Studies, once got involved with a strange “Experience and Experiment in Translation” sponsored by the Sahitya Akademi in January 1990. This was a fortnight-long, but not day-andnight, workshop attended by ten living Hindi poets, along with ten lively translators (from Hindi into English), witnessed by an alert foreign expert, who does not know Hindi or any Indian language, but


Translation as Recovery

is a widely reputed translator (into English, mostly from Russian), a poet in his own right, and a professor o f English and Comparative Literature. This workshop actually worked on translations o f Hindi poetry into English and the end-product was an anthology titled Survival, published by the Sahitya Akademi. If you have gone through the volume and survived, you will have asked yourself questions that have not been answered in the Preface or the Introduction or in either o f the two Afterwords that shore up this anthology. My aforesaid friend, who worked on some o f the translations and wrote one o f the afterwords, may have betrayed a state secret (after all, the Sahitya Akedemi is wholly funded by the government while Hindi is officially the national language) when he wrote: It is the worthy and cherished dream o f Indian literature, recognised by friend and critic alike as being at the moment provincial and marginal, suddenly bursting upon the international literary scene in a blaze of unsuspected glory, much as Latin American Literature has recently done. To attain this dream, many o f us would gladly go through whatever it takes, even if it is, ironically, newer forms o f colonial dependence and what Franz Fanon has only too aptly called the colonial cringe.

Had Fanon been alive today and attended this workshop, he may have written yet another Afterword and called this effort a post-colonial binge. Nearly ten years have passed since then and I do not know if theAkademi has organized another such binge with another Indian language. Sample Five: There was a time when, if it snowed in Shimla, Delhi used to catch a cold, sneeze and cough. In a contemporary reversal o f this atmospheric, the Indian Institute o f Advanced Studies has got inspired (or infected, depending upon whether you were invited or not) by the Sahitya Akademi and begun to publish translations from Indian Literature into English. I always thought that this unique institution was wholly devoted to research and other forms o f higher study in what used to be called the humanities. I was therefore much taken aback when I was asked to review a collection o f Hindi and Urdu short stories in English translation published by the Institute. In groping around to look for a reason why the Institute was motivated to publish such material - material which most commercial publishers in and around Daryaganj were also publishing - 1 found that the Director had explained in his foreword that this was a specially

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sanctioned project consisting o f a monograph on the nayi kahani in Hindi/ Urdu, then a record o f conversations with relevant writers on modernism, and, thirdly, this anthology. Each was to be regarded as a companion volume for the other two. I wrote in my review that this must be the most accompanied volume o f recent times, but the sub­ editor handling my piece deleted what I thought was my cleverest comment. What was part o f a special project in 1991 or 1992 must subsequently have become a routine activity on Summerhill. Every now and then I hear o f fellows who have been funded to spend time, specially summer time in Shimla, in order to translate short as well as long fiction from Hindi as well as from Urdu, for publication by the Institute. As a south Indian friend - not an English teacher, this time, but a translator - told me recently, this Institute has several times been threatened with closure, so it is planning to survive as the North Indian Institute o f Advanced Translation. I could go on adding examples, each more exaggerated than the previous, to try and convince you o f the unusual prominence which translation o f Indian writing into English has achieved recently, possibly at the cost o f many other kinds o f translations. Perhaps you don’t need to be convinced. Unless you are self-consciously blinkered, you will have noticed this tide in the affairs o f translations in India. The latest ripple was visible in Chennai, where a bookshop organized a meeting to felicitate a translator (into English) and invited a professor o f English, though retired, all the way from Hyderabad to act as the chief guest for the occasion. I happen to know this translator. She and I sometimes compare notes on who reads her translations from Malayalam, and mine from Bangia, and find no satisfactory answers. What we agree unconditionally on, however, is that given the choice she would rather read a Bangia novel translated into Malayalam than into English, while I too would prefer to read a Malayalam novel translated into Bangia rather than into English. Having reached this agreement, we dare not ask each other when she last read a Bangia novel translated into Malayalam or when I last read a Malayalam novel translated into Bangia. We d on’t or can’t indulge in such readings because the translations in question are not easily available. I am told that in our country, at present, it is much easier to find people who can translate literature from an Indian language into English than to find persons who can translate literature from one Indian language into another. I hesitate to believe this, but most agencies that require intra-Indian


Translation as Recovery

language translations tend to work from what are slavishly called master-copies in English. After resisting for a long time, the National Book Trust has succumbed at last and now allows the mediation o f English versions during the transfer o f one Indian language text to another Indian language. I understand the Sahitya Akademi has also adopted this line o f least resistance. Yet, when the Akademi hands out annual awards for translation, it carefully avoids mention o f whether these are direct translations or rebounds from English renderings. In our everyday life we meet any number o f Indians who speak two or more Indian languages equally well, but very few o f them are interested in literary translation. Sometimes the happy accident of marriage brings together two different Indian language speakers to such levels o f intimacy that one o f them adopts the language of the other without abandoning his or her own. Quite often, however, their offspring, instead o f learning these two languages easily available at home, cultivate a third language which probably promises them a better living than that o f the parents. What else can this third language be but English, the first language o f the third world? Throughout the colonial period we managed to learn English without forgetting our own language or having to ignore our own literature. Parhey angrezi aur likhe Marathi or Kannada or Oriya was an eminently workable and fairly common situation for many of our writers. Bishnu Dey or Buddhadev Bose, Harivansh Rai Bachchan or Raghupati Sahay Firaq, Vinay Krishna Gokak or Gopal Krishna Adiga, and many other leading poets, novelists and playwrights created literature in their own first and esteemed languages even while they taught English language or literature for a living. But fifty years o f post-coloniality, which includes some years o f angrezi hatao in the socalled cow-belt above the Vindhya mountains and some more o f hindi bhagao in the just-nam ed buffalo belly below the same divide, have changed this. Every Bharatiya Jnanpith award winner in the last five or six years has taken us by surprise because we know little or nothing about him/her in advance - unless, o f course, we happen to share the original language in which the writer wrote. After the award the major works by the writer become available in Hindi in accordance with the conditions o f the award. Nobody is surprised, or even alarmed when some o f the Jnanpith award-winning works reappear after some time in English as well. But how seldom do these works get translated into other Indian languages? By and large, literary translation between our languages has, I think, dwindled during the post-colonial times. I cannot substantiate

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this observation with self-revealing facts or tale-telling arguments, but this is the impression I gather from talking to people who are familiar with the literary situation in their own languages. My fear is that while literature in any Indian language has continuing and increasing access to world literature, what it is losing at the same speed and with the same continuity is access to literature in the other Indian languages. I should like to plead to our universities that each time a department o f Translation Studies is established, it should be coupled with a department o f the Study o f Translation - preferably o f translation between Indian languages. From such study we may be able to recover principles o f translation that have been lost by us and reaffirm translating practices that are peculiarly suitable to our situation. Some time ago I attended a conference on ‘English Translation o f Regional Literatures’ organized by the post-graduate department o f English o f Kakatiya University at Warangal. It must be on account of my own shortcomings - or maybe because o f the dubious company I keep, consisting mainly of English teachers (I even live with one) that I get invited to conferences or seminars on translation or to give refresher course discourses on translation organised only by English departments. I have never been invited - and at my ripe age it may be too late already - to any such meet on translation organised by a Hindi department or a Bangla department. I don’t even know whether they or any other Indian language department - worry at all about translation, leaving the field clear for their E nglish-teaching colleagues. If one hundred years o f teaching English has got Indian teachers o f English abundantly interested in translation, it should not take as long for Hindi departments to call conferences on the problems o f translation, and Bangla departments to host seminars on the solutions for translation, and so on for all university-recognised languages. Only then will some equipoise among our languages be restored in India’s world o f translation. To revert just once more to the subject of English teachers, once upon a time I had recommended that since they neither created literature nor produced any earth-shaking critical work - this mind you, was many years ago and in any case present company is excluded - that since they were neither writers nor critics (unlike some o f their colleagues in the Hindi or Bangla or other language departments), they could render some service to the literary community at least by translating from their own first languages. I could never have imagined that in due course I would turn out to be a prophet. Many more English teachers have since then taken to translation, and an even greater


Translation as Recovery

number have become proponents o f including texts o f Indian literature in English translation in B.A. and M.A. English courses. I don’t quite know how I should react to this phenomenon. I am not one o f m idnight’s children but 1 did begin teaching English soon after that midnight dawned. In those days whenever I voiced the possibility o f including some Indian writers in English (not even in English stroke translation), I was struck down promptly and firmly by my former teachers and other senior colleagues.. Exceptions were grudgingly made for Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu. All that has changed. Over the years English or British literature courses have made place for Indian writing in English alongside American writing, Australian writing and other English language texts from what are still known as Commonwealth countries. I sometimes worry whether or not, instead o f being extensions o f intellectual territory, these are really platforms for periodic renewal o f the justification for maintaining a public sector undertaking like English teaching in India. If so, then the growing interest in the study and teaching o f Indian literature in English translation may well be another phase o f self-renewal, another spell o f self-validation o f the profession. To those members o f it who are engaged in doing translation or teaching translated texts, my submission would be that they must read many translations before they undertake to translate, also they must study even more translations before they undertake to teach. Meanwhile Indian writing in English stroke Translation will continue to aspire to compete, stroke by stroke, not all on the off-side, That is, if Indian writing in English has now won the Booker prize, someday Indian writing in English translations will win if not the Book nor the Booker, certainly the Bookest Prize and silence me for ever. Into that haven o f translation, my Mother, let me awake!

2 The Craft not Sullen Art of Translation In this country, we have been practising translation for a long time without giving it such a name or style. Whatever be the language our very early ancestors used - quite possibly these people were not numerous - once our numbers grew and a Bower o f Babble began to form, it became necessary for the speakers o f one language to communicate with the speakers o f another. Such communication continued to be practised without being regarded as anything unusual. You did so because you needed to. Ever since then, the presence of more than one language in one’s daily life or the need to learn more than one language in one’s lifetime has not, generally, been regarded as a problem throughout India’s known history. In due course, within Jambudvipa - an old name for India that was Bharatvarsha and is now Bharat - the literary compositions o f one language began to be recomposed by telling or writing them in another language. Most often these were texts from so-called master languages, such as Sanskrit, being retold or rewritten in what are now being called bhashas (the modern Indian languages). Even more often, it was not sacred texts such as the Vedas or the Upanishads that got retold or rewritten, but kavya works such as the Ramayana, purana works such as the Srimad-Bhagavat, and itihasa-purana works such as the Mahabharata. Down the centuries, every bhasha acquired its own Ramayana and its own Mahabharata, and in some cases more than one. This acquisition can only loosely be regarded as ‘translation’, because,

Paper presented at a conference on ‘Postcolonial Translations: Changing the Terms o f Cultural Transmission’ jointly organized by Université de Montreal and Concordia University in Montreal in May 1997; later published with slight changes in the volume Translation, Text and Theory: The Paradigm o f India, ed. Rukmini Bhaya Nair. Sage Publications, New Delhi and London, 2002.


Translation as Recovery

while the basic story remained, some o f it was left out and a lot o f new writing done to fill it out again. Elsewhere I have called this process ‘translation as new writing’ and I venture the claim that this has been our tradition. Translation in India has often been out o f step with translation in the rest o f the world. Thus, in these post-colonial times, it should have been possible to regard Sanskrit as a ‘m aster’ language and ascribe various misdeeds to it. But we find that literary works were translated from Sanskrit into Asamiya, Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, and so on - and not the other way round, as would happen with a master language. Whatever high regard Sanskrit enjoyed in the past - and continues to enjoy even now - as the language o f scriptural texts and o f ritual practices, by no means did it ever lord over the bhashas as far as literature was concerned, once these had found their feet (or hands, with which they wrote). Long before that, Sanskrit had been gagged by grammar, its creativity crippled by commentary, effectively silenced though not killed, by sparing and exclusive employment. The case o f Persian in India illustrates another aspect o f the role o f translation in our subcontinent. During the Mughal period, Persian became the ruler’s language but never the ruling language. To satisfy their curiosity, the rulers occasionally got Indian texts translated into P ersian , using the language as it were for transm ission or dissemination. During the reign o f Akbar, Badauni laboured four years over translating the Ramayana into Persian, while Dara Shukoh, Shah Jahan’s eldest son, got the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Yogavashishtha Ramayana rendered into Persian by a team o f translators. Even after Persian was replaced by English as the official language o f administration, it continued to be the language o f gracious composition and useful translation. With the advent o f English, the context and role o f translation in India changed substantially. A governor like Warren Hastings (in office from 1772 to 1785) believed that Hindus should be governed by Hindu laws. Accordingly, he had the Dharmashastras (which he was told were law books) translated from Sanskrit into Persian by Indians, then from Persian into English by Europeans. By then, however, Charles Wilkins had translated the Bhagavad Gita directly from Sanskrit into English (in 1785), William Jones had similarly translated Shakuntala into English (in 1789) and had also proclaimed his discovery (in a paper presented to the Asiatic Society in 1786) that Sanskrit belonged to the Indo-European family o f languages, from which were born many European languages. Translation thus became

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the foundation on which a new discipline such as comparative philology could be established in the 19th century; it also opened up a new area o f scholarly enquiry which came to be known as Indology. We sometimes forget that it was the trading firm called the East India Company - and not the British Government o f India, which had not yet taken over - which decided, in 1837, that English would thereafter be the ‘official’ language, that is, the language in which the Company would transact business with Indians and within India. This meant, on the one hand, that Englishmen - or Europeans, as they were then called - began to learn Indian languages, while Indians began to learn English. Europeans had already been learning Indian languages much earlier, when Christian missionaries came to various parts o f India and sought to elevate the natives to the blessed state o f those who manned or moneyed such missions. This learning became more organised as Fort William College was set up in Kolkata (then Calcutta) in 1800 for the purpose o f teaching East India Company writers, as they were called, Indian languages and culture. The first round o f languages to be cultivated included Hindi and Urdu, Bangla and Marathi. Thus was laid the foundation o f translating, not from Sanskrit or Pali or Tamil, but from the bhashas, or the modern Indian languages. As for the complementary process o f Indians learning English, even before 1835 when Macaulay made recommendations in his ‘Minute on Education,’ a small but influential group o f Indians in some emerging new cities had already taken to English. Between 1816 and 1833, Raja Rammohan Roy wrote several books in English; Henry Derozio wrote the long poem, The Fakeer o f Jangheera in 1828; C.V. Ramaswami wrote Biographical Sketches o f the Dekkan Poets in 1829; Kashiprosad Ghosh wrote The Shair or Minstrel and Other Poems in 1830. It was only to be expected that such proficiency in English acquired by Indians would in due course be demonstrated by translating from the bhashas into English. The worldwide recognition o f such enterprise culminated in Rabindranath Tagore’s winning an international award for literature in 1913. A curious situation was created thereby. Whereas, prior to this, Rabindranath’s poems and short stories used to be translated by friends and admirers, in the case o f Gitanjali, the poet himself had done the job. Ever since then, Indian writers have been alleged to have wanted to - sometimes actually done so - themselves translate their works into English. Not that all o f them aspired to a Nobel Prize, but the fascination o f modern Indian writers with being read and appreciated in English has outlasted the 20th century.


Translation as Recovery

In the late 18th and the 19th century, translations o f Indian literature into English were generally undertaken by the British, a few by Americans as well, and the source language was mostly Sanskrit. The latter part o f the 19th century onwards, Indians joined the enterprise in growing numbers, with source texts being drawn from many Indian languages, ancient as well as modem. Well past fifty years o f India’s independence, it now seems obvious that Indians have appropriated the language o f their recent rulers so extensively that almost the entire business o f translating Indian literature into English has been taken over by Indian translators and, not to forget them, publishers. My friend P. Lai o f Kolkata, a friend o f translation as well as o f publishing, has stated, ‘I strongly believe that, all other things being equal, an Indian is better equipped to translate India’s sacred works than a foreigner’ ( Transcreation, 1996; p. 29). I would go further and claim that Indians are better equipped to translate their profane texts as well. What we don’t yet have in India is a theory or theories o f translation. This may be because, as I said at the outset, we have been practising translation for so many years - so many centuries, in fact that we forgot to stop and theorise. But odd things did happen in the colonial period which must be affecting our postcolonial outlook on translation without our realising it, and this needs to be studied. For example, my own first experience o f translation was at the early stages o f learning English. In the usual school timetable o f my time, one o f the classes for English was allotted to translation. That is, pupils were required to translate passages from their mother-tongues into English. Such passages were broadly literary, always informative and generally edifying. Textbooks were available, containing such passages and offering some model translations along with suggested English equivalents in Roman o f mother-tongue words and occasional Indian language transcription as aids to pronunciation. Question papers in the class examinations for English included such exercises, and marks were duly awarded. Teachers sometimes lamented that this or that pupil, who seemed to be very competent in translation, could not compose a single sentence in English. Within the pious precincts o f academia, the test was nominated as ‘re-translation’. The colonial situation had to devise some such solution to the problem o f a body o f examinees owning more than one mother-tongue. This was perfectly normal in any even moderately urbanised centre o f education in modern India. For example, in the school I attended in the mid-1930s in Patna, the capital of Hindi­

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speaking Bihar, at least three mother-tongues were recognised Hindi, Urdu and Bangla. By the time I began teaching in a college there in the early 1950s, two more tongues were acknowledged Maithili and Nepali (the latter because, at that time, Patna University used to conduct examinations for Nepal). While distributing question papers for this test, therefore, one had to make sure that each student got the passage in the language that his or her mother spoke. At the time such a test was being formalised, the head examiner was most certainly an Englishman (never, in those colonised and unfairly gendered times, an Englishwoman) who certainly knew at least one Indian language, but couldn’t very well be expected to know more than one. To tackle the multi-language situation, a typically British compromise was worked out. After a passage in English had been selected, Indian teachers were commissioned to translate it into Hindi, Urdu, Bangla, later into Maithili and Nepali as well. These passages were then distributed among the children according to their mother-tongues and they were then required to re-translate these passages into English. Approximation achieved to the original passage was eventually evaluated, and it did not matter whether the examiner was English or Irish or Scot - all that he had to do was compare the examinee’s effort with the original passage. And the exercise was rightly called re-translation rather than translation. That is how we learnt English at one time - through translation and re-translation, through transcription in Hindi and annotation in Bangla, through learning grammatical rules by rote and English idioms by heart (the latter process popularly known as ‘by-hearting’). As latter-day Calibans we were taught English and our profit on it has been that we learnt how to translate into English. Out of such remembering and recording will come India’s theories of translation, especially o f translating into English. Meanwhile, practising translators - that is, from Indian languages into English - sometimes give the impression that they know better than the original authors, hence their efforts are so creative that such translation should be looked upon more as an art than as a craft. I feel uneasy when I hear talk about the ‘art’ o f translation. My unease springs, among other apprehensions, from the fear that by talking about the art of translation, we may be surreptitiously seeking to defend translation against the usual charge, namely, that it is a secondary activity - secondary, that is, in rank to an activity such as creative writing; secondary also in activation, because translation must always follow after. Whereas, in my own perception, underlined


Translation as Recovery

by some practice, translating a literary work stands very close and nearly equal to the writing o f it. My other hesitation in accepting the translator as an artist is related to my having been a translator all my life but never regarding m yself as an artist. Again, this is not my peculiar achievement. Most Indians who grow up in urban conditions and go to school and college tackle shifts from one language to another so often and so comfortably that translation seems second nature to them. When I began to apply this familiar process to translating a literary work from one language to another, I did not think I was doing anything removed from everyday practice. To regard such a habit as art would be to claim an unwarranted distinction. That habit can be refined into a craft rather than be exalted to an art. In the course o f translating from an Indian language into English, we (that is, we Indians) land ourselves in an unusual position. The usual position in most literary cultures o f the world is to translate into one’s first language a work from some other language one understands at a literary level. We have, for about one hundred years or more, reversed the process in one area. During this period o f time, some o f us acquired the English language well enough to communicate with native speakers o f English, while a few among us mastered the language even better and earned recognition in English-speaking countries as writers o f English. This situation is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, and so will the position held by many of us who know English and indulge in translating into English from the Indian language or languages we happen to know. In my own case, Bangla is my first language and I acquired Hindi long before I could read or write it. Then came English, at best a third language for me, yet I translate into that language from Bangla and get invited to conferences. By aspiring to translate Indian literary works into English, we take on a grave responsibility. Sometimes our English is not good enough and we do irreparable harm to a writer in Bangla or Hindi or Tamil by representing him or her inadequately in English translation. More English translations are being published in India these days than ever before, but our awareness o f the need to ensure quality in translation has not heightened to the same extent. O f course, the basic question remains: Who should judge a translation - somebody who can read the original or somebody who cannot? A person who can read the original may find no translation satisfactory, whereas someone who cannot is likely to regard readability in English as the prime

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requisite. That narrow isthmus lying between these two flows shows no signs o f widening. At the risk o f stating the obvious, let me insist that the basic equipment for a translator o f literary works is a secure hold upon the two languages involved, supported by a good measure o f familiarity with the culture represented by each language. I have the impression that when we translate from an Indian language into English, we err less often over items o f British culture and more often in our control o f contemporary English. Whereas, when a British or American translator tackles an Indian language text, especially a modem text, he is more likely to make mistakes o f cultural understanding though his grasp o f the grammar and syntax o f the Indian language concerned may be more than adequate. Between these two alternatives, in my publishing incarnation I used to prefer the former. As any publisher’s editor knows, it is much easier to remedy lapses in language than it is to repair flaws o f content. That is, since it is easier for an Indian to learn the English language than it is for a Briton or American to comprehend Indian culture, translations o f the kind being discussed here had better be left to Indians and other natives o f the subcontinent. However, I must not prescribe a theory nor labour to formulate one to justify what I have deduced from practice. Once when I had the opportunity I pontificated (actually, wrote), ‘I have no theory o f translation. I leave such theories to those who do not translate.’ But even the mere practice o f translation does throw up a variety o f issues that a better qualified person than I would surely be able to lodge at theoretical levels. Instead o f letting them remain as issues, let me turn some o f them into questions for myself which I try to answer when I am engaged in translation. 1. First, why do I translate? It so happens that, except in one instance, I have never undertaken to do so at somebody else’s bidding. Which means I generally translate when I enjoy the original work so much that I want to present its joys, however attenuated, to another set o f readers in another language. Given the limits o f my linguistic abilities, this has meant translating only from Bangla into English. But I have done so only when I have wanted to translate, not when somebody else has wanted me to and has even been prepared to pay for it. Quite often I have translated without any offer o f publication and certainly without any expectation o f payment. In case this seems an impractical and unduly idealistic position to take, let me point out that


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my position enjoys a freedom o f action which no professional translator can hope to enjoy. A.K. Ramanujan once added one more level to such a labour o f love when he said, ‘one translates not just out o f love, but also out o f envy o f the past masters.’ He was a poet himself, thus entitled to envy older poets. I am no poet but can partake o f such envy o f all writers o f all time. 2. For whom do I translate? If I was translating from Hindi (my second language) into Bangla (my first), this question would be easy to answer because each modem Indian language or bhasha is said to command a particular region or ‘anchal’, and its writers can focus on a known area o f readership. No such focus is available to the Indian user o f English, and the Indian translator into English can tie him self up into knots trying to decide which part or parts o f the Englishreading world to address. Given our normal tendency to look westwards for approbation, some o f us may translate for the Middle West (i.e., the United Kingdom) while others aim at the Far West (i.e., the United States). From my own experience, after some trial and much error, I have settled for readers nearest home. That is, if I may repeat something I have stated elsewhere, while converting the language medium (originally Bangla) to English, I seek to replace the target audience (originally the Bengali reader) not so much with the ‘English reader’ but with the ‘reader in English’. Not being certain of where else this reader may live or lurk, I address my translations primarily to other Indians who read English. 3. What do I translate? Like most translators, I began with poetry. Like most Indian translators into English whose first language is Bangla, I began by assaulting the poetry o f Rabindranath Tagore. (There are, o f course, other reasons why so many Bengalis want to translate Rabindranath’s poetry into English - the latest being the anxiety to protect him from British or American translators - but this is not the time or place to go into such reasons.) My early essays in this direction were fired by the desire to render his rhyming poems into rhymed verse. Inevitably, I had to give up this unequal struggle, finding Rabindranath’s language far too rich and complex to be contained by my poor and simple English. I have tried to work on som e other poets - Sam ar Sen, Am iya C hakravarty, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Nirendranath Chakrabarti - mainly because 1 felt translation was one way to understand their poems better. Thereafter 1 have translated some short fiction (by Moti Nandy), one substantial

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work o f literary criticism (by Buddhadev Bose), three long stories (by Rabindranath), and now one large novel. What I wish to deduce from this biblio-biography is that a translator ought to try out various literary forms and authors, and then stick to one for as long as possible. 4. How much do I translate? The answer to this has at least two parts, one o f which concerns the amount or volume o f cultural content to be transferred from one text to another. I see no problem here because a language expresses a culture, and any translation must strive to bring this over to the culture represented by the language into which the text is being translated. Therefore, to me, a term such as ‘crosscultural translation’ seems quite worthless because it merely names the obvious. How can anybody translate from one language to another without a recognisable transfer o f culture? Any attempt to conceal or subvert such transfer would go against the grain o f literary translation. All or nothing must be the translator’s aim. The other part o f the question relates mainly to the translation o f novels or o f long prose narratives from our languages into English. Here ‘how much’ is a truly quantitative factor. I do not know what liberties are taken when a novel by Marquez, Mishima or Mahfouz is rendered into English by a British or American translator. But in India there is a regrettable tendency among translators into English, o f both foreign and native species, to interfere with the original text in various ways while translating, out o f the earnest desire to improve upon the original. There is a measure o f hegemony involved here. Even after more than half a century o f conscious decolonisation, the English language continues to hold such a position o f authority in modern India that those who translate literary works into English somehow convince themselves that they are doing a favour to the Indian language writer by presenting him or her through translation to a wider world. In return for such service, some of our translators feel free to chop and change, omit from or rearrange the original to their own satisfaction. And sometimes it is our writers who are guilty o f easy compliance, as was pointed out by Adil Jussawalla when he was putting together the Penguin anthology, New Writing in India (1974). 5. Finally, when is the translation over and done with? Here is an area in which the translated work enjoys an enormous advantage over the original. A novel or a poem or a play in the original tends to get fixed in form as soon as it becomes widely known. Famous authors have, o f course, revised even their published works in subsequent


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editions. But no revision can ever match the free hand with which a translator can redo his or her own translation or re-translate a text that has been done earlier. Precarious as this may sound, translation bestows an indefinitely long life upon a text whose original career may have terminated much earlier had it not drawn a translator’s attention. In other words, a translation is never complete, or is so only transitionally. Was it not the late Ramanujan who once said that a translation is never finished, only abandoned? In conclusion, let me revert to my earlier submission about there being more craft than art to translation. The truly crafty translator will know why he translates, for whom he translates, what he should translate, how much to translate and, semi-finally, when to stop. Even after such knowledge, he may still be in need of forgiveness.

3 Transcreating Translation The word transcreation does not appear in the Longman Modern English D ictionary nor in the m uch larger L iving Webster Encyclopaedia Dictionary o f the English Language. Yet the word has often been used in a particular context, though not perhaps with precise meaning, by Indian producers and consumers o f English for at least the last fifty years, if not more. And now the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (first pub. 1948; 5th edn. 1996) has recognised such usage. This edition carries for the first time, a supplement o f socalled Indian English which has been prepared by Indira Chowdhury Sengupta, under the advice o f Sukanta Chaudhuri, both o f whom teach at Jadavpur University o f Calcutta. The supplement lists and gives the special meaning or usage o f over one thousand “English words that are used differently in the Indian context.” The word transcreation figures in this list - it does not in the main body o f the dictionary - and it is explained as an uncountable noun standing for “creative translation seen as producing a new version o f the original work.” While the word has not yet found wide currency as a substitute for translation, an Indian poet and publisher, teacher and translator, has for many years been using transcreation in the sense that has now been authorised by the Advanced Learners Dictionary. This man is Purushottam Lai, more commonly known as P. Lai and most easily associated with the Writers Workshop o f Calcutta, a one-man publishing venture founded, directed and sustained by him since 1958. While on the North American continent it was the late A.K. Ramanujan who set the style and standard for translating old Indian literary texts (and one modern novel) into English, on our sub­ continent, it has been P. Lai whose own practice as well as publishing

Paper presented at a conference on Asian Literature in Translation at Birmingham in May 1997; revised version published in Indian Literature 180, July-August 1997.

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support to the effort o f others that has made available in E n g lis h ^ unparalleled range of poetry and fiction from various Indian languages drawn from several centuries. As o f December 1996, over two hundred such titles have been published from Calcutta by Writers Workshop. Among them is A.K. Ramanujan’s Fifteen Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology (1965) and Some Kannada Poems transcreated by A.K. Ramanujan and M.G. Krishnamurthi (1967). Subsequently, these would be enlarged to make the well-known The Interior Landscape (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1967) and the perhaps even better-known Speaking o f Siva (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1973). As for P. Lai’s own efforts, at least 22 titles in English translation, all but two published by Writers Workshop, can be attributed to him. Twelve o f these are from Sanskrit, one from Pali, two from Bangla, five from Hindi, one each from Urdu and Punjabi. P. Lai has also been rendering Vedavyasa’s Mahabharata into English, shloka by shloka, for many years and publishing them in slim fascicules, each with its introduction and notes. Alongside all this not inconsiderable transcreational activity, he has written about the process as experienced by him at first hand. These writings, now available in the book entitled Transcreation (1996), consist o f prefaces, introductions and essays written over the period 1964 to 1983. He will perhaps one day make a comprehensive statement on what may be regarded as a theory o f translation. *



In India that was Bharatvarsha, we were engaged in literary translation for a considerably long time. At least for the last one thousand years, our poets and playwrights and storytellers have quite freely drawn from other Indian sources to compose poems, plays and stories in their own languages. Quite often the source language has been Sanskrit and the most frequently targeted texts were the Mahabharata o f Vyasa and the Ramayana o f Valmiki. The results were Pampa-Bharata or Vikrama-Arjuna-Vijayam o f Pampa in Kannada (10th century), Kamba-Ramayanam o f Kamban in Tamil (11th century), VilankaRamayana o f Sarala Dasa in Oriya (14th century), an Asamiya version o f Mahabharata episodes by Harihara Vipra and Kaviratna Sarasvati (also 14th century), a Bangla version o f Ramayan by Krittibas Ojha (15th century) and so on in every Indian language down the centuries. These were the so-called new Indo-Aryan Languages, later known as

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Modem Indian Languages, at present being celebrated as the bhashas (after Ganesh Devy). Each o f them seemed to have flexed its new­ found linguistic muscles by re-telling these two great stories, and later working on other Sanskrit kAvyas, akhyanas and puranic tales, bringing them over from Sanskrit into Asamiya, Bangla, Gujarati and so on all over the country. These were not, o f course, translations as we understand the term today. Yet enough o f the original remained in the new texts for listeners - later, readers - to be able to relate it, if they wanted, to the old texts. Quite significantly, we don’t have a word in any Indian language that would be the equivalent o f the term ‘translation’. We borrowed anuvad from Sanskrit (where it means ‘speaking after’) and tarjuma from Arabic (where it is nearer to ‘explicate’ or ‘paraphrase’). More recent borrowings are rupantar (in Bangla) or vivartanam (in Malayalam) or bhashantar (in Hindi). That we don’t have a widely accepted Indian word for ‘translation’ suggests that the concept itself was not familiar to us. Instead, when we admired a literary text in one language, we used it as a take-off point and composed a similar text in another language. P. Lai’s use o f the term ‘transcreation’ may well be most appropriate for such a situation - more so, now that the Advanced Learners Dictionary has sanctified it. O f the many contrary positions held by translation as a process in India, let me point out three. One, the position o f Sanskrit. In postcolonial terminology, this could probably be regarded as a ‘master language,’ like English became for Indians in the 19th century and thereafter, with translators into English seen as interventionists assuming power over Indian language writers. Pre-colonial India recognised no such relationship and, rather than master or mistress, Sanskrit performed like a mother giving birth to many literary works in other languages. That is, the bent o f translation was from Sanskrit rather than into Sanskrit and, the translators or transcreationists exercised no political superiority over the original authors. Two, the position o f Persian. Again, in currently fashionable terms, it was the ruler’s language during the Mughal period but never the ruling language - unlike, for example, English in England which has been for long the ruling language o f the country as well as the ruler’s language, even if several English ruling dynasties had foreign origins. Long before the Mughals came to India, the Panchatantra fablesjiad reached Persia and been rendered into Pahlavi some time in the 6th century A.D. From Pahlavi they moved into old Syriac, then into Arabic, and from Arabic into most European languages. English


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being a somewhat sluggish language those days, Karataka the wily one and Damanaka the wary one did not appear in English until as late as 1570.1 Persian may have become the court language in India soon thereafter, but for Indian material it has always been the language o f transmission and dispersal. Persian ceased to be an official language o f India in 1837, yet, if Ashok Vajpeyi is to be believed2, two thousand books into Persian were published in India during the 19th century and this was larger than the number o f books published in Persia during those one hundred years. Many o f these Indian publications were translations into Persian o f Indian classics. Three, the position o f English, especially that o f Indian literature translated into English. When the English language came to India and from the 18th century onwards, gave clear signs o f wanting to stay on, one clear sign or signal was through acts o f translation. Starting with Sir William Jones’s translation o f Sacoontala (according to its title page, “Printed and sold by Joseph Cooper for the Benefit o f Insolvent Debtors”) published in 1789 from Calcutta, nearly all major literary works in Sanskrit and Old Tamil, Pali and the Prakrits, have been translated into English. The late 18th and 19th century translations were done mostly by British scholars o f Indology, a few by Americans; the late 19th century onward Indians joined the enterprise in growing numbers. Also growing in numbers were translations o f literary texts from more recent times, coming right down to contemporary authors. As a result, today we have a sizeable quantity o f Indian literature of every age in English translation, waiting to be read and written about, reviewed and revised, studied and taught. The English language has got so domesticated that Indians not only translate Indian language texts into English but they have also been writing poetry, fiction and drama in English even when they have lived much o f their lives in India. During these fifty years o f new nationhood, Indian literature in English translation has been published under various circumstances. Let us divide them broadly, for convenience, into public undertakings and private enterprise. Among public undertakings, the two largest publication programmes - publication o f literature, that is - are run by the Sahitya Akademi and the National Book Trust, both fully funded by the Government o f India and both headquartered in Delhi. Commissioning translation and getting these published has been one o f Sahitya Akademi's functions from the outset. It began by

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translating major texts o f Indian literature into other Indian languages. To this was added the translation o f classic texts o f world literature into Indian languages. Considering that the Akademi now recognizes as many as 22 languages as fit vehicles o f Indian literature it has set itself an impossible task. If, to begin with, only 22 titles were selected for translation, each would have to be translated into 21 other languages, thus producing 462 translated books. So far as I know, this has never happened with any single title. But, this enormous undertaking will keep translators going until at least the Kaliyuga comes to an end. The book-length translation programme was reserved at first for the more unambiguously Indian languages, but English found a place here from the early 1960s onwards. This may have happened when the UNESCO Collection o f Representative Works chose Indian works for translation into other languages o f the world, including English. Publication rights o f some English translations were obtained by the Akademi, and among the earliest such publications o f modem Indian writing were The Puppet’s Tale (1968) by Manik Bandopadhyay from Bangla and Wild Bapu o f Garambi (1968) by Shridhar Pendse from Marathi. More English translations have been published by the Akademi since then, the latest being the novel Gora by Rabindranath Tagore. For those who want to sample Indian literature o f various ages and in different languages, all translated into English, the Akademi has published a three-volume anthology o f Modem Indian Literature, covering the period 1800 to 1975. This project includes a two-volume anthology o f Ancient Indian Literature which presents material from the earliest times to A.D. 1100. To complete the package or casket, there will be another volume devoted to Medieval Indian Literature, relating to the period 1100 to 1800. (Personally speaking, I have never been happy with the use o f the word ‘m edieval’ in our context. That word has an overwhelming European connotation. I have often pleaded for its replacement by Madhyakal - not ‘M adhyakalin’ which would make it indelibly Hindi). The other state-owned organisation, the National Book Trust, was set up in 1957 mainly for the purpose o f promoting book­ consciousness in the country. This may seem an odd objective for a largely illiterate country. But our numbers being what they are, even low literacy can demand a high volume o f book production, distribution and sales. Other than organising various book-related activities, the Trust runs at least ten different publishing programmes.


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One o f them, inaugurated in 1970, is called ‘Aadaan-Pradaan’ (which literally means give-and-take). In it, a modern Indian literary work, generally o f fiction, is selected for translation into 12 other Indian languages. As a result it is possible now to read Premchand in Kannada, Basheer in Asamiya, Pannalal Patel in Bangla, and so on. And it need not be emphasised that competent translation from one Indian language into another can make one forget that one is reading a translated text. For many years, English was kept out o f the ‘AadaanPradaan’ programme, though the Trust publishes books in this language in its other programmes. Very recently it has been decided to include English, perhaps in recognition o f the fact that even inside India there is a growing number o f those who read English but not any Indian language. I know that some English translations have been commissioned but I have not yet seen any title in print. Private effort or commercial undertaking o f the publishing o f translations must have begun soon after the first printing presses were imported into India - perhaps not so soon after, because the first ever book to be printed in India was in 1554, its author St. Francis Xavier, its language Portuguese, and the site o f this event Goa. Regular printing o f books in an Indian language (in this case Bangla) did not begin until January 1800 when three Christian missionaries (Joshua Marshman; William Ward, William Carey) started a printing press at Serampore near Calcutta. Their intention was to print translations o f the Bible in different languages o f India. This was the Baptist Mission and it not only baptised a newborn literary mode but christened change that would affect our cultural life for ever thereafter. As Sisir Kumar Das has confirmed, “The most important event that revolutionized the literary production by changing the relationship between the author and the audience and the nature o f the transmission o f texts was the advent o f the printing press” (A History o f Indian Literature: 18001910, 1991, p. 32). We had to wait for nearly another one hundred years before publishing o f books, any book, became a matter o f commercial enterprise. Within the even more limited realm o f the publication o f Indian literature in English translation (what I have sometimes called Indo-English literature for convenience) quite often it was the author or the translator who financed the publication - later, the printer or the bookseller who obliged. This situation would largely prevail until the middle o f the 20th century. Early in this century, an unexpected incentive to translate one’s work into English (or nudge one’s friends to do so) arose out o f the

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Nobel Prize award for literature o f 1913. That year this award was given to a Bengali poet who had earlier published a collection of poems in Bangla entitled Gitanjali and subsequently used the same title for a quite different collection o f his poems translated by him into English. It is alleged that ever since Indian writers have had or wanted to have their work translated into English in the hope o f winning the same prize again. By the time Indo-English publishing turned commercial, it was established that single and complete novels in translation sold better than collections o f verse or o f shorter fiction. While novels have topped the list, poems and short stories have more often than not appeared as anthologies representing many writers from one language, many from several languages, and several relating to a single event like what happened on our sub-continent in June 1757 or in May 1837 or in August 1947. Among single and complete novels, the earliest were Bankimchandra C hattopadhyay’s Durgeshnandini: or, the C h iefta in ’s Daughter, translated by C haruchandra M ukherjee (Calcutta, 1880) and Kapalkundala: A Tale o f Bengali Life, translated by A.A.D. Davies (London, 1885), O. Chandu Menon’s Indulekha, translated by W. Dumergue (Madras, 1890), Ramesh Chandra Dutta’s Shivaji: or, the Morning o f Marhatta Life, translated by K.M, Jhaveri (Ahmedabad, 1899). Among the latest are Rajendra Yadav’s Strangers on the R oof from Hindi (Penguin Books, 1994), U.R. Anantha M urthy’s Bharatipura from Kannada (Macmillan, 1996), Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag Ka Dariya from Urdu published by Kali for Women,

2000 .

Finally, a word - not just a word but several to express gratitude towards those brave publishers who have ventured to put good money into better Indian literature in best English translation (or IndoEnglish literature). Practically every English-language publisher in India, from Asia Publishing House o f old to Roli Books o f now, has published one or two or ten such titles. But this they have done and still do as a minor stream or creek o f their other and main-wave publishing. It is only during the last fifty years that projects large and small have been planned and implemented for putting into print English translation o f Indian writing on a scale and of a quality not seen before now. The most remarkable o f such projects is the one which produced the two-volume anthology, Women Writing in India, Vol. I: 600, B.C. to the Present (1991), Vol. II: The 20th Century (1993), compiled and edited by Susie Tharu and K. Lalita. Indian publishing will never live


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down the shame o f having failed to grab these books on time - failed altogether to gauge the importance o f the project and not offered a deal even while the project was in progress and the manuscripts were in the making, and the two editors nearly at the end o f their fairly long tethers. Much to their credit, the Feminist Press at the City University o f New York published the book, and only off the rebound did OUP India produce an Indian edition, from Delhi. (I must claim, however, that irrespective o f what publishing people in India failed to do professionally, in their private capacities as householders, libraryusers or simply readers o f earlier literature, they did what they could for Susie and Lalita.) As shown in this sumptuous two-volume treasuretrove, women have been writing in India for two thousand six hundred years, perhaps for longer than women in any other culture. I trust I may presume that women have been reading these volumes in India and elsewhere for the last six or seven years - may be some men as well - and the title must be familiar. I need not therefore say more about it except to draw attention to some observations on translation made by the editors in their preface: We have tried . . . in the translations (not always successfully) to strain against . . . reductive and stereotypical homogenization . . . we preferred translations that did not domesticate the work either into a pan-Indian or into a “universalist” mode, but demanded o f the reader too a translation of herself into another sociohistorical ethics. We have taken pains . . . to preserve the regional grain o f the work . . . (p. xxxii)

Such preservation o f regional grains will no doubt add another dim ension to the theory o f Indian translation that has been prognosticated earlier in this essay. The second notable project o f our time is not yet old enough to be likened to a banyan tree but has already grown roots and branches like one. The mother-trunk is simply called Katha and its growth has been directed and executed so far by another mother named Geeta Dharmarajan. This tirelessly active but non-profit organization, started in 1988, functions on two frontiers. One, known as Kalpavriksham, acts as a centre for sustainable learning; the other, known as Kathavilasam, performs as a Story Research and Resource Centre. The latter relates to our concerns because it fosters and applauds translation, especially o f short stories, both from Indian languages into English and from one Indian language into another. It gives annual awards to authors as well as their translators based on a formal

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competition and each year the prize-winning stories in English translation are collected and published in a volume. Six such collections, known as Katha Prize Stories , have been published so far. Another plan Katha Vilasam has is that o f publishing one volume o f contemporary short fiction from North India, one volume o f the same from South India, similarly from Western India and Eastern India. The only one published so far, The Southern Harvest (1994), consists o f stories from Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu, and was edited with an introduction by Githa Hariharan, the Indian novelist in English. Yet another arrow in Katha’s quiver or feather in their cap is a selection o f a major writer's work translated into English. Presented as the Katha Classics, so far we have had Masti Venkatesh Iyengar and Vaikom Muhammad Basheer. A volume o f Mouni is ready for publication. One other project I should like to mention is like all things good and Indian, a collaboration - coalition - combination o f private vision and commercial effort. Under the series surname o f ‘Modern Indian Novels in Translation’, Macmillan India have planned to publish, within five years, 40 to 50 English translations o f fiction written after 1947 from eleven Indian languages. Eleven o f them were published during 1996, one each from Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada and Punjabi, two each from Malayalam, Oriya and Tamil. Each title is furnished with an introduction by a critic o f that language and provided with profuse footnotes glossing and otherwise explaining cultural facts and fictions that the English reader (or even the reader in English) is presumed not to know or be able to figure out. Consciously designed and elegantly printed, with a modem Indian painting reproduced on the covers, these translations vary in printed extent from 70 to 200 pages while the prices range from 50 to 140 rupees. Given the production values, these prices are sensationally low. Such lowering has been made possible by funds from the MR. AR. Educational Society o f Madras. (I do not know who they are and w hat other education they support, but 1 fully endorse the acknowledgement Mini Krishnan, Macmillan’s project editor, makes in every copy o f each title: This project has been made possible by the generosity o f MR. AR. Educational Trust, of which Sri A.M.M. Arunachalam is the Trustee. Known to us. there has never been such a big and systematic programme translations sponsored by the private sector.

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I am fairly certain nobody knows o f any larger and more systematic programme o f publishing Indo-English literature. I wish Arunachalam long life and place all my trust in such an enlightened although educational Trust.) To conclude, Indian translators into English have never had it so good. They used to be a neglected, even pitied lot, often not even named in thé translation, just as often not paid. I remember writing a note o f protest once, entitled “Unslating the Translator”, where I complained about this. All that has changed now. The translator duly gets named in the title-page, sometimes even on the cover-front, while the half-title page or back-flap matter carries some information about her or him. She or he has earned and been given a proper place in print. Fifty years o f new nationhood have produced many problems for India and also many solutions. One solution, inherited from many centuries that preceded the twentieth, has been that we have always translated. Language is one o f our greatest wealths and translation enables us to continue to speak or write or read to each other. As has been said in many other contexts, in such diversity is our security, durability and unity. Notes 1. See in Everym an’s Encyclopaedia, vol. 2 (refer entry for ‘Bidpai’) or Encyclopaedia o f Indian Literature, vol. 4. 2. He said this at a seminar in Delhi in October 1996; see The Book Review, XXI: 3, March 1997.

4 Publish and Perish Though the title o f my paper may suggest otherwise, let me quickly clarify that it is not aimed at teachers and scholars and research workers who are so often the target of a slight variation o f this warning or exhortation. My concern here is about Indian publishers. More narrowly, I am concerned about those who publish translations. Even more exclusively, I am not merely concerned but feel increasingly worried about firms which publish Indian literature, especially modern Indian writing, in English translation. For the sake o f convenience, I shall refer to this body of writing as Indo-English literature wherever necessary. As anybody who has anything to do with books in English published in this country knows, we are passing through what may be called a boom in the publication o f Indo-English literature. Practically every English language publisher o f repute in India - and a few disreputable ones as well - is busy building a list o f titles in translation as rapidly as possible. Writers themselves are no less eager to get translated into English. Some don’t even tarry for a translator, or cannot trust such intervention, and do the job themselves. Others would like to be translated by a foreigner. When none is available, they settle for Indians living abroad in English-speaking countries. Only those who are truly bereft o f contact or resources, have to make do with an Indian translator - a friend or that friend’s wife, some hitherto unknown admirer, a faithful fan or otherwise breezy devotee, and so on. As was said o f Cleopatra, the variety is endless and the number keeps growing. I am sure more Indian literary works get translated into English than are published, but this is not a recent development which can be

Paper presented at Peradeniya University, Sri Lanka in November 2000. Revised version published in Translation: Poetics and Practice, ed. Anisur Rahman, Creative Books, New Delhi, 2002.


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dignified with the post-colonial label. Even during colonial times, works such as Indulekha (1890), The Slave Girl o f Agra (1909), The Home and the World (1919), and many others got into print while others did not. What did happen after 1947 was that as British publishers withdrew from the scene, Indian publishers not only took their place but also began producing the kind o f book the British in India seldom did - namely, contemporary or at least modern Indian writing in English translation. Asia Publishing House was probably the pioneer in such enterprise, and their example was followed in the 1960s by firms such as Hind Kitab, Jaico and Orient Paperbacks. I remember writing an excited congratulatory letter to Orient Paperbacks sometime in 1965 or ’66 because I had bought three novels from a railway bookstall - one each translated from Marathi, Hindi and Panjabi - and consumed them avidly during a long rail journey. It was not my reading speed that I celebrated but that, on a university teachers’ salary o f that era, I could buy and read as many as three novels which I could not have read in the original. Subsequently - and not, 1 have to insist, consequently - I changed professions from teaching to publishing. By now (1970 onwards) new imprints had begun to be associated with Indo-English literature - such as Bell Books, Pearl Publications, Sterling Paperbacks - but these were subsidiaries o f publishing houses whose main interest was elsewhere. Similarly, old-timers such as Oxford University Press (in India) and Macmillan (India) occasionally published such material - U.R. A nantham urthy’s Samskara (1976) from K annada or Parappurathu’s A Time to Die (1979) from Tamil - though this was not part o f their bread and butter earning. My own firm, Orient Longman, joined the fray by floating a paperback programme named Sangam Books. Fuelled by the enthusiasm o f a senior colleague, Mr V. Abdulla o f Madras, him self a distinguished translator from Malayalam, and by my own aspirations, we managed to publish 15 to 20 titles in translation before the programme - which offered many other kinds o f reading as well - was withdrawn, much regretted by editorial colleagues but much to the relief o f sales personnel who never knew where to sell them. All these translations, beginning with Jaico Books and continuing with Sangam Books, were published in paperback. That is, these books were printed on cheap paper, bound in card, and carried cover designs that seldom attracted the eye. What was attractive was the low price, and this factor was expected to be the selling point o f translation titles.

Publish and Perish


However, an effective low price is achieved not just by lowering production values. It is achieved by printing a large number o f copies, so that the cost o f printing each copy (what is called unit cost) gets lowered considerably. This is how the paperback revolution was effected in the western world, where initial print-runs o f 50, 75 or 100 thousand copies are quite common. Although in India publishers cannot venture to print any notably large number o f copies o f a translated title, yet they are compelled to set an acceptably low price regardless of the print-run. This mis-match between cost and price continues to harass our paperback publishing, even while the arranged m arriage between translations and paperbacks endures. In the publishers’ wishful thinking, a lower price than usual may tempt an unwary reader to buy an unknown author since he or she is now available in English translation. There were o f course some exceptions. Asia Publishing House brought out some o f their earliest collections o f stories in translation - like The Plough and the Stars (1965) from Tamil, or The Rough and the Smooth (1966) from Marathi - in cloth on board binding wrapped in a dust jacket. Somewhat later, translation titles in the Vikas Library o f Modem Indian Writing (products as the name suggests of Vikas Publishing House) as well as in the Indian Novels Series o f AmoldHeinemann (India) were brought out in hardcover with prices ranging between forty to eighty rupees - which was, for the time, high pricing. Among non-commercial publishers, Sahitya Akademi translations into English, especially o f novels, have always been in hardcover. The purpose o f commercial publishing in hardcover and at higher prices was that these books were meant for library purchase and not for individual buying. An undeclared premise behind this policy was that if the hardcover sold satisfactorily, a paperback edition would be brought out soon. This has certainly happened in our textbook market but very rarely - perhaps never - with a translated work. Paperback publishing in India gained a purposeful thrust in the mid-1980s when Penguin Books founded an Indian company and began publishing books o f Indian origin. From the outset Penguin India have been partial to Indian writing in English; they have also been quite hospitable to Indo-English literature. It is mainly due to the pressure o f their rapidly growing presence that other Indian publishers took heart - like Rupa & Co, o f Delhi, Seagull o f Kolkata, Manas of Chennai - and ventured into publishing Indo-English works. Among the older firms, Macmillan India launched their ambitious ‘Modern Indian Novels in Translation’ series some years ago and aimed to issue


Translation as Recovery

55 titles by the end o f the 20th century; Orient Longman have revived their paperback publishing, now under a new imprint called Disha Books, and brought out many new translations as well as re-issued some o f the old ones; Oxford University Press have occasionally remembered their responsibility towards Indian writing and published a title like Premchand's Nirmala in English translation. Among younger entrepreneurs, a non-profit but high-profile organisation called Katha has made its mark in a very short time by not only publishing English translations o f Indian writing but also by awarding prizes every year to translators. Katha sponsors many other activities than translating into English. Quite pragmatically, it has restricted the annual competition so far to the translation only o f short stories. One year it got the President o f India to give away these awards in Rashtrapati Bhawan - and this was duly shown that evening on Doordarshan as the President’s awards. What I have earlier called a boom was truly on. Bestowing prizes upon translations is an aspect o f the boom which awaits critical attention. The Sahitya Akademi has been giving annual awards since 1955 to outstanding books o f literary merit published during the last five years in any Indian language recognised by it; English being one o f 22 such languages, Indian writing in English became eligible for this award and the first winner was R.K. Narayan’s The Guide in 1960. From 1989, the Akademi began giving annual awards also to outstanding works o f translation in those same languages. English did not lag behind this time; in the very first year Bikram K. Das’s translation o f the Oriya novel Paraja by Gopinath Mohanty won the prize. Looking back today at this particular decision, we may wonder who was really entitled to get the prize. The author has acknowledged in the book: Working on my own original translation, and at the instance o f the late Oliver Stallybrass. Dr. Das prepared a condensed version which was then scrutinized and edited by Oliver Stallybrass. . .

Thus, there could have been at least three claimants to the prize. More confusingly, a condensed version and not “a full, unabridged and faithful translation o f the original work” (as laid down in the conditions o f eligibility) was found eligible. It is to be hoped that the Akademi has applied its own rules more firmly in succeeding years. Meanwhile, if the manuscripts (at various stages o f authorization by Mohanty, Das and Stallybrass) were available, this would provide excellent raw

Publish and Perish


material for a study o f translation undertaken for at least an M.Phil degree at some central or not so peripheral university. New as well as remarkably fresh ground for translation awards was broken in 2000 when the Crossword chain o f bookstores (now in M umbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Pune, Vadodra, Goa) announced an award for the best translation (of fiction, from an Indian language into English) o f the year. Already for three years they have given somewhat sumptuous - by rupee-economy standards - awards to the best work o f fiction in English written by an Indian and published in India within the last twelve months. While adding translation to the kitty (or booty, depending on how you look at it), Crossword also stipulated that the author o f the original work had to be alive at the time when the award was being judged. The commendable point o f this stipulation is that not only the translator but also the original author would receive an equal portion o f the large prize-winning amount. I cannot remember any previous instance in our country o f such even-handed generosity. It will urge more translators to translate, persuade the original author to get translated, and encourage both to stay alive. The world o f what I call Indo-English literature has thus been fruitfully enlarged not by a single-minded maker but a wide-eyed seller o f books. As part o f the boom, Indo-English titles have improved their appearance tremendously. Better paper, superior printing, attractive cover designs and reliable binding - these are now the hallmarks. O f course, prices have gone up accordingly, and it is not unusual for a 200-page novel in English translation and paperback form to be priced at 200 rupees. Reviews appear regularly, even if many o f them are written by persons not well equipped to review translations. Badly written reviews or even bad reviews provide free publicity to the book, and thus are not unwelcome to the publisher. Above all, these books are being advertised in the same way as non-translated books - which was quite rare in the past. I can now come to the question I should probably have begun with, but didn’t dare to, because I didn’t know the answer then and don’t know it now. The question is: Will this boom last or is it doomed to bust in the foreseeable future? I ask this question because I have found no easy way o f determining whether or not the publication of Indian literature in English translation has at last become a successful enterprise. Success in publishing comes from steady sales at a price that is set to fetch a return well above the investment made in a publication.


Translation as Recovery

Only the publisher really knows whether or not a title or a set o f titles has sold successfully. Quite understandably, they do not tell. The writer ought to know, from the annual statement o f royalties based on sales he should be receiving from the publisher. But then, he does not know what was invested. And, in any case, he is more often to be heard complaining that publishers don’t submit statements, much less pay royalties. The translator, if she has been paid a lump sum for the work, is not even entitled to know from the publisher how many copies have sold. In fact, some translators are not terribly bothered about sales because whether one copy has sold or one hundred makes no difference to their remuneration. As for booksellers, they can only vouch for the copies they have stocked and sold; they do not know what has happened to the rest of the print-run. Further, to my knowledge no bookseller has yet nominated an Indo-English work for the best-seller list o f the week put out by many gullible newspapers. That leaves the common reader or the uncommon researcher very much in the dark about whether or not a book has really made it. One sure sign o f the success o f a book is when it is pirated - that is, when copies are produced illegally and sold quite openly without the knowledge o f the original publisher, translator, or writer. I cannot think o f an Indo-English work that has earned this dubious distinction. A more respectable index o f success is the wholly lawful reprinting, more than once, o f an Indo-English title by the original publisher or his nominee. This happens only in rather special circumstances, and I do not know o f any translated work which has reprinted frequently as a result o f ordinary transactions o f the market-place. If not success, certainly fame is achieved by a book when it arouses some controversy. I don’t think any Indo-English work has caused any controversy that did not attend the original work. If not fame at least curiosity is stirred when a book is banned for reasons ranging from obscenity to blasphemy. Again, I cannot readily think o f an Indo-English work being banned. Nor has any fatw a ever been declared against an Indian translator - even if he or she could dodge the punishment by passing it on to the author. Altogether thus, the English translation o f an Indian literary work leads a placid and relatively unsold existence. The special circumstance o f reprinting I referred to a while ago will be familiar to most of you. Under this circumstance, an IndoEnglish work gets included - the technical term is ‘prescribed’ - for a school or college course. Once a book gets prescribed, on account of the lengthy and tortuous process by which this happens, it remains on

Publish and Perish


the course for several years. Reprinting and sale take place each succeeding year at increasing levels o f profit to the publisher. This is so because the costs o f initiating a publication remain the same; successive reprints require fresh expenditure only on paper, printing and binding. If the publisher is lucky - and, also, if he has spent enough time combining publication work with public relations activity among relevant educational authorities - the book gets picked up by another school system or another university. This means another lease o f life for the book, many more reprinting, much larger sales. Such happenings, again, are not without historical precedent. There was a time when Rabindranath Tagore’s Mashi and Other Stories (first published 1918) used to be required reading all over India at high school or intermediate college levels for at least half a century from the 1920s onwards. Even as late as 1964, Rabindranath’s largest novel Gora was re-issued in a 100-page abridged version (of the over-400 page English translation o f 1924) and it reprinted 22 times between 1967 and 1994. This could not have happened merely because there was a sudden but sustained interest in this work, that too in truncated translation, so many years after the death o f its author. In our own times, with English syllabuses consciously providing for works o f Indian literature in English translation, the number o f such titles in academic use must be growing every year. As 1 have observed elsewhere, “If a syllabus comes, can the publisher be far behind?” In all such cases, there can be no two opinions about the publishing success o f an Indo-English work. Until evidence o f other kinds o f success becomes available, we may regard this as the principal means by which producers o f IndoEnglish literature will continue to publish yet not perish. Their products will bring sustenance to school classrooms and college lecture-halls, to tutorial assignments and examination answerbooks, to seminar chambers and conference auditoria. If that be so, all o f us - as readers and writers, as translators and teachers, as reviewers and syllabusmakers - have responsibilities we must be prepared to take, undertake, and even overtake when need be. Thus, as readers we must persuade ourselves - and anybody else over whom we exert some influence - that the reading o f translations widens our horizons by giving us access to ways o f living and dying, thinking and judging, feeling and doing, that are not familiar, hence limiting. Since, we can and do take Russian or French, East European or Latin American literature in our stride while reading it in translation, why should we stumble over Oriya or Gujarati, Panjabi or Malayalam,


Translation as Recovery

Asamiya or Kannada literature in English translation? However, if the Bengali reader picks up only a translation from Bangla into English or a Maharashtrian reader chooses to read only a translation from Marathi into English, we have not really fulfilled our responsibility as readers o f translation. As translators, let us agree not to accept whatever assignment comes our way, even if the remuneration is persuasive and publication is assured. One must be convinced that the work to be done is worth the labour even before beginning to do it. Sometimes we may get hustled by an author or a friend or a publisher into undertaking the job, only to discover half or even a quarter way through that the work does not measure up to our own literary expectations. And, o f course, we must resist the temptation to try and improve upon the original during translation. This misdeed has been perpetrated more often than we imagine, and the usual modus operandi is to leave out portions of the original on the plea of making it more fit to be read by the reader in English. Years ago it happened to classics such as UmraoJan Ada and Pather Panchali; recently it has happened to Ashapurna Debi’s Subarnalata. In these three instances the author was already dead when the surgeries w ere performed; but even living authors, like Sunil Gangopadhyay, have been known to consent to such intervention by a translator. I would much rather we subserve to the author’s original intention and ignore his afterthoughts about it. As teachers we would do well to treat the text as just another literary text one has to teach, regardless o f whether it is a translation or not. After all, when, though rarely, we have occasion to teach Ibsen or Tolstoy or Thomas Mann to our B.A. or M.A. English students, we feel no need to refer to the Norwegian or Russian or German originals. Similarly, while teaching an Indo-English text, no pressing need be felt to recall the language o f the original. It may even be more satisfying to teach a translated text (from an Indian language, that is) whose original language is not known to us or to a majority o f pupils in the class. When necessary one can always consult a colleague or a friend who knows the original. And when not so necessary, there are publishers who are eager to crowd the printed page with annotations, telling us about the gender and length o f a sari or about the colour and taste o f paan or rasam, or about the parentage o f Lord Ganesha and Lady Durga. As reviewers - and this is a role teachers are often called upon to play - we are likely to respond more sensitively if one has had some experience oneself o f doing translation. Which is not to say that only translators should review translations. But a corollary o f this is no less

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relevant - nobody who has never read another translation ought to accept a review assignment. He or she would be well advised to read several other translations before reviewing what has been assigned. What I am asking for is the precaution we should take by remembering that others have reviewed translations before us, others will do so after us, hence our first and perhaps memorable experience may not, after all, be so unique. A more balanced review is bound to emerge from such preparation. An issue sometimes debated on the subject o f reviewing translations is whether somebody who knows the original language should be entrusted with the job or somebody who does not. Here I should like to submit that somebody who knows the original language is better placed - and the best placed would be somebody who knows the original work as well. Perhaps this is how the reviewer’s task differs from that o f the teacher o f Indo-English texts. Where the teacher may draw into discussion comparable works in the same language as well as in other languages, the reviewer will invariably impress if she could take into account other works by the same author that are available in English translation, perhaps even other efforts by the same translator. Certainly the translator would be highly gratified. As syllabus-makers, it is not enough merely to inform ourselves in advance about what translated texts are available in the market before deciding what is to be prescribed. Sometimes, it seems, size and price are the truly decisive criteria. Even when these are acceptable, the texts ought to be studied thoroughly, discussed at length with colleagues who have read the text and may have to teach it - if possible, the favoured text could be tried out in a few testteaching sessions - before the final decision is made. I wish to labour this point because o f what happened a couple o f years ago at a premier North Indian University. As part o f some thorough revision o f their English syllabus, they had prescribed Rabindranath Tagore’s novel The Home and the World. This translation was first published in India in 1916, then in Great Britain in 1919, kept alive in both these countries thereafter through reprints, and probably remains associated with Macmillan India even now. In 1985, perhaps in the wake o f the interest created by William Radice’s translations o f a selection o f Rabindranath’s poems, the novel was re-issued by Penguin Books - not our home-grown version in hot Delhi, but by the 6{iginal cold-country Penguin o f Ham mondsworth, M iddlesex, England. This edition carries an introduction by Anita Desai (who may or may not have won the Booker Prize by now but cannot, from what


Translation as Recovery

I can figure out, read Tagore in the original). And, o f course, it was made into a film by Satyajit Ray. Also, theatregoers in Delhi would have seen a Hindi stage-version enacted by a group which calls itself Vivadi. Altogether, therefore, it was a perfectly sensible choice o f prescription by this university. The story may have dated but the theme is still relevant; the nationalism vs. humanism debate is waged therein; just enough feminist discourse can be traced; a depressed other community (though never a minority in that region) is noticed. And the author, o f course, is an eminent Indian. In every way, as I have said, it was an impeccable choice. Only, a short while before the new academic year began in which this text would have to be taught, some teachers discovered that here and there, in fact everywhere, bits and pieces o f the original were missing from the translated text. Obviously Bengali teachers (o f English) had discovered the discrepancies. Even though Bengalis, especially teachers, even o f English, are sometimes alleged to be trouble-makers, on this occasion they were apparently in the right. So the choice before the university was to carry on regardless and teach a seemingly truncated text - more so since it had been authorised long ago by the author him self - or somehow conjure up this or another completely translated Rabindranath novel and begin teaching it before the session gives over. I don’t know how the university eventually solved the problem. For my purpose, it is enough that such a problem should arise and lend support to my plea for the exercise o f abundant caution before a text is prescribed. To conclude, let me hope that the study and teaching o f translations will not remain the exclusive preserve - or onerous sole duty - only o f departments o f English in our country. All language departm ents should be obliged to teach some literary texts in translation - ideally, from other Indian languages - so th at along with diluting our normal communitarian, sectarian and caste inhibitions, formal education may also enable us to loosen the hold o f our sadly clinging linguistic prejudices.

5 The Absent Traveller: A Classical Text in Translation One of the utilities o f literary translation is that it helps us to recover not entirely lost but somewhat neglected literary texts. Thus Beowulf or The Owl and The Nightingale or The Canterbury Tales, which were all composed in older varieties o f English, are now available in a more modern form o f the same language. Even the New Testament, which endured for a long time in the first King Jam es’s language, can now be read and savoured in the second Queen Elizabeth’s English. These may not be translations in the popular sense o f the term but the process has given the arvachin (modern) readers access to prachin (ancient) writing. A very different process has achieved similar results in India, which is so much larger than England and home to so many languages. Here the transfer o f texts has most often been from an older language like Sanskrit or Pali or Tamil to a modern Indian language like Hindi or Bangla or Marathi. In some instances - like that o f the Ramayana o f Valmiki or the Mahabharata o f Vyasa - the original work has been ousted in popular enjoyment by their regional language versions. And in what is a very rare instance, Brihatkatha, an early prose work composed by Gunadhya sometime between the 2nd and 4th century A.D. in a variety o f Prakrit1 named Paisachi, has survived only in three Sanskrit and one Tamil versions. The practice o f translation has, therefore, performed acts o f recovery which, in some cases, developed into feats of preservation. From the eighteenth century onwards, a new kind o f translation activity began in India. Sir William Jones was one o f the pioneers, but after his translation o f Kalidasa’s Shakuntalam (Saccontala , 1789),

Published in Meta, XLII, 2, 1997.


Translation as Recovery

many early texts from Sanskrit, Tamil and Pali were rendered into English, initially by the British. From the late 19th century onwards Indians joined the enterprise in growing numbers. It may almost be inferred that should some Indian literary text not have been translated into English even now, it may not yet have been awarded the status of a significant work. One unquestionably significant literary text that somehow escaped the attention o f English-language translators for a long time is the compilation known as Gathasapatashati. Dating back to the 1st or 2nd century A.D., it is our oldest extant anthology o f verse. The text was first edited by the German scholar Albrecht Weber in 1881,2 and subsequently translated into Marathi, Hindi, Persian, Tamil and Bangla. The first English translation appeared only about twenty-five years ago.3 And now, by some unusual coincidence, two more English translations have recently been published within a year o f each other.4 This event has not yet attracted the notice it should have, not only because o f the coincidence, but more on account of the positions held and the tactics employed by these two new and modern translators. To deal, first, with the original, Gathasaptashati is a serial arrangement o f seven (hence sapta) collections o f verse, each containing one hundred (hence shati) poems consisting o f two lines (here called gatha ) composed in Maharashtri Prakrit, a literary language o f ancient India. The text was compiled sometime in 2nd century A.D. by a Satavahana chief or king named Hala, who was him self a poet and contributed 44 poems o f his own to the collection. As with many o f our older texts, this too may have undergone a certain measure o f addition and subtraction until it settled in the early 6th century to represent the work o f four hundred poets. Known down the ages also as Gahokosa and Sattasai, this compilation has been classified as a kosha-grantha or ‘anthological treatise’. The poems are quite independent o f each other. The subject o f earthly love predominates, but numerous other subjects are touched upon, offering numerous glimpses o f the life and culture o f a region which probably tallies with southwestern Andhra Pradesh o f our own time. The first English translation was done by the Bengali indologist, Radhagovinda Basak, who had earlier published a Bangla edition in 1956.5 Subsequently, he produced the English translation in plain prose in 1971 (when he was eighty-five years old!). This is a complete translation, o f all seven shatakam (arrangement o f one hundred items), with the English version o f each poem accompanied by the Prakrit

‘The Absent Traveller’: A Classical Text in Translation


original and its Sanskrit chhaya (shadow or counterpart) reproduced in Devanagari. The two recent translations under discussion here are selective renderings and do not present the entire text (even though the translators are much younger persons than Professor Basak). The American poet and academic David Ray’s Not Far from the River was probably published a few months earlier, but it is not easily available in India and unlikely to be so unless a local reprint appears.6 Subtitled “ Poems from the Gatha Saptashati,” it presents 336 poems altogether. A short (4 pages) and largely autobiographical introduction is the only other reading matter in a slim paperback volume (84 pages) wherein the English versions are presented without any apology or annotation. Those who know o f David Ray’s engagement with India from the special issue o f New Letters (1982) devoted to contemporary Indian w riting7 will recall that neither he nor his co-editor Amritjit Singh allowed much to rpediate between a translation and its reader. Later by a year and longer by eight pages, The Absent Traveller contains verses selected and translated by the Indo-Anglian poet and English teacher Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. It offers 207 gathas in English, each placed below the Prakrit original, reproduced in Devanagari. Each poem carries a number which relates it to a gatha in the German edition o f 1881. The numbers are also used for identification in the “Notes to the Poems” appended by Mehrotra towards the end o f the book; at the beginning he has given us a “ Translator’s Note.” In between the translated text and the end-notes appears a 10-page “Afterword” by the American scholar Martha Ann Selby, who has provided here a general introduction to the Prakrit literary tradition, relating it with examples to the traditions o f Sanskrit and Tamil poetry. At the very end o f this 92-page book in hardcover, the translator has given a two-page list o f references, which includes some odd titles like Graham Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case or The Letters o f Gustave Flaubert or The Notebooks o f Leonardo da Vinci. One explanation I needed but did not find was how as many as 47 verses are numbered between 701 and 987 even though the original text is a sapta-shati. Presumably, by following the German edition, Mehrotra had more than seven hundred poems to choose from. As this cursory description may have suggested, these two selective translations o f the same text have very little in common. On second thought, I found that one shared act both translators have perpetrated is the seemingly oedipal dismissal o f the earlier translation by Radhagovinda Basak. David Ray found it “unappealing in the


Translation as Recovery

extreme. The vocabulary was archaic, with frequent use o f words like ‘horripilations,’ and I saw nothing poetic in these cribs.” (7) At the same time, he admits by indirection that he had no access to the original except through Professor Basak’s rendering. Arvind Mehrotra mentions, in passing, “ Hindi and English trots, several dictionaries, and a patient tutor” (ix) without identifying any o f these. The Asia Society publication does not appear in M ehrotra’s list o f references, yet I find it difficult to believe he is unaware o f Professor Basak’s effort. Since by his own admission Mehrotra could not have read the poems in Sanskrit or German or Marathi - while by his own inadmission he obscures the identity of the Hindi or English sources - I have to conclude he is not telling us all. Perhaps that is one o f the strategies o f translation, namely, that previous translations o f a particular text have to be disowned in order to find place for a new translation.8 However, I get the impression that Mehrotra was bothered by a nagging anxiety about his credentials for undertaking this job. He sounded far more confident when he translated from the Hindi of Doodhnath Singh, Dhoomil and Muktibodh for the Penguin anthology, New Writing in India.9 1 ascribe this confidence to the fact that Hindi was M ehortra’s first language until, perhaps, he began attending a socalled “ English-medium” school in post-British India. Whereas here, after a number o f rather tangential comments about the Gatha collection in his translator’s note, he has garnished the notes on individual poems with not always called-for scholarly desiderata. As further reinforcement, he has added the ballast of an afterword by a foreign scholar. If he (or was it his publisher?) felt that the work badly needed a scholarly afterword, are there no scholars o f Prakrit literature left in lllahabad or Varanasi or Mumbai or Chennai (these being the cities which were known in colonised India as Allahabad, Benares, Bombay and Madras respectively).10 I expect it was his publisher rather than he who incorporated that ‘good chit’ from another famous translator in the blurb which appears on the front flap o f the dust-jacket: “Commenting on the translations, A.K. Ramanujan observed: ‘They read beautifully. The translations are witty, terse, spare, memorable. At last the Gathasaptashati has found a translator.’” I remain curious to know whether Ramanujan only said this or put it down somewhere in writing. The book provides no answer beyond the translator’s acknowledgement to Ramanujan “for going over the manuscript, pencil in hand.” While on the subject o f blurbs, 1 must concede that David Ray’s publisher is not less supportive o f his translator. Reproduced on the

‘The Absent Traveller’: A Classical Text in Translation


back-cover o f Not Far from the River is a eulogy by one David Ignatow (it is not clear whether it is from a review or a preview), who has somehow persuaded himself that this translation is literally an act o f discovery. Thus: “The manuscript, a total of 700 verses, had been lying mute in one o f India's modem libraries, until David Ray etc. etc.” Ray himself makes no such claim, stating that he was introduced to the original (“an unimpressive looking book with a brown grocery sack dust jacket”) by friends in Jaipur, and accepted the commission to render it into modem English, or, rather, ‘modem American*. The tone o f his account o f how he came to undertake this translation is very much like that o f a foreign expert who has been called in to examine and solve some knotty native problem. He sets about solving it with the air of somebody who need not remain involved with it afterwards. David Ray's solution is fairly simple if inadequate. Instead o f worrying overmuch about the original text, he has taken Professor Basak’s translation and played “with casting the poems into idiomatic American.” (8) Also, after thinking “about a form that might work” (8) and trying out Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat style, he decided in favour o f flexible and unrhymed quatrains. What he does not tell us is that in order to flesh out all four lines, every now and then he has had to add something to the substance if not the sense o f the original. Nor does he admit that the end is not yet in sight o f the pernicious influence Fitzgerald has exerted on “Orientalistranslators” who have come after him. As for the criterion for selecting what to translate, he has eliminated “those verses that would require footnotes.” (9) When I tallied Ray’s versions with those o f Basak, I found that after translating nearly all the poems o f the first shatakam, Ray ran out o f steam and became more selective, choosing poems at greater intervals. In the absence o f footnotes, he has had to work a certain amount of explanation into the rendering o f some o f the verses. No matter how skilfully done, this mode tends to attenuate the original statement. So much so that on several occasions I found it difficult to relate a rendering to its original. C om pared with David R ay’s casual, som etim es even supercilious, attitude towards the Prakrit original - he wanted no truck, for example, with ‘horripilations’11 - Arvind Mehrotra’s attitude is far more conciliatory, even respectful. The reason for this difference could be that even though Mehrotra writes his own verse in English, by all measures he is an Indian poet and had perhaps become aware only recently o f his true inheritance. In his translator’s note he speaks of Gathasaptashati in a way that suggests he is trying to reclaim this

Translation as Recovery


heritage. Consequently, he has aimed at providing “an accurate and readable” version o f the original. Ray feels no such responsibility, and therefore has produced a readable version without tying him self to accuracy. All the same, Mehrotra has assumed only a partial responsibility. He has selected only 207 poems to translate and these, as announced in the sub-title, have been assembled under the description o f “Prakrit love poetry.” Similar headings were used by large-circulation magazines like Debonair or Imprint when they published samples o f M ehrotra’s translations in the mid-1980s, as if these poems would not attract attention otherwise.12 Mehrotra’s selection illustrates only one aspect o f Gathasaptashati, which is many-faced as well as multivoiced. He„ too, has abjured footnotes but has attached end-notes to individual poems. These are useful, most so when they clarify who is speaking or when and to whom. Many o f his versions are set out in four lines, some in more, and Mehrotra explains: “(10 a few o f my English renderings appear somewhat longer than the others, that’s hecause they needed a different arrangement for pauses and not because I added anything to them. Indeed, there are occasions when I did the opposite and compressed a verse by dropping a word or phrase.” (xi) What such compression does to this claim to accuracy can only be accurately judged by those who can read his versions against the original. This must have been his purpose in placing the Prakrit originals just above their English versions. Or did he merely seek to create the illusion that he has indeed translated from the original? Those who cannot read the original can at least compare M ehrotra’s as well as Ray’s versions with the faithful if unpoetic translations done by Professor Basak. Material for this exercise has been presented in the appendix to this article. We cannot draw conclusions right away, but such sampling may show our new translators as absent travellers who are still far from the river o f the original text. Let us encourage them to reach the water. Notes 1. Any o f the ancient Indie languages, other than Sanskrit. 2. Das Satasatakam des Hala, Leipzig, F.A. Brockhaus, 1881. 3. The Prakrit 'Gatha-saptasati' , Compiled by Satavahana king Hala, edited with introduction and translation in English by Radhagovinda Basak, Calcutta, Asiatic Society, 1971.

‘The Absent Traveller’: A Classical Text in Translation


4. Not Far From the River, Poems from the Gatha Saptasati, translated by David Ray, Port Townsend, (Washington), Copper Canyon Press, 1990; The Absent Traveller; Prakrit Love Poetry from the Gathasaptasati o f Satavahana Hala, selected and translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, New Delhi, Ravi Dayal Publisher, 1991. 5. Among his other notable publications are a translation o f Kautilya’s Arthashastra into Bangla, an edition o f the Sanskrit text Ramacharita of Shankaranandin, an edition o f the Prakrit text Setubandha o f Pravarasena. 6. Certain poems from this selection were published by the Rajasthan Prakrit Bharati Samstban o f Jaipur in 1983, but 1 have not been able to examine this publication. 7. New Letters. India: An Anthology o f Contemporary Writing, edited by David Ray and Amritjit Singh, Kansas City, University of Missouri, 1982. 8. Thus Lee Siegel, in his Sacred and Profane Dimensions o f Love in Indian Traditions as Exemplified in the 'Gitagovinda' o f Jayadeva (Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1978) found it necessary “to translate the Gitagovinda because no literal translation of it into English has been made (although it has been translated into mediocre English ‘poesy’ quite useless for textual analysis).” See footnote 2 o f his “ Introduction.” 9. New Writing in India, edited by Adil Jussawalla, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1974. 10. But see the same scholar’s splendid exposition o f the gatha form in the article “Desire for Meaning: Providing Contexts for Prakrit gathas". Journal o f Asian Studies, 55:1 (1996), pp. 81-93. 11. This will sound racist, but. maybe, as a white Caucasian, he has little hair on his body, and thus does not know this experience. 12. At that time I used to feel vaguely revolted, as if these “regional language” verses were like some o f our “regional films” which had to be promoted in a particular way in order to entice large audiences.

APPENDIX In the six samples given below, the heading of each consists of the name of the poet and the number of the poem in Radhagovinda Basak’s edition. For each, the English versions are by Basak, Ray and Mehrotra respectively. 1. Durgaswami, 1.11 A. When the (little) son climbed on the back of his father fallen at the feet (of his offended mother), a smile appeared even (on the face of the householder’s wife; though feeling so poignantly afflicted by anger. B.

Mother was angry, Father fell on his knees, Kissing her feet. I climbed on his back. She broke into laughter, dragged him away,. Years later, I figured it out.


The remorseful husband Fallen at her feet Their little boy Climbs on his back And the sullen wife Laughing.

2. Avataka, 1.36 A. Even the character of a woman, whose residence is on the junction of four roads and who is charming to look at, who is youthful and whose husband is abroad - is not (sometimes) dissolute.



She lives at the junction near the whores, and her husband’s away She’s charming, youthful and ripe. There’s no moon. Yet she won’t let me.


Lives in main street. Attractive, young, her husband away. A light wench her neighbour, hard up too. And, unbelievably, still chaste.

Swargavarman, 1.49 A. O traveller! look here - in the mid-day even the shadow (of a man) does not slightly come out, lying hidden under the body (itself), out of fear of the Sun’s heat. Why should you now take rest (in our house)? B.

She let me come in. sharing her cool room at noon, for even a shadow seeks refuge, and under a body’s good place.

‘The Absent Traveller': A Classical Text in Translation C.





Afraid of mid-day heat Even your shadow Stays under your feet: Come into the shade, traveller.

Mandadhip, I.S8 A. On this day (our husband) has left home (for going abroad) and (it is found) that wakefulness of some persons (i.e. my co-wives) had evidently commenced this day, and the banks of the Godavari also have since this day become tinged with turmeric colour (o f their toilet). B.

He’s gone on a trip, leaving his harem. Already they’re friendly as sisters, gossip all night, bathe together at dawn in the river.


He left today, and today His wakeful mistresses are abroad: The banks of the Godavari Are yellow with turmeric today.

M ahadeva, 11,4 A. The profligate woman, while shedding tears, collects the last Madhuka flowers, so painful to look at, as if they were the (last) bones of a friend (left) on the funeral pyre.


She gathers Madhuka blossoms weeping as if they were bones of her husband, whom she had meant to join on his funeral fire.


Mournfully As if at the pyre Collecting Her loved-one’s relics The wanton Picked The last Mahua blossoms.

Asamsah, III.29 A. A lthough all things have been burnt away in the village conflagration, there was (intense) pleasure in my mind because the pitcher (of water) was taken from hand to hand (by both o f us).


Though the entire village burned down

Translation as Recovery we had the pleasure of seeing each other still alive, our faccs all flushed, passing that scorched jug around. The village Destroyed The heart Ecstatic Houses Burning I passed him The pitcher.

6 Unfinished Song, Incomplete Road: Text, Film and Translation Nobody has won the Nobel Prize for literature twice, nor a Sahitya Akademi award more than once; the Booker Prize only in one instance has been given for the second time to the same writer, and the UNESCO Collection o f Representative Works could not yet, I think, have repeated the recognition it has given, twice over to any Indian writer other than Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay o f Pather Panchali fame. No, he did not act in this film; he merely wrote the novel which got translated into English (and other European languages) with UNESCO sponsorship and published by Allen and Unwin, London, in *1968. Sixteen years later, a selection o f his short stories translated into English by Phyllis Granoff (she was at that time assistant professor o f Religious Studies at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario) and entitled A Strange Attachment and Other Stories was published under the same UNESCO scheme by the fairly unheard o f Canadian firm named Mosaic Press in 1984, also co-published in New York, London and New Zealand. Towards the end o f my career in publishing, I tried hard to get this collection reprinted in India (who else but a Mukhopadhyay under another name should think o f helping a Bandopadhyay on his own), but did not succeed. As o f now, only two more books o f Bibhutibhushan have appeared in English: Gopa Majumdar’s translation o f Aparajito in 1999 (original Bangla novel, 1932), and Rimli Bhattacharya’s English rendering o f Aranyak in 2002 (original Bangla, 1939), the latter framed by admirably researched and sensitively presented editorial apparatus. Fourteen other novels and some twenty short story collections o f Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay remain available, if readership so demands, for reincarnation in English. Born in 1894, Bibhutibhushan was the oldest o f the three big B’s o f early modern Bangla fiction - Tarashankar Bandopadhyay (1898-


Translation as Recovery

1971) and Manik Bandopadhyay (1908-56) being the other two. He went to a village school and came to Calcutta for studying in co lleg e... Almost all his adult life he taught in schools in different parts of Bengal and Bihar, except for the time he took off for his frequent travels in remote parts o f the country. The longest interruption in his teaching career was the six years he spent as an assistant manager o f a large estate in eastern Bihar which comprised mostly forests and uncultivated land. This was a seminal period in his life as a writer, not only because the experiences o f these years were later given fictional representation in his memorable book Aranyak (1939), but also because he wrote both Pather Panchali and Aparajito during this solitary sojourn. He lived in genteel poverty all his life and died in 1950. Five years after his death Satyajit Ray’s moving picture (‘moving’ in more ways than one) Pather Panchali: Song o f the Road, based on Bibhutibhushan’s novel, had its world premiere in the Museum o f Modern Art in New York. Soon after, Marie Seton, who had been commissioned by the British Film Institute to identify a world-class Indian film for screening at the National Film Theatre, chose this first film by Ray, and the next year it was awarded a prize in the Cannes Film Festival. The year after, Ray made a sequel to the film titled Aparajito which received the Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival in 1957. From that time onwards these films have charmed western audiences as compellingly as the novels had captivated Bengali readers from their first publication in 1929 and 1932. The reasons o f the western admiration o f the films are quite different from those o f Bengali adoration o f the books, different also from nonBengali Indian adulation of the films. But never again - that is after 1955-56 - has it been possible for Bengali minds to keep the books apart from the films. Almost half a century later, the English translator of Aparajito writes in the dedication “In memory o f Satyajit Ray who gave A p u ’s dream to the w o rld .” Pather Panchali was Bibhutibhushan’s first novel and it immediately earned him a large readership in Bengal. P ather P anch a li was Ray’s first film too, and his audience extended far beyond Bengal. Pather Panchali has had more than one incarnation in English. The UNESCO-sponsored 1968 translation has been reprinted twice in India in the last decade o f the twentieth century, once by Rupa & Co. (1990) and then by Harper Collins India (1999). There have been other versions as well. But the latest reprint of this thirty-year-old English translation o f a seventy-year-old Bangla original has been type-set anew and furnished with a brand new cover which cleverly

Unfinished Song, Incomplete Road


reproduces one o f the many unforgettable scenes from the film, without conceding that the film was in black-and-white. I cannot remember what the first publication o f the English translation published by Allen and Unwin looked like, because the copy I have is without its jacket now, but the 1990 Indian reprint of the same by Rupa & Co. was a straightforward offset job bound in a rather drab illustrated-by-hand cover. On the credit side, let me point out that the 1990 reprint was priced at Rs. 50 whereas for the latest you have to fork out nearly four times that amount. Alas, such mundane factors determine whether a novel will have an after-life as a text prescribed in university courses. At some point (I do not know whether before or after the film was shown at such outposts o f ‘world’ culture as New York), the novel got selected for inclusion in the UNESCO world literature project and was accepted in their Indian Series o f Translations (wherein, incidentally, both Tarashankar and Manik also figure). Bibhutibhushan had stayed with Apu beyond one novel, and three years later published a sequel Aparajito which is about double the size o f Pather Panchali. His second novel traces the growth o f Apu from the age of ten through adolescence to adulthood, as much through events and relationships as through the books he reads and the wild terrain he traverses in his restless journeys. An English translation has now appeared about seven decades later, but, despite the time lag, the English version retains much of the freshness and sense of wonder that marks the original. The book is unashamedly romantic but never sentimental. The First World War rages in Europe as Apu grows up; but “wars and revolutions left Apu untouched.” He longed to know “the story o f the poor common man.” Like his author Apu too worries about “man’s arrogance that caused the steady destruction o f nature” 1. Today’s reader will read in it the concerns of an early environmentalist. Satyajit Ray also made a sequel to his first film and called it Aparajito ( The Unvanquished) but the novel and the film o f the same name do not quite correspond to each other. The second film begins with the third section o f the novel Pather Panchali which was left out o f the first film and also uses some episodes from the novel Aparajito. Ray went on to produce a third film Apur Sansar ( The World o f Apu) in 1959 which is made up o f some more episodes o f Aparajito - not all. The so-called Apu trilogy in cinema is thus only selectively representative of the original Bangla novel and its voluminous sequel. The true sansar of Apu is much larger, much more heart-searching and mind-stretching than what the three films have to offer.


Translation as Recovery

Quite rightly, Ray filmed only what he thought was essential and cinematically possible. But in the nineteen sixties, when T.W. Clark and Tarapada Mukherji (both o f whom at that time taught Bangla at SOAS, University o f London) undertook to translate Pather Panchali into English, they decided to drop the last 68 pages o f the original novel, stopping exactly at the point Satyajit Ray ended the first film of the trilogy - young Apu leaving his village Nishchindipur with his parents to go to an unknown city called Benares. Did Tarapada Mukherji ultimately disassociate himself from the decision? I ask because the Introduction to the 1968 version bears only T.W. Clark’s name below. In this introduction Clark has justified the uncalled for amputation without convincing anybody except himself and, possibly the French translator whom he mentions though not by name. (This could well be Mme France Bhattacharya who used to teach French in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi at one time, and now teaches Bangla at the University of Paris). After citing Satyajit Ray’s first film which ends at the same point (but the next film, which Clark may not have seen, resumes the story), Sajanikanta Das’s abridgement in Bangla which also ends at a similar bend in the story (but this was done for children), and the Sahitya Akademi’s concurrence, Clark alleged that Bibhutibhushan’s “native genius could not have realised the dramatic quality o f his creation”, hence “the placement of the conclusion” of the novel had to be set right by the translator. Clark may as well have said about the novelist, “Forgive him, O Lord, for he did not know what he was doing” ! Whatever they have said or written in Bangla in protest against such violation, Bengali critics have seldom protested about it in English. Only Professor Naresh Guha registered his strong disapproval in a seminar paper of 19702, while I pressed some charges in a journal article o f 1981.3 But the most sincere and laborious counter-statement was made by Monika Varma (who, incidentally, was Bandopadhyay before marriage) when she translated anew all three sections o f Pather Panchali. In the original Bangla these were parts o f one book, but her work was published in three volumes, totalling 428 pages, by the Writers Workshop o f Calcutta in 1973. Monika Varma’s method of translation may be questioned, but her third volume, entitled “The Changing Scene” contained the part that was hacked off by the UNESCO-approved translators. Varma tries to pre-empt criticism for the liberties she takes in her translation by stating in theTranslator’s Note: “There is a word ‘rifacimento’ in the Oxford Dictionary which is defined as a ‘remodelled form o f a literary work’ - this I think

Unfinished Song, Incomplete Road


expresses best what I have tried to do.” Despite her best intentions, however, her version remains a paragraph by paragraph retelling rather than a translation o f the novel.4 Both the Indian reprints o f the Clark and Mukherji translation of Pather Panchali (by Rupa and by Harper Collins) indicate that the copyright o f the original rests with the Sahitya Akademi, but the Writers Workshop translation gives no such indication. How and when did the Sahitya Akademi get into the game? Clark’s reference to the Akademi’s approval suggests this had happened by 1968. This is corroborated indirectly in the ‘abridged English language edition’ brought out by Allied Publishers in 1976. The imprint page o f this publication claims that “copyright o f the original novel. . . is controlled by the Sahitya A kadem i” . Why should this be so when Bibhutibhushan’s heir Taradas Bandopadhyay (Banerjee) is not only alive, but actively involved in his father’s work? Taradas wrote a sequel to the Apu novels which traced the growth o f Apu’s son Kajal, and as late as in 1998 wrote a Foreword to the English translation o f Aparajito. That the copyright of the Bangla Aparajito belongs to Taradas Banerjee is unambiguously stated in the English edition. No clue to the copyright mystery o f Pather Panchali is to be found in the Allied Publishers version, which says on the title page that this Bengali novel has been “Abridged from English” by Kshitis Roy and Margaret Chatterjee. If indeed it had to be “abridged into English” - which sounds like a contortionist’s exercise - why didn’t Roy and Chatterjee work from the original instead o f basing it on the Clark and Mukherji translation? Again, no answer is to be found there. Incidentally, there exists an excellent abridgement in Bangla meant for young reader (titled Aam Antir Bhepu, which is the title o f the second section o f the original Bangla novel) and this could also have been used as the source o f the shortened English version. Just to probe the Sahitya Akademi angle a little further: the UNESCO scheme referred to above used to sponsor the translation (for fairly handsome considerations) but left it to the country to which the language (of translation) belonged to publish the translated work. I happen to know that in a couple o f cases, Indian works included in this scheme and rendered into English by Indians failed to find a publisher in England. Whereupon our Sahitya Akademi stepped in to acquire the English translation publication rights, and either found an Indian publisher, or published the work themselves. That is how the abridged version came to Allied Publishers, and the full (as far as UNESCO is concerned) text came to Rupa & Co, and subsequently to


Translation as Recovery

their then associate Harper Collins, India. But it also means that Allen and Unwin (or their subsequent avatar Unwin Hyman) long ago abandoned their right to reprint this translation. Even if the song remains unfinished and the road incomplete, Pather Panchali has now come home in English as well. Production wise, the Harper Collins reprint o f 1999 (360 pages) is great improvement upon the Rupa reprint (326 pages) o f 1990. The Rupa paperback faithfully reprints not only the prelims, the text, index and notes, but also the back-cover write-up o f the London edition. Even the wholly superfluous note on ‘The Author’s Nam e’ (p. 9) which explains “because Banerji is easier for a foreign reader to pronounce than Bandopadhyay” - has not escaped. Most English translators have had to come to terms with the problem o f the double name o f the author: B andopadhyay and B anerjee (or B anerji). N ot only Bibhutibhushan, all Bengalis with similar names (m yself included) carry the burden o f this dual identity - often using the longer version in a Bangla context and the shorter one in English. Rimli Bhattacharya, the translator o f Aranyak takes care o f this problem swiftly and efficiently in the first sentence o f her note ‘On the A uthor’: “ Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyaya (a.k.a Banerjee) was born on . . .”. The spelling o f both the first and the second name o f the author allows variations when rendered in Roman script. Rimli Bhattacharya is the only translator who has retained the final ‘a ’ o f the already long last name, and Monika Varma makes the long first name reader-friendly by splitting it into two parts, Bibhuti and Bhusan and dropping one ‘h ’. To return to Pather Panchali: the 1999 reprint shows more editorial enterprise than the 1990 reprint, but not always commendably. Thus, the cover photograph is far too familiar, even common. It has appeared on every poster o f the film and has already been reproduced in the Roy and Chatterjee abridgement. Incidentally, it also appears on the front end-pages o f Chidananda Dasgupta’s The Cinema o f Satyajit Ray (National Book Trust, Delhi, 1974). The translators are named on the front cover, but alas, the half-title page informs in the present tense that Clark and Mukherjee “are both teachers” whereas they both died some years ago. The title page records for posterity that the work has been “Translated into the English” and gives the author’s name as ‘Bandopadhyay’ whereas the same old note on the author’s name declares that ‘Banerji has been adopted’. The index and the notes o f the earlier translation have been dropped; in their place we have a brief glossary which includes daal explained as ‘a generic name for

Unfinished Song, Incomplete Road


nine different species o f pulse grown in Bengal’ - which is exactly what the original note had informed us about daal. If only the publishers of the latest reprint of Pather Panchali had ventured a little more, we would have been given a real millenniumend treat. Even as they were preparing to publish an English translation o f the novel Aparajito , were they not tempted to ignore the old and deformed version and re-translate Pather Panchali anew? Then they could have re-called Apu and Sarbajaya and Harihar (who had become Opu, Shorbojoya and Horihor in the hands o f the UNESCO-sponsored translators), restored the missing part at the end and re-asserted Bibhutibhushan’s true genius? After all it is the publisher’s duty (if not always good business) to aid and abet translators in the sacred task of extending the life of an important text, albeit in another language. Notes 1. These quotations are taken from Gopa Majumdar’s English translation o f Aparajito. 2. Naresh Guha’s comments were later incorporated in the Afterword to Monika Varma’s translation of Pather Panchali, 1973. 3. Later incorporated in a longer discussion in Translation as Discovery, pp. 86-100, Orient Longman, 1994. 4. For a detailed comparison o f the three English versions o f Pather Panchali see the chapter ‘Translation as Testimony’ in Translation as Discovery, Orient Longman, 1994.

References (Different versions of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s work mentioned in this essay, chronologically arranged) 1929, Pather Panchali (Bangla). Mitra and Ghosh Publishers, Calcutta. 1932, Aparajito (Bangla). Mitra and Ghosh Publishers, Calcutta. 1939, Aranyak (Bangla). Mitra and Ghosh Publishers, Calcutta. 1944, Aam Aantir Bhepu (Bangla) Abridged version of Pather Panchali for young readers; abridged by D.K. Gupta. Signet Press, Calcutta (Illustrated by Satyajit Ray) 1944, Chhotoder Pather Panchali (Bangla) Abridged version of Pather Panchali for young readers; abridged by Sajani Kanta Das. Published by Apurba Kumar Bagchi, printed in Bose Press, Calcutta. 1955, Pather Panchali: Song o f the Road. Film directed by Satyajit Ray. 1956, Aparajito: The Unvanquished. Film directed by Satyajit Ray.


Translation as Recovery

1959, Apur Sansar: The World o f Apu. Film directed by Satyajit Ray. 1968, Song o f the Road (English translation of Pather Panchali by T.W. Clark and Tarapada Mukherji). Allen and Unwin, London. 1973, Pather Panchali by Bibhuti Bhusan Banerjee, Transcreated from the Bengali by Monika Varma. Writers Workshop, Calcutta. 1976, Pather Panchali: A Bengali Novel, Abridged into English by Kshitis Roy and Margaret Chatterjee. Allied Publishers, Delhi. 1984, Strange Attachment and Other Stories, Translated into English by Phyllis GarnofT. Published in Canada by Mosaic Press, Ontario; in U.K. by John Calder, London; in New Zealand and Australia by Pilgrims South Press, Dunedin, NZ. 1990, Song o f the Road. Translated by T.W. Clark and Tarapada Mukherji, reprinted in India by Rupa & Co., Calcutta. 1999, same as above, reprinted by Harper Collins (India), Delhi. 1999, Aparajito, English translation by Gopa Majumdar. Harper Collins (India), Delhi. 2002. Aranyak: O f the Forest, English Translation by Rimli Bhattacharya, Seagull Publishers, Kolkata.



7 Urvashi: When She Danced Some poems are born great; others achieve greatness by being read widely; a few have greatness thrust upon them by translators - or perhaps it is the outstanding merit o f some poems that gets them translated more than once. The eight-stanza poem “Urvashi”, with nine lines making up each stanza, is one such poem. It was composed by Rabindranath in the winter o f 1895 during one o f his boat trips to the Silaidaha village which was part o f the Tagore family estate. Mesmerising to read or to be read aloud to, it has always been a great favourite o f teachers even if explaining the poem to enchanted but bew ildered pupils could never have been easy. C ritics and commentators have invariably resorted to hyperbole, and every now and then, translators have felt challenged to try and convey its marvels in another language. The earliest such attempt was made around 1909 by Roby Dutta, then a student at Cambridge university, who prepared an anthology entitled Echoes from East and West and got it published (perhaps at his own expense) by Messrs Galloway and Porter o f Cambridge in 1909. Its aim, he stated in his preface, was to bring together “the voices o f some o f the Indie, Persic, Hellenic, Italic, Romance and Teutonic makers o f melodies.” Among the more recent melody makers was one 'Roby Tagore’ who was represented by eleven poems in English versions. One o f these eleven was “Urvashi” translated from the Bangla collection Chitra, published in 1896; thus it was barely thirteen years old in the original. The opening lines o f Dutta’s rendering read: No mother thou, no daughter thou thou art no bride, O maiden fair and free O inhabitant o f Nandan, Urvasi!

Apart from the use o f respect-bestowing ‘thou’ in what is essentially

Translation as Recovery


a profane (only as opposed to ‘sacred’) context, Dutta has had to render rupasi (beauteous) as ‘fair and free’ in order to force a rhyme with ‘Urvasi’. Worse is to follow later in the stanza where ‘the still heart o f the night’ is paired off with ‘bridal couch bedight’. That last word does not figure even in my quite large Living Webster o f 1971. Rabindranath did not approve o f such rhyming - could not, in fact, appreciate Dutta’s effort generally on his behalf. As he wrote to Pramathlal Sen on 14 May, 1912: “The rendering o f my poems done by Roby Dutta is not good at all”. In the original Bangla, his verdict ‘mo/e/ bhalo hoy naV is a polite way o f saying ‘they are very bad’. (A photo-copy o f this letter is available in the Rabindra Bhavan, Santiniketan.) The damage done to “Urvashi” must have rankled. When he was putting together the collection that would be published as The Fugitive (1929), Rabindranath sought to repair the damage thus: Neither mother nor daughter are you Nor bride, Urvashi, Woman you are, To ravish the soul o f paradise.

This is not just repair, but a return from the workshop with additional parts. For example the notion o f ravishing or being ravished is absent in the original. However, this notion is quickly sanitized or otherwise disembodied by engaging it to a soul (“ravish the soul”), and that soul is equally rapidly attributed to paradise and denied much meaning. Probably our poet-translator has conflated nandan (= the garden o f Indra) with “earthly paradise” (= the Garden o f Eden) without taking into account the heavenly paradise o f Islam or the purgatorial waiting room o f Roman Catholic imagination. A footnote identifying Urvashi (on p. 330 o f Collected Poems and Plays) as “the dancing girl o f paradise who rose from the sea” does not help much - if at all, it hinders, by suggesting a location o f paradise somewhere under the sea. Rabindranath’s rendering continues: When the weary-footed evening comes down to the fields whither the cattle have returned , you never trim the house-lamp nor walk to the bridal bed with a tremulous heart and a wavering smile on your lips, glad that the dark hours are so secret.

Urvashi: When She Danced


Other than ignoring the swarnanchal o f the third line, these lines follow the original quite closely except o f course the inexplicable transformation o f sandhya-deep into a kerosene burning lantern or lamp whose wick has to be daily trimmed for nightly use. This is a clear case o f the mind’s eye o f the poet, so observant in Bangla, failing to see in English. The rest o f the stanza reads: Like the dawn you are without veil, Urvashi, and without shame, Who can imagine that aching overflow O f splendour which created you!

Even if we were to ignore the ineptitude o f the phrase ‘without shame’ (for akunthita), it is difficult to accept the last line. None o f it looks back to any original. The poet rather than the translator, a wordspinner rather than picture-maker, has plucked that line out o f the void and set it down as a stanza stopper. At this point if we are surprised by Rabindranath’s tampering with the original, there is more surprise in store when in the second stanza he leaps over the Bangla first line into You rose from the churned ocean on the first day o f the first spring, With the cup of life in your right hand and poison in your left.

and so on. But for the deletion o f the opening shot (for those who know Bangla , this line reads: brinta-heen pushpa-samo aapanatey aapani bikashi / kobey tumi phutiley Urvashi]), the rest o f the stanza has been retained faithfully, though in a condensed form . This tendency to chop and change, add or subtract, condense more often than inflate, will be found throughout the course of Rabindranath’s translation o f his own verse. He did not do so unconsciously or impulsively. In private letters he defended the need to do so.



The publication o f Gitanjali in English was followed by two more collections o f verse, The Gardener (1913), containing what its author called “lyrics o f love and life” and The Crescent Moon (1913), subtitled “child poems”. All Bengali readers will have noticed the


Translation as Recovery

discrepancies between the originals and the translated versions published by Rabindranath, but no fellow Bengali commented or wrote about this at that tim e.1 Already however, Rabindranath him self was wondering whether he had ‘translated’ or carried out some other kind o f exercise. We find him writing to Mrs. Harriet Moody from Urbana: “Rathi has begun typing out my poems - I won’t call them translations”2 He is aware also o f the risk of diminution. A week later he wrote to Ajit Chakravarty: “Nobody here would accept that these are translations - none would hear that these were originally written in Bengali and written better. As for myself, I too cannot quite dismiss this opinion as entirely unjustified. In fact one cannot quite translate one’s own works.”3 This letter is very important because it is an attempt to explain and defend the mode o f translating or reworking his own poems in another language that he had practised prior to his departure for England in May 1912 and developed during the long voyage from Mumbai to Marseilles. Among the earliest to voice his dissatisfaction - not just with the translation but also with the selections o f poems Rabindranath chose to translate - was not a Bengali reader, but a Bangla-reading Englishman. This was Edward Thompson (1886-1946) who came out to India in 1910, met Rabindranath in 1913 and became friends with him, was actually in Santiniketan that evening when news o f the Nobel Prize was received, and later wrote two books on our poet4. In a letter dated 16 July 1920 written possibly from Bankura, Thompson cautioned Rabindranath: “Your translated works come too exclusively from one stratum o f your poetry. But you have not translated Urvasi. It is a magnificent lyric.”5 Thompson himself tried his hand at the poem and wrote to the poet on 12 December 1920: “I have made a prose version, keeping the stanza-arrangement o f Urvasi. Urvasi of course is untranslatable. But I feel sure that even in my version, it will make an immense impression all over the world. It is beyond question one o f the very greatest lyrics ever written”6 Thompson’s version, first included in the book featuring Rabindranath in the series entitled ‘Augustan Books o f Modern Poetry’7 published by Ernest Benn Ltd., began as follows: Thou art not Mother, art not Daughter art not Bride, thou beautiful comely One. O dweller in Paradise. Urvasi! When evening descends on the pastures, drawing

Urvashi: When She Danced


about her tired body her golden cloth, Thou lightest the lamp within no home.

These lines restore some incidentals Rabindranath had left out, but struggle vainly with sundari rupasi. Granted his Christian m issionary background, he uses ‘thou’ more easily than, say, Rabindranath, but why do capital letters proliferate? As many as sixteen letters are in upper case in the first stanza alone. More misleadingly, this stanza suggests that Urvasi lit no domestic lamps whereas the original states more comprehensively that she is not the kind o f woman who does such mundane things. This not mistake, but mis-focus persists in the remaining lines of the stanza: With hesitant wavering steps, with throbbing breast and downcast look, Thou dost not go smiling to any Beloved’s bed In the hushed midnight. Thou art unveiled like the rising Dawn, Unshrinking One!

His last epithet ‘Unshrinking O ne’ is an improvement on Rabindranath’s ‘without shame’, but ‘throbbing breast’ hints at a cardiac condition and ‘Beloved’s bed’ (Beloved with a capital B) something other than pending (therefore sanctified) bliss. Thompson has continued Rabindranath’s locating Urvashi in ‘paradise’, and provided a footnote on her saying: “When the ocean was churned, to recover the lost nectar of immortality, Urvasi, a nymph o f entrancing beauty, rose from it. She became the chief dancing girl o f Indra’s heaven.”8 Urvashi has been classified, without explanation, as a nymph. We may also note that she has been promoted to chief-dancing girl status. The most noteworthy or commentable element o f that footnote is the phrase ‘Indra’s Heaven’. Does our headgod (head o f the department o f gods) own a separate exclusive heaven? Thompson has given another footnote on the same page pointing out that nectar and poison had emerged from samudra manthan - the churning o f the ocean - “but it is Rabindranath who has put them in Urvashi’s hands.” On the page facing the one where these two footnotes occur, Thompson has translated nandan ban from another poem as ‘nandan grove ’ and footnoted that as “the park o f Indra’s Paradise”. A less


Translation as Recovery

earnest Edward Thompson could have written a poem on nandan ban beginning “Not park nor grove nor garden art thou . . In translation and through commentary, Urvashi occupies over four pages o f Thompson’s book. Another Urvashi fan manifested him self three years later in a small book entitled Sheaves, consisting o f poems and songs o f Rabindranath, selected and translated by N agendranath Gupta9. Born in M otihari, N agendranath edited newspapers as far away in their editorial offices as the Phoenix o f Karachi, The Tribune o f Lahore, and a weekly magazine o f Allahabad, before finally moving to Kolkata in 1901 to join the monthly Twentieth Century. Sharing the years o f birth and death with the poet almost exactly (1861-1940), this translator claimed “nearly fifty years of comradeship” with the subject of his devotion. This claim forms part o f a forty-page introductory essay Nagendranath wrote for the book, concluding with an exposition o f the poem “Urvashi” : “ Without attempting anything like an exhaustive criticism or appreciation o f the poet I may quote a single poem, which I have translated and will be found in this book, displaying some o f the qualities that have placed Rabindranath in the front rank o f lyric p o e ts___ The poem scintillates and glitters like the kohinoor in the poet’s Golconda o f flawless jew els o f the finest water.” “Urvashi” in translation will be found not once but twice in the book; for some reason it pre-appears in the introduction (pp. 31-34) before figuring in the text (pp. 83-87). Since there is no indication o f whether or not Rabindranath had seen or approved o f this version, it will remain (along with some other translations in the book) a rare instance o f a poem already translated by the poet being translated anew in his lifetime by another person. The unwritten injunction on new translations appears to have been lifted for this comrade. As in the versions o f Rabindranath and Thompson, here too we have a footnote on Urvashi. Restating her identity as “the principal dancer o f Indra’s heaven” , the note goes on to explain that “the apsaras, o f whom Urvashi was one, rose from the waves when the cosmic sea was churned by the gods and demons. The poet has accepted this account, rejecting a later absurd myth that Urvashi issued out o f the thighs o f Narayana.” We may wonder why one myth should be more absurd than another. Vettam M ani’s Puranic Encyclopaedia tells us that when various other celestial damsels were trying to distract the sage Narayana and disrupt his penance, he got very angry and “struck on his thigh with his hand and instantly there

Urvashi: When She Danced


arose a woman o f extreme beauty. Because she had originated from the uru (= thigh) o f Narayana, that woman, who was the most beautiful in the three worlds, got the name Urvasi”. (p. 811). At Thompson’s bidding we have already noted how Rabindranath altered the myth slightly to suit his purpose; he could have, if necessary, done the same here. Nagendranath will have no truck with paradise, which is lucky, because an Eve with capital E appears in the third line o f his version: Nor mother, nor maid, nor bride art thou, / O beauteous Urvasi, dweller in the garden o f the gods! / When Eve comes down on the mead drawing the golden end / o f her garment round her weary shape / Thou dost not light the evening lamp in the corner o f any home.

His translator would have learnt his English at the same time as Rabindranath , hence cannot get away from ‘thou’ and ‘dost’. His ‘garden o f the gods’ is a distinct improvement on his predecessors, but ‘mead’ falls below Thompson’s ‘pastures’ to about the level o f Rabindranath’s ‘folds’. I must confess I react badly to ‘weary shape’ - it suggests sagging outlines and that hardly fits the context o f the poem about a woman forever young.



It is time we gave a hearing again to the creator o f this Urvashi - not the woman who emerged from the churning o f the ocean, but the one who appeared at the stroke o f a pen on paper while the pen-wielder was on a boat bound for Silaidaha. Nearly forty years later he wrote in a letter to Charuchandra Bandopadhyay: “We must remember who Urvashi is. She is neither Indra’s consort, nor Lakshmi in Vaikunth. She is a dancer in heaven, a companion o f the gods on am rita imbibing occasions in their abode.8 In the paragraphs immediately preceding, Rabindranath had explained: If it causes confusion to identify Urvashi closely with what Shelley has called ‘intellectual beauty’ [these two English words appear in the original], I cannot be held responsible. The person I have evoked in the opening line is neither a flower nor a butterfly, neither a moon nor the melody o f a song - she is a mere woman - not mother or daughter or


Translation as Recovery spouse - a woman who is wholly outside domestic relationships - the enchanting woman, that is her.9

Had the earlier translators o f the poem received this explanation in good time from the poet himself, they might have translated it d ifferently. But sch o lar-critic s had m oved tow ards sim ilar understanding in due course. When J.C. Ghosh, no great admirer of literature in Bangla , was commissioned by OUP London to write a history o f Bengali literature to the end o f the 19th century, he felt compelled to include an essay on Rabindranath at the end. Therein he adjudged: “ ‘Urvasi’ is Tagore’s greatest ode, comparable with Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ and Shelley’s ‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty’ and magnificent in its blending o f classical and vernacular diction, of mythological and popular imagery.” 10 No fresh translation o f ‘Urvashi’ seems to have appeared for the next thirty years or so. Then, as a part o f the centenary celebrations, the Tagore Commemorative Volume Society prepared in new English translation a collection o f eighteen essays by Rabindranath on social, economic, political and educational topics. This collection was published in 1961 with the title Towards Universal Man and the publication was financed by a generous donation from the Ford Foundation. So large was this ford o f money that a substantial amount was left over after the publication o f that volume. Humayun Kabir obtained the Foundation’s consent to prepare another volume in new English translation, now o f Rabindranath’s verse. This volume, published in 1966 by Asia Publishing House in Bombay with the title One Hundred and One, contains a new translation o f ‘Urvashi’ done by V.S. Naravane. Not a Bangla-speaker from birth, Professor Naravane acquired the language later in his life well enough to translate from Rabindranath and also write a book on him ." Departure from earlier practice is announced right away when this translator provides a headnote rather than a footnote. It refines the previous annotations by stating, after indicating the origin o f Urvashi and her usual pastime that she “was sometimes sent by them [the gods] to disturb the meditation o f men who tried to become godlike by the acquisition o f spiritual power”, then adding: “She is the ideal o f beauty, the unattached spirit o f love and life ever dancing in the universe.” 12 Why ‘beauty’ must be associated with ‘dance’ is however left unexplained. Nearly thirty more years pass before Urvashi dances again, now

Urvashi: When She Danced


at the bidding o f Visvanath Chatterjee, a professor o f English from Kolkata. He translated the poem for Modern Indian Literature: An Anthology (1992), which had K.M. George as Chief Editor and was the first o f a three volume project, consisting o f surveys and poems. Chatterjee also found it necessary to provide a headnote, parts of which read as follows: “It is an exquisite ode to the principle o f Beauty as embodied in the feminine form. Urvashi is the Eternal Woman whom man can only desire but never possess. She is perennially youthful and infinitely charming but always elusive. . . . Tagore has refashioned an Indian myth and his poem is sensuousness compact. It is remarkable for its magic diction, matchless imagery, majestic verse, and mellifluous music, reminding us o f Swinburne at his best” (p. 481). Chatterjee is decades ahead o f Ghosh inasmuch as he invokes Swinburne; while Ghosh was content to linger with Keats and Shelley, Chatterjee obviously forgot that the version he is about to proffer in English can never bear out what the original had meant to him. His version begins: No mother, no daughter, no bride / you enchanting beauty, / O Urvashi, denizen o f Eden!

If only Chatterjee had stopped to check in some dictionary - even a relatively simple one like the Oxford Advanced Learners - he would have found that denizen means ‘a person, an animal or a plant that lives, grows or is often found in a particular place.’ That is, the reader can be forgiven for wondering if Urvashi is a person, animal or place. As for Eden, it is clearly an innovation (none o f the earlier five translators used it) and just as clearly called for an annotation because, from all reports, nobody resided in that garden other than an apple, a serpent and those two original sinners. Lines five, six and seven of the original have been rendered by Chatterjee thus: You do not move bashfully towards the bridal bed with faltering steps, fluttering heart and modest glance in the hush o f the midnight.

As with the J.C. Ghosh version, here too there is room for wondering what is the alternative move to be made by Urvashi elsewhere in the poem. Since no such alternative has been signaled anywhere else, the translation is guilty o f misguiding the reader.


Translation as Recovery

One more performance by Urvashi remains to be noticed. This is a particularly notable effort, because after a gap o f seventy odd years, a native speaker o f English has undertaken to translate “Urvashi” into his own first language13. This is Joe Winter, an Englishman who, it is believed, taught himself Bangla mainly in order to be able to read Rabindranath in the original. Perhaps to facilitate the process, he took early retirement from his school-teaching job in London in 1993 and has been living in and near Kolkata since then. His collection entitled Homage to Rabindranath Tagore (Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 1995) contains 24 poems o f which some are his own, some others refer to the work o f other poets (there is no prefatory note in the book to indicate whether these are actual translations - and except for his own poems, the others have titles in capital letters, viz. ONLY THE CHAPTER’S END, with the line below stating ‘from Debasis Sen’) and seven relate closely to poems by Rabindranath. One among the latter is “Urvashi”. This effort is not only notable for the reasons given above, but also particularly brave because it is a rhymed translation. The original rhyme-scheme (a-a-b-b-c-c-c-d-d) has been transferred into similarly structured end-rhyming lines of English. Even the shortening o f the second, seventh and last lines has been emulated. The opening stanza does its best to look like the original: Not mother, not daughter, not bride, woman form of all beauty, Heaven’s sister, Urvashi! When day’s tired body, in gold sari, dusk-touches the meadow. You will light no lamp for the house in evening shadow. To no bridal bed, eyes down in a timid politeness Do you step, heart beating, and a smile of shy sweetness In night’s silent lateness. Like the risen dawn, its veil abandoning. In your unafraid being.

Granting the translator’s overall comprehension o f Bangla, he sometimes lapses into innovations (e.g. ‘Heaven’s sister’ ‘dusktouches’, ‘evening shadow’) that do not relate to the original; at other times, under the compulsions o f rhymes, he produces lame parallels such as politeness/ sweetness/ lateness. There are worse examples in the later stanzas - like carol/coral /jewel, body/ruddy,lightness/ impetus/lotus and so on. If only Winter had not decided to set this translation into rhyme, he may have produced a passable rendering. Or


Urvashi: When She Danced

it may be that the limitations o f his response to the magic o f the original’s language did not caution him about trying to do the impossible.




Such sampling as has been done above, by looking at a few lines from each o f the seven published translations, does not prove anything or disprove something. For that the original would have to be examined against 504 lines o f translation (the 72 lines o f all seven translations would have to be compared with each other) before we may (a) decide which is the most successful translation, and (b) judge whether or not this is a great poem. A large project like this may seem unworkable, but it could be tried under academic auspices. Given a class o f 20-25 students (at least one half o f which should know Bangla fairly well) in a course on ‘The Study o f Translation’ (rather than the currently more fashionable ‘Translation Studies’) - and perhaps two or three teachers who hold similar views on translation to share the workload som ething intellectually exciting, pedagogically pioneering and academically productive, is likely to emerge. Notes 1. In fact, I like to believe that I was the first to record a detailed critique, many years later, in my doctoral dissertation of 1963 which was published in book form from Kolkata in 1964 (Passage to America). Subsequently the late Buddhadeva Bose wrote a series o f articles in the Bangla journal Desh (29 January, 5 and 12 February, 1966). That year also saw two articles by Nabaneeta Dev Sen in The Journal o f Asian Studies xxv: 2 (1966) and in Mahfil III: 1 (1966), in both of which she touches upon these issues. 2. Letter dated 6 March, 1913 among the papers of Harriet Moody in the University of Chicago archives. 3. Letter dated 13 March, 1913, Translated by Shyamal Kumar Sarkar and quoted in his article ‘Tagore in Translation’, Visva-Bharati Quarterly, 43:1-2 (1977) 4. Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work (1921; revised ed. 1961); Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist (1926; revised and enlarged ed. 1948). 5. From extract reproduced in an appendix to the revised edition of Thompson’s second book on Rabindranath, re-issued in 1979 by Riddhi-


6. 7. 8.

9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

7Translation as Recovery India, a Calcutta publisher. Although nobody has been specifically named in this edition, it is generally understood that, the Bangla poet and critic Sankho Ghosh selected the letters and extracts thereof. Ibid. Rabindranath Tagore, Edward Thompson, Ernest Benn Ltd. London 1925. These items of evidence are cited from the 1991 edition of Thompson’s larger book (pp. 111-113), reprinted by OUP India with an Introduction by Harish Trivedi. First published in 1929 by Indian Press, Allahabad, reprinted in 1950 by Hind Kitab, Bombay. J.C. Ghosh. Bengali Literature , OUP, London, 1948, p. 172. Rabindranath Tagore: A Philosophical Study , Allahabad, 1947. See p. 36 of One Hundred and One. His is the only translation in the volume which is crowned by a head-note. William Radice did not venture to do so in his Selected Poems (Penguin Books, Hammondsworth, 1985) . As for the criteria of selection, he forestalls all criticism by admitting “I could only translate the poems I liked, and feel I understand.” (p. 9)


The first stanza of Rabindranath’s original Bangla, 1895

Naho mata, naho kanya , naho badhu, sundari rupasi hey nandana basini urvashi Goshthe jobey sandhya naame shranta-dehe swarnanchal taani Tumi kono grihaprantey naahi jalo sandhyadeepkhani, Dwidhay jorito padey kampabakkhe namranetrepatey Smitahasye naahi chalo salajjito basara shajyatey Stabdha ardharaatey. Ushaar uday samo anabagunthitaa Tumni akunthita. From Chitra, 1896


Roby Dutta, 1909 No mother thou, no daughter thou, thou art no bride, O maiden fair and free, O inhabitant ofN andan, Urvasi ! When Eve on cattle-folds doth light, her frame all tired, With dream-drawn golden veil, Thou, in a comer o f some home, dost never light the lamp O f even pale; With feet in doubt all-faltering, with trembling breast, With lowly fallen sight. With smiles all soft, thou goest not, in bashfulness, To bridal couch bedight In the still heart o f night, As in the early rise o f Dawn, a veil-less maiden fair, Thou art untroubled e’er. From Echoes from East and West: To Which Are Added Stray Notes of Mine (Galloway & Porter, Cambridge, 1909)

96 2.

Translation as Recovery Rabindranath, 1921 Neither mother nor daughter are you, Nor bride, Urvashi.* Woman you are, to ravish the soul of Paradise. When weary-footed evening comes down to the folds whither the cattle have returned, you never trim the house- lamps nor walk to the bridal bed with a tremulous heart and a wavering smile on your lips, glad that the dark hours are so secret. Like the dawn you are without veil, Urvashi, and without shame Who can imagine that aching overflow of splendour Which created you! (* f /n: The dancing girl of Paradise who rose from the sea) From The Fugitive, I: 11(1921), included in The Collected Poems and Plays o f Rabindranath Tagore

(First pub. London & New York 1937) 3.

Edward Thompson, 1926 Thou art not Mother, art not Daughter, art not Bride, thou beautiful comely One, O Dweller in Paradise, Urvasi!* When evening descend on the pastures, drawing about her tired body her golden cloth, Thou lightest the lamp within no home. With wavering steps, with throbbing breast and downcast look, Thou dost not go smiling to any Beloved’s bed, In the hushed midnight. Thou art unveiled like the rising Dawn, Unshrinking One! (* f /n: When the ocean was churned, to recover the lost nectar of immortality, Urvasi, a nymph of entrancing beauty, rose from it. She became the chief dancing-girl in Indra’s Heaven) From Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist (first pub. 1926; revised ed. 1948; Oxford India Paperback, 1991)

Urvashi: When She Danced 4.


Nagendranath Gupta, 1929 No mother , nor maid, nor bride art thou, O beauteous Urvasi,* dweller in the garden o f the gods ! When Eve comes down on the mead drawing the golden end O f her garment round her weary shape, Thou dost not light the evening lamp in the com er o f any home; With the faltering feet of doubt, trembling bosom, and downcast eyelids, Smiling and coy, thou dost not pass to the bridal bed In the still midnight, Unveiled as the rise of the dawn Unembarrassed art thou ! (*f In: Urvasi was the principal dancer in Indra’s heaven. In the Rig Veda it is not mentioned how Urvasi came into existence, though it is stated that ‘she came from the waters’. In the Ramayana and the Bhagavata it is said that the apsaras , o f whom Urvasi was one, rose from the waves when the cosmic sea was churned by the gods and demons . . . .) From Sheaves: Poems and Songs by Rabindranath Tagore, (first pub. Indian Press, Allahabad, 1929; rpt. Hind Kitab, Bombay, 1950)

5. V.S. Naravane, 1966 Neither mother nor daughter nor wife are you, O celestial Urvashi ! In no home do you light the lamp, when Evening On the pastures alights , wearily holding her golden skirt, To no bridal bed you smiling shyly go In silent midnight. Unabashed you are, and, like the rising dawn Unveiled. (Headnote: In Indian mythology ... the principal dancer before the gods in heaven ... She is the ideal of beauty, the unattached spirit o f love and life ever dancing in the universe.) From One Hundred and One: Poems by Rabindranath Tagore, Introduction by Humayun Kabir (Asia Publishing House, Bombay , 1966)


Visvanath Chatterjee, 1992 No mother, no daughter , no bride, you enchanting beauty

Translation as Recovery


Urvashi, denizen o f Eden ! When evening sets in on the meadow by spreading on its tired body the golden scarf, You do not light the evening lamp in a corner o f any home. You do not move bashfully smiling towards the bridal bed with faltering steps, fluttering heart and modest glance Unveiled you are , like the rise of the dawn, you who are unhesitant! From Modern Indian Literature: An Anthology, Chief Editor K.M. George, Vol. I: Surveys and Poems (Sahitya Akademi, New D e lh i, 1992)


Joe Winter, 1995 Not mother, not daughter, not bride, woman form o f all beauty, Heaven’s sister, Urvashi! When day’s tired body, in gold sari , dusk-touches the meadow, you will light no lamp for the house in the evening’s shadow, To no bridal bed, eyes down , in a timid politeness do you step, heart beating, and a smile of shy sweetness in night’s silent lateness. Like the rising dawn , its veil abandoning, is your unafraid being. From Homage to Rabindranath Tagore Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 1995)

Editor's Note: In the author's papers I found a reference to yet another translation of this poem (by Shafi Ahmed) which he has chosen not to discuss, The first two lines of this version are: Urboshee (Courtesan of the Gods) Not a mother, nor a daughter, nor a spouse But just a beautiful She. From Tagore's Eleven. (Oaktown Pubens, East Acton, London, 1985)

8 Twice-Told Tales All but one o f Rabindranath Tagore’s twelve Bangla novels have been translated into English and published, some during his lifetime, some afterwards.1 Not more than nine are novels in the large expansive sense o f the term; whereas the last three long stories (collected in Teen Sangi, 1940; trans. Three Companions, Delhi, 1992) could all have been extended to make longer texts if only the aging author still owned necessary reserves o f stamina. The author passed away on 7 August, 1941 and his works should have emerged out o f copyright by the end o f 1991.2 Until then only three o f the novels had been published in more than one English translation. The choice o f the three texts may seem strange, but they did figure in this special segment o f Bengal’s literary history. O f these three, the original Gora was serialised during 1907-09 and appeared as a book in a somewhat dismembered or otherwise attenuated form, in the latter year, published by the Kuntalin Press o f Kolkata.3 VisvaBharati which later became the sole publisher o f Rabindranath’s Bangla work had not yet come into the picture. Chaturanga, in the original had to go west (= pashchim in popular Bengali geography) and get published in 1916 from Allahabad by the Indian Press. Char Adhyay , after some trepidation about possible political repercussions, was published in 1934 by Visva Bharati Granthalay in Kolkata. As for the translations, Gora managed to retain its (his ?) name in English when it was published in 1924 by Macmillan & Co from London. Chaturanga was renamed ‘Broken Ties’ and became the title story o f the collection Broken Ties and Other Stories, also published by Macmillan & Co. in 1925. Char Adhyay had to wait for some time for its rebirth in English, although two English renderings by different translators were ready in manuscript form by the mid-1930s. It was serialised in an American journal from December 1937 to April 1938, but did not appear as a book until 1950. One o f the translations, first commissioned by the author remains unpublished till today.

Translation as Recovery


Now that the flood and other gates have been opened on the midnight o f 31 December 2001, multiple reprints o f the original texts will come out from different publishing houses along with reprints of old translations, or hopefully publications o f new translations. While Rupa and Co has been prompt in capturing the new post-copyright market with reissues o f old and often inadequate translations o f Rabindranath’s books camouflaged with attractive covers, a major project o f fresh translation has been undertaken by Oxford University Press in which three well-edited volumes are now available. The first volume o f this project - The Oxford Tagore Translations - has brought together in 2000 a selection o f freshly translated short stories. The editorial notes, otherwise very useful, however, give no indication that most o f these stories were published earlier in English translation, perhaps more than once. Why are some Tagore texts translated into English more than once, what happens when a long period o f time separates the original from its translation, also the later translation from the earlier, why do later translations generally refrain from admitting that an earlier translation exists, why do they (that is, later translators) hesitate to declare the reasons, if any, for undertaking a new translation - these are some o f the questions and speculations that will be raised (or lowered, depending on the height o f the reader) in this paper.

I The first English translation o f Gora remained unchallenged, or at least, unrivalled, for as many as 73 years. Yet, as Ashis Nandy finally declared what hundreds o f Bengalis - who had read the original as well as the translation - have thought for nearly as many years but never ventured to admit, “it has the worst English translation o f the three [Ghare-Bairey and Char Adhyay being the other two novels Nandy is discussing] and almost invariably disappoints the Englishspeaking reader.”4 Yet again, Professor Nandy may be a leading social psychologist and a provocative occasional literary critic, but his opinion about the first translation o f Gora will be unflatteringly refuted by the readership earned during all these years by the first English Gora. The edition originally issued by Macmillan & Co, London in January 1924 was reprinted fifteen times up to 1976.5 From 1980 onwards, it was reissued by Macmillan India Ltd. in the Macmillan Pocket Tagore edition and reprinted therein at least twice more in 1983 and 1995. All these reprints amply show that the first

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translation o f Gora was quite successful as a publishing venture - even if its quality as a translation may not have been quite satisfactory.6 It was the inadequacy o f the first translation which finally persuaded the second translator to try and improve upon the efforts o f his predecessor/s. As the later translator avers: “The provocation of undertaking the fairly large task o f translating Gora into English was felt many years ago when I first read the earlier translation”7. Elaborating his dissatisfaction with the early English Gora , the second translator says: Reading that translation [ Gora (Mac) ] is not easy, not only because the close-set print further reduced in reproduction causes eye-fatigue, but also because the English used is of various registers, specially in conversation, and frequently lapses into inadequacy. Possibly, while a draft translation was produced by a single person, it passed through several other hands - including that o f the author - and underwent revision at many places before the press-copy was finalized. Such a process would explain the inconsistencies of style and diction.8

Another problem cropped up when the second translation was being planned. On comparing the first translation with the original, it emerged “ that portions o f the original varying in length from a couple o f sentences to a couple o f paragraphs (at one or two places even a couple o f pages) had been left out in the translation. The very opening lines o f the Bangla original are not to be found in that English version.”9 This difference could have been caused by the fact that after the original had been serialized in the Probashi magazine, when it was published as a book in 1909, many portions o f the serialized text were left out by the author - for reasons we still do not know. But while the original began to be restored through the book-length editions o f 1928 and 1941, the translation o f 1924 remained unchanged and therefore incomplete. In his notes to the 1997 translation the second translator has asserted: “Let me claim that if it has no other virtue, at least it is a complete and unabridged rendering o f the standard Bangla text.” 10 The tangled answer to the question who was the first translator of Gora also needs to be sorted out. For more than seventy years the following note has always appeared on the last prelim page before the text: My thanks are due to Surendranath Tagore, who very kindly made the final corrections and revisions for this translation. Any merits it


Translation as Recovery possesses are due to his painstaking efforts to rectify my mistakes. (Translator)

Unless we know who the first person (viz “ My thanks”) is in this note, we cannot easily identify who the last person (i.e., Translator) is. Since he (or she?) is not named, we have to look elsewhere for information. In the brochure for the Tagore Centenary Exhibition 1961 produced by the Lalit Kala Akademi, there is a bibliography where it unequivocally stated that the translation was done by the author. However, in another wing o f the same building (named Rabindra Bhavan) which houses the Lalit Kala Akademi, the Sahitya Akademi published a special Tagore number o f their English journal Indian Literature (Vol. 4, 1961) wherein the bibliography names W.W. Pearson as the translator.11 This is corroborated by the relevant entry in Sahitya Akademi’s muchprized publication A Centenary Edition: Rabindranath Tagore (1 9 6 1).12 The Macmillan edition creates a mystery about the identity o f the translator that has yet to be solved. One would have expected a better example o f publishing ethics from a firm that carries the family name o f a British prime minister. At some level colonization may have meant appropriation with little or no acknowledgement o f what the original was. But then unfortunately, Indian publishers, even in our postcolonial times have also been known at times to dispense with the name o f the translator - at other times, to pretend that the work is no translation, but an original. The identity o f the translator would not normally be a matter for research, unless, to the bilingual reader the translation is at some variance with the original. W.W. Pearson’s involvement with the translation o f Gora is generally known, but not the nature and extent o f such involvement. Despite his keenness to be translated into English, Rabindranath was never very sure how willing the English-reading audience was to concede the validity o f values pervading Indian life and as represented in his fiction. It is on record he told Pearson even as the translation was in progress: I find that English readers have very little patience for scenes and sentiments which are foreign to them; they feel a sort o f grievance for what they do not understand - and they care not to understand whatever is different from their familiar world . . . . This makes me think that after you have done with your translation it will have to be carefully abridged.13


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From whatever else he said around this time, it is not clear whether by ‘abridgement’ Rabindranath meant only a reduction o f extent, or, more seriously, a measure o f purposeful expurgation. Happily, Pearson did not agree and a seemingly full-length Gora (Mac) was published in 1924.14 The deficiencies o f the translation had not escaped the notice o f Rabindranath, but he did nothing about them, beyond explaining to T. Sturge Moore, the British poet in a letter: Pearson did not know enough Bengali to be able to give a correct rendering of the story in English. My nephew Suren revised it, comparing it with the original. Macmillan in their haste only had half of the corrected version and the latter half remains untouched with its ludicrous mistakes and crudities. If you could read the Bengali book you would at once know how extremely unsatisfactory the translation is.15

He had let it pass, so had a reputed publisher like Macmillan. The flawed text kept on being published for the next 76 years, and now that there is no copyright on Rabindranath’s work, at least one other Indian publisher is perpetrating the dissemination o f this incomplete text, using innovative marketing strategies, the latest being the offer o f a combined volume o f three o f Rabindranath’s books in English including Gora - at an incredibly low price. Visva-Bharati as well as Macmillan published all their English translations o f Rabindranath without providing any editorial aid or introductory matter. The new translation of Gora (SA) in 1997 breaks resoundingly with the practice. It carries a one-page Translator’s Preface, a 15-page Introduction to the novel by a critic, and 20 pages o f Translator’s Notes. Since it was still within Visva-Bharati’s copyright, necessary permission was obtained by the Sahitya Akademi - who also sought and was granted permission to reproduce a Rabindranath painting on the cover. Altogether, then it is a completely new book. It may take a long time to catch up with its predecessor’s history o f reprints through eight decades, but as o f now (December 2002), the new Gora has had three reprints in less than five years.

II Our second example o f a Rabindranath novel to be translated into English more than once, Chaturanga , was originally published in four


Translation as Recovery

parts, each with its own heading during the year 1915, in the Bangia magazine Sabuj Patra. Despite its unusual theme and innovative narrative structure, it probably got overshadowed by the novel which followed, Ghare-b aire, serialized in the same magazine the following year. Certainly the latter has drawn more attention over the years and continues to be discussed even today. Chaturanga was translated into English and published with the sub-title ‘A Story in Four Chapters* in the Modern Review in four instalments from February to May 1922. But unanswerable problems begin to appear if we were to ask who translated the work. Indeed, the translation is not very easy to locate in any relevant bibliography because it hides under the title Broken Ties and Other Stories , published by Macmillan in London in 1925.16 It has never been published as a separate volume - is in fact sometimes confused with ‘Broken N est’, the long short story ‘Nashtanirh ’ on which Saytajit Ray based perhaps his finest film Charulata. Even when the Broken Ties selection was reprinted without any change in 1964 by VisvaBharati under the title Boundless Sky, no clue was available on who had translated ‘Broken Ties’ nor on why this particular selection was found fit to be reprinted. But Chaturanga did not admit defeat easily. One translation, using the same title Chaturanga (Quartet) appeared in 1961; another entitled Quartet (Chaturanga) in 1993 .The untold stories behind these two attem pts to restore this work to its proper place among Rabindranath’s works in translation remain to be told. Not here, because significant details o f the story have not yet been disclosed. That two translators should have used the word ‘Quartet ‘ along with the original title seems to be an intriguing co-incidence. The Bangiya Shabdakosh offers half a dozen meanings or implications o f the Bangia term ‘chaturanga’. Some o f these*are (a) a creature owning four limbs; (b) troops consisting o f four units - elephant, horse, chariot, foot soldier; (c) the game o f chess employing four kinds o f counters - the elephant, horse, boat and foot-soldier; (d) simply, a four-footed animal. These meanings may have been available to the highly educated Asok Mitra, when he was translating Chaturanga. When he chose ‘Quartet’ as the title, he could not but have thought o f the European term which meant ‘four or more musicians performing together.’ There is no support for such a performance in Rabindranath’s narrative, but this is not the first time that translated title o f an Indian novel has misled the reader, consciously or otherwise.

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The 1961 translation, done by Asok Mitra (the Delhi bureaucrat, not the Calcutta diarist) carries a Translator’s Note, but no clue is offered as to why a new translation was called for. The translator makes it a personal matter when he concludes his note thus : “ In the centenary year o f Tagore’s birth I thought I should pay Chaturanga my homage with this feeble translation.” That is as feeble an excuse as any for this undertaking. It should also be noted that the work was published on behalf o f Sahitya Akademi by M. Seshachalam & Co of M adras.17 How did the Sahitya Akademi come into the picture ? This is only 1961 and M acm illan’s stranglehold on publishing all Rabindranath translations into English was very much in place. Perhaps Macmillan were unhappy with the first translation (o f 1925) about which not much is heard, and waived their right in favour o f Sahitya Akademi. Apart from the translation itself, which is wholly adequate, the translator offers a valuable insight when he points out: The Bengali quatrain or payar, itself based on the rhythm o f the Santhal drum, and the classical four-part musical form were o f inexhaustible interest to Tagore. Creator of the world’s largest and most varied corpus o f leider and song cycles, he constructed many o f his stories and novellas in four parts: exposition, developm ent, variation and recapitulation. He was deeply attached to this form, its varying rhythm and speeds, and used it repeatedly not in his early stories, but in the most powerful novella of his early fifties (1914-15) Chaturanga. He returned to it with renewed power in his seventies in Malancha, Dui Bon and Char Adhyay.

Obviously, Asok Mitra was not only a translator but also an alert reader o f Rabindranath, fully capable o f directing others how to read him. The third translation o f Chaturanga appeared in London in 1993 and immediately claimed several ‘firsts’ to its credit. For one thing, it could not be distributed in India because o f copyright restriction. Then, by occupying one o f the first six slots in Heinemann Educational Publisher’s ‘Asian Writers Series’ it sought to project Rabindranath as an ‘Asian’ writer. Yet another - it was the first o f Rabindranath’s fictional works to be translated three times within 76 years - and this suggests that the novella has continued to be held in high esteem. Again, Kaiser Haq, the latest translator, does not mention (nor does the series editor) the earlier translations. To what do we attribute such amnesia? It is difficult to believe Haq did not know at least about the


Translation as Recovery

1961 translation. He had titled his work '‘Quartet (Chaturanga) ‘which neatly inverts what Asok Mitra had done. But then, in his introduction, Haq asserts that the original is “virtually unknown outside the native Bengal o f the author.” Can this really be so, when at least two translations were published in Gujarati, five in Hindi, one each in Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu? Perhaps the original was more unknown to Haq than it was to others, therefore his discovery o f Chaturanga is so fresh and his translation o f it so enthusiastic. It would be difficult to persuade those who can or have read Rabindranath’s other fiction to agree with the General Editor o f the Heinemann Asian Writers Series that Chaturanga is “ Rabindranath Tagore’s most skilfully constructed and lively classic” or with the translator that “ it is one o f the greatest novellas o f world literature.” The latter mentions, but tantalizingly does not name, “a few discerning critics” who have believed for a long time that this novella is artistically more satisfying than Rabindranath’s longer and more celebrated novels. Such belief, or even the citation o f it can hardly be challenged, now that we have learnt after our new Ayodhya-kanda that matters o f belief are beyond the purview even of law courts. Is it possible that Haq who taught English Literature at Dhaka University at that time and had already published several volumes o f his own English poems, was commissioned to do this translation and did not engage in it entirely on his own. If this be so, then it is yet another distinction won by the text. All too often admirers o f Rabindranath readily translate him (into English) without being urged to do so, often even without any thought or hope o f publication. The present instance is even more precious because, while Rabindranath has generally been translated only by Indians (except a few Englishmen like Edward Thompson, also perhaps W.W. Pearson long ago and W illiam Radice quite recently), Kaiser Haq must be the first Bangladeshi to have done a full length translation o f Rabindranath’s work and to be published by a firm that has an international distribution system. Given that the purpose of the Heinemann Asian Writers Series is, according to the editor Ranjana Sidhanta Ash, to “place modern Asian writing within the broad spectrum o f contemporary world literature” the presence of Rabindranath here is somewhat baffling. His first published work ( Kavi-Kahini, a verse narative) goes back to 1878; his earliest plays were written around 1880 or earlier; his first

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novel ( Bou-takuranir haat) was published in 1883. Does he really qualify as a ‘modem’ Asian writer who is part o f ‘contemporary’ world literature? The other writers in this introductory six-pack offer by Heinemann are Shaukat Osman (Bangla), Thakazhi Sivashankara Pillai (Malayalam), Altaf Fatima (Urdu), Asokamitran (Tamil) and Susham Bedi (Hindi) - unlikely company for Rabindranath who was nearly forty when the twentieth century began. But whatever be the circumstances o f Chaturanga being rendered once again in English towards the end of the twentieth century, the translation done by Kaiser Haque is excellent - certainly better than the earlier attempt. He may not have the critical insights of Asok Mitra - his Introduction does not add to our understanding o f the novel - but he handles the challenging sections o f the novel with the confidence o f a poet, as for example the famous cave-scene where Damini attempts to seduce Sachish. Haque’s English version is as eerie as the original. At other places where the language soars without provocation, deliberately blurring the story-line, Haque manfully rises to the occasion, and succeeds in the mam.

Ill Our third instance - Char Adhyay - was titled Four Chapters in English translation, but in the process of its journey from one language to the other so many more chapters got involved in its publication, revision and dissemination that perhaps a larger figure than ‘four’ would be more appropriate. The first draft of the original was completed by Rabindranath in Kandy, Sri Lanka, in early 1934. Even as he was writing it, he was apprehensive that - as with Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s novel Pather Dabi (1926), the British government would ban it when published (in Bangla). As a precaution, Rabindranath wanted that an English translation should appear abroad before the Bangla original was published at home. He urged the poet and scholar Amiya Chakravarty, then studying at Oxford, to undertake this task. Chakravarty was happy to take on the assignment and working on the hand-written copy of the original Bangla manuscript, completed the translation - after producing four drafts - and the final typing was in progress in December 1934. At this juncture, Rabindranath tossed a bomb at this acolyte of his when he wrote to Chakravarty on 6 January 1935:


Translation as Recovery I have got Char Adhyay [in Bangla] published. I don’t think the authorities have any valid reason to ban it now. If they do give trouble, that would be sheer stupidity. I see no reason to guard myself against stupidity. And now that the original has got published, there is no reason to have it translated. (My translation)

The enormity o f the injustice done to Amiya Chakravarty on this matter remains as inexplicable as it is unforgiveable.1A ccording to Rimli Bhattacharya, the most recent translator o f the same novel, Chakravarty’s version “has not been traced”, but if she had persisted, she would have found it in the Ravindra Bhavan archives at Santiniketan. When Char Adhyay was first published in Bangla in 1934 , the British government hardly took any notice o f it, but fellow Bengalis raised an outcry about Rabindranath prefacing the text with a piece entitled ‘Abhash’ wherein the author had described his last meeting with a former colleague (at Santiniketan) turned political activist named Brahmabandhab Upadhyay. At the end o f this meeting he says to the author “ Robi Babu, 1 have fallen greatly.” Nationalist Bengal found this to be a recantation and, in response to their collective protest Rabindranath decided to withdraw the piece and replace it with a piece which directed readers to note that “the only thing that may properly be called the theme o f this narrative is the love between Ela and Atindra”, disavowing its political concern. Meanwhile other players joined the fray. Rabindranath had spent the summer o f 1937 at Almora as the house-guest o f a Bengali scientist Bashishwar Sen and his American wife Gertrude Emerson Sen, who had for many years represented The Asia Magazine in India. When she heard about the situation o f the English translation o f Char Adhyay , she negotiated its publication in that magazine. At this time Rathindranath, the poet’s only son, was handling such matters, and we find him writing to Mrs. Sen on 15 August 1936 : He [Father] read thoroughly the translation done by Mr. [Amiya] Chakravarty and felt that the book deserved to be translated by himself. So, assisted by my cousin Mr. Surendranath Tagore, who has great experience in translating father’s works, he set himself to the task. The work was completed. . . .

And this was the manuscript which he sent to Mrs. Sen. By now she and her husband had got so involved in the project that they contributed

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their mite o f editorial labour. On 2 September 1936, she wrote to Rabindranath: In reading over the version that has been sent to me, I feel that the translation definitely misses something in many passages. Where I have not felt satisfied with the wording and have asked Boshi to translate the Bengali text, I have found that changes have been made which are for the worse. Now I know that already much time has passed, and that one or two persons have tried their hand at the translation, and there is not much time for trying to improve what has been done but still, I do not like to forward this translation without attempting to make a number of small changes.19

Accordingly, she made a number o f changes lightly in pencil and offered to send the manuscript back to Rabindranath so that he could see and approve (or not approve) the alterations made by her. In response, Rabindranath sent her a telegram on 5 September 1936, which said, “Edit as freely as you desire. Need not send here.” We may therefore conclude that Surendranath’s hurried translation, examined cursorily by Rabindranath (or was it the other way around?) with changes effected by Mrs. Sen, is what actually appeared in The Asia Magazine. In due course Visva-Bharati (and not Macmillan India), reproduced this text in a slim booklet (86 pages). No translator or publication date is mentioned, but responsible bibliographies suggest this happened in 1950. Just over fifty years later we now have a new translation o f Char Adhyay which is likely to set a model for translations that will follow. Translated by Rimli Bhattachaya and published by Srishti (New D elhi), this is a far m ore com olete translation than any o f Rabindranath’s fiction published over all these years by Macmillan (London or New York or India) or even by Visva Bharati. One will find here all that one needs for a comprehensive though preliminary reading o f the novella - translation o f the prelude ( =bhumika) as it appears in the Rabindra Rachanabali edition o f the work; the text itself; some textual notes; the pre-text (= abhash), a response (= kaifiyat). The title-page promises us an ‘Afterword’, which is absent; instead, what we have is a long essay ‘On Translating Char Adhyay ’ As in the previous instances, Rimli Bhattacharya does not tell us specifically why she undertook this new rendering, but as we read her long essay we become aware that she worked as production co­ ordinator during 1995-96 when Kumar Shahani was making a film


Translation as Recovery

based on the Bangla novel Char Adhyay, and this could have been the initial reason why she set off to newly translate the novella into English.The termination of any copyright restriction on Rabindranath’s work has enabled her to get this version published without let or hindrance.

IV These three examples of Rabindranath’s novels which have been through more than one incarnations in English will have demonstrated how behind each publication o f a translation there are varied circumstances and multiple motivations that leave their traces on the final product. Many more as yet unknown stories may be lurking behind, in and around the translations that we read and teach. These stories are not extraneous - they form part o f the history o f Tagore translation. A few years ago Visva-Bharati organised a seminar on ‘Tagore in Translation’. It may be worth while for Visva-Bharati to institute a research course to explore how these translations came into being. N otes 1. These novels are: Bou-thakuranir Haat, 1883; Chokher Bali, 1903; Naukadubi, 1906; Gora, 1910; Chaturanga, 1916; Ghare-baire, 1916; Jogajog, 1929; Shesher Kabita, 1929; Char Adhyay, 1934. Chokher Bali as well as Shesher Kabita were translated by Krishna Kripalani as Binodini (Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi 1959) and Farewell, My Friend (New India Publishing Company, London 1948) respectively. Kripalani also translated two novellas by Tagore: Dui Bon (1933) as Two Sisters (first published in Hindustan Standard Puja Special, 1943, later as a book by Visva-Bharati, 1945) and Malancha (1934) as The Garden (Jaico Publishing Hosue, Bombay, 1956). Rabindranath’s three long stories ‘Rabibar’, ‘Shesh Katha’ and ‘Laboratory’ published together as a book Teen Sangi (1940 was rendered into English by Sujit Mukherjee as Three Comapnions (Orient Longman, Delhi, 1992). [The last of Tagore's novels to be translated into English is Jogajog. Hiten Bhaya's English rendering titled Yogayog (Nexus) was published by Rupa & Co., Delhi, in 2003. Two new translations of Chokher Bali (1903) also came out in 2003, exactly hundred years after the original Bangla, prompted by the popularity of a film version of the novel directed by Ritupamo Ghosh. These are A Grain of Sand, translated by Sreejata Guha (Delhi: Penguin Books India) and Chokher Bali, translated by Radha

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Chakrabarty (Delhi: Srishti). Ed.] 2. Publishing gossip in Kolkata will affirm that a couple o f Bengali publishers, who were ready with their editions o f many o f Rabindranath’s works, went bankrupt because the copyright privilege was extended for another ten years unilaterally by the Government o f India. 3. No reader o f this essay is likely to be old enough to remember the name ‘Kuntalin’ as a manufacturer of hair oil and also a sponsor o f literary prizes. 4. The Illegitimacy o f Nationalism (OUP, Delhi, 1994), p. 9. 5. Hereafter, this text has been cited as Gora (Mac) when necessary, in order to distinguish it from the later translation. 6. Macmillan London must have been happy enough with sales for them not to relinquish republication rights of the full text until 1980. But they permitted their Indian branch to bring out a simplified and abridged edition after 40 years. In this highly attenuated form (the original 406 pages reduced to 102), it was issued in 1964 in the Macmillan ‘Stories to Remember’ series, and 23 impressions o f this were produced between 1967 and 1995. The adapter was one ‘E.P. Dodd’ whose brief preface concludes thus: “It is hoped that this abridged adaptation of the book will prove o f value and interest to senior pupils in schools where English is taught as a foreign language” 7. ‘Translator’s Notes,’ Gora, tr. Sujit Mukherjee, (New Delhi, Sahitya Akademi, 1997), p. 478. Hereafter, this text has been cited as Gora (SA). 8. Ibid, pp. 478-79. 9. Ibid, p. 479. This was brought forcefully home to me one afternoon - in 1995 or 1996 - when I had been invited by Harish Trivedi (Professor of English, Delhi University) to talk to his M. Phil students about translation. I read out my rendering of the opening paragraph o f Gora then in typescript, and the entire class protested that my material was not present in the time-honoured Macmillan-published version they were carrying. 10. Ibid., p. 479. 11. William Winstanley Pearson (1881-1923), a Christian missionary in India, lost faith in the usual missionary work. He met Rabindranath in London while on sick leave in 1912 and later left the London Missionary Society in Kolkata to join the school at Santiniketan as a teacher in 1914. He accompanied Rabindranath on a couple o f his trips abroad as the poet’s secretary but otherwise looked upon Santiniketan as his home. He translated several reflective prose works o f Rabindranath into English, also some short stories. 12. To add to the confusion, in my doctoral dissertation on Rabindranath’s five visits to the U.S. published under the title Passage to America


13. 14. 15.


17. 18.


Translation as Recovery (1964), I nominated a Tagore nephew Surendranath, for the honour. But I can no longer recall why and on what evidence I did so. Rabindranath to Pearson (1922) Visva-Bharati Quarterly IX: 2 (AugustOctober 1943) pp. 178-9. Pearson did not live to see this. He fell out o f a moving railway train and died in Italy in September 1923. From letter o f 20 May 1924 to Sturge Moore from Peking, China; quoted in Selected Letters o f Rabindranath Tagore, ed. Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 311. The other stories in this volume are ‘In the N ight’ (Nishithey), ‘The Fugitive Gold’ (Swarnamriga) ‘The Editor’ (Sampadak), ‘Giribala’ (Manbhanjan), ‘The Lost Jewels’ (Manihara); the last item is a poem ‘Emancipation’ (Parishodh). My copy belongs to the third edition o f 1974, and I presume this translation has sold remarkably well. Those who have access to Bangla can check the details o f this episode for themselves by looking up the following: Bijit Kumar Datta, ‘Rabindra-rachanar anubad charcha: Rabindranath O Amiya Charkravarty’, Saraswat, XVI: 3 (Kartik-Pous 1390), pp. 249-77. Naresh Guha, ed. Kobir Chithi Kobikey: Rabindranath-ke Amiya Chakrabarty (Kolkata, Papyrus, 1995); Sumita Chakravarty, ‘Rabindra-upanyaser ekti upekhhita anubad,’ Jaladarchi V: 3-4, July-December, 2001. From original letter in the Gertrue Emerson Sen File, Rabindra Bhavana, Santiniketan.

9 Rabindranath into Tagore: The Translated Poet Most o f us know or believe that Rabindranath Thakur wrote verse and drama and other literature in the Bangla language. Yet if somebody who knows nothing about him were to pick up a copy o f The Collected Poems and Plays o f Rabindranath Tagore (first published 1937, with the poet’s consent and approval), practically nothing in the volume would indicate that Rabindranath wrote poems and plays in any language other than in English. Only an .unusually alert reader would find a clue in the introductory note' preceding the play Chitra where it is stated that the author had “gone through the translation” . But even that reader would have to find out from other sources what the original language o f composition was. Either the publishers were somewhat careless;2 or, the author was covertly claiming a place among Englishlanguage poets and playwrights. Whatever be the reason for such obfuscation, it represents a problem Rabindranath continues to face for having lived and died in British India. I find his predicament embodied most tellingly in the fact that while in Bengal he was known as Robi Thakur, the rest o f the world came to know him as Rabindranath Tagore. Using one surname in Bengali circles and another in an Englishlanguage context became a fairly common practice in Bengal soon after the East India Company settled firmly there, and that practice continues even today*. The two surnames o f Rabindranath presented a special instance o f this double identity because ‘Kushari’ and not ‘Thakur’ was the family name o f his ancestors. Some o f them were Presented as the Keynote address at a conference on ‘Tagore in Translation’ organized by Visvabharati University, Santiniketan in March 1998. * Even I, who don’t often write and publish in Bangla, would get nominated as ‘Mukhopadhyay’ in that language.


Translation as Recovery

addressed respectfully as ‘Thakur’ because they were Brahmans, and it was this term which got distorted into ‘Tagore’ when they came into contact with British and other foreign merchants with whom they traded. Rabindranath thus inherited this westernised family name and did not fashion it for himself. Nor did he, in order to emulate the British, seek to begin his career as a writer by trying to compose literature in their language as was done briefly by Maikel [Michael] Madhusudan Datta and Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, both o f whom began their literary careers in English and later changed to Bangla. Rabindranath made no such false start. Though he had had no formal schooling in English, he learnt the language at home and used it effectively enough in social intercourse when he grew up. On his first two trips to England, in 1878-80 (when he was not even twenty years old) and again briefly in 1890, he developed an interest in western life and culture but nurtured no ambition to make any mark upon it. Yet, when he went to England for the third time twenty-two years later, he carried with him manuscripts in English of “a mass o f poems . . . a collection of essays and short stories . . . a certain number o f plays and dramatic dialogues.”3 Until then it was not Rabindranath himself but some o f his friends and admirers who had sought to float a second career for him in English. Rather than his poetry or drama, it was his short fiction which attracted translators. Among them was Jadunath Sarkar, who took time off from his historical researches to translate stories. (See “Victorious in Defeat”, published in December 1911; “The Supreme Night”, June 1912; “The River Stairs”, October 1912). The storywriter Prabhatkumar Mukhopadhyay (not to be confused with the b io g rap h er o f the same nam e) was another instrum ent for Rabindranath’s short fiction getting into English - see “The Riddle Solved” (December 1909), “The Skeleton” (March 1910), “The Trust Property” (May 1910). Even Sister Nivedita, the Englishwoman who became a disciple o f Swami Vivekananda, participated in this literarynationalist enterprise by translating “The Cabuliwallah” (January 1912).4 All these stories and many others appeared in the monthly magazine The Modern Review edited and published by Ramananda Chattopadhyay. This magazine was also the stage which saw Surendranath Tagore’s translation o f the Bengali ‘new age’ novel Chokher Bali appear under the title Eyesore in twelve instalments from January to December 1914. By then, o f course, a Nobel Prize for Literature had been awarded to Rabindranath and, thereafter, reading

Rabindranath into Tagore: The Translated Poet


him in English translation became part o f any educated Indian’s experience. For some years, these translations were equally widely read in England and America. Until 1912, however, he could not have been read much outside Bengal and not at all outside the country. When the painter William Rothenstein visited the Kolkata home o f the Tagores to meet the fellow painters Abanindranath and Gaganendranath, he did not really know that their uncle - whom he also met - was a famous Bengali writer. Most o f the translations that had appeared so far were o f his stories and very little o f his poetry had ever been translated. Either there was an unwritten ban on translating the verse or most translators felt daunted by the difficulties o f the task. Shyamal Kumar Sarkar has cited a letter Rabindranath wrote to his friend the scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose, in which the poet has explicitly discouraged translation o f his work into English: “But are you sure that stripped o f the dress o f Bengali language she [my poetry] will not be like Draupadi publicly humiliated?”5. Carried away by his own rhetoric here, Rabindranath has overlooked the fact that translation results in a change o f dress rather than causes any disrobing altogether - which is what Draupadi had been threatened with in Dhritarashtra’s court. His reluctance weakened, however, over the next decade. Possibly, Ajitkumar Chakravarty, a teacher at Santiniketan school o f the early days, was his first translator (of some poems) and was responsible for the first published translation o f a Tagore poem ( ‘The Country o f the “ Found-Everything” ’) in a noted liberal weekly in England, The Nation, on 15th June, 1912, though his other translations do not ever seem to have been published. Som etim e after M arch 1912 Rabindranath began translating his own poems and songs into English. The first such collection, named Gitanjali and privately published from London in November 1912, launched a Bengali poet’s English career. Strictly speaking, an effort at second-hand had been made much earlier, also in England, to introduce this Bengali poet to English readers abroad. The effort was made by one Roby Dutta, then a student at Cambridge (and later a well-known teacher o f English Literature at C alcutta University)» who compiled an anthology o f his own* translations entitled Echoes from East and West (Galloway & Porter, Cambridge, 1909). Its aim, he said, in the opening sentence o f his preface, was “to produce on an English gramophone some o f the finest records o f Indo-European songs”6 in which eleven pieces by one “ Roby Tagore” were included. At least eight o f these eleven were


Translation as Recovery

songs composed by Rabindranath, thus fulfilling the compiler's general claim about the contents o f the volume. Whether o f the poems or o f the songs, the translations did not please Rabindranath. Roby Dutta apparently presented a copy o f the volume to the poet sometime in 1911 and we find Rabindranath writing to a friend about his disapproval o f the translations which were “not worth showing to anybody else. 1 don’t think that my poems can be rendered properly into English . . . certainly not in rhymed verse. Maybe it can be done in plain prose. When I go to England I shall try my hand at it.”7 This letter carries the date 1st Jaistha o f the Bengali era 1319, which would correspond to 14th May 1912, barely a fortnight before he sailed from the then Bombay. We know from another letter written a year later to his favourite niece Indira Debi that well before reaching England he had started translating his own poems into English when he went to Shiladaha for rest during March-April 1912: “Yet I did not have the energy to sit down and write anything new. So I took up the poems o f Gitanjali [the collection o f poems in Bangla bearing this title was published in 1910] and set m yself to translate them one by one . . . The pages o f a small exercise book came to be filled gradually.”8 He carried this exercise-book with him when he boarded the ship for England towards the end o f May 1912, thinking that whenever he felt restless during the trip he “would recline on a deck-chair and set myself to translate one or two poems from time to time. From one exercise-book I passed to another.” (ibid) These must constitute the ‘mass o f poems’ along with essays, stories and plays that were submitted to Macmillan & Co. later that year in London. The poems were undoubtedly translated by the poet, while the other material represented the work of many translators. However, in an earlier paragraph o f the same letter (of 6 May 1913), Rabindranath writes: “That 1 cannot write English is such a patent fact, that I have never had even the vanity to feel ashamed o f it. If anybody wrote an English note asking me to tea, I never felt equal to answering it. Perhaps you think that by now I have gotten over that delusion, but in no way am I deluded that I have composed in English.”9 This letter is particularly 'significant in view o f his subsequent denials. After spending June to October most usefully in England, Rabindranath crossed the Atlantic to New York, then travelled half across the top o f America to reach Urbana, a very small university town in the state o f Illinois. The letters he wrote from here to William Rothenstein contain numerous references to his continuing translation

Rabindranath into Tagore: The Translated Poet


activities. Thus, “I send you herewith the translation o f a poem, the story o f which is based upon an episode o f the Ramayana ” (15 December 1912); “Don’t you think I should carefully go through the translations that are ready for the next book?” (23 December 1912); “I am sending you some more o f my translations. . . I have sent some translations to Mr.Ezra Pound” (6 January 1913); “I send you some more o f my translations o f which Nos. 6 ,7 , 8 ,9 and 13 have been sent to “Poetry” in Chicago for publication” (13 January 1913); “I have been experimenting with translation o f various kinds o f my poem s.. . ” (14 February 1913); “1 have done revising all my translations I had in hand and Rathi is busy typing them. . . You will find among them a large number o f new ones and most o f the old ones considerably altered” (15 March 1913).10 All these references are to the translation o f his poems, but he was also translating from his Bangla prose as well as writing out lectures or essays in English. Soon after reaching Urbana he writes to Rothenstein “I send you with this letter a translation o f a prose speech o f mine” (23 November 1912),11 and four months later he explained to Ajitkumar Chakravarty that he spent the mornings writing out his lectures and the rest o f the day translating his poems.12 By August 1913 he was able to report to Ajitkumar Chakravarty, “I wished to publish a second part to Gitanjali - and for a book I have sufficient material with me”, but Yeats and other friends had advised him to produce something quite different; “ I have therefore made a new offering o f love poems and lyrics o f some other types selected out o f Kshanika, Chitra, Sonar Tari etc.” 13 These would go into the second collection, The Gardener, 14 on receiving a printed copy o f which Rothenstein wrote to Rabindranath: “Need 1 tell you what a delight it is to have a second noble volume to lie beside Gitanjali on my bookshelf? It still seems a kind o f miracle that all this fruitful work should have been done since you came to us in Europe.” 15 Miracle or not, it seems fairly evident that Rabindranath had gone to England well-prepared to explore the possibility o f making his mark as a writer there. The unexpected success o f the first public reading o f his poetry in English16 would have convinced him that he was on the right track, and the American sojourn which followed seemed to have confirmed his expectations. He wrote to Rothenstein from Urbana in January 1913: “But I will have to run back home as soon as the publications o f my books are arranged. I was planning on staying on in Europe for two or three years. But this will not be possible.” 17 Where did he plan to stay and what did he intend doing


TYanslation as Recovery

during those ‘two or three years’? His ‘Europe’ is obviously an extension o f England, but does it include America as well? We do not know. What we do know is Macmillan & Co. re-issued the English Gitanjali (published privately earlier) in March 1913, followed by The Gardener and The Crescent Moon in September 1913. By that time he had returned home and, before the year ran out, was awarded that year’s Nobel Prize for literature. It certainly made him more wellknown in Europe and America than he could ever have planned. Within India the impact o f the prize was so great that translations o f the English Gitanjali began to appear in the Indian languages - into Urdu in 1914 , published from Delhi; into Marathi in 1917 from Mumbai; into Gujarati in 1918 , from Valsad; into Malayalam in 1926 , from Chennai18 - and Rabindranath began to be known as a poet elsewhere in the country as well. As for his English career, the Nobel award provided powerful incentive to his publishers to issue more o f his works as quickly as possible in English. As many as thirty volumes appeared over the next eighteen years. O f these, only three more were in verse - Fruit Gathering (1916), Lover's Gift and Crossing (1918), and The Fugitive (1921). That is, while in Bengal he was best known and loved as a poet and song-writer, this was not represented in English as the major segment o f his literary achievements. Indeed, outside Bengal but within India, it is most likely that he was first recognised as a short-story writer because, 1914 onwards, his stories in English translation began to be included in text books in Indian schools and colleges. At present, in these our nearly post-print media times, he figures most prominently in the public mind, at home as well as abroad, as the source o f many Satyajit Ray films - the three-tiered “ Teen Kanya'\ the exquisite “Charulata”, the controversial “ Gharey Bairey”. Yet another film, based on Char Adhyay, has so far remained an unopened chapter. The name o f W.B. Yeats is closely associated with the rise o f Rabindranath’s renown in the West. There is periodic reference to our poet in Yeats’s correspondence from 1912 to 1915, after which Rabindranath seems to have disappeared for many years from that poet’s ken. When Yeats was approached for a contribution to the volume celebrating Rabindranath’s seventieth birthday,19 he was unwilling to participate in the formality and wrote to Rothenstein: “ Probably I shall send nothing because I hate sending mere empty compliments and have time for nothing else. I shall write to Tagore privately.”20 What he did write, privately or otherwise, was made public in The Golden Book , and that was perhaps the finest tribute to

Rabindranath into Tagore: The Translated Poet


be paid in this large volume: “I . . .want to tell you that I am still your most loyal student and admirer.”(p. 269) That this was no idle tribute, Yeats demonstrated by including six poems o f Rabindranath in the Oxford Book o f Modern Verse: 1892-1935 (New York, 1936)21 edited by him. Giving reasons for many o f the inclusions and omissions in the long introductory essay he wrote for the anthology, Yeats justified his choosing o f Rabindranath as one o f the “notable translators” o f this period. Some twenty years earlier Yeats had, in his celebrated introduction o f 1912 to the English Gitanjali remarked upon “these prose translations from Rabindranath Tagore.” From this time onwards, so far as we know, Rabindranath seemed reluctant to allow anybody else to translate his verse. Quite rightly, because what he did to his own poetry in English could hardly have been ventured by somebody else. Whoever has read the English versions alongside the originals has been struck by the wide and numerous liberties Rabindranath took in representing his own Bangla. That he was not doing so unconsciously is recorded firmly and uncontestably in a letter he wrote to Ajitkumar Chakravarty on March 13, 1913: “My right with regard to my own works is not o f an adventitious sort. Had it been otherwise than inherent, I would have, unlike what I do, to account for each word I use. I intend to carry the essential substance o f my poetry in the English translation, and this means a wide divergence from the original.” (The Bangla original o f this letter is in the Rabindra-Bhavana, Santiniketan.). We cannot easily tell from such a statement whether he was proposing a new concept o f translation, or was it a process he was recommending to poets who translate their own poetry. His own preference grew so strong that the latter three o f his six volumes o f verse do not mention that they are translations. The issue did not matter to the British or American reader because few o f them knew any Bangla; similarly, a growing number of non-Bengali Indians accepted the English versions as originals. Whether it is the letter to Ajitkumar Chakravarty or in the statement made to Dineshchandra Sen,22 it seems unbelieveable that Rabindranath’s unease or diffidence about translating his own printed works into English should have been expressed as early as JanuaryMarch 1913. Soon after this came the deluge-adoration, appreciation, veneration from the Western world which his English publisher capitalized on relentlessly.23 The Fugitive (1921) was the last collection o f Rabindranath’s own translated verse to be published abroad. By that time his reputation in the Western world had begun


Translation as Recovery

flagging and he was content to have only his short stories and novels in translation and some essays and discourses written originally in English to extend his second career in another language. The Bengali writer Rabindranath’s English-language career as Tagore settled down after the 1920s with not too many upsurges disrupting the flow o f what he himself wrote in English or what he got published in English translation. But his discomfort about what he had him self translated continued to grow. To know more about this, those who have access to Bangla should read Bikash Chakravarty’s closely argued and abundantly supported article “C ollected Poems: Rabindranother ingreji rachana (T he E nglish W ritings o f Rabindranath)”. Here amid other evidence, Bikash has serially arranged extracts from letters o f Rabindranath to Amiya Chakravarty which demonstrate how our Bengali poet was becoming increasingly aware o f his deficiencies as a translator o f his own works.24 Perhaps the most rueful o f these belated regrets was poetically imaged in his letter o f January 6, 1935: You probably know when a calf dies, the mother-cow stops producing milk. At that time, the calf-skin is stuffed with straw to make an artificial creature, on seeing whom and smelling the resemblance, the cow’s udders begin filling with milk again. Translation is like that figure o f the dead calf - it deceives, but cannot allure.25

On April 10, 1935 he wrote to Edward Thompson about his own translations: While going through them as appearing in different books, I was startled with the slipshod character o f most o f their number and strongly felt the desire for a ruthless excision. I have done gross injustice to my original productions partly owing to my incompetence partly to carelessness.26

Two months later, on 11 June 1935, he is writing to T. Sturge Moore, British poet and long term Tagore-buff: 1 am no longer young and I have had ample time to realise the futility o f going out of one’s natural sphere for winning recognition. Languages are jealous sovereigns, and passports are rarely allowed for travellers to cross their strictly guarded boundaries. . .Translations, however clever, can only transfigure dancing into acrobatic tricks, in most cases playing treason against the majesty o f the original. I often imagine apes to be

Rabindranath into Tagore: The Translated Poet


an attempt by the devil o f a translator to render human form in the mould o f his own outlandish idiom . . . As for myself, I ought never to have intruded into your realm of glory with my offering, hastily giving them a foreign shine and certain assumed gestures familiar to you. I have done thereby injustice to myself and to the shrine of the muse which proudly claims flowers from its own climate and culture. There is something humiliating in such an indecent hurry o f impatience clamouring for one’s immediate dues in wrong time and out o f the way places.27

Our poet’s hold upon English grammar and syntax is under some stress here, but there is no mistaking his regret at and repentance for having exceeded himself. Or, have I read this letter wrongly? As we know from Bikash Chakravarty’s careful reconstruction, preparations for publishing Collected Poems began in 1934. Three years later he allowed (I presume he was asked and he agreed) the publication o f the volume mentioned at the outset, the Collected Poems and Plays o f Rabindranath Tagore?* Unlike the translated man celebrated by Salman Rushdie, R abindranath was very securely housed in Santiniketan and hermetically at home in India, despite his frequent trips to various parts o f the globe. That his writngs have been and continue to be translated into other languages o f the world makes him, literally a translated poet. N otes 1. On p. 122 of my copy which belongs to the 1961 imprint. Even that reader may be misled by the title Chitra which belongs in the original to a collection o f poems. Here it represents a play entitled Chitrangada in the original. 2. The word ‘collected’ in the title is wrongly used. All the poems and plays in English available at that time are not present in this volume. 3. From Charles Whibley’s report (as reader) to Macmillan & Co. in London in November 1912; quoted in Mary M.Lago, Im perfect Encounter:Letters o f William Rothenstein and Rabindranath Tagore (Cambridge, Mass. 1972); pp. 21-22. 4. Mostly in The Modern Review where at least sixteen stories appeared during the period 1910-12. Among the translators were such distinguished names as that of Jadunath Sarkar and Bipinchandra Pal, Prabhatkumar Mukhopadhyay and Rajaniranjan Sen.


Translation as Recovery

5. This letter was orginaliy written in Bangla. Translated into English by Shyamal Kumar Sarkar in his essay “Tagore on Translation”, VisvaBharati Quarterly, 43: 1-2 (1977), 69. 6. This volume was brought to my notice by Bikash Chakravarty. 7. Letter dated Jaistha 1,1319 o f the Bengali era corresponding to May 14, 1912, written to Pramathalal Sen . A photocopy of the original Bangla letter is available in Rabindra-Bhavana (Santiniketan) about which I first learnt from Bikash Chakravarty. 8. Letter dated May 6, 1913 from London; extract reproduced in A Tagore Reader, edited by Amiya Chakravarty (New York, 1961), pp. 20-21. 9. Ibid. 10. For these letters, see Lago, Imperfect Encounter, op.cit.; pp. 75, 78, 86, 99 and 103. 11. Ibid, p. 65. 12. Translated by Shyamal Kumar Sarkar in “Tagore on Translation”, op. cit.; 75. 13. Ibid.; 84-85. 14. For a detailed study o f how this volume was put together, see Shyamal Kumar Sarkar, “The Shaping o f The Gardener”, Visva-Bharati Quarterly, 48: 1-4 (May 1982-April 1983); 293-333. 15. Letter dated October 15,1913; see Lago, Imperfect Encounter, op.cit.; p. 126. 16. By W.B. Yeats at Rothenstein’s house on July 7, 1912. The listeners included T. Sturge Moore, Ernest Rhys, Alice Meynell, Henry Nevinson, May Sinclair, C.F. Andrews. For further details, see Bikash Chakravarty, “Tagore’s London 1912-1913”, Visva-Bharati Quarterly, 48:1-4 (May 1982-April 1983); 30-52. 17. See Lago, Imperfect Encounter, op.cit.; p. 88. 18. Information about these translations has been drawn from Section II of the bibliography prepared for the catalogue of the Tagore Centenary Exhibition 1961, organised by Lalit Kala Akademi. 19. The Golden Book O f Tagore ed. Ramananda Chatterjee (Calcutta, 1931). 20. Letter o f September 4, 1930, quoted in William Rothenstein, Men and Memories, vol. 2 (New York, 1932); p. 179. 21. These poems are respectively, Gitanjali, lxxvi, lxxix, xciii, lxiv; The Gardener, xvii, lxii, and Gitanjali: lxxv. See introduction, p. xi for comment on Rabindranath. 22. Tagore to Dineshchandra Sen [January 1913?]; cited in Mahasweta Sengupta, “Translation as Manipulation” in Between Languages and Cultures, eds., Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier (Delhi, 1996); p. 169. 23. Just to get an idea, I cite from Mahasweta Sengupta’s notes which mention some figures from sale of Rabindranath’s books as ascertained

Rabindranath into Tagore: The Translated Poet

24. 25. 26. 27. 28.


on February 3, 1914: Gitanjali, 19,320 copies, Crescent Moon 4200 copies, The Gardener 6080 copies. These do not include Indian sales figures. See “Translation as Manipulation”, Ibid.; Visva-Bharati Patrika, Shravan-Paush 1392 (1985); 275-292. The letters cited run from October 23, 1934 to February 9, 1937. Ibid.; 279 From an unpublished letter quoted in Uma Dasgupta, “Rabindranath Tagore in an East-West Encounter”, Evam, 1:1-2 (2002); 95 From extracts quoted by Mahasweta Sengupta, op.cit.; p. 171. The preliminary definite article appears on the cover o f this book, but not on its title page.

10 The English Rabindranath Starting with the late years o f the 19th century and prevailing throughout the 20th, Rabindranath bestrode the world o f Bengali literature not so much like a Colossus, but more like a Vamanavatar who was momentarily unsure where to plant his third step. Place may have been found in the 21st century, but in English w riting produced from India. So it would seem from the recently published massive anthology o f essays: An Illustrated History o f Indian Literature in English (Permanent Black, Delhi, 2003), edited by the A llahabad-based teacher and poet in English Arvind Krishna M ehrotra.1 This volume “ covers almost two hundred years o f the literature written largely by Indians in English” and manages to include ‘Indian’ writers such as Rudyard Kipling, V.S.Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, alongside other creators o f ‘English literature’ such as Rabindranath Tagore. Happily for Rabindranath, he did not live long enough to be seen or heard in such strange company. But he might not have been very surprised because there are indications than even during his life-time he had been occasionally projected - by himself and by others - as an English writer. As early as 1915, when Robert Bridges wanted to revise a poem from Gitanjali (English) for inclusion in the anthology The Spirit o f Man, Rabindranath did not immediately agree and wrote to Rothenstein, . Since I have got my fame as an English writer, I feel extreme reluctance in accepting alterations in my English poems by any o f your writers.”2 Later, his self confidence had grown to the extent that he could write to Ernest Rhys, “Macmillans have decided to publish a selection o f my English works”3 referring to the volume that was to appear in December 1936 as Collected Poems and Plays. A couple o f months earlier he had suggested to Macmillans that instead o f ‘collected’ works, they should publish a ‘selection’. Thus: “ I have long thought o f m yself that a selection o f my English poems would be better and more opportune than to produce a complete edition.”4 Subsequently, Rabindranath surrendered to the lure o f being

The English Rabindranath


read as an English poet, and agreed - or, at least, did not disagree - to the publication o f Collected Poems and Plays without any indication o f what was the language he adorned as poet and playwright. For more than fifty years, the matter remained undecided, until neither Macmillan & Co nor Visva-Bharati, the familiar custodians of whatever Rabindranath had written, but the Sahitya Akademi chose to intervene by bringing out in three carefully edited volumes everything that Rabindranath had written originally in English.5 This would do much towards sorting out the ambiguous linguistic status o f some o f his texts. Those who are condemned by their upbringing and other extenuating circumstances to read Rabindranath Tagore only in English now have cause to celebrate this major effort by the Sahitya Akademi, which puts together nearly all (except letters) o f what Rabindranath wrote - not translated, but wrote, including what he re-created - in English. (Including the latter has somewhat obfuscated the issue, but nevertheless much o f the earlier confusion about his language of composition will be cleared now). They should also congratulate Sisir Kumar Das, who used to be Tagore Professor o f Modern Indian Literature in Delhi University, for having so amply justified the title of the chair he adorned. The excellence o f collation, annotation and the editing o f the texts is matched by the quality o f printing, paper and production in general in these three volumes. But a word o f caution. The books in question are not easy to handle. When placed one on top o f another, they form a rectangular solid - eleven inches by nine inches by by six inches, weighing about seven kilograms. Seen at twilight and from a distance, the formation could be mistaken for a tomb in which the cities of Delhi - old as well as new - abound. This could well be the last resting place for the English writings o f India’s best-known writer (I do not say ‘poet’ because only the ignorant think o f him exclusively as a writer of poetry.) I say “last resting place’, not in any funereal context, but to assure readers that the much-traded much-upbraided English writings of Rabindranath have at last found a respectable abode. Originally they were rapidly type-set and proudly produced as books with special embellishments on either side of the Atlantic Ocean by Macmillans. The first edition o f The Crescent Moon (1913) carried eight illustrations in colour by Surendranath Ganguli, Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose; Fruit Gathering (1916) was reissued with Gitanjali to which illustrations by Nandalal Bose, Surendranath Kar, Abanindranath Tagore and Gaganendranath Tagore were added. By


Translation as Recovery

the tim e Indian rep rin ts began - especially a fte r som e o f Rabindranath’s English works entered the textbook market o f this country - the illustrations were dropped, the paper thinned, the binding was in card. And when Macmillan India became the sole reprinter o f these books, production quality declined sharply. Sometime in the early 1990s, a few titles were leased out for reprinting by Macmillan London to Rupa & Co in India, who did their best to make amends. My copy o f the Rupa edition (1992)of Nationalism looks re-set, has a new introduction by a person no less than E.P. Thompson, and uses a Rabindranath painting on the cover. Now that the Sahitya Akademi has taken over, Tagore students who have to read him in English will have access to well-produced and definitive texts, supported by adequate bibliographic information and notes. Tagore has actually come home, despite the continuing distortion o f his actual surname. The first volume features a foreword by the Akademi president and a publisher’s note by the Akademi secretary, both o f whom stress the fact that this project seeks to present all the English writings o f Rabindranath. The president U.R. Anantha Murthy writes, “Sahitya Akademi . . . thought it extremely important to bring out a definitive edition o f Tagore’s work in English to project one o f the greatest writers o f our times, as a writer in English also” (p. 5). And the Akademi Secretary Indranath Chaudhri adds, “Those works from diverse sources are being brought together in a single anthology for the first time. The book has been designed to present Tagore’s original works in English as well as his translations o f his own works into English.”(p. 7). As for why this Bengali poet wrote / translated at all in/into English, that has been left to Professor Das to explain and justify. Sisir Kumar Das’s introduction commences by asserting, “The beginning o f Rabindranath Tagore’s career as a writer in English was sudden and without any particular creative compulsions” (p. 9), but five pages later he retracts : “It was a kind o f creative impulse that had been simmering within him for a long time and finally burst into the open. For about three years a preparation had been going on, silently, which culm inated in his m om entous decision to be his own translator”(p. 14). It was by no means the decision o f a moment. The enquiries o f Shyamal Kumar Sarkar and Bikash Chakravarty, both members o f the English faculty at Visva-Bharati, have irrefutably demonstrated that Rabindranath’s ‘English career’ was a carefully planned though perhaps carelessly executed enterprise.6 For sometime

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it succeeded beyond expectation, even to the extent o f fetching him a Nobel Prize for literature in 1913. By 1920 he was more or less discredited as a writer by the English-speaking world outside India. Self-deprecating about his English writing at times, yet never saying no to a persistent publisher in London, Rabindranath has left behind a sphere o f ambivalence that can roll whichever way a modern critic tilts the board. Professor Das tilts courageously when he insists: “What is important is that Tagore did not surrender totally to a language of power but continued to remain a bilingual writer till the end o f his life” (p. 18). I am not sure if that should be accepted as encomium. I always think o f him as a monumentally monolingual writer, who only occasionally ventured into English. The first and least massive volume, clad in a jacket the ground colour o f which is reddish brown, reproduces on the front-cover one o f those manuscript doodles which Rabindranath developed in due course to figurative drawing. In four sections and two appendices the volume presents whatever poetry Rabindranath re-wrote (rather than translated)in English based on his Bangla poems and to be found in eight books beginning from the English Gitanjali (1912) to Poems (1942). We are also given the long poem ‘The Child’ (1931; “the only poem by Tagore written directly in English”), as well as many o f the casual two-liners that make up Stray Birds (1916)and Fireflies (1928), both originally published not by Macmillan London but by Macmillan New York. Perhaps the American company was more confident o f its marketing prowess and published these two, if not non-books, certainly collections o f non-poems. Quite unexpectedly, at least to me, One Hundred Poems ofKabir (1914) has been included, although it is quite doubtful how much of this is Kabir and even more doubtful how much o f it Rabindranath. Another strange (but not for the same reason) presence, even in an appendix, is Lekhan “first printed in 1926 at Balatonfured, Hungary, in the poet’s own handwriting. The book contains 420 short verses or poetic compositions, 150 o f them have two versions, Bengali and English, one being translated from the other” (p. 624). To what extent such material merits being included here may be measured by the poet’s own admission: “The lines in the following pages had their origin in China and Japan where the author was asked for his writings on fans or pieces o f silk.” But except for these two instances there are profuse notes at the end o f the volume on publishing history and other details o f each text, followed by a listing o f the Bangla sources o f each


Translation as Recovery

‘translation’, concluding with an index o f the opening words o f each poem. The second volume, just over a hundred pages longer than the first, wears a jacket whose ground colour is blue on which is imprinted one o f Rabindranath’s strange drawings o f a face in profile, bordering on caricature. The original plan was to present here all the plays, stories and essays, but the plan had to be modified. As the Preface tells us, somewhat ruefully, ’’The present volume is large enough. Any further addition to it would make it unwieldy. His works published after 1925, therefore, will be included in the next volume.” It was, as we shall see when we look at the next volume, not a commendable decision. Obviously, it was the uncontainable mass o f prose that forced this change o f plan. Perhaps not just a modification, but a wholesale revision of plan was called for at this stage. One possibility was to have limited Volume II to plays, stories and the published letters (which have been accommodated in Volume III), reserving all the non-fiction prose for the following one, or even two volumes, thereby highlighting an aspect o f Rabindranath’s works in English that tends to get taken for granted. I thought Professor Das was heading towards this when he pointed out in his introduction to Volume I that Rabindranath appeared on the world stage in English alm ost simultaneously as a preacher or prophet and a poet with a new voice: “These two roles have clear and distinct linguistic [did he mean ‘generic’?] manifestations: poetry and prose. The genesis o f Tagore as a prose writer in English is intimately connected with his role as a preacher or spokesman o f India, which began almost simultaneously with his new career as a translator” (Vol I, p. 18). The hindsight, obtained seventy to eighty years after Rabindranath assumed these roles, guides us to the judgment that while his ‘translations’ had only evanescent value, they earned him a hearing in which he spoke on behalf o f India, ancient as well as modem, from about 1914 to 1941. The range and power o f his discursive prose would have been more easily appreciated if a separate well-structured volume or two volumes were to present his English prose writings together. That would have come about if Professor Das had allowed his critical instincts to rule him rather than be overruled by what he deemed was his editorial responsibility. Devotees o f Rabindranath’s short fiction will be disappointed to note that only four stories have been included, but only those four qualify because no other stories were translated by the author himself. Similarly qualified, as many as twelve plays appear, nine in the main

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body and three as appendices. Among the latter is a version o f The King o f the Dark Chamber (the English title o f the Bangla play Raja translated by Kshitishchandra Sen in 1914) which represents the eighth manuscript o f the English rendering o f the play. It was Rabindranath’s practice to rewrite or reorganize the texts o f his plays in Bangla, but the English effort is a rare example. Rabindranath’s drama has drawn fuller attention in the Introduction as well as in the Notes. Unlike as in the Introduction to Volume I, where only the poems ‘translated’ by the poet were discussed, here the editor has also considered plays translated by others, thus giving a more complete picture o f Rabindranath as a playwright. The preface o f Volume II uses an odd phrase ‘books o f essays’ with reference to material collected here. Possibly that indicates collections o f essays published in book-form, six o f which have been included. The last one, entitled Talks in China , does not contain essays answering any common description o f the term but are the texts or scripts o f talks delivered in China during his 1924 visit there. Another set, with the same title, appears as an appendix. Both sets o f talks will be o f special interest to bibliophiles because o f the political circumstances in which the talks were delivered. Two editions got published, one presumably by Visva-Bharati in 1924 (which has been reproduced in that appendix), wherein the unsigned note informs that the book contains “reports o f lectures delivered”.[Are they not then the actual texts of talks but only reported speech ?] For some generally unknown reason this edition (o f 1924)was withdrawn and merited no mention in the second and more authorised edition o f 1925. Not only the earlier edition, but the trip itself was prematurely terminated: “Tagore’s visit to China was conspicuous by the organized hostility o f the young members o f the Communist party, who labelled him as a reactionary and ideologically dangerous. The protestations became so effective that Tagore had to abandon his programme to some extent” (Vol. II, p. 773). By enabling us to judge the texts against such background information, Sisir Kumar Das has enriched the anthologies substantially. The hazards of mid-project modification became apparent in Volume III which is somewhat o f a mess. It is a large mess, more than three hundred pages longer than Volume II, which itself is much longer than Volume I. Abjectly entitled “A Miscellany”, the volume ran out o f descriptive titles for its sections and ended up repeating itself by calling one o f the sections “Miscellaneous”. The editor quickly disarms criticism by admitting in the second line of his introduction; “Unlike


Translation as Recovery

the previous two [volumes], neither does it have a close-knit structure, nor are the sections into which it is divided mutually exclusive. “(Vol. Ill, p. 13) O f its four sections, the first “Essays” is misnamed, because none o f its constituents fits such a label. Letters to a Friend (1926; the friend is C.F. A ndrew s) and East and West (1932; here the correspondent is Gilbert Murray) reproduce actual correspondence; The Religion o f Man (1931), based on a course o f lectures, is a book of several chapters; Thoughts o f Rabindranath Tagore (1929) is a collection o f short meditative reflections. The strangest ‘essay’ o f the lot is ‘Mahatmaji and the Depressed Humanity’ (1932), an assortment o f telegrams, talks and statements relating to G andhiji’s resolve to fast to death in Yervada Jail in protest against the communal award proclaimed in 1932 by the British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald. All this assorted material was published in a booklet by Visva-Bharati, the last item of which is the statement issued by Mahatma Gandhi on 26th September when he broke his fast. Unless one is careful, one might read this too as an ‘essay’ by Tagore. The other sections are “Lectures and Addresses”, “Conversations and Interviews” and the already mentioned “Miscellaneous” (divided into sub-sections ‘Open Letters, Speeches and Tributes’ and ‘On Books’). Apart from occasional footnotes to the text, the notes buttress each piece on time, place or action. Professor Das must have really stretched his physical and mental energies to furnish these. While there is no doubting the richness and variety o f material, more exclusive structuring would have made it easier for readers to pick and choose. As in the previous volumes, hitherto unknown or unpublished material is tucked away in the appendices. One such is the poem “To Shakespeare” which figured in the recent controversy in England (and naturally, also in Kolkata) about what text should be inscribed below the bust o f Rabindranath that has been installed in Shakespeare’s garden in Stratford. Another, the concluding piece o f the volume, is “The Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech” which was delivered by Rabindranath at Stockholm some eight years after the announcement o f the award. Not mentioned in the table o f contents but present between pages 752 and 753 in the third volume is the facsimile reproduction o f part o f a handwritten draft of Rabindranath’s letter to Lord Chelmsford renouncing his knighthood. Sisir Kumar Das deliberately left out Rabindranath’s letters from his massive three volume project except in the case o f the C.F. Andrews and the Gilbert Murray correspondence, where the complete

The English Rabindranath


exchange was available. Among the several reasons he gave, the principal one was: “Our decision to exclude the letters has not been prompted by the absence o f scholarly editions but by the unavailability o f the correspondence in full. In the absence o f the response o f one o f the participants, the letters o f the others are likely to be denuded o f their contexts. They would appear - to use a Tagorean simile - like a bird bereft o f one wing.” (Introduction, Vol. Ill, p. 15). Subsequently, Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson have very opportunely clutched the existing wing and produced a volume o f 246 selected letters, three quarters o f which were written originally in English.7 In compiling and editing this volume, Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson have not so much rushed in but confidently trodden a territory which Professor Das not so much feared but chose not to tread. Individually as well as jointly, Robinson and Dutta bear impressive credentials for such an enterprise. In 1990 they “re­ translated” Glimpses o f Bengal ; in 1995 they published a new biography o f the poet entitled The Myriad-minded Man and followed up in 1997 with Rabindranath Tagore: An Anthology. Earlier, on his own, Robinson had published The Art o f Rabindranath Tagore ( 1989), the same year in which his book on Satyajit Ray came out. He edited the correspondence between Rabindranath and Leonard Elmhirst published under the title Purabi (1991). As for Krishna Dutta, she had already shared with Mary Lago the task o f translating some stories of Rabindranath which appeared in a volume titled Selected Short Stories (1991). Not many Rabindranath devotees o f recent times can claim to have served him so voluminously. Yet, for some reason this duo has not earned in this country credit proportionate to their hard work. One reason could be our nationalist mistrust o f a foreigner like Robinson seeking to appropriate a much treasured national property. Another could be a less confined unease towards a rather young and unproved critic who takes on first, the films o f Satyajit Ray, then the paintings o f Rabindranath, and get both books published in the same year. 1 used to wonder which other Bengali icon Robinson would worship next - Amartya Sen, even Saurav Ganguly? - but Robinson had by then got sucked in by the quicksand of Rabindranath’s reputation in the West. He has striven mightily to pull himself and his subject out o f that mess through half a dozen books and nearly as many publishers. The commendable objective o f his enterprise has been to demythify the old western view o f Rabindranath as a long-bearded mystic - a wise man from the East. Yet, Selected Letters has been brought out by Cambridge University


Translation as Recovery

Press as a part o f their list o f Oriental Publications. Is this another instance o f orientalism striking back? Robinson’s own reputation, and - by association that o f Krishna Dutta - was somewhat besmirched when, soon after the publication of the biography, they were charged by William Radice and Ketaki Kushari Dyson o f having used without due acknowledgement some of the translations done by the latter. Several Sunday issues o f The Statesman o f Calcutta highlighted what was merrily described by onlookers as a mixed-doubles match between contestants who all live in England and have taken upon themselves the duty o f redeeming R abindranath before the w estern world. The contest rem ains undecided, but an impression has grown about Robinson’s tendency to re-work other people’s labour into his own. The Myriad-minded Man is a good example o f this method. Readable as the book is, it gives no evidence o f new research but much proof o f what is already available, albeit presented here with certain new emphases. The scholars who did the original research are occasionally acknowledged in the notes, but very often their names are to be found only in the bibliography. The justification offered is that this biography is meant only or mainly for western readers. The Robinson-Dutta method was first demonstrated in Glimpses o f Bengal (1991), a title which promises to be a bibliographers’ delight in the days to come. Many years ago there was a Glimpses o f Bengal (1913), consisting o f 13 stories of Rabindranath translated by one Rajaniranjan Sen and published by G.A. Natesan o f Madras. This volume must have been practically forgotten by 1921 when Macmillan o f London published Glimpses o f Bengal consisting o f letters from Rabindranath to his niece Indira during the years 1885-95, selected and abridged by the author, and then translated into English by his nephew Surendranath Tagore. In their version Robinson-Dutta have retained the title (the Bangla original was entitled Chhinnapatra which means plucked leaves and/or torn lettters)but retranslated the originals in their entirety, “dropped several...letters and added some new ones.” Even if only three letters were dropped and four added, while the deletions (made by Rabindranath)were restored, I should have thought the effort deserved to be titled anew - so that no confusion could be caused to those who have access to the 1913 Glimpses as well as the 1921 Glimpses. A very different method (bar that o f retaining the old title)was followed by Robinson in his 1991 version o f My Reminiscences. The Bangla original o f this autobiographical essay Jibansmriti (1912)

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reappeared in English, translated by Surendranath Tagore as My Reminiscences in 1917. For its next appearance over 70 years later, Robinson has merely revised the earlier version here and there without attempting any re-translation. One might wonder at his decision to revive the text. In the original, though written around 1911-12, Rabindranath recounted his life only till about 1885 when he his twenties. Readers in English who pick it up in its new guise will certainly expect a longer rangé o f memories than those which stop short more than a century ago. Both methods have been employed in the three substantial volumes that have followed. It is most remarkable that these were published within two years o f each other. This was physically possible because three different publishers were at work, and none o f them could have discounted the fact that Robinson happens to be the literary editor o f The Times Higher Education Supplement. The biography, as already mentioned, does not offer any new facts or insight; instead, it pleads that it is meant for western readers who do not know much about Rabindranath and, even if they did, cannot read him in the original. The same apology is offered for the anthology: “Readers, particularly western readers for whom this anthology is intended.” Here, about one-third o f the material chosen was written originally in English, and this portion has been revised in little or large measure. For their latest effort (Selected Letters) Robinson-Dutta intended “this book o f letters [to be] a companion to that book [the biography]” . In other words, this too has been tilted towards innocent (or ignorant) readers abroad. Faced with the choice o f whether to leave the letters in English exactly as Rabindranath, wrote them, or correct his lapses in composition, our compiler-editors have chosen the latter approach but “altered Tagore’s original only where the English is unclear or ambiguous.” Robinson-Dutta could have taken a chance and left it to the readers, presumably not all less qualified than themselves, to make meaning out o f what Rabindranath had written. As for the Bangla letters the compilers claim they have translated all these themselves. They do not, however, clarify whether any o f these had been translated earlier and published. Forewarned by their previous practice, we would have felt relieved by such a clarification. Meanwhile, the material could well form the subject for an M.Phil dissertation or two at Visva-Bharati where most o f the originals are available in the archives o f Rabindra Bhavan. It may be useful to examine the following: (1) the “alterations” effected in the English letters to see to


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what extent these have contributed to clarity and eliminated all ambiguity and (2) how the Bangla originals compare with the new translations, and how they relate to existing translations. The selected letters in the volume are arranged in a chronological order - the divisions corresponding roughly to the chapters o f the biography. Thus, reading the numerous introductions (almost one for each letter, sometimes the introduction is longer than the letter it introduces) successively is like reading a condensed version o f The M y ria d -m in d e d M an. Many o f the letters were partially quoted, in the original or in translation, in the biography. By now offering the full texts, the editor-compilers have satisfied a curiosity which may have been aroused by the earlier work. N ot m ore than a quarter o f “ several thousand letters” Rabindranath wrote were in English, and from this quarter about 260 have been reproduced here. Even within this selection, a large proportion are those addressed to internationally renowned persons like Romain Rolland, Woodrow Wilson, Albert Eistein and the like. Possibly this has been done to project Rabindranath as being at one time a public figure in the world stage. Here again, the selection seems designed to im press foreign readers.

Even the Indian names mentioned in editorial commentary are those likely to be recognised abroad - Nirad C. Chaudhuri, Satyajit Ray, Anita Desai. The most extreme demonstration o f this is a Foreword by Amartya Sen, who is justly known the world over for his wide-ranging intellectual achievements - which do not however include literary criticism in general and research on Tagore in particular. As this Foreword betrays, there is nothing Sen has to say which was not already known. He said so at even greater length in The N ew York R eview o f B ooks the previous year. The editors have acknowledged the “the generous assistance of Amartya Sen” but do not mention the Foreword or the N YR B article. One does not know why, and which was written earlier. The frequent reference to Satyajit Ray confirms that Robinson holds him in high esteem as a “Tagore scholar.” . In his review o f the three-volume Sahitya Akademi publication o f The E n g lish W ritings o f R a b in d ra n a th Tagore, mentioned earlier, Robinson chided Sisir Kumar Das thus: “And it is staggering to come across not a single reference to Satyajit Ray, the great interpreter o f Tagore on the screen, who has done so much to make him appealing to today’s world.” Which world? - we may like to ask. As for Anita Desai, not only is S e le c te d Letters dedicated to her, but there is a flattering reference to her at the end of the


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acknowledgements. It reminds us that Robinson alone and sometime assisted by Krishna Dutta has held Rabindranath “in custody” for more than ten years. The inevitable conclusion is that in today’s ‘globalised’ literary market, the English Rabindranath needs to be mediated by names that are saleable in the Anglo-American world. Notes 1. The volume was actually released on 7 November, 2002 by the British Council, that desperate defender o f English language abroad. Ten or twenty years earlier they would barely have heard o f Rabindranath Tagore. 2. This letter was written on 4 April, 1915. See Mary Lago, An Imperfect Encounter, Harvard University Press., Cambridge, Mass. 1972, p. 195. 3. Letter written on 9 July, 1935. Quoted by Bikash Chakravarty in 4Collected Poems: Rabindranather ingreji rachana’ Visva-bharati Patrika, Shravan-Paush 1392 (1985), pp. 275-292. 4. 17 May, 1935. Ibid. 5. The English Writings o f Rabindranath Tagore, Vol. I: Poems (1994) 669 pp.; Vol. II: Plays, Stories, Essays (1996) 780 pp.; Vol. Ill: A Miscellany (1996) 1099 pp. All three volumes are edited by Sisir Kumar Das and published by the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. 6. See Shyamal Kumar Sarkar ‘Tagore on Translation’, Visva-Bharati Quarterly, 43: 1-2, 1977 and Bikash Chakravarty’s essay mentioned in note 3. 7. Selected Letters o f Rabindranath Tagore, Edited by Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (U.K.), 1997: University o f Cambridge Oriental Publications.



11 Terminology and Practice P. Lai. Transcreations: Seven Essays on the Art o f Transcreation. A W riters Workshop Publication, Calcutta, 1996. Hardback Rs. 100; flexiback Rs. 50 It could not have been a co-incidence, mere or sheer. One day I am told that the term ‘transcreation’ appears as one o f the items glossed in the 45-page supplement of Indian English o f the latest edition o f the Oxford A dvanced Learner's Dictionary o f Current English (5th edition, 1996). Two days later friend Purushottam Lai, better known as P. Lai (or even P. Pal in some Bangla-speaking circles of the Lake district o f Calcutta) sends me a copy o f his latest book Transcreations. And three days later 1 receive an invitation (or was it a summon - may be that should be in the plural because it came from Chandra Chari as well as from Uma Iyengar, the energetic editors o f The Book Review ) to participate in a Sunday-long seminar - part o f which would be devoted to “Translation as Transcreation” and so on and so forth. Such repeated assaults cannot have been caused, as I have alleged above, by co­ incidence. Perhaps there is some cosmic design which I have not yet been able to decipher, thus cannot share with others. But ‘trans’ has assuredly been ‘created’ now. The dictionary as well as the seminar will no doubt be written up and accounted for by more qualified readers and less distracted listeners than I. Let me, therefore, dwell instead, on the more palpable o f the three events - this book by P. Lai whose endeavour in transcreation has been visible for at least thirty-five years, if not more. According to the list o f his transcreated works printed on the fifth verso o f the present volume, twelve are from Sanskrit, one from Pali, two from Bangla, five

Published in The Book Review 120, December 1996.


Translation as Recovery

from Hindi, one each from Panjabi and Urdu. And all this while he has also been translating Vyasa’s Mahabharata shloka by shloka, and publishing them in slim volumes. The number o f these volumes has reached 155 this year. Nobody at the afore-mentioned seminar asked who had first heard, and where o f ‘transcreation’ being used in the context o f what they were discussing. As for OUP, if they ever decide to include the lexical items o f the above-lauded Indian English supplement in some future edition o f their massive OED, I hope the first, or at least the more steadfast (steadfirst?) use o f the term will be correctly attributed to Lai to whom it is due. The latest edition o f Advanced Learner’s Dictionary deconstructs ‘transcreation’ as “n. creative translation (TRANSLATE), seen as producing a new version o f the original work.” Notice how carefully the compiler o f this unique supplement (Indira Chowdhury Sengupta) or her adviser (Sukanta Chaudhuri) evades stating whether or not this ‘new’ version is likely to be in the same language, or in another. Possibly they could not quite forget purely Indian (or ‘native’ Indian, i.e., pre-British Indian) terms like anuvad or tarjuma or rupantar or chhaya, none o f which insists, or even indicates a necessary change from one language to another. However, P. Lai has been applying the term ‘transcreation’ not only to his own efforts in this direction but also to that o f the others. I recall protesting against this many years ago (with reference to- some translation o f mine he had published) but discreetly, only in a footnote, saying under my breath as it were: Let him transcreate as much as he likes but allow me merely to translate. The other day (at that Sunday seminar, in fact) Krishna Baldev Vaid the well-known Hindi writer who is also an excellent translator o f his own work, supported my reaction (which is quite unusual, because our friendship is based on the fact that we disagree on most things) saying he too preferred to be regarded as translator by Writers Workshop than as transcreator. If the seven essays that comprise the volume Transcreation had been printed in chronological order o f first publication, the years spanned would be 1964 (“ On Transcreating Shakuntala) to 1983 (“On Transcreating Premchand), and we could have traced his journey and examined if his ideas have been changing.along the way. In the absence o f such a facility, those who want to track his spoor will have to follow pug-marks (happily, not four but only two - in fact only one, since he writes, as far as I know, only with one hand). Also they are ‘short’ as well as ‘attempts’ (as the new Advanced Learner’s Dictionary tells us on p. 392). Increasingly true to their character, the essays get shorter

Terminology and Practice


and shorter through the book from the opening 23-page effort to the 4page closing attempt. That longest of these attempts, “Myth Literature and Transcreation” (written in 1968) gives us the core o f the book at first bite. Judging by that date, it must have been one o f the two essays published in the earlier version o f Transactions (1972) mentioned in the later preface. This essay deals almost entirely with the translation o f ancient Indian texts and I venture to suggest that it is from his experience o f grappling with such texts as a translator that P. Lai comes to prefer ‘transcreation’ as the more appropriate term for the process. He reminds us that “Translators, sometimes consciously and often unconsciously, mould their versions to the aesthetic and moral taste o f their age” (p. 16), and therein lies the ‘creativity’ o f the transcreator. However, he also cautions us about the perils o f such ‘moulding’ with examples drawn from Edward Fitzgerald and Romesh Chandra Dutt. In that famous quatrain beginning “A book o f verses underneath the bough” Fitzgerald replaced a comely youth with - in P. Lai’s description - “a shy girl in Somarkand silk singing to a languidl) reclining lover.” The other example is less known but more weighty. While representing the most sensational scene o f Sabhaparva from Mahabharata, R.C. Dutt has wicked and lustful Duryodhana invites proud and peerless Draupadi to sit upon his ‘knee’, where the original quite clearly indicated ‘thigh’. In both instances the translator has suited his version to contemporary preference, effecting what Sri Aurobindo (in a letter quoted by P. Lai) confessed to having perpetrated at one time .. I was careless o f the hurt feelings of the original text and transmogrified it without mercy”, (p. 15) - or what P. Lai charges W.B. Yeats o f having committed, in collusion with Purohit Swami: “translation that becomes transcorruption” (p. 14). The second essay “On Transcreating Shakuntala”, revised (perhaps in 1995 or 1996 for inclusion here) from the preface he wrote for his Great Sanskrit Plays in Modern Translation (1964) declares his position even more clearly, perhaps with a foreign readership in view (that collection was published by New Directions, New York): “Here begins the transcreator’s first headache. Translation is often easy, traduttori tradiotori notwithstanding, and literal absurdly so; but perplexing problems arise when a perfectly orderly set o f conventions and values o f one way o f life has to be made perfectly orderly and comprehensible to readers accustomed to values often slightly, and sometimes totally, different” (p. 34). After citing several examples o f sudden shifts between emphasis and situation, mood and morality, melodrama and representation, P. Lai recommends: “Faced by such a variety o f material,


Translation as Recovery

the translator must edit, reconcile and transmute; his job in many ways becomes a matter o f transcreation.” (p. 37). Nobody can quarrel with that sane statement, specially when P. Lai will not let us forget that “with very rare exceptions, one is always translating only for one’s contemporaries. Creative writing may be done for a hundred years hence; not translation.” (p. 47). This was stated in his introduction in his The Mahabharata o f Vyasa (1980) and repeated in different words to his The Ramayana o f Valmiki (1981). Concluding sections o f these introductions reappear as the third and fourth essays o f the present collection. These two titles, incidentally, were published by Vikas Publishing House o f New Delhi, and some other objective than that o f Writers Workshop has come into the picture and blurred it (the picture, that is) a little. For one thing, though the two introduction-segments are reproduced here under the headings “On T ranscreating the R am ayana” and “On T ranscreating the M ahabharata”, whoever has seen or handled or read the volumes concerned may recall the gilded announcem ent on the covers: “Condensed from the Sanskrit and Transcreated into English by P. Lai” . Thereby, a third or fourth dimension has wormed its way into the concept o f ‘transcreation’ as promoted by P. Lai until, say, 1980. My quarrel or difference o f perception or just apprehension (how does one quarrel with a friend o f thirty-odd years’ standing, often sitting as well?) with P. Lai begins here. After having defined and demonstrated ‘transcreation’ so ably in his own publications, why did he allow a wholly commercial publisher to muddy the clear stream o f his transcreations by admitting ‘condensation’ into this concept? Perhaps he should have coined (coigned?) some other vantage for these two works. What about ‘transcondensation’? My apprehension deepens - or widens - when he extends the term ‘transcreation’ to rendering Premchand as well as Rabindranath into English in the fifth and sixth essays o f the book. In the fifth, after having brushed aside “the cliches about versions being perversions” P. Lai assures us: “If for no other reason, these new versions should interest anyone involved in the art and craft o f translation (and transcreation) simply because no efforts were spared . . . to produce an exact and elegant rendering o f Premchand” (p. 71). In the sixth essay we are offered “A word about these ‘transcreations’. They are faithful to an extreme” (p. 87). Then why not be content with nominating these as translations and not parenthesize or invertcommatize them also as transcreations? My thesis then would have fallen into place, with transcreation being reserved for the rendering o f older texts. The seventh and last essay on rendering Japji into English, readily supports

Terminology and Practice


my understanding when P. Lai negotiates the terrain thus: “As the sensitive reader will see, there is trans-creation [The hyphen is his] involved in my versions. But even when I am departing a little, I try to keep to the Japji’s absolute economy o f word and statement.” (p. 90) In defence o f P. L ai’s ‘pleavarication’ let me point out that for those two translations o f relatively modem texts (Premchand died in 1936; the Sheshlekha poems were written by Rabindranath in 1940 and 1941) he has worked in collaboration with Nandini Nopany (for the Premchand stories) and with Shyamasree Devi (for the Rabindranath poems). Should I then revise my thesis to pronounce that when one transcreates, one does so alone; but when one translates, one can do so in company? But I can’t. In his preface to Sanskrit Love Lyrics (1971), the last piece o f evidence provided in the volume under review, P. Lai refutes me by saying “The poems I have translated . . .” (p. 99) and again “I have called my versions translations rather than transcreations . . . ” (p. 100). Thirteen years have passed since his latest reflections on the subject were recorded in this book. I look forward to a larger and updated edition (not version). Before closing, let me return to the seminar mentioned at the outset. It used for reference (sometimes also as chopping block) the admirably conceived and nobly supported (with funds by an additional trust) “Modem Indian Novels in English Translation” series launched this year by Macmillan India from Madras, now trans(-lated? - created?) as Chennai. Nearly all the discussions at this seminar took for granted direct translations from Indian languages into English. That is what P. Lai has practised all his life. Toward the end o f the seminar, the Macmillan project editor announced somewhat exaultingly that for one o f the seven novels published so far - a work translated from Oriya into English - a firm and eager offer has been received for rendering that English version into Telugu. She was utterly taken aback when the announcement evoked a howl o f disapproval from most translators present. All o f them seemed to agree that whether translate or transcreate, you must do so from the original text, without a mediating per- or ver­ sion. Having added my little owl to the large howl, I shall die with this belief.

12 Third World Texts in First World Academy Between Languages and Culture: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. E dited by A n uradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier. Oxford University Press, Delhi 1995. 359 pp. Rs. 495. Hack translators like this reviewer, limited by their predilection to grappling with literary texts without comprehending prosequences or apprehending consequences, are likely to be a little put off by this book. The jacket-face is off-putting because o f its occidental announcements and orientalist echoes. No less off-putting is the opening sentence o f the introduction: ‘“ To speak a language’, says Frantz Fanon, ‘is to take on a world, a culture’.” Much as we admire Fanon, didn’t we know this already? Perhaps the writer o f this introduction didn’t, hence Fanon had to be invoked in the very first line. The aforesaid hacks could also be put off by the large presence o f the editors o f this volume. They are all over the place - in the preface (jointly), general introduction (singly), one paper (singly), another paper (jointly), five sectional introductions (may be by turns). They must have written the notes to the contributors as well, thus occupying altogether about one-fifth o f this book. How they must have loathed parting with it when it went to press. The offest-putting is Section II, mysteriously titled ‘(Not) Translating Across Cultures’ and bafflingly introduced with the statement: “This section foregrounds those moments o f absence or lack, o f deliberate or inadvertent mis(sed) translation, when texts,

Published in Biblio, May 1997.

Third World Texts in First World Academy


languages, cultures constructed as subordinate (and subjugated) do not get ‘borne across’ on their own terms or on terms cogenial to those cultures perceived as dominant” (p. 93). Who has ‘constructed’? Who has ‘perceived’? Unless we are told why they were, this statement cannot make much sense. Also, if ‘(not) translating or ‘mis(sed) translation’ is what foregrounds these pieces, why include them in a book dealing with translating across cultures? Perhaps the editors received five such pieces which didn’t quite fit - couldn’t very well return or dispense with them, especially the one authored by Edward Said - so decided to wash them together and let the reader be damped. No less unsatisfactory is Section IV on 'Translation, Pedagogy and Cross-Cultural Texts'. Consisting o f only two papers while the others contain three or more, it disturbs the section-wise balance o f the volume. The piece by bell hooks (there must be some celebrated reason for her dispensing with the convention o f capital letters, of which I confess ignorance) is more o f a reflection o f a single poem and could have been reserved for a more appropriate collection o f essays. Then the other piece, “Translation as a Method for Cross-Cultural Teaching” could have embellished some other section. The jointly written paper by our editors, Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier, is an important piece, even if it goes over some o f the sam e g round covered by th eir in d iv id u ally w ritten p ieces “Introduction: Translating ‘Third'W orld’ Cultures” by Dingwaney and “Toward a Theoretical Practice for Cross-Cultural Translation” by C. M aier (that initial is necessary to distinguish her from another contributor, Fred Maier). According to the notes on the contributors, Dingwaney teaches “Anglophone literature o f the ‘Third’ World” at Oberlin College while Carol Maier teaches Spanish at Kent State University and also translates from that language. Thus they make a good team, but, noticeably, their teaching concerns outweigh their translatorial interests. Both have lived long enough in what used to be called the First World (which ceased to exist when the Second collapsed; in any case globalization, we are told, has abolished such gradations) and are determined exponents o f Thirdworldism. That is, they strive to teach 3 W texts in translation to 1W students and strain to problematize, or countermethodologize, or simply theorize what used to be a fairly human activity like translation - humdrum, at least in pre­ colonial India for many centuries. Even in colonial India when we got to read Russian novels, Norwegian plays, French short stories, all in translation, nobody warned us that these were ‘cross-cultural’ texts.


Translation as Recovery

Our two editors assure us, “‘Third World’ cultures, peoples, texts are ‘in’” (p. 303), therefore the Firstworlder thirdworldists have to undertake “a responsible study o f other, distant, non-Westem cultures” (p. 10). Since the native First-worlder has no or little time to learn non-Westem languages, he or she needs texts in translation. Such texts, alas come from another language - hence another culture - into this (that is, Western) culture, and they have to be made fit for academic study by being called ‘cross-cultural’ texts. That is what the nearly five-hundred-rupee fuss is all about, dragging into discourse every possible ‘trans’ situation in the name o f translation. Translation is no longer the seemingly harmless activity it used to be when practised by the denizens o f the Third, Fourth, Fifth and all such nether worlds. Once that need is granted, the value o f this volume grows immensely. In Section I devoted to ‘Translators on Translating Across Cultures’ Carol Maier discusses how / »'translators should tackle 3W texts; Rosaric Ferre, a Peurto Rico-born writer, dwells on her experience o f translating her own works into English; Sharon Massingdale Bell reflects upon her translating the Haitian writer Jaques-Stephen Alexis; Agha Shahid Ali, introduced as “a poet from Kashmir” without any indication o f what language he writes poetry in (Kashmiri?), describes how he first encountered Faiz Ahmad Faiz when he heard Faiz ghazals being sung by Begum Akhtar. Section III (on ‘Examining Translations and Cross-cultural E ncounters’) is equally rich, especially in terms o f languages encountered and cultures confronted - French (by Indira Karamcheti), Russian (by Harsha Ram), Arabic (by Amel Amin-Zaki), Tamil (by Paula Richman and Norman Cutler). In a more general piece, Mary N. Layoun begins with the proposition “Rather than translation as the rendition o f the ‘foreign’ into the ‘fam iliar’ it is translation as a multivalent configuration o f the attempt to make familiar, o f the strange and silent, o f the inapprehensible, and o f the drawn-near” (p. 268), and concludes by suggesting “If in traditional literary translation, the emphasis is on the production o f translation, on the producer (the translator), and the product itself (the translation, its faithfulness to the original, and so on), perhaps we can tell a story or two about the audiences for and o f translation too” (p. 286). And what about not stories but ground realities about the market for translations? Many o f the contributors to this volume translate, most o f them teach translation as well as translated texts, all o f them write on the subject(s) with enviable facility. If only they write more simply, this

Third World Texts in First World Academy


reviewer would understand better. But understanding may not always be called for. There is a short piece towards the end o f the volume entitled “On the Virtues o f Not Understanding”. The range and variety o f subjects and o f writing are impressive. Each long paper is replete with notes and complete with listing o f works cited. Finally “the volume concludes with responses that reflect on some o f the crucial issues raised by the essays” (p. xii). Then there is a last page on which, under the heading “Untitled Structures” Fred Maier explains that the two untitled structures in the photographs which introduce each section belong to an ongoing series in which he explores “an intersection o f sculpture and architecture.” These may well become in due course cross-cultural texts o f another time, another dim e. This book originated in North America and was published by the University o f Pittsburgh Press. Our own OUP has brought out a South Asian edition meant for sale only in “India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka.” The first three countries are tangentially represented here in the languages and authors presented in this volume. How I wish it had managed to take in also a Mayanmari masnavi, a Bhutani translator, a Nepali translationist and a Sri Lankan opening batsman.

13 Bankim in Translation Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. The Poison Tree: Three Novellas. Translated by M arian Maddern and S.N. Mukherjee. Penguin Books India, New Delhi. 1996, pp. 400. Rs. 200. Despite the sniggers in certain intellectual circles o f New Delhi (may be they are not circles at all but only centres, dark spots, with no circum ference around them ) which dism iss him as ‘bunkum ’, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1838-1894) - also spelt Bankim Chandra Chatterjee/ Chatterji - seems to be making a comeback for those who cannot, alas, read him in Bangla or in any other Indian language. Till the other day the only English translation o f his fiction was a fraudulent version o f Anandamath translated - or rather, recklessly mutilated - by one Basanta Koomar Roy in 1940, but kept alive through reprints which pretend that the translation is o f more recent origin. We have biographical information about certain early translations, but these are rare books now.1 Things seem to be changing o f late. Apart from the volume under review, Rajmohan’s Wife (1865) is about to be restored to print by Ravi Dayal and Biblio has made public a subversive diary apparently kept by Kamalakanta Chakrabarti o f ‘daptar’ fame. Two full length critical studies o f Bankim the novelist are available now in English (by Sisir Kumar Das and Sudipta Kaviraj) and Tapan Roychaudhri devotes a substantial part o f his book Europe Reconsidered to the discussion o f Bankimchandra’s work.2 Although three narratives are.presented here as ‘novellas’, the first ( Bishabriksha in the original, published in 1873) occupies 175 pages in the translation including the notes, thus could easily qualify to be a novel. The other two, Krishnakanta’s Will (originally published

Published in The Pioneer September 14, 1996.

Bankim in Translation


in 1878) and Indira (original 1873; enlarged version in Bangla 1894) are nearer to being novellas. Soumendranath Mukherjee the historian (author o f a volume on Sir William Jones among other books), much o f whose career has been spent in Australia, has provided a long introduction and also translated K rishnakanta’a Will. M arian M addem, an Australian teacher o f literature, with ample experience of translating Bangia prose as well as poetry, has done the other two. The most heartening feature o f the book under scrutiny is that all three narratives have now been translated anew in English. The earlier translations (two by Miriam Knight, one by J.D.Anderson) appeared between 1884 and 1918; Krishnakanta was translated again in 1962, this time by J.C. Ghosh. The fact that a text gets translated over and over again is a sure indication o f its importance. In their preface, Maddem and Mukherjee explain that in choosing to translate these ‘social’ narratives, they have sought to counteract the impression given by some o f Bankinchandra’s historical and ‘patriotic’ novels that he was at heart “a Hindu nationalist, a prophet o f revivalist extremism.” This is their second effort at changing such an image of Bengal’s first major novelist. Ten years ago they had collaborated in selecting and translating this author’s non-fictional prose in a volume edited by them, B.C. Chatterjee: Sociological Essays: Utilitarianism and Positivism in Bengal (Calcutta and Sydney). It is just possible that the abbreviated name o f the author on the cover might have prevented some not-so-alert readers from connecting the sociological thinker with the novelist. The less heartening element in the book being examined here is Soumen M ukherjee’s 53-page introduction buttressed by 79 footnotes. In his anxiety to place his subject against as wide and clear a background as possible, Mukherjee probably forgot that the book hopes to persuade ‘non-B engalis’ to read the stories and got preoccupied with trying to browbeat them into granting the significance o f these narratives and their author. He should perhaps have left the stories to speak for, or tell about, themselves. After reading the first two texts, one translated by Maddern, the other by Mukherjee, I thought Maddern has done a better job here o f translating narrative fiction. These are difficult texts to translate, not only because they portray contemporary (to the author) households and complex human relationships within a many tiered family, but also because the author is present throughout and speaking directly to the reader in several tones - sometimes solemn, quite often humorous, generally judgemental. Such variables cannot be easily transferred to

Translation as Recovery


another language, specially to one that belongs to another language family altogether. Even-handed as he is as a historian, M ukheijee tends to be heavy-handed as translator. W hereas M addem, whose earlier attempts at translating Bangla poetry have not been always successful (see her contributions to the volume I Have Seen Bengal's Face (1974), now gives proof o f having matured as a translator. She has done even better in Indira. This may be partly because it is a light-hearted story (nobody ever falls ill in it, much less die), and partly because it is told in the first person by a woman. Who knows, some gender-bonding may have developed during translation, even though the two women concerned are so far apart in time and upbringing. Even otherwise Indira is a fascinating instance o f how Bankimchandra could experiment with narrative mode, even while he was pioneering the genre called novel in Bangla. In outward form, what was a 45-page story when first published in 1873, grew to 177 pages when it reappeared in 1894, the year o f Bankimchandra’s death. He wrote a prefatory explanation which begins: “Indira was young now she has grown up. If someone were to regard this as an offence, Indira would most humbly submit that many who were young once, grew up eventually.” As for what the story contains, apart from the agency allowed to the heroine - in order to get back an estranged husband Indira decides to seduce Upendra without his realising she is his legally wedded wife - her doubts about the worth o f a husband who is so easily tempted, marks it out to be almost a proto-feminist narrative. The relationship between Indira and her new-found friend Subhasini reaches an intensity where today it would quickly be hailed as legitimately lesbian. On both these counts, the novella deserves more attention from Bengali critics than it has so far. What it has to offer to those who read it in English today, remains to be seen or heard. The book is dedicated to Sibnarayan Ray who, according to the translators, “first brought Bengali culture to Australia.” I always thought it was Khokon (Probir) Sen who did so when he was not keeping wickets on our 1947-48 tour o f that country. Notes 1. Some o f these are Durgeshnandini or A Chieftain's Daughter. Trans. Charu Chandra Mookerjee. Calcutta, 1880; Sitaram. Trans. Sib Chandra Mukerji. Calcutta, 1903; Chandrashekhar. Trans. Debendra Chandra Mullick. Calcutta, 1905; Anandamath. Trans. Aurobindo Ghosh and B arindra Kumar Ghosh. C alcutta, 1909; Kapalkundala. Trans.

Bankim in Translation


Devendranath Ghosh. Calcutta, 1919; Indira and Other Stories, cd. J.D. Andersqn. Calcutta, 1925. 2. Editor's note: In 2003-4 two fresh translations of Bankimchandra Chatterjee's novels are due to appear: Kapalakundala (Trans. Gautam Chakravarty) and Anandamaath (Trans. Julius J. Lipner). Sabyasachi Bhattacharya has written a book The Biography of a Song (2003) which traces the history of Bankim's controversial song 'Vande Mataram' which first appeared in Anandamath.

14 Penguin Reprints A Death in Delhi: Modern Hindi Short Stories, Translated and edited by Gordon Roadermel, 1987. Prem chand. Deliverance and Other Stories. Translated by David Rubin, 1988. Saadat Hasan Manto. Kingdom’s End and Other Stories. Translated by Khalid Hasan, 1989. Bhisham Sahni. Tamas. Translated by Jai Ratan, 1988. All published by Penguin Books (India), New Delhi. Those who translate Indian literature ought to be specially honoured because they remove language barriers in a country riddled by them. And those who publish translated literature deserve a place o f honour no less because they give tangible form to such removal. Penguin Books o f England have been publishing translated fiction for more than half a century and a few o f their titles have been from India. The more recently launched Penguin Books (India) are continuing this good work by re­ issuing and also bringing out new works o f translation o f modem Indian writing. Unlike original writing, the publishing o f translations calls for some special editorial care and intervention. It is this aspect o f the volumes under review that will be commented upon here. For all their good intentions, Penguin India goofed badly with A Death in Delhi, one o f the earliest titles they brought out after setting up office in this country. This collection o f Hindi short stories, translated and edited by the American scholar Gordon Roadermel was first published in 1973, by the University o f California Press. Roadermel, who taught Hindi language and literature at the Berkeley campus o f the university, died the year before. While reprinting the volume, the publishers remembered the fact o f RoadermePs death, but Published in Seminar 359, July 1989.

Penguin Reprints


forgot to update the “Notes on the Authors” prepared on or before 1973 by the editor. As a result Mohan Rakesh still “lives in Delhi”, Phanishwar Nath Renu’s “other novels and stories have followed” Maila Anchal, Shrikant Varma in an uncanny manner “handles press relations for Mrs. Gandhi’s Congress Party” several years after Indira Gandhi as well as the author ceased to be alive. I shudder to think o f the Australian or Canadian research scholar o f Hindi literature using these notes as their source o f information which they well might, because Penguins have associate companies in both these countries as well as New Zealand. These ‘Notes” were obviously provided for the benefit o f the non-Indian readers (possibly also for Indians who do not read Hindi) as was the eight-page Introduction. Three quarters o f this essay is taken up in giving background information on Hindi short fiction. This is another place where the publishers could have intervened, cautioning the readers o f 1987 that this is not an up-to-date report because the Introduction covers only the period up to 1969 or so. In fact, a little research by the publishers would have revealed that Gordon Roadermel wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Hindi short story (though the Peiiguin blurb says he was “a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures” whatever this might mean). Given the international connections enjoyed by Penguins, it should not have been beyond their resources to obtain a copy o f that dissertation and reproduce its essential findings as a kind o f ‘afterword’ in the 1987 reissue. That would unarguably have enhanced its value - specially to those who not only read but study Hindi short stories in English translation. On the plea that he has discussed the subject elsewhere (but he does not tell us where), Roadermel has avoided saying much in the Introduction about the difficulties o f translation from Indian languages into English. He does alert us, however, to the fact that his use of English is closer to American English than British or Indian English. The only story where all three varieties fail to satisfy is “The Third Vow”, an English version o f Renu’s “Teesri kasam”. But then, sometimes Renu’s Hindi resists satisfactory transfer even into another Indian language. On the other hand, stories such as those by Kamaleshwar (author o f the title story), Nirmal Varma, Krishna Baldev Vaid and others included here appear to have moved quite effortlessly into English. David Rubin, translator-editor o f the second volume under review, is reported to have judged A Death in Delhi to be “by far the best collection o f recent Hindi stories to have appeared in English”


Translation as Recovery

(see back cover o f the Penguin edition). This verdict probably returns the compliment paid by Roadermel when he said in his Introduction: “The best collection in English o f these stories (by Premchand) is The World o f Premchand translated by David Rubin” . That volume, published by George Allen Unwin in 1969, now revised and enlarged by six more stories, has emerged as Deliverance. Rubin who shared with Roadermel an American origin and an interest in Premchand (R oaderm el translated Godan ) has also translated N irala and Laxmiprasad Devkota (a poet from Nepal) and taught in India in two different spells - at Allahabad and at Jaipur. When you pick up a copy o f Deliverance you notice Om Puri on the cover and, if you have seen the film, recall his acting as Dukhi in Satyajit Ray’s screen version o f Premchand’s “Sadgati” . Inside the volume there is much more that commands itself to future publishers o f Indo-English material (that is, Indian writing translated into English). First we have a short but effective introduction which recognises Premchand both as a maker o f modern Indian literature and as a great writer. This is followed by a translator’s note which mentions some o f the special problems o f translating Premchand in particular, and Hindi (into English) in general. The stories themselves are presented in three groups o f ten each, and each group has a heading - “The Village”, “The Town”, “The World” - suggesting some common concern among the stories o f that group. The selections end with two autobiographical sketches that tell us something about Premchand’s early days as a writer. The volume closes with brief notes to each story that give us the original title and source, date o f publication, and some critical comment. Altogether, this is a fine model for how translated literature ought to be published. The translator’s note is specially interesting because it has been provoked by “the tendency in many translations o f Premchand’s fiction . . . to ride rough-shod over the original text, giving free rein to the fantasy and inventiveness o f the translator, often to such a degree that the translation becomes a paraphrase . . Rubin has singled (or doubled) out for admonition P. Lai and Nandini Nopany for the undue liberties they have taken in preparing Twenty-four Stories o f Premchand (1980). In their introduction Lai and Nopany have cited several examples o f mis-translation by earlier translators. Rubin in his turn has given six telling examples o f mis-translation by Lai and Nopany. Those who wish to judge for themselves could compare the Lal-Nopany version o f “Do bailon ki katha” (“The Story of Two Bullocks”) with Rubin’s rendering o f the same story. The former

Penguin Reprints


abridge the story considerably on the ground that it is padded - an act Rubin thoroughly disapproves of. Yet, in the note to the story entitled “The Power o f a Curse” we find Rubin admitting that he has cut the story at places in order to eliminate redundancies. Finally, though Rubin is aware that the volume is meant “for readers not only in India but abroad as well” (where, incidentally, is Rubin’s ‘abroad’?), no glossary has been provided for Indian words that appear in the text. I should like to believe that this omission is deliberate and has been insisted upon by the translator himself. That the various virtues o f publishing translation lauded above have to be attributed to the translator-editor o f the volume rather than to its publisher is made apparent by the lack o f appurtenances o f the third volume under review, Kingdom i End , which was first published by Verso Books o f London in 1987. It contains twenty-four stories by Saadat Hasan Manto translated from Urdu into English by Khalid Hasan, a Pakistani writer and journalist, who lives in Vienna. Although this too is a collection o f stories by a single author, like Deliverance , here the translator has presented the material without any o f those editorial embellishments that enlarge the experience o f reading literature in translation. There is an introduction, but it is more biographical than literary and makes unfounded claims like: “Thirty years after his death, Manto remains the most widely read author in India and Pakistan . . . ” No dates are attached to the stories, and given M anto’s erratic life, it is impossible to guess which is an early story and which a late one. An ‘afterword’ which translates a secondhand account o f Manto’s death in 1955 (he migrated to Pakistan in 1948), concludes the volume. The original o f this account was written by M anto’s nephew, Hamid Jalal, who used to be his literary executor. The book has, expectedly, a glossary - beginning with adda and ending with zindabad. The dedication o f the book mentions a surprising fact - that Manto never saw any o f his work translated (presumably, into English) during his lifetime. This is odd because he was prosecuted in the early 1940s and again in 1948 for ‘obscenity’, hence there must have been a demand for his stories among non-Urdu readers. And the celebrated story “Toba Tek Singh” has appeared in English translation in so many anthologies that today it seems astonishing that all these translations happened after Manto’s death. Certainly there is a great deal o f interest in publishing him in English now. Before the Verso Books collection appeared in London in 1987, Vanguard Books o f Lahore brought out Another Lonely Voice in 1985; the first part o f which is a


Translation as Recovery

critical biography by Leslie Fleming, while the second part consists o f seventeen stories translated by Tahira Naqvi. And I happen to know that there is at least one translator in Delhi who has another collection ready for any publisher who wants it. As in all Penguin books, the half-title page carries a write up on the author. In what must be a very rare occurrence, Manto (the author) has been written up in four lines while Khalid Hasan (the translator) occupies nearly eight lines. I have left Tamas till the last because its events drew and retained nationwide interest quite recently when Govind N ihalani’s film version was screened in the national TV channel in several instalments. It was a compelling viewing experience, and it attracted more media attention than any TV serial shown till that time when there was a litigation against the film for fanning communal violence by digging up old memories. In a landmark verdict given by Justice Sujata Lentin o f Bombay High Court the film was cleared o f this charge and the judgment went on to say in effect that those who want to forget their past are destined to repeat the mistakes made earlier. The novel o f course has been around for a long time. The Hindi original, published in 1974, won its author Bhisham Sahni a Sahitya Akademi award the following year. Translated into English by Jai Ratan, it was published in 1981 by Vikas Publishing House, Delhi. It was the ninth title in the ambitious Vikas Library o f Modern Indian Writing Series which issued other novelists in English translation such as Ajneya, Kusum Ansal, Kiran Nagarkar, Maheep Singh, and so on. The series seems to have folded up soon thereafter (incidentally Heinemann, India also started a similar series o f translations in the 'seventies but could not market them and that series too had an abrupt end), and so this particular English translation o f the novel never got the attention it deserved. Perhaps the title - Kites Will Fly drawn from a warning utterance in the text, was the main deterrent. The Hindi phrase, predicting disaster, had no resonance at all when rendered literally into English. Thanks to Penguin India, the English translation o f this memorable novel has been retrieved. The pity is that this recovery was not inspired by the power o f the Hindi original, but by its highly effective version on television. Lest we forget the connection, the front cover reproduces a scene from the film and flaunts the information that the book carries an introduction by Govind Nihalani. I cannot think o f another instance o f a translated novel carrying an introduction not by

Penguin Reprints


the translator or the author, but by the director o f the film based on the novel. The publishing details o f the Penguin edition, after informing that the book was “first published in English as Kites Will F ly ” mention that this is a “Revised English translation” and claim copyright in this revised version. I wonder what mystery about copyright underlies the peculiar situation o f the text. According to the original Vikas edition o f 1981, the copyright was held by Jai Ratan. Penguins did not commission a new translation but revised the existing one and have now claimed its copyright. Has Jai Ratan, in a fit o f generosity, relinquished his copyright? That cannot be, because the title-page of the Penguin edition names him as the translator and the half-title page offers some biographical details about him. Except that he is made out to be a teen-ager (his year o f birth is given as 1971) these details are entirely credible. As for the ‘revision,’ I have compared the first page o f the Vikas edition with that o f the Penguin edition and found that out o f 31 lines, 13 have been revised, some punctuation and paragraphing has been altered, one long subordinate clause has been omitted and two sentences have been combined. The remaining 255 pages may not have undergone similarly thorough revision, but at what point does revision amount to change o f ownership o f copyright? This must be added to the many questions, not all literary, raised by Tamas. To return for a moment, before closing, to the hypothetical ‘library o f modem Indian writing in English,’ I wish Penguin India would take up this noble task envisaged by earlier publishers who could not sustain them. For a change Penguin could begin to reissue every foreign publication o f modem Indian texts in English translation. Candidates for such reincarnation would be as diverse as Aziz Ahmad, The Shore and the Wave (Allen and Unwin, London, 1971), V.M. Basheer, My Gradad ‘A d an Elephant (University o f Edinborough Press, 1976), Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhyay, A Strange Attachment & Other Stories (Mosaic Press, Ontario, 1984), and so on.

15 Operation? Mahasweta Mahasweta Devi. Bashai Tudu. Translated from the Bengali by Samik Bandopadhyay and G ayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Thema. Calcutta, 1990 This book is so beautifully printed that I wish the publisher had, for once, broken with convention and named the printer on the title-page itself. That worthy is no other than P.K. Ghosh (Eastern Printers, Calcutta), and there can be few more scrupulous and learned printers plying the English language reproduction trade in India. His contribution to this book has been pleasantly acknowledged by Samik Bandopadhyay in his introduction. I must try, in due course, to guess the areas o f expression in which this printer and these translators, perhaps even the author, are likely to have differed.* To take another look at the title page, it mentions one author, one title and two translators, thus giving the impression that the same story has been jointly translated. Whereas, the volume actually offers us two stories - the first and longer one, entitled “Operation ? - Bashai Tudu” in the original, translated by Samik Bandopadhyay; the other and shorter entitled “Draupadi” also in the original and translated by Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak (I am taking the liberty o f referring to the translators hereafter as Samik B. and Gayatri S.). Samik B. has provided an introduction (pp. vii-xiv) to Mahasweta Devi as a writer as well as to the background o f these two stories drawn from the collection published in 1978 under the title Agnigarbha (which 1 would translate as “Fire in the Womb” rather than Samik B ’s “Fire in the Depths”). There is also the “Author’s Preface to the present edition” (pp. xv-xxi) which, apart from three additional paragraphs, is

Published in The Book Review, May-June, 1991.

Operation? Mahasweta


more or less a translation o f the bhumika Mahasweta Devi wrote for the Bangla volume some ten years earlier. No translator is mentioned for the English preface and we may presume the author produced it herself. The stories are not easy to summarise or even to describe. The title-story (148 pages) tells o f a tribal peasant hero known as Bashai Tudu, who organises and leads the action whenever there is occasion for the landless agricultural labourers o f the region to resist some particular tyranny imposed by land-owners with the backing o f police authorities. In the ensuing clash he is killed each time by the police, or by soldiers, but he seems to reappear when he is needed again. And each time the corpse is identified by the leftist party-worker and small­ town journalist Kali Santra, through whom much o f the story is told. The much shorter (13 pages) second piece “Draupadi” focuses on Dopdi Mejhen, a tribal woman Naxalite activist, whose spirit refuses to surrender even when she is captured and her body brutally violated. Both stories are set in villages and forest areas o f northern and western Bengal. Whoever reads these two powerful storjes is bound to ask for more in English. She or he could try, in India, “The Wet Nurse” (trans. Ella Dutta) in the anthology Truth Tales (1986) published by Kali for Women, New Delhi. Another version o f the same story, done by Gayatri S. and given the title “Breast-Giver” features in Subaltern Studies V (OUP, Delhi, 1987). One o f Mahasweta Devi’s children’s stories, translated into English as Etoa Munda Won the Battle (trans. Meenakshi Mukherjee, 1989) figured in the Nehru Bal Pustakalaya programme o f the National Book Trust. And if any Delhi theatre-goer saw the Hindi version o f Hajar Chur as ir Ma (Mother o f No. 1084) enacted some years ago* she or he will find this and four other dramatised stories in the collection Five Plays (tran. Samik B.; 1986) published by Seagull Books o f Calcutta. Many years ago Adil Jussawala had complained while searching for English translations o f stories and poems by Indian writers for the Penguin anthology New Writing in India (1974) that many o f our authors are notoriously unconcerned about how well or ill they are rendered into English. This cannot be said o f Mahasweta. Samik B. has testified, with regard to the plays as well as to “Operation?” that

* Subsequently also made into a Hindi film where Jaya Bhaduri played the role of the mother.


Translation as Recovery

she produced her own draft translations for reference and collaborated in other ways with the process o f being transplanted into English. I learn from a fairly reliable source that when the person commissioned to translate Etoa Munda handed over her rendering to the English editor o f National Book Trust, the latter was much dismayed to find that it differed noticeably from the version already provided by the author. How the editor resolved the situation remains unknown, but it is the translator’s version which has been published by NBT. I f I may distend this digression a little, the blurb on the back cover o f Five Plays says that Mahasweta began to dramatise her own stories out o f a feeling that only as plays could they reach the large illiterate audience that is invariably overlooked by writers. I was reminded o f the Telugu poet and activist, Cherabanda Raju, who began to compose songs towards the end o f his short life so that he could address and persuade an audience that could not read. However, we learn from Samik B ’s introduction to Five Plays that M ahasweta’s dramatization o f Hajar Churasir Ma “has never been staged, though there have been productions o f several ‘safe’ and neutral dramatizations o f the novel itself, most o f them in H in d i. . . These productions have actually represented the Establishment’s endeavour to absorb the exposure with which Mahasweta’s novel and play challenged them” (p. xii). Was it to ameliorate this situation that M ahasweta’s dramatization was translated into English, the so-called world language? But our Establishment mouths English when it is not speaking Hindi, so what is the way out? Four other translated dramatizations were added to make up this book, which carries the advice “Performance rights in English controlled by the author and the translator.” I wonder how often these rights have been exercised and where. Dwelling just a little longer on the making o f M ahasweta’s English career, I find that the operation began in 1981 when Gayatri S. translated ‘Draupadi’ and wrote a translator’s foreword for its publication in - o f all places - Critical Inquiry, one o f those impressive scholarly journals with which the University o f Chicago Press keeps the academ ic world, not only o f India, in a state o f orderly bewilderment. I understand (that is, I have not seen it myself) the story reappeared soon after in Writing and Sexual Difference ed. Elizabeth Alsel (1982) also published by the same university press. W hether as a result o f this projection or not, Mahasweta attended the Festival of India in France as a representative Indian writer. By that time she began to be heard o f in the southern reaches o f English reading circles o f Delhi, and Kali for Women found the translation entitled “The Wet

Operation? Mahasweta


Nurse” fit for inclusion in their first anthology o f contemporary writing by Indian women, which was reprinted within one year o f its first publication in 1986. Five Plays also appeared in 1986 but not, I think, stirred by any international aspiration. Around this time Kalpana Bardhan must have begun translating Mahasweta (and also stories by Rabindranath, Tarashankar, Manik Bandopadhyay and Hasan Azizul Haq) for her selection eventually to be published under the title O f Women, Outcastes, Peasants and Rebels by the U niversity o f California Press in 1990. At the same line Gayatri S. completed the Mahasweta translation that would become “Breast-Giver” and find place, along with her “Draupadi” in her collection o f essays In Other Worlds (Methuen, New York and London, 1987). In this book both the Mahasweta stories are placed in the third section entitled “Entering the Third World” , and what I am imagining to be ‘Operation Mahasweta’ is nearly complete. Hereafter she will be the door to the Third World through which the First can enter, ushered in by an incomparable dwarapalika. I cannot locate Samik B. as part o f this ‘operation,’ though I am unable to fathom why he has taken over Gayatri S’s visually inelegant and rhetorically confusing device (“The italicized words in translation are English in the original”) which seems to be aimed mainly at the First World reader. To it Samik B. has added an element that is likely to aggravate rather than reduce the difficulties o f a reader in other worlds as well: “in our text italicization marks the English words used and transliterated by Mahasweta Devi, as also the Indian words” (p. xiv). I should love to know how the legendary printer P.K. Ghosh was persuaded to accept these deviations. Gayatri S. offers an explanation for her device, Samik B. does not. Both choose to ignore (or omit to inform the non-Bengali readers) the fact that much contemporary Bengali speech at all levels o f Benglispeaking society is full o f English words and terms. Mahasweta exploits this phenomenon brilliantly in a number o f ways both in what her characters say and in what she has to tell us. I should have thought that placing such English words within single quotes would have distinguished them enough, while italics could have been reserved for the so-called Indian words. Then it would be up to the readers to watch out for the single quotes and decide for herself or himself which thus distinguished word is mere officialese, which is meant ironically and which is a convenience available only to a once-colonized people. I have also wondered why Samik B decided to tag “Draupadi” on to this fairly long “Operation? - Bashai Tudu”. The novelette, along


Translation as Recovery

with 22 pages o f prefatory matter, would by itself have made a sizeable enough publication. He makes an attempt to justify the adjunction (see para 2 on p. xii) but does not convince. Alternatively, having decided to include the shorter piece, was he not tempted to produce a new translation instead o f using one that was done nearly ten years ago by Gayatri S? Had he done so, future Mahasweta buffs who cannot read her in the original could have compared two versions and wrung some more wattage from this highly charged story. Samik B. does say that he pointed out some omissions and mistranslations which Gayatri S. has now corrected, thus giving us a revised, perhaps the definitive version. However one correction remains to be affected in the fourth line. The original dui takmadhari uniform has been translated as ‘two liveried uniforms’ (p. 149). Takma - a medal-like object o f brass or bronze worn by a servitor - cannot be taken to mean livery, while livery and uniform can sometimes be the same. My other general demand would be that if Gayatri S’s translation had to be included, her translator’s foreword should also have been reproduced. That foreword is best read along with the story, and its presence here would have made it more easily accessible to readers in this country than it is at present. Reading the translation o f literary texts that one can read in the original sometimes creates unexpected problems. After re-reading the originals in order to refreslyny memory, I find I cannot shake off the impression that not only are the two stories very different in character, but even the translators belong to two quite different experiences. Gayatri S. appears to have discovered (or this may be her artfulness) M ahasweta’s stories fairly recently and felt challenged by the problem o f translating her intractable language. In responding to the challenge she has defied convention (for example in the matter o f italics), taken liberties like converting the tribal deity Singboma into a cosmopolitan “their M aker”, risked using a word like “uluate” (see the first line on p. 160) which is not listed in my copy o f LDOCE? and generally makes the story radiate a purpose that may well attach more to the translator than to the author. In other words, there is a strain o f manipulation (womanipulation?) in the rendering of “Draupadi” which is wholly absent in Samik B ’s effort. Possibly out o f longer personal acquaintance with the author and wider reading o f what she has

* Using these initials represents my feeble attempt to promote the Longman Dictionary o f Contemporary English.

Operation? Mahasweta


w ritten, he has chosen a quieter, more neutral approach, more regardful ( i f I may coin such a term) o f the original. Given the variety o f sp e a k in g term s and the language reg isters that com plicate “ Operation?” his was the more difficult task and, like Bashai himself, Sam ik B. did not give up. If I have to find fault - and I must, to justify th e role o f reviewer - it is with the occasional lapses into idioms such as ‘rush to the defence’, ‘spare a thought’, ‘take the cake’, ‘head on a platter’, ‘treading on the toes’, ‘incurring their ire’ and so on. Such phrases, quite acceptable in themselves, puzzle me when used in translation because I can’t guess what the original contained. I would also question,the undue pedantry o f his altering the transliterations o f place names like Bankrajhar (as spelt earlier by Gayatri S.) to ‘Bankdajhad’ and Jharkhani to ‘Jhadkhani’ with pronunciation dots above and below relevant consonants. On the other hand I prefer Samik B ’s ‘kounter’ (as in ‘encounter’ deaths, a common usage in police vocabulary, whether in Bangla or a tribal language) which removes it just far enough from Bangla speech to Gayatri’s ‘counter’ which looks strange as a word uttered by a woman like Dopdi Mejhen. Gayatri S. has retained the British Raj spelling o f Burdwan while Samik B. uses the place name as it is pronounced in B angla (a spelling now resto red even for use in E nglish) ‘Barddhaman,’ though perhaps we could do with one less ‘d ’. Neither has dared to write Kolkata, which is what Bengalis say, rather than Calcutta. The language used by Mahasweta in these two stories is at times no less difficult to read and comprehend than it must have been to understand and translate. Gayatri S. has described it in her foreword as “a prose that is a collage o f literary Bengali, street Bengali, bureaucratic Bengali, tribal Bengali, and the language o f the tribals.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter two varieties represent Mahasweta’s inventiveness rather than actual speech. “Operation?” is even more varied in its multiplicity o f language use, which is why I think it is more difficult to translate. In the Bangla version at one place a huge police sergeant’s place o f origin is quickly identified not only by his name, Ramavatar, but also by the language o f his reaction to some young men who have got into his jeep, claiming they are Congress Party volunteers. Ramavatar snarls in the original: *Teri Kaangress ki aysi ki taysi - utar saleyV This has been converted rather than translated to “Fuck your Congress, Get down, bastards!” (p. 94) which fails to carry the force as well as the inevitability o f what a stalwart Bihari policeman would say to young Bengali trouble makers.


Translation as Recovery

Readers encountering Mahasweta Devi for the first time through Bashai Tudu in 1990 need to be reminded - as indeed Samik B. has, in his introduction to Five Plays (which I find more useful) - that her first novel Jhansir Rani was published as far back as 1956, that is, when a thirty-year-old reader o f Bashai Tudu was not even bom. By 1983, according to Sahitya Akademi’s Who's Who, she has written more than fifty novels (but some are really novellas). Leaving aside the pot-boilers and the pan-cleaners which most Bengali novelists tend to chum out every Puja Annual time, M ahasweta’s career reached one kind o f peak with Aranyer Adhikar (1977), her account o f the times and life, thoughts and deeds, o f Birsa Munda, tribal rebel leader o f the last century. This work won her a Sahitya Akademi award. But another phase o f her career had already begun with Hajar Churasir Ma (19734) which, despite Gayatri S’s finding it as written in “the generally sentimental style o f the mainstream Bengali novel o f the fifties and the sixties”, would, I think, unerringly find response and win recognition anywhere in the so-called Third World. That could be for some writers a greater achievement than earning the approval o f the First World. With Hajar Churasir Ma the author turned to recording the present, instead of, as in the earlier phase, reconstructing the past. Bashai Tudu seems to represent a third stage rather than phase, a stage o f maturation which probably merges the two phases. Earlier she used to make fiction out o f history, here she is making myth out o f fiction. Both the Sahitya Akademi and the N ational Book Trust transcribe this author’s name in English as ‘M ahasveta’. If she is to dwell in the English reading world - as by all indications she seemed destined to - she will have to decide whether to ‘swet’ it out or ‘svet’ it out. I call upon Mr. P.K. Ghosh to adjudicate.

16 Politics of a Love Story Rabindranath Tagore: Four Chapters. Translated by Rim li B hattach ary a, S rishti P ublishers and Distributors, New Delhi, 2002. 149 pp. Rs. 145. When the works o f Rabindranath Tagore wriggled out o f copyright at the end o f 2001, did his autograph or signature in English - almost a brand by itself - also become public property? So it would seem, because this new translation o f Char adhyay brought out by Srishti Publishers reproduces this signature above the title on the cover, while the new reprint o f the old translation by Rupa & Co, has reproduced it on the title-page, placing it where authors’ names generally appear but seldom as an autograph. A recent issue o f the literary trend-setting Bangla fortnightly Desh named its issue o f 4th May 2002 “Mukto Rabindranath” (that is, Rabindranath liberated) to register the passing o f modern India’s greatest writer from the custody o f Visva-Bharati into the public domain. Courts and law-suits must be waiting hungrily to decide on what portions o f Rabindranath’s works’ have or have not been liberated. Does it apply to the whole works (o f American usage) - writerly, painterly, songly and musically, calligraphically, and so on and so forth - or only to some works? For somebody like Rabindranath who lived for so long and worked in so many forms, copyright laws may have to be revised soon. The latest translation (into English) o f Char adhyay has been brought out by a relatively new publisher which may not* have published much TIT (Tagore in Translation; into English, that is) earlier. Also, their address reveals a new site of print culture in South Delhi. (Adchini, the location, is on the way to Vasant Kunj and other extensions o f the capital). Completing this tally o f unusualities, the translator does not belong to the cottage industry o f TIT. Her first Published in Indian Literature, September-October 2002.


Translation as Recovery

translation had to do with the autobiographical writings o f Binodini Dasi, the most-memorable stage-actress o f late 19th century Kolkata. (In Marathi theatre o f the same time, despite many pockets o f political activism, social reform and women’s liberation in Maharashtra, Bal Gandharva was still maintaining a slender waist and wide hips so that he could continue to play female roles.) Rimli Bhattacharya’s (I shall refer to her hereafter as Rimli B.; in such attenuation under my reviewing quill, she is in good company o f Gayatri S. and Samik B.) third product o f translation, Aranyak: O f the Forest (of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s 1939 original) has also just appeared. That volume is night-forest dark outside but illuminatingly translated and brightly printed inside, published by Seagull Books o f what they still prefer to call Calcutta. It supports my presumption that Rimli B. is not the usual Rabindra loyalist (royalist?) seen every year thronging the celebration o f 25 Baishakh. Instead, she is one o f our more scholarly Bangla-to-English translators. I understand she has already paid the price at least once for her academic exuberance. In her translation o f ‘N oti’ (actress) Binodini’s Amar jibon (1912) and Amar abhinetri jibon (1924-25) in the 279-page volume My Story and My Life as an Actress (Kali for Women, New Delhi, 1998), the primary text (i.e. what Binodini wrote) occupies some 134 pages; preceding it is an Introduction (45 pages); following it are “Notes on the Bengali Public Theatre” (29 pages), Afterword (39 pages), Appendices (19 pages), concluding with a modestly brief Select Bibliography o f four pages. That is, 134 pages o f the translated text have been held up (or let down, depending on your angle o f repose) by 156 pages o f academically significant editorial matter. This is what makes the book valuable to the serious reader but rumour has it that she narrowly missed receiving an award for translation, because one jury member insisted that the book is more o f a critical work than a translated text. Had I been associated with its publication, I would have strongly urged her to make two separate books out o f it. This time the translator and her publisher have shown greater restraint. The text (including the original author’s nine-page preface subsequently replaced) now runs to 102 pages (o f a 149 page publication). The title-page announces that the work has been “Traslated (s/c1) from the (sic2) Bangla with an Afterword (s/c3). (The first must be a printing mistake, but quite damaging because it appears so early. The second is a hang-over from colonial times; what is so unique about Bangla that it needs a definite article? The third is an

Politics of a Love Story


u n k e p t promise.) There is no ‘afterword’ in the book. Instead, its afterw o rld is inhabited by chapterwise ‘Notes’, a 28-page essay entitled “ O n Translating Char Adhyay," translations o f the author’s “Abhash” w h ic h formed part o f the original’s first edition, also o f his “Kaifiyat” p u b lish e d the following year in a magazine, and finally a ‘condensed’ tran slatio n o f a poem o f 7 April 1934 for which no translator is named. In other words, here is a feast for somebody who enjoys reviewing translations. By casual count Rabindranath wrote twelve novels in all (the ea rlie st in 1883, the last in 1934), but while the first five and two later o n e s are substantial in size and content, the other five are really novelettes or novellas, correspondingly shorter in length. Char Adhyay (original vi, 138 pp., 18 cm, Re 1/8/-) definitely belongs to the latter c a te g o ry . Very differen tly stru ctu red and substanced than R abindranath’s other longer fiction, this story has a group o f Bengali revolutionaries in the background, but only four persons appear before u s - Indranath, the leader; Kanai, a member for some time; Atin, a young and recent recruit; Ela, a young and attractive woman who believes in Indranath but is in love with Atin. The group engages occasionally in acts o f terrorist violence and is, at present, under close surveillance o f the colonial police. Because o f this pressure, the group is in danger o f breaking up while their members are no longer as sure o f their commitment as before. When first published, the novella began with a piece entitled “Abhash” (which I would have rendered as ‘intim ation’) which narrated Rabindranath’s last meeting with a former colleague named Brahmabandhav Upadhyay (1861-1907) who, among several other preoccupations, was one o f the earliest practitioners of terrorism as a political weapon against foreign rule. At the end o f this meeting he says to the author, “Robi Babu, I have fallen greatly,” which suggests he is recanting. Even though Rabindranath had participated actively in protests against the first partition o f Bengal in 1905, it was well-known he was thoroughly opposed to violence o f any kind. Nearly twenty years earlier, in the novel Ghare-baire (1916; trans. The Home and the World, 1919) he had also shown his distaste for ‘swadeshi’ oppression. Char adhyay quite clearly condemns political terrorism, hence it is surprising he should have worried about the possibility o f its being banned by the British government o f India. In actual fact, the British hardly noticed its first publication in a relatively unknown American magazine under the strange title “Novelette o f Young India - Four Chapters.” Whereas, when the original was published in Kolkata, it


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was that prefatory “Abhash” more than what followed which raised such an outcry from nationalist circles in Bengal that Rabindranath felt compelled to withdraw it from later editions. Before doing so, he issued a kaifiyat (explanation, justification) in Probashi magazine and provided the novella with a new but rather bloodless statement wherein he sought to direct future readers to a different kind o f reading by asserting “The only thing that may properly be called the theme o f this narrative is the love between Ela and Atindra” (Rimli B.’s translation, p. 143). Rimli B. begins her afterwordly essay “On Translating etc.” with the rhetorical question: “ Is it not ironic that Rabindranath chose to give to his most gestural work the prosaic title Char Adhyaye, Four ChaptersT (p. 109). She declares that it was Rabindranath who equated vyanjana with ‘gesture’, but in the original text it is Atin who does so. Whatever ‘gesture’ Rimli B. has perceived in this work, the author gave each part prosaic, yes, but pragmatic titles such as “First Chapter”, “Second Chapter”, and so on. However, having made her point maybe in retrospect, her translation uses headings such as “the First”, “the Second”, and so on. Using a lower case ‘t ’ to begin a chapter heading may have some subtle design effect but fails to delight old-fashioned eyes like mine. Exploiting the same pretext, I shall grumble that the writing o f this novella and the immediate aftermath o f its publication called for a more connected account than Rimli B. has offered in two appendictory pieces with explanations in such small type that they could easily be overlooked. I shall have to complain that the essay has become somewhat o f a catch-all for everything that the translator has thought and felt about the work, but ultimately forgotten to tell us or said very little about her experience o f translating it. Specially for the benefit o f those coming to the novella for the first time, the purely publication circumstances o f the original and o f its translation should have been kept separate from the translator’s enthusiastic literary appreciation o f and somewhat overblown response to the original language. The original was published under some apprehension; the older translation appeared amid much confusion. Even the reason for undertaking this new translation does not become apparent until very late in the essay. A more straight-forward workwomanlike presentation would have distinguished this publication markedly from all the TIT volumes we have lived with for so long. The present work is, in print, the second translation o f Char adhyay. Not yet in print - and unlikely ever to gain such exposure - is

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another translation done during 1934-35 by the poet and peripatetic scholar Amiya Chakravarty, who functioned for some tim e as Rabindranath’s secretary. Rimli B. tells us that this version uhas not been traced” (p. 127). She could have traced it, had she been told, in the Ràbindra Bhavana archives at Santinike.tan.* It is very much there, along with another and somewhat fuller typescript with som ebody’s pencil markings on it. The latter may well be what got published in four issues (January-April 1937) o f Asia. No translator was mentioned there, nor when the translation was published in book-form by VisvaBharati in 1950. Rimli B. has accepted Andrew Robinson’s spurious explanation that the translator was not named “to avoid offending Chakravarty” (p. 127, quoting Selected Letters o f Rabindranath Tagore ed. Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, Cambridge U.P., 1997, p. 452). Chakravarty was so profoundly devoted to Rabindranath that he never com plained, in private or in public, about the p o e t’s extraordinarily unfair treatment o f the translation he had urged, even nagged, Chakravarty to undertake. However, bibliographers name Surrendranath Tagore as the translator. I have sometimes wondered whether such a person ever existed; he gets named whenever there is doubt about the identity o f the translator o f a Tagore work. Other translations have happened, though not in the form of prose-fiction. Bohurupee, the theatre group founded and made famous by Shombhu and Tripti Mitra, staged it as a play during 1951. The following year, it was adapted for the Hindi film Zalzala. Bohurupee continued to enact it sporadically for the next thirty years, and Rimli B. has reported (see p. 131) that when she was doing her research on the text in the mid-1990s, the play was remembered much more widely than the novella. One more ‘translation’ remains to be made public. This is the film o f Char adhyay made by Kumar Shahani during 1995-96 which has not yet been released for public viewing. Rimli B. was its production coordinator; the necessary research and other related assignments she took on led her to newly translate the novella into * Also, a meticulously researched article in Bangla by Sumita Chakrabarti, “Rabindra upanyaser ekti upekshita anubad" (A neglected translation of a Rabindra novel), Jaladarchi, Vol. 5: issues 3-4, July-December 2001, arranges as evidence relevant extracts from the correspondence on the subject between Rabindranath and Amiya Chakravarty. The latter’s letters will be found in full in Kobir chithi kobike (A poet’s letters to the Poet), compiled and edited by Naresh Guha, Papyrus, Kolkata, 1995.


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E nglish, perhaps for the guidance o f Shahani. B ut she also acknowledges a debt to “Udayan Vajpeyi’s extremely sensitive rendering o f Tagore into Hindi” (P-132), so we cannot be certain which rendering the film-maker has mainly relied upon. At least now we know - and I feel much relieved - that some o f what had seemed rather unusual literary critical observations by the translator are really discoveries o f the cinematic possibilities o f the original text. So much is left unsaid there, so many silences are there between words, that the novella has never been popular with readers. Perhaps the film version will arouse public interest in it - as the play did half a century ago. Finally, a word or two about the success or otherwise o f the new English translation. It reads so easily and well that I fear the translator may have taken liberties with the original. When she says about the original “conceived in poetry as it was” (p. 125), to me that sounds like an admission that liberties had to be taken since the translation has been, if not conceived, certainly delivered in prose. Even otherwise, many modern translators (from Indian languages into English) modernise the syntax and update the English; they subtract and add, som etim es even divide, to ensure the arithm etic o f prom oting readability over accuracy. Whether Rimli B. has done so or not on a scale that misrepresents the original can only be established during a line-to-line comparison with the latter. Given the limits o f review space, nobody can do so at any persuasive length. The new Four Chapters has inaugurated an unprecedented and welcome era in TIT. It is the first re-translation o f a novella by Rabindranath. Already o f course the first three volumes o f the Oxford Tagore Translations have taken early strides in that direction, though these have not yet tackled the longer works or the plays. Also, these volumes represent the work o f many translators, overseen by an editor or two besides the general editor. Rimli Bhattacharya’s (let me restore her full name in congratulation) praiseworthy individual effort should be noted, lauded and be emulated by others without much delay.

17 Unslating the Translator: A Review of Reviews On a Sunday morning two or three weeks ago, Times o f India carried a feature on “Kavibharati” (the first ever triennale o f Indian poetry, held at Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal), Indian Express carried a review o f Gopinath Mohanty’s Paraja (originally a novel in Oriya), and Sunday Observer a review o f The Select Nonsense ofSukumar Ray (originally in Bangla). All three deal with works in translation (from an Indian language into English), yet none o f the pieces dwelt on this crucial fact. Consequently, in each case the poor translator was virtually neglected. But for the bibliographic details given at the head o f the two reviews, the translator may very well not have existed. Can this mean that the translations are so good that they read like originals, hence there was no need to bring in the translator gratuitously? Or does it mean that we are so antipathetic to translations that the translator has to be concealed or at least overlooked? Yet a third possibility is that most o f our English-reading promoters o f literature being ignorant o f any Indian language, whatever Indian writing they read would naturally be in English or they wouldn’t be commenting on it at all. By ignoring the fact o f translation, they invite us to join their circle o f superior ignorance. For example, the Times writer (who signs himself or herself as TB) says that nearly fifty Indian poets had foregathered for Kavibharati but does not care to indicate what languages these poets write in. Were it not for an aside which says “English translations (not always upto the mark)” were provided, somebody unmindful o f India’s multi­ lingual situation would believe that all these poets wrote in English. The four poems reproduced in the piece are ascribed only to four poets - Ali Sardar Jafri, Shankho Ghosh, Nilmani Phookan, Jayanta Mahapatra - and not to any translators, hence we cannot tell from the evidence provided whether these poets write in any language other than English. Yet the write-up claims that “K avibharati. . . represents


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the authentic Indian voice”. Shall we take this to mean that the Indian voice becomes authentic only when it speaks with an English accent? Some readers will know that o f the four poets sampled here, only Jayanta Mahapatra writes in English. The other three are represented in English versions, and these read so well (regardless o f T B ’s aside) that not naming their makers is insensitive as well as discourteous. The slate used by the translator can sometimes be as precious as the one used by the original writer. In the second item, a review o f Paraja, the reviewer does not concede anywhere that the novel was written originally in Oriya. Thereby he has had no occasion to remark upon one unusual feature o f the translated work. In recording his acknowledgements Gopinath Mohanty states: “I am, therefore, deeply indebted to Dr. Bikram K. D a s. . . for translating Paraja. Working on my own original translation . . . Dr. Das prepared a condensed version . . . ” I should have expected the translator to make such an acknowledgment rather than the author. The translator had ample opportunity to do so because the book carries a “Translator’s Introduction” . He should also have explained, for the benefit o f those who cannot read the original, why a “condensed” version became necessary. Or am I expressing only a personal craving? The reviewer has neither noticed that this is a translation nor that this is a condensation. The editor o f the magazine section has provided, alongside the review, a boxed item introducing the author. What a pity that after fifty years o f writing, embellished by a Sahitya Akademi award in 195S and the Jnanpith prize in 1974, Gopinath Mohanty has still to be introduced. It would have been more appropriate, on this occasion, if the translator were introduced in a boxed item. The publishers do not tell us anything about him but the author reveals that Bikram Das is professor o f English at the SEAMO Regional Center, Singapore. Before this - as his friends know - Das was for many years on the faculty o f the CIEFL, Hyderabad, and belongs to that vanishing breed o f Indian scholars o f English who manage to retain their mothertongue even while mastering the other tongue. The third item is the least satisfactory o f all three. While purporting to be a review of The Select Nonsense, it turns out to be an essay on Sukumar Ray himself. We are told about the special place occupied by Sukumar Ray in the childhood reading and listening o f most Bengalis, but none o f the samples cited (o f Bangla nonsense verse and prose translated into English) will manage to persuade that benighted creature, the non-Bengali, that these are funny at all.

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Launched on a nostalgia ride back into his own childhood, the reviewer forgets that the volume under review is in English and that its natural readers have no access to the original. His own response to the original can hardly make up for what the English versions are unable to offer. Those who are in touch with the Bangla book trade will know that ever since the copyright lapsed o f Sukumar Ray’s twenty-odd published books (he died in 1923), there has been a spate o f reprints in various sizes and o f varying quality. The nonsense writing being the more popular, the concerned titles have reprinted more often and the same title sometimes becomes available in two or more reprints at the same time. Translations into English, however, have been rare - and rightly so, because nonsense can hardly travel from one language into another. Satyajit Ray made a brave attempt at translating some poems from the father’s Abol-tabol and these were published in a slim volume by the Writers Workshop in the 1970s. Sometime in the early ’80s, Arany Banerjee translated some pieces from Hajabarala for a magazine but these have not, I think, appeared in a book. Had our reviewer been more alert, he would surely have commented on the very fact that a larger selection o f Sukumar Ray’s nonsense has been published in English translation. Does the translator (and his publisher) hope to find a readership for Sukumar Ray in English outside Bengal? Outside Calcutta? And if the translator is the same Sukanta Chaudhuri who has distinguished him self as a leading Shakespeare scholar o f our time, then this must have been a very unusual undertaking for him.



18 History of India as Revealed in a Dream* Translator’s Note Bhudev Mukhopadhyay (1827-94) belongs to the first generation of Bengali intellectuals who confronted Western education even while retaining their firm affiliation with Hindu tradition. Starting his career as ‘second’ teacher o f the Calcutta Madrassah, he rose to be a Class I Inspector o f schools, a post no Indian had occupied before him. Among his many writings are two school textbooks, Inglander itihas (History of England, 1862) and Romer itihas (History o f Rome, 1863), while the third part of Banglar itihas (History o f Bengal, 1904) was written by him. He is also credited with having pioneered the writing o f historical fiction in India on the evidence o f two narratives he published under the joint title of Aitihasik upanyas (Historical novel, 1857). The first story, o f about 22 pages, is entitled Safal swapna (Dream which Came True) and it tells o f the advent o f Sabuktigin, father o f the notorious Mahmud o f Ghazni. The second, Anguri vinimaya (Exchange o f Rings), runs to about 60 pages as it fabricates a romance between Maratha hero Shivaji and Mughal princess Roshinara. Translated here is another essay by Bhudev which now is making history out o f fiction, Swapnalabdha Bharatvarsher itihas (1862). It is a utopian vision o f a Bharat which “has become the foremost nation o f the world”. The reader of the twenty-first century might find Bhudev’s ideas about secularism, caste, global trade and local self-government interesting for many reasons. It has not been possible to recapture in translation the pedantic formality o f Bhudev’s prose. But, in the hope of suggesting some flavour of the original, the translator has retained

* Translated by Sujit Mukherjee. Published in The Indian Economic and Social History Review, AprilJune, 32, 2 (1995), Sage, New Delhi/Thousand Oaks/London.


Translation as Recovery all the Indian names o f places and o f people as written in Bangla by Bhudev Mukhopadhyay about 150 years ago. For a fairly recent and balanced estim ate o f B hudev Mukhopadhyay’s role, readers may like to look up the chapter on him in Tapan R aychaudhuri’s Europe Reconsidered, Delhi: Oxford University Press (1988).

P reface A relation o f mine is writing a history o f Bharatvarsha. At his request I have been reading the text as he writes it. On the day I read his version o f the Third Battle o f Panipat, my throat grew dry, the hairs on my body stood on end, the very act o f reading became a great burden. I ceased reading and began to ponder what might have been if that battle had produced a different result. But the physical distress I had experienced got worse. I lay down in order to allay it. While asleep I dreamt many dreams and cannot now recall them in sequence. When I woke up in the morning I was surprised to see several sheets of paper behind my pillow. The writing on these sheets at times appeared to be mine, at other times not. As a result I cannot say anything with certainty about it. There are many accounts o f how somebody has acted as if awake while actually being asleep. This had not happened to me earlier and it has not happened now. But, just as it is possible to be awake while asleep, so it is possible to sleep while in a waking state. Be that as it may, the shastras say that any medicine or counsel obtained in a dream should never be disregarded. In deference to the shastras I have permitted this history o f Bharat obtained in a dream to be published in the Education Gazette. Publisher The Battle o f Panipat At last the Maharashtri commander-in-chief woke up to what was needed. He realised that, just as caste distinctions cause differences in other matters, similarly there can be differences in battle strategies. Those who win only by employing a particular strategy are likely to be defeated if some other strategy is employed. As soon as this perception flashed through his mind, he ordered his commanders to withdraw from frontal battle and attack the enem y’s flank instead. The Maharashtri troops fully grasped the implication o f his orders and changed their formation very quickly. Within minutes the huge mass o f

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troops rearranged itself into a half-moon. Ahmad Shah’s formidable cavalry came charging up. Who could withstand that force? What obstacle can hold its position against a river current? Perhaps a rocky hill can - and a heap o f sand, even if it cannot stand still, can gradually suck up the entire flow o f water. The Maharashtris, who had first thought o f standing immovable in place and meet the charge, gave up that idea by a stroke o f providence. Assuming the nature o f dry sand heaps they moved away from confronting the forceful main current and, closing upon it from both sides, began to absorb it. The river flow diminished in pace, then slackened, and finally disappeared altogether into the sand. Ahmad Shah accepted this dreadful happening. He said to him self that he would not return to his homeland but lay down his life in battle instead. With this end in view he sought to reassemble his Durrani companions, the Rohillas who were on his side, and the Ayodhya soldiers. At this time a Hindu chieftain named Kashiraj, who owed allegiance to Nawab Shujauddaulah, came into Ahmad Shah’s presence, made his salutations and said: Maharaj, as a captive of the Maharashtris I am acting as their messenger. If you permit me, I shall state what they have to say. Speak. When Sahebuddin Muhammad Ghori first invaded Bharatavarsha he was captured by that glory of the Chouhan dynasty, Prithvirao. Prithvirao released him subsequently. But the following year, when he was himself captured, Sahebuddin had him killed. These events show how Hindus had treated Musalmans in the past and how Musalmans had treated Hindus. However, even if acts o f forgiveness have caused harm to Hindus, their conduct cannot be contrary to their social character. Even now Hindus are prepared to act with kindness as before. You may go back to your native place with your followers and there will be no hindrance to your going. Should any Musalman native of Bharatvarsha wish to accompany you, there will be no opposition to that either. Only, such persons must not come back to this country within the next five years.

The messenger paused a little, then added: The Maharashtri commander-in-chief has also said that you and your troops are his guests at present. Therefore, until you have reached your


Translation as Recovery own kingdom across the Sindhu river, you may kindly accept his hospitality. He would like to meet the expenditure for those few days from his own treasury.

After the messenger had finished, Ahmad Shah remained silent for some time, sunk in thought. Then he told the messenger, T e ll the Maharashtri commander-in-chief that I am greatly impressed by his generous reaction. I shall never plan to invade Bharatvarsha again’. The messengers bowed and said: Maharaj, your wishes will be carried out. I have been directed to convey something more to you. It is this - all the native Musalman nawabs, subedars, jamindars, jagirdars and the like who will not accompany you, they should return immediately to their own estates and residences. The Maharashtri commander-in-chief has assured that all o f them have been pardoned.

On hearing this Nawab Shujauddaulah o f Ayodhya, Rohilkhand jagirdar Najibuddaulah, Nizam Ali, the brother o f Salabat Jang and the Nizam o f Haidarabad, looked at each other before saying, ‘It will disappoint us inordinately if we go away without m eeting the commander-in-cheiP. The messenger bowed to all o f them and said, ‘I have permission to advise you to proceed to the city o f Dilli. A meeting will be arranged there’.

A Change of Empire A short distance away from that part o f ancient Dilli known as Indrapat (Indraprastha), stands Prithvirao’s iron pillar at the centre o f an assembly arena. When Brahmans well-versed in yajna procedures had, at the bidding o f Prithvirao, imbedded this sacred pillar into the ground, they had said that its lower end touched the head o f Vasuki hence, whoever set his throne over this spot, that throne would remain unmoved there for ever. Today that pillar is no longer visible because it had sunk much farther into the soil. A high and shining throne had been placed over it. The dilapidated walls surrounding the arena had all been repaired and made to look new. All the rajas, nawabs, subedars o f Bharatvarsha and other dignitaries had assembled here and taken their appropriate places. What a splendid show! The assembly hall constructed by Moydanav for Yudhisthir, the king o f kings, has been described as being more resplendent and charming than the court o f Indra. This was the very place where Yudhisthir had

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held his court - had it surfaced again after being buried under the flow o f time for so long? There were steps leading up from both sides to the throne at the centre. A grave-featured middle-aged person was standing on one o f the lower steps and speaking: This land o f our birth had been burning for so long in the fire o f dissension - that fire will be put out today. The loyal sons o f the land of Bharat will join today and sprinkle holy water on the soil. Although this land is truly the motherland o f the Hindu community, although only Hindus are born from her womb, Muslims are not alien to her because she has held them to her breast and nursed them for long. Muslims are therefore her adopted children. Can a brotherly relationship not develop between a son from the womb and another son who has only drunk the same mother’s milk? O f course it can - and it will be approved by the shastras o f all communities. That is how [a] brotherly relation came into being between Hindus and Muslims. Quarrelling results in destruction o f that relationship. Shall we then continue to quarrel as before? Shall we always indulge in fraternal disputes which ultimately reduce us to penury while others become well-fed? (At this point the assembly resounded with shouts o f ‘No - no - never!) Ah, what heavenly sounds are being heard by me! By me? Who am I? The sounds have been heard by Motherland herself. This life-giving mantra has entered - her eyes open - her face lights up in a smile, she rises as from a death-bed and becomes as resplendent as before. We shall now have to join hands and assume the responsibility of serving this goddess our mother. However, even a combined endeavour needs an individual to lead it. Who will be our leader? Providentially, we do not have to debate this question. The throne that has been set up here for the great king Ramachandra - its foundation has penetrated the earth and rests upon Vasuki’s forehead. It shall not move even if the earth shakes. And you will see that the noble emperor Shah Alam has come here voluntarily to present Ramachandra with hiscrown and hand over charge o f the empire.

There was a spacious canopied pavilion to the south as well as to the north o f the main assembly. Trumpets sounded simultaneously from both sides. From the southern side a tall, fair-complexioned, middle-aged man o f grave expression entered the assembly and walked somewhat rapidly towards the throne. When he came near, the aforementioned speaker took him by the hand and guided him up the steps, one by one. At the same time, a dark-skinned lean young man,


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whose down-turned face showed he was deeply absorbed in thought, walked slowly towards the throne and climbed the steps without assistance. Right in front o f the throne he and the other person came face to face. The fair-skinned person immediately took off his diamond-studded crown o f gold and set it upon the other’s head. Having done so, he retreated and sought to go down the steps. But the younger man held him by both hands and, enfolding him in an embrace, did not allow him to leave. There was not an eye in the assembly, whether o f a Hindu or of a Musalman, which did not fill with tears o f joy. Everybody cried, ‘Victory to Raja Ramachandra - victory to Shah Alam Badshah’, in voices thick with emotion. All bowed to the throne. When they stood erect again they could no longer see Shah Alam. Raja Ramachandra, descendant o f Shivaji, sat all by him self on the throne o f Dilli. On his head was the imperial crown bestowed by Shah Alam.

The Basic Order and the Governing Council Juma Masjid is situated at the heart o f the new city o f Dilli built by Shah Jahan. The plan according to which the city has been laid out becomes apparent if one were to view Dilli from the top o f the masjid. The masjid seems to be the navel o f the city. In ail directions road avenues radiate from it like rays, and roads take off at equidistant intervals from each avenue. The whole design is like that o f a spider’s web. At the centre o f the web is Juma Masjid and along its strands are dwelling places o f the citizens. The main roads o f Dilli were full o f people. The council o f ministers was holding a meeting in Juma Masjid to decide upon how the administration o f the new empire would be conducted and maintained. The citizens were very eager to know what was happening. Brahman, Kshatriya, Jat, Maharashtri, Musalman - people o f many regions crowded the roads and chatted with one another. Their hearts were full o f enthusiasm and their faces bright with happiness. A Brahman said to a Musalman: ‘Ram is no different from Rahim. God is one and unique.’ The Musalman said to the Brahman: The respected Brahman has spoken most aptly. This whole universe has been sanctioned by the one and unique divinity. However, ju st as men follow different customs, wear different clothes, speak different languages, so do they worship in different ways. All men are sons o f the

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same father. It is that father who tries out different dresses on his various sons. But under the skin everybody’s blood is red, not yellow.

A Kshatriya joined the conversation: Quite right. There is no real difference among us. We may be Hindus, that doesn’t stop us from respecting what is sacred to Musalmans. We set up tazia every year. Now a Bengali said: In our region, on all religious occasions we offer sinni to Satyapir. Satyapir is no different from Satyanarayan.

Another Musalman remarked: You can’t say that you respect our god but we don’t respect your’s. Tell me of a Musalman who does not revere Hindu gods and Brahman thakurs. I know of many Musalmans who engage Brahmans to conduct Durga Puja. Who hasn’t heard Darap Khan sing Surdhuni munikanye with such devotion in worship o f the goddess Ganga?

All over the city there was amicable conversation o f this nature, also much joking and laughter, playing o f music and feasting. Nearly all the important persons o f Bharatvarsha had collected in the courtyard o f Juma Masjid. On the northern side sat the chief minister o f Maharashtra, Balaji Bajirao Peshwa. A little to his right were Malhar Rao Holkar, Mahadaji Sindhia, Dammaji Gaikwad, Janoji Bhonsla and Sadashiv Rao. To the Peshwa’s left at some distance were Salabat Jang, Shujauddaulah, N ajibuddaulah and Surajmal. Facing the Peshwa were the Kshatriya Ranas o f Udaipur, Jodhpur, Ajmer, Jaipur and other states, while behind him were thakurs o f warrior-like appearance from related clans. The Peshwa was speaking: Today you have brought about a permanent achievement. Those who are bom on the soil of Bharat for the next hundreds and thousands of years will sing your praise for this. We have all agreed on certain principles o f organisation and administration. These principles are being inscribed on gold plaques. Just as gold is supreme among metals, which neither tarnishes nor undergoes change, so will these principles be immutable: One, Raja Ramachandra, descended from Maharaj Shivaji, who was like an incarnation of Shiva himself, has, by defeating the foreign


Translation as Recovery enemy, also by virtue o f his family-prestige and his courage in battle, earned the respect as well as gratitude o f provincial chiefs, landholders and common subjects. Thereby he is now the first emperor of Bharatvarsha. Two, in his family, the right o f reign for a lifetime will vest in the elder son bom to the ruler. Three, the emperor will appoint his own council o f ministers and will carry out administration through this council.

Some other regulations have been framed for the security o f the empire and these are being inscribed on silver plaques. These regulations are not immutable like those written on gold plates - but only the emperor can propose changes. The regulations are as follows: First, a combined military force o f Sikhs and Maharashtris will be permanently stationed along the near bank o f the Sindhu river. Their expenses will be borne by the imperial treasury and their commanders will be appointed personally by the emperor. Second, a similar force responsible directly to the emperor will be stationed at all places on the sea-coast where foreigners come for the purpose o f trading. Third, no raja or nawab or subedar will maintain troops larger in number or less than what is specified for each. Fourth, they will not have authority to negotiate any treaty. Should any difference o f opinion arise between them, they will represent to the emperor and obtain a decision from him. Fifth, they will come immediately with their troops whenever summoned by the emperor. Sixth, a contingent o f the emperor’s own troops will be posted in the principal fort o f each provincial ruler.

Revenue matters have also been regulated and the rules inscribed on copper plaques. These can be revised and such revisions can be proposed by the em peror’s ministers or the provincial rulers or by the local landlords. The rules are as follows: The land area o f each village will be measured and the annual produce of such land determined; then, one-sixth o f the produce will be sent to the imperial treasury. O f what remains, two-sixths will be shared equally by the provincial ruler and the local landlord. The balance will remain with the villagers. All other taxes will be paid in the same proportions.

H istory o f India as Revealed in a Dream


The villagers will be responsible for law and order in their own villages, but local landlords and provincial chiefs must also keep an eye on the villages. The villagers will also be responsible for dispensing justice, but under the supervision o f local landlords and provincial chiefs. Each village will thus be like a small independent kingdom. Landlords and chiefs must in general refrain from intervening in the internal administration of a village. They must allow the village to administer its own security arrangements, dispensing o f justice and payment o f revenue. This has always been the practice in Bharat and such practice is rational as well as approved by the shastras. Cities will also be administered on similar lines. Each city will be divided into sectors and, just as every village has a headman, so will each sector have a chief citizen.

These are the broad regulations that have been framed for governing the Bharat Empire. In due course, more particular rulers will be formulated within the framework o f these regulations. For achieving this we have today set up an assembly o f 18 wise men representing our 18 provinces. This assembly will join the council o f ministers to act as the legislative body for the empire. All major issues will be discussed in this assembly. All proposals will have to be submitted to this assembly for consideration. No regulation need be obeyed by the people until it has been considered and accepted by this assembly. Just as the vast form o f the Creator pervades the entire universe, so does the large body o f the emperor cover the whole o f Bharatvarsha. Agricultural and industrial workers form the lower part o f this body, merchants and other wealthy persons the middle part, warriors and court officials its hands, the learned men its head, and this assembly its mouth. Building the Road to Developm ent Sikandra, the tomb o f Akbar Shah, is a couple o f miles to the west of the city o f Agra. Most people have seen the splendour o f Taj Mahal and agreed that its construction has no equal in the world. But we may surmise that to a perceptive traveller capable o f analysing his own thoughts and feelings, Sikandra may have more appeal than the Taj Mahal. Inside the Taj Mahal one gets the feeling that its builder had sought to create something akin to the celestial sphere. Whereas, while moving from one chamber to the next, in Sikandra, one feels that he is soaring from the ground up into the sky. Its builder has provided a

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staircase to climb from earth to heaven. The stone on the upper part o f the cavity containing the grave o f the great soul Akbar has cracked. People say this happened after it was struck by lightning, but is this really so? Or has the radiant soul o f that great man burst out o f its stone-cover and gone wandering over the sacred lands nearby? The surroundings o f Sikandra are crowded with elephants, horses, camels and chariots. Emperor Ramachandra was visiting Sikandra, accompanied by the Peshwa, his prime minister. They went up to the uppermost chamber o f Akbar’s tomb and sat talking to one another. Ramachandra said, ‘Father, I have come here at your command - I find this place more attractive than Taj M ahal’. Bajirao said: Son, Taj Mahal may have been built by a prosperous emperor, but the builder of Sikandra was not only a wealthy ruler but also a great man with much foresight. Akbar Shah knew how to hold together a continent that was riven by so much internal dissension. He never entertained any communal hatred in his heart. Instead he had devised a marvellous way o f joining Hindus and Musalmans on the same communal string. A ruler who does not follow the same way is bound to be dislodged from the throne o f Bharatvarsha.

Ramachandra said, ‘Musalman emperors have been known to detest other religions but Hindu rulers have never been like that.’ Bajirao said: That is true. Hindus are devoted to their own religion but do not hate the religion o f others. At the same time we do suffer from one failing. We are much too attached to customs that have been followed for a long time; we do not like to change our ways. How can the same customs be valid for all time. Let me tell you what I saw when I recently visited Bangal. When you hear this you will agree that we have to give up some of our old ways - otherwise we may be overtaken by misfortune in the near future.

Bajirao continued: The subedar of Bangal had sacked a town inhabited by foreigners within his territory and harassed them in various ways. These foreigners are a kind o ffirangi because they are white-skinned while their eyes and hair are brown. It is obvious they are quite brave and enterprising. Otherwise they would not have crossed the ocean to come so far. These firangis are known as the ingraj. The town in which they live is called

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Alinagar. Within a 100 years they have made it a prosperous place. About 70,000 people live there now and its annual revenue is more than 120,000 rupees. So they are not mere traders; they are well-versed in politics. However, when the Nawab o f Bangal looted Kalikata, these ingraj naturally got very angry. They sent word to their other base in Madras and reinforcements came in 5 or 6 ships. They recaptured Alinagar immediately on arrival; soon after they defeated the subedar in direct battle and replaced him with his commander. After becoming subedar, this commander gifted the ingraj much money and some land as jagir. That is how the ingraj people - being able administrators, discriminating about friends, very bold and industrious - were getting established. I have confiscated their jagir, but restored all their former rights. Their leader is called Clive. He is extraordinarily intelligent and spirited. He was not at all willing to give up the jagir. He was also very keen to rebuild the fort in Kalikata. But I have not acceded to all their wishes. Our forces will protect their warehouses, so there is no need for them to build any fort. They are here to do business, let them do business - why should they need land or any such property. I have managed to dissuade him with such arguments. But I could tell from his expression and other reactions that had our empire been as disorganised as before - and had I not trained forces accompanying me - he would not have accepted my arguments. He is somewhat o f a tiger-cub. But when he saw that I could not be moved from my decision, he stopped growling and began making friendly overtures. One day he showed me his sipahis at drill - another day he took me to his warship. After seeing these 1 have come to the realisation that these firangis are far more competent than we are in military training and in building warships. Therefore I am thinking o f employing some firangis to train our troops in battle tactics and to teach us how to build ships. One advantage we have is these firangis are extremely greedy about money. If we pay them large salaries, they will serve us well. I saw something else with Clive that was interesting. When I was in the cabin o f his ship I saw a large book there. I asked him what that was and he told me that it contained the pictures o f various countries. Opening the book he showed me where his country was, where were the countries o f other firangis, what route they followed in coming here, and so on. Finally he presented the book to me. 1 have ascertained from other firangi and our own Nakhoda traders, by questioning them at various times, that these pictures are correct and reliable. I have thought further that as soon as firangi workmen have built a few ocean­ going ships for us, we shall choose some well-read and intelligent


Translation as Recovery young men from good families and send them to various foreign countries. These young men will return home after learning various skills in these countries. They will be o f great use to our empire. And for doing such work, none o f the stigma o f crossing the ocean or associating with Mlecchas can attach to them. When the noble sage Vashistha visited Mahachin, he followed the customs o f that country. Yet he underwent no loss o f dharma. If we never go anywhere, do not visit foreign lands, always dwell unthinkingly in our own homes - then our natures will become like that o f women. We shall become incapable o f doing anything on our own and, just like women become subservient to men, so will our people become subservient to foreigners. Therefore I wish to take three steps. One, engage at least 200 competent firangis to train our troops. Two, employ another 100 to build warships. Three, offer stipends to at least 300 o f our young men to go abroad and learn the languages and other skills of foreign countries.

The emperor heard him through with careful attention and said, ‘Father, whatever you have decided will be good for us.’

Relationship with Foreign Kingdoms There is a beautiful spot about one and a half kos to the south-east o f Lahore city. It is called Shalemar Bagh and it was built by Shahjahan Badshah. Its layout is thus - in front there is a spacious garden full of many kinds o f trees; on going into it some distance, a short flight of steps becomes visible; those steps lead to another spacious garden, at the far end o f which is another set o f steps which leads to another garden. After passing all these gardens one after another, we can see a large mansion and rows o f bathing rooms. Those who have read descriptions o f the Hanging Gardens o f Babylon built by Queen Semiramis would be reminded o f that place by these gardens. The emperor and the chief minister visited this place quite often. The assembly o f representatives o f foreign nations was held here. One such assembly was held with much pomp in the month o f Falgun. Representatives came from France, Austria, Russia, England, America, Turkey, Persia, China, Burma and many other countries. The French representative urged that the Indian emperor should endorse the republican form o f government established in France, and by such endorsement oppose the hostility o f Russia, Austria and England. The resulting debate and discussion went on for nearly a month. Finally,

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the assembly gathered to hear the em peror’s opinion and the Peshwa had the following to say to the gathering: Since countries differ from one another, their customs, conduct, religion and mode o f government will also be different in each country. Those who want the same thing everywhere lack judgement and are unrealistic. All things cannot be the same. Sameness is neither good in itself nor does it appear good. Look at the garden before us. Many flowers have bloomed there. If the variety was lacking, if all flowers were the same, would the garden have looked so beautiful? Similarly, if all fruits were the same, would they have been o f so much benefit to us? Hence, if France has decided upon a republican form o f governm ent in accordance with the wishes of its people, we have no right to impede it. France is a different tree - let any flower bloom on it, any fruit grow on it, while the Russian, Austrian and English emperors join us in agreeing not to interfere in France. However, we have to note that Frenchmen are not content only with changing their own country’s mode o f government. They are sending people to other countries and encouraging their subjects to revolt. This is not acceptable. Just as we shall not intervene in the way France is governed, the French should also not sow the seeds o f rebellion in our lands. Therefore I have to state that should it be proved some Frenchman is instigating rebellion in this country, he will immediately be expelled. Further, some o f us may find the example o f France a danger to our governments. Those who have this feeling should take care to improve the administration o f their countries - then there will be no reason for apprehension. We should also consider the apprehension o f some persons about the books written in France that are full o f atheistic thought and ideas o f revolting against government - that when such books are read in other countries, the people o f those countries may change their views. But such fears are o f no use. There is no opinion or ideology that has not been engendered, assessed and propagated in the Bharat empire. The Bouddhas also believed in no god. They did not accept caste distinctions. They used to condemn Vedic rituals. Many rulers accepted the Bouddha views of life, but how does that matter? The religion o f a nation can be preserved only if its preachers and teachers are learned, wise and pure o f heart - nothing else is needed. No religion can be in danger if its propagators are equally competent and truthful. That religion cannot be harmed and it is bound to remain alive. It benefits by coming into contact with new ideas, becomes stronger by such contact and better equipped than before to protect its community. Many o f our


Translation as Recovery young men read those books by French authors. The youngsters say that these books do not contain much that is not already available in books by the Bouddhas. However, in my opinion, we should act in the matter towards France in the same say as our brother emperors o f Russia, Austria, England and others would like to act. The Bharat emperor will adopt the same line o f action.

The assembly dissolved. The representative o f the Russian emperor wrote a long report to his monarch. It included the following: I send herewith an accurate translation o f whatever the chief minister o f the Bharat emperor has said at today’s meeting. From talking to the representatives o f other nations I get the impression they have all been deeply impressed with the chief m inister’s statement and they are likely to advise their own superiors to follow the same line o f action. It is not advisable to go against the wished o f the Bharat emperor.

The College1 of Kanvakubja The Ganga river flowed with a gurgling sound. Its eastern bank was very high - not less than 30 cubits - and occasionally portions broke o ff from the bank. There were traces o f human inhabitation even at places where those breaks had occurred. Walls built o f small bricks, paved tops o f wells, shards o f earthenware - all these were frequently revealed. This is the site o f the famous city o f Kanvakubja. At one side is a tall mansion known as ‘Sitaka-rasuin’. It is said this is the spot where Sitaji lived after she was rejected by Shri Ram and sent to the forest. She came to the ashram o f Valmiki muni. Here she had cooked and fed the sages engaged in vanaprastha. There used to be a temple here at one time. Later this temple was demolished and a mosque erected. In course o f time the mosque got broken at places and its stones were dislodged. We can now see on these stones the images o f Lakshmi, Ganesh, Narayan and other such gods and goddesses. These images had got hidden when the stones bearing them were used for the walls o f the mosque. When the walls broke, the images emerged again. By climbing to the topmost part o f ‘Sitaka-rasuin’ one can see the entire city laid out like a chessboard. The localities are independent. No two o f them overlap; they are separated by rows o f

1. The original has word chatushpati which refers to an institution where the four vedas are taught.

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trees. Because o f this the city is quite widespread; it appears to be larger than what the size o f its population would suggest. On learning the names o f various localities it becomes apparent that people o f different castes generally live in different localities. There is no doubt that Kanoj was originally built in accordance with the guidelines for town-construction given in Manusamhita, and traces o f the original layout still remain. At present Kanvakubja is an important social centre. Most leading languages o f the world are studied here. There is a college at the centre o f the city. The chief professor o f this college teaches the chief language, Sanskrit. The second professor teaches Greek, the third Latin, the fourth Arabic. All these professors have many assistants. Most o f the students have come from various parts o f Bharatvarsha. Some others are from Arabia, Persia and Turkey. Several have come from European countries, especially Germany and Russia. They have all come here to complete their studies. Both teachers and students are given stipends. The college library has collected nearly all the ancient and modern texts, published as well as unpublished, in the languages mentioned above. It has become customary for anyone writing a book on ancient history to send it first to the college at Kanoj. The professors o f this college evaluate its facts and ideas. Then in accordance with the evaluation, the writer is given a reward by the state treasury. The college also judges the merit o f newly composed poems and plays. A student o f this institution has recently written a book to prove that the Germans, Greeks and Hindus have emerged from the same original race. Another student is writing a book which he has not yet completed. Its purpose is to show, by establishing the links among the Zend, Chaldean and Hebrew languages, that the Avesta o f the Persians and the Bible o f the Jews have influenced one another. When all parts of this book are brought together, it will prove that the Vedas-abiding Hindu, the Avesta-abiding Persian, the Bible-abiding Jew and Christian, and the Koran-abiding Musalman, are all fundamentally the same ‘People o f the Book’. All inhabitants o f Bharat, whether Hindu or Muslim, are looking forward to this work being completed. Many different books are being written and not all can be mentioned here. But it is necessary to mention the most famous mahakavya that has been written recently. Its author is Maharshi Sanjivan, the chief professor o f Sanskrit o f this school. The work has already been translated into all the civilised languages o f the world. It


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presents a faithful picture o f the revival o f the Bharat empire. Literary critics o f all countries have agreed that in the writing o f the mahakavya named Punarutthan,2 Maharshi Sanjivan has blended the sensitiveness o f Valmiki, the vigour o f Homer, the pleasing style o f Virgil, the profundity o f Milton and the formality o f Vyasa.

The Schools of Varanasi When in the rainy season these two tributaries o f the Ganga, Varana and Asi, mingle with one another, a truly beautiful view is obtained from the top o f Aurangzeb Badshah’s mosque at Kashi, which is shaped like the belly o f a fish. I f one were to see the rows o f mansions o f Varanasi from the eastern bank o f the north-flowing Ganga, it would look like the circle moon on the forehead o f Chandrachud. To see the fish-belly shape is to be convinced that the place does indeed rest on the trident o f Trishuli. A pralay flood may submerge the entire surface o f the earth but this place will always remain above water. The area located near the fore-fins o f the fish-belly shape o f Varanasi is called Tripura Bhairavi. To its north is Vishweshwar and to its south Kedar. An important school has been established in this locality. Here many fields o f knowledge are cultivated and various modern languages are taught - French, German, Italian, English, Persian, Hi n d i . . ? To the south-west o f this school is another school where subjects like astronomy, mathematics, physics, etc., are taught. The observatory founded by Raja Jaisingh is now within the premises o f this school. The observatory has so expanded in size and deteriorated in upkeep that it would be difficult to say what it looked like originally. A spacious hall containing instruments for star-gazing has been constructed there. Among many other instruments is a large telescope, through which the planets around the star Ardra have been seen. The teacher concerned is busy at present determining the orbits o f these planets. The professor o f physics at this institution has written about a recent discovery o f his to the chief minister o f the emperor. The basic principle o f this discovery is that it is possible to move in a vehicle on water, on land or in air. The motive energy can be derived from fire or from electricity. The demonstration o f this principle, however, remains

2. The title means reawakening or renaissance. 3. The next three sentences more or less repeat what has been said about the Kanyakubja College.

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to be proved experimentally. This is so because the royal minister is preoccupied with the evaluation o f another and equally important experiment. We may mention it in the present context. A scholar o f Kanchipur named Pashupati has produced an instrument which emits a deadly gas that kills as soon as it is inhaled. The gas is so strong that it can melt glass immediately on contact. The minister is testing the efficacy o f this weapon. Its prospective power seems so great that on its account, warfare may stop altogether on earth. It has been named the Pashupat astra after the name o f its inventor.

Trade and Colonial Matters The trade and commerce o f Bharatvarsha has always been extensive. The archaeologist Dionysius had reported: The beautiful handicrafts and delicious agricultural products of Bharat­ varsha have lured people from all over the world to that country for the purpose of trade. Because o f this, the wealth o f all other countries is collecting there and Bharat has become a true storehouse o f wealth.

That situation has recurred at present. From the mouth o f the Sindhu river to that o f the Kamafuli river, the entire coastline o f Bharatvarsha has merchant ships anchored at every possible place. O f these about two-third are owned by native merchants, only one-third by foreigners. The value o f total export can be gauged from the fact that the Chinese are taking away not only opium but also tea and silk. The British are taking from here coarse cloth in bulk as well as refined cloth produced in Dhaka; the French are taking away Lakhnau chintz. Other materials are being exported in quantities that cannot be easily estimated. At one time there was likelihood o f some trouble, the nature of which will illustrate what trade practices are followed in this empire. After the machines for producing thread and for weaving cloth had been developed in England, one year some British merchants arranged to send several shiploads o f cotton thread and cloth. That thread and cloth got sold here fairly cheaply. When this happened, the local weaving community appealed to the emperor that for a few years heavy customs duties should be imposed on the British thread and cotton, otherwise the indigenous producers would be adversely affected. The emperor ruled that customs duty would be collected for three years. The British were naturally displeased and sent a mission


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to the emperor to discuss and explain that open and free trade is a rational practice. It was finally decided th at the laws o f in tern atio n al communication had been formulated keeping in view the entire world as a vast empire. Consequently, so long as the world is divided into many empires and kingdoms, these principles cannot be made fully applicable everywhere in the world. Besides, a historical review also shows that when a nation is able to manufacture excellent products at low cost, that nation favours free trade in order to further its own commercial interest. Hence the principles o f free trade are not such that they can be applied regardless o f variations in time and place. However, the customs duty imposed in the first year upon British thread and cloth was reduced to half in the second year, and in the third the local weaving community itself pleaded for abolition o f the customs duty. Even though the duty was abolished, the British thread and cotton were no longer imported. The weavers had set up their own machinery and were producing the same material so cheaply that the British cloth could not be sold at lower prices than the cloth produced at home. Hereafter the foreign trade o f the empire began to be conducted according to this principle. Commodities that were imported although these could be produced by the country - all such commodities had customs duty imposed on their import for the first one or two years. As soon as they began to be produced cheaply within the country, the duty was abolished and free trade was permitted. By following Bharat’s example the Americans have developed their own production o f many commodities. All this is basic to any trade. But on a deeper examination it would appear that the Bharatiya emperor was not particularly keen to expand the country’s trade. His chief minister had once said with much anxiety that while the use o f machinery was an advantage in the manufacture o f goods, it also produced an adverse effect. Some people in the country became affluent, but others suffered badly for want o f enough food. Thus, on the one hand, the growth and development o f industry brought benefits to the people; on the other, it caused harm by giving rise to unnatural economic disparities within the population. These economic differences have not yet caused great harm because in adhering to the excessive generosity o f Arya conduct, the people o f this country are acutely responsive to the difficulties o f fellow-citizens - also because social differences are already prevalent in accordance with the status o f each family - economic disparity may in future

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become the cause o f harm to the country. The minister has also mentioned that the possible harm may be prevented to some degree by establishing colonies. But it would not be proper to found colonies indiscriminately and thereby bring misery to the inhabitants o f other lands. Anyway, it has been decided as proposed by the honourable minister that when Bharatvarshi people go to foreign countries for trade, they must never seek to acquire any land in those countries. Having gone to another country for making money through trade, they should follow the regulations o f that country. And except for uninhabited islands or islands with very sparse population, colonies will not be established anywhere else. If people o f other races happen to inhabit the colonised islands, they should be introduced to Bharatiya customs and anulom marriages arranged with them so that these regions become like Bharat in every possible way. There are not many Bharatiya colonies at present. Andaman, Nicobar and the Malla islands have been colonised; colonisation has begun o f Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sukhtar isles. The colonisers do not pay any taxes to the emperor but they bear the cost o f warships that have been provided for their protection. Bharatvarshi colonisers will always regard Bharat as their motherland. They do not, like the whelps o f animals, forget their m other as soon as they stop drinking her milk.

About Hospitality and Festivals The people o f Bharatvarsha have been formed by the blending o f two m ajor trails and both trails are generous by nature. The joining o f these tw o trails has enhanced this virtue. All householders practise hospitality with much care. Apart from this, the temples in every village have guest-rooms meant for the whole village. It is managed by th e village priest and barber. The expenses are met from general donations. These landlords, who have a travellers’ rest-house within th eir jurisdiction, give special attention to such rest-houses and arrange fo r distribution o f free food from their own households. Thus travellers could roam all over Bharatvarsha throughout their lives without spending any money on board and lodging. There is no danger o f their n o t finding some food, something to wear and some place to sleep just because they don’t know anybody. The nature o f the native population being so generous and trusting, it was likely that society would develop certain consequential b a d habits. But the government tries to prevent this. A number of


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persons had given up working for a living and become dependent on others. Certain laws were framed to discourage this. Thus, (a) Unless a person could demonstrate that he possessed a particular level o f learning, he would not be allowed to adopt sanyas dharma and become a wandering mendicant, (b) No person could «dopt sanyas dharma while he had to look after somebody in his family, (c) Without some special reason nobody could stay in the same sadavrat for longer than three days. Provincial chiefs had begun to implement these laws within the regions over which they exercised authority. In fact, some o f them had initiated these laws themselves. But the villagers and some o f the landlords did not seem favourably inclined towards such laws. All the same, there is no doubt that there had been a reduction in the number o f people living on charity. We may quote here portions o f a speech made by one o f the royal ministers when this legislation was being initiated: Truly, it is very difficult to abide by the dharma o f giving. While giving enhances the store o f virtue for the giver, it bestows the blame o f sin upon the receiver. You may gain self-satisfaction by an act o f giving, but I suffer self-mortification by accepting what you give. Therefore, when we consider both sides, we cannot say that acts o f giving have magnified the role o f dharma in this country. At the same time there is no greater dharma than giving - if we do not perform it, the means o f enhancing dharma will get lost. What we need then, is some way by which the receiver should not suffer self-mortification. That is, the giver’s virtue is enhanced but the receiver does not feel mortified. What is that way? That way is this - persons in this country who are engaged in enhancing dharma and increasing knowledge truly ignore their own happiness in order to improve the lot o f others. These persons are most worthy objects o f giving. It would be proper to give to such persons only and not to others at random. They hold high positions and are engaged in noble works, hence, they will not feel mortified to receive a gift on behalf o f others. When they receive a gift, they will regard it as a token of the giver’s gratitude and not as being subservient to the giver. Therefore, the proper persons for upholding the dharma o f giving are this country’s Brahmans who are also teachers. It goes without saying that the blind, the decrepit and the disabled are entirely suitable objects of pity. They are to be counted among those who have to be helped by others, and they never suffer self-mortification when they receive such help. Therefore the principle underlying the dharma o f giving is this - only they are fit to receive who do not feel demeaned in accepting help from others. Unless the act o f giving keeps

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this principle in mind and is governed by self-control, the giver may enjoy some pleasure as in playing games but no enhancement of dharma takes place.

It is difficult to say to what extent the m inister’s principle will find place in the sim ple, generous and tru stin g h e arts o f Bharatvarshiyas. Their great love for giving is the reason for such large expenditures incurred at the time o f festivals. They are not naturally given to entertainment. Their thriftiness and far-sight far exceed their capacity for enjoying themselves. Even then, because festivals offer an occasion for unlimited giving, Bharatvarshiyas are so fond o f festivals. While all the earlier festivals o f Hindus and Muslims have kept alive, two new celebrations have been inaugurated. Em peror’s birthday and the day o f the em pire’s founding are both being celebrated now. Apart from this there are local fairs in all the provinces where the major poets, philosophers, politicians and scientists were born. In some places, these new fairs are celebrated on the same day as the old Hindu and Muslim festivals, producing a unique amalgam o f three elements. Thus, Ramnavmi, Muharram and Valmiki’s birth anniversary have become one such amalgam. Many people have come to believe that Eijid is the same as Ravan, Hosain the same as Lakshman, Jibrail the same as Hanuman, and that there is no difference between Ramachandra and Paigambar. It is no longer possible to trace how such beliefs have come into existence. But then, if the ancient Arya festival o f Eros, the carnivals o f Romans and the maypole o f Teutons could have combined to give birth to the carnival o f neo-Italians, then it is nothing strange that the festivals o f Hindus and Muslims living in the same country should get combined. We reproduce below the description o f a festival written in a letter by a visitor from Italy to his friend at home: Today is the occasion of Saraswati puja. In every village the idol of Saraswati is being worshipped today. Don’t think that Bharatvarshiyas worship this clay image because they regard it as divine. Any intelligent person can tell by looking at Saraswati that she is no more than an embodiment o f learning. Only atheists and fools abuse such worship as idolatry. They call us idolators, too, so we need not pay attention to them. Saraswati is pure, hence she is white in complexion; she resides in lotus-like hearts, hence she is seated on a lotus; she is extremely graceful, hence has the form o f a Kamini; she is associated with learning and music, hence, she carries a book in one hand and a veena

Translation as Recovery in another. As I was gazing at this goddess-image and noticing these related features, the smoke and perfume o f burning incense obscured my sight and wholly occupied my sense o f smell. When the singing o f women filled my ears as if with nectar, I had the same feeling as I have when I go into the cathedral o f St Peter. There we have the image o f Mary, mother o f god, here it is Saraswati; there we have pleasant music and sweet-smelling fumes, here it is the same; there we have the singing o f virgins, here it is the voice o f beautiful young women; there we have congregational prayer in the Latin language being uttered in a grave tune, here it is melodius eulogy of the gods being recited in Sanskrit. There is similarity in every respect between our rituals and those o f Bharatvarsha. If the Bharatvarshiyas have become important after gaining political independence, cannot the same immortal fruit be born to the tree of destiny o f Italy? I know many people have said that Italians cannot gain independence until they have given up the Catholic faith and its religious rituals. But the Bharatvarshiyas have become the foremost nation o f the world in spite o f the obvious similarity between our religious rituals. Therefore those who recommend that a nation must give up religion before it can gain independence - the opinion o f such persons is quite worthless. But 1 had not planned to write to you about such matters. I get so irritated by the boasting o f stupid people fond of imitation that I find myself passing judgement off and on. After the worship and eulogy o f Saraswati is over, everybody offers her flowers. Bharatvarshiyas give due respect to age on every occasion. Here, too, older persons made their offerings first, and younger persons followed in order o f age. Flowers were also given to those married women who had sung the goddess’ praise so sweetly and in chorus. After this a few well-dressed boys and girls stood before the goddess with folded hands and sang a song in low but melodius voices. I was told, the song had been specially practised for this occasion. I liked the way this was done. In Europe we do not educate our children in religion even a hundredth part o f what Bharatvarshiyas do for their children. That is why European people have grown so selfish and dissolute. Again I am passing judgement. What can I do - why can’t my country become like this one? This question continues to rise in my mind. It can no longer be suppressed. The idols will be immersed on the following day. Immersion? Then how can anyone dare to say that the Bharatvarshiyas regard a clay image as divine? If that were so, they would not carry out immersion. Yet how can they cast away such beautiful images? That remains a matter o f surprise. These images are o f clay, not stone. Had these been

History o f India as Revealed in a Dream


o f stone they would be comparable to the images carved out by Michelangelo. The images are truly divine in appearance. What the Bharatvarshis do or have are without comparison on this earth. They do not become poor in spite o f spending lavishly; similarly, they feel no loss of their artistic skills even though they cast away these images into water. Those who have a lot can also spend a lot. Bharatvarshiyas have plenty o f everything - whether it is wealth or learning or artistic skill. They spend everything carelessly and don’t save all the time like we do. Another thing remains to be mentioned. The goddess Saraswati wears just a sari. Earlier, the women o f this country also dressed like this - they wore only a sari when they were at home. And they looked quite nice wearing only a sari. But now that they have started going out, their style of dress has also changed. Now they wear loose pajamas and a short blouse, and cover themselves in a long body-cloth a part of which covers the head. Men used to wear only a dhoti earlier. They do this even now inside the house. But when they go out they put on pants, a high-necked long jacket and a kind o f turban. This country has a long summer, hence, it is uncomfortable to wear thick cloth or many clothes. Their dress is quite appropriate to their weather and physiognomy.

Internal Situation To describe the internal situation o f Bharatvarsha, we may reproduce extracts from the accounts o f famous travellers. These travellers have written detailed accounts o f whatever struck them as unusual when they visited various parts o f this continent. We shall reproduce only short extracts so that this book should not grow to an excessive size. A Russian traveller has written: Every village in Bharatvarsha appears to be a republican area. All the works that need to be done in the village are done by the villagers themselves. Neither the king nor any representative o f his has to intervene. There is a temple in each village, and its courtyard is the villagers’ place o f assembly. A representative o f every street in the village attends the assembly. All matters are considered and decided after discussion, whereupon the decision is put into effect by everybody. We follow the same process in Russia. But whereas there are a number o f slaves at work in each village o f our country, there is no such arrangement in Bharatvarsha. Another difference is, whereas in Russia the villagers have a common right over all the land in the village, there


Translation as Recovery is no such common ownership in this country. Here, individual villagers have specific rights over each plot o f land in the village. But for revenue to be paid to the king, the amount is fixed for all the land in the village and not for each plot. Just as at one time only Athenians among the Greeks were the first to conceive o f individual and specific ownership rights, so have the Bharatvarshis accepted a similar concept o f ownership right. Russians on the other hand are like the people o f Sparta who did not gain such rights until they were conquered by Romans. The rights o f Russian villagers are like those o f Spartans, while in Bharatvarsha, the rights are like those o f Athenians. In certain areas, however, traces o f common rights can be found. Thus the village guard, barber, priest and teacher - all these persons hold share o f the common right over village land. These lands have special titles, such as, Chakran, Devottar, Mahottar etc. Just as each village has a temple, so does it have a school and a place for physical training. A boy enters school as soon as he is five years old and begins physical training as soon as he is eight. There is no ordinance about this, but it has become so by custom . . . Most people in the country engage in good works on their own and do not wait for legal support.

A German traveller has written: I have learnt a basic truth after coming here (Bharat). After travelling all over Europe and studying the history o f Europe’s development I had become convinced that the tendency towards selfishness was stronger than all other traits o f human nature. But whether because o f the climate o f the country or because o f the good training they have received in every generation, the apparent result is that the selfish tendency is not so strong in the nature o f Bharatiyas. (In Europe) we are always busy guarding our property, always quarrelling over our rights, never giving up what we regard as our own. Whereas, here the people are quite different by nature - they are much more generous, much less conscious about what is mine and what is yours. Consider the example set by landlords here - they never seek to abolish the rights o f villagers subserving them in order to extend the landlord’s own authority. In turn, the villagers do not look upon the landlords with unvarying suspicion. Many violent quarrels over such matters have raged in Europe. Such a quarrel is going on even now within Germany. But there is not the slightest trace o f it in Bharatvarsha. Here the landowners are concerned mainly with (a) collecting taxes from villagers, (b) supervising how villagers handle cases o f breach o f peace and other civic disorder, (c) building and maintaining roads,

History o f India as Revealed in a Dream


river-stations, tanks, markets and temples within their own jurisdiction, (d) establishing a school in developed towns or near their areas of residence and helping the school to upgrade its own functions. Recently the landlords have proposed another activity. Many o f them got together and have submitted a petition to the organising committee to this effect that all subjects between the ages o f 20 and 40 who live in villages should be required to assemble for 4 days every month and practise the skills of battle. Although the proposal has not come into effect, the emperor has agreed that anybody can institute it on a voluntary basis. Many villages are already engaged in the preliminaries of the programme. This is a good example o f the kind o f change that has taken place among Bharatvarshiyas during the last SO to 60 years. Previously there was a great deal o f rigidity in caste distinctions. It is very much less these days. The other day I was a guest at the house o f a Kshatriya landlord and he very readily ate his meal with me. This was not their earlier practice and, on my expressing surprise at the change, he smiled a little and explained: The system o f caste-distinctions prevalent in Bharatvarsha has a natural root. It is not entirely artificial, which is why it prevails even now and will continue for some time more. The condition we were in required the caste-system to maintain its rigidity. Our country was not independent then, our religion was about to be wiped out, our literary studies were o f a low order. Our very consciousness o f ourselves as a people was in a decline. At such a time, if we had not maintained all our old social systems with particular care, we may have been destroyed and obliterated. Right now our country is independent, our religion is alive, our literature has revived itself and is preserving our consciousness of being a people. Nobody can swallow us up now; on the contrary, we are now in a position to absorb others. We used to huddle in fear earlier; we have no such fear now.

This person has lived for sometime in the city o f Paris. He was educated in a school o f Varanasi. Most landlords in Bharatvarsha are persons like this. A traveller from England has written: Everybody seems to come travelling to this country but I do not know what wonderful things they see here. It is true that nowhere else in the world arc there cities as prosperous as the ones here, leading cities o f


Translation as Recovery Europe like Paris, Rome, Madrid, Berlin, etc., cannot compare with cities here like Lakhnau, Prayag, Ayodhya, Lahore. The ruins o f Alhambra, Coliseum, Parthenon, Thebes and Palmyra would be shamed by Fatehpur Sikri, Ilabara. Elephantaand Mahabalipur. The universities of Paris, Leyden, Gottingen, etc., seem like primary schools when compared with the educational institutions o f Kanauj, Kashi, Mathura, etc. But what of that? The people here are not free. Their king acts in an arbitrary manner. They do not have anything like our parliament assembly. Their food is particularly bad. Among their fruits, only the lichi bears a taste like our own fruits. That apart, Bharatvarshiya women are singularly without beauty. Their complexion is not fair, their hair is neither red nor brown, their foreheads are not high. Even if these women are specially devoted to their husbands, they are extremely shy and lower their faces out o f modesty. Their conduct shows no independence o f action. The widows seldom remarry. At places some of them have been known to seek death on the same funeral pyre as their dead husbands. In earlier times Bharatvarshiyas did not let women go outside their homes. Now they are beginning to do so in a small measure, that is how 1 have seen some ladies from eminent families. A few days ago I was invited to a dramatic performance organised in the house o f a provincial chief. This chieftain’s father was a Musalman. I do not know whether he himself is a Musalman also. Musalmans never bring women out o f their homes, but this gentleman was sitting there with his wife. Many others had brought their wives to the gathering. I asked somebody about this change and he explained, ‘Women are weaker than men by nature, hence they have to be protected by men. But unfortunately, in some countries the men are unable to protect themselves and they find no other way to protect their women than by hiding them at home. Hence, the restriction on women is the result o f this subservience. When such subservience is redeemed, the restriction on women will also be removed. Hindus did not cage their women earlier. But when they came under Musalman rule, they confined their women inside home. Musalmans keep their women at home also because they were ruled by autocratic kings and these kings were inclined to marry several times. Bharatvarshiyas are no longer a subject people, hence, their women are not confined to their homes as before. So long as some foreign authority or an autocratic ruler is responsible for law and order inside a country, including the protection o f its religious institutions, the women o f that country cannot join public assemblies or even go out o f their homes occasionally. There is not much point in trying to judge to what extent this explanation is valid. Earlier they used to marry several times - some o f them may be doing so even now - but their

History o f India as Revealed in a Dream


number will have declined. There is no state regulation in the matter.’

Reproduced below are portions from a letter an American missionary had written from India to a friend at home: I am quite disheartened by what I have seen o f Bharatvarshiyas after I came here to propagate the Christian faith among them. Compared to their Brahman priests we are most ignorant, impure and useless people. These priests are quite well read even in our religious texts; hence,

when we seek to show that something in their religion is irrational, they point out something equally irrational in our texts. They say that if faith is the basis on which irrational elements in your texts are accepted by you, then why should we not accept - on the basis o f faith - the seemingly irrational elements in our texts? There is no chance of winning such an argument. So much for arguing our case. As for work, they are far more considerate, industrious and selfless than even Jesuits. There are many uncivilised people living on the borders o f Bharatvarsha. The Brahmans go and live among them and are gradually teaching them to become peace-loving, good-natured and capable o f sacrifice. Let me give you an example. On the north-east border o f the Bharat empire is a province called Assam. Apart from genuine Bharatvarshiyas, those living there include persons from uncivilised tribes called Miki, Abar, Garo, Naya, Nirmi, etc. When I visited this province I found several Brahmans living among them in thatched huts. The tribals had become very fond o f them because the Brahmans always behaved naturally toward them. I was invited to be the house-guest o f an aged rishi-like Brahman and observed him at work. The more noteworthy parts were like this. After finishing his morning ablutions he goes to a tribal village. He examines how its fields have been tilled and advises the villagers on what seeds should be sowed. Then he calls on sick persons in the village and administers medicine. Afterwards he talks to people and using crude examples, explains to them the need for interdependence and for being conscious o f the consequences o f any action before taking it.

Some o f these tribals plead with him: ‘Master, give us initiation and raise our caste’. Such pleas are heard quite often. But this Brahman does not offer any ritual process which would improve their caste standing. He tells them that nobody bom into a low caste or in a family which believes in an inferior religion can, merely by wishing to, raise him self in caste - he has to perform tapasya for it. And he prescribes various kinds o f action that can accompany


Translation as Recovery tapasya. Thus, to some he says, ‘Do not eat this particular thing for one year’ - to another, ‘You must give away half or a quarter o f whatever you earn.’ Through such actions a person oqn gain spiritual credit leading to controlling one’s senses, restraining one’s avarice, perceiving the unseen and such other virtues. After this person has fulfilled various conditions and passed all the tests, he is initiated into the castesystem, given a mantra, and assured, ‘You are no longer an outcaste. I can now accept water and other potable fluids from you, and things you offer for the worship ritual can now be used for that purpose. If you use the given mantra and follow some other rules you may qualify for an even higher caste’. Apparently, in earlier times, Brahmans used to work in this manner all over Bharatvarsha. At present they are at work in the border provinces also. On asking the Brahman thakur I was told that the tribals, after their first reform, are called Koch; after their second reform they take on the name Kalita; after their third, they attain the status o f Sat-sudra. When I asked if they could ever become Brahmans, the reply was, ‘Not often in one birth, but they may in a subsequent birth’. I said, ‘What happens in another birth is as good as not happening at all since we cannot know anything about our subsequent birth?’ At this the Brahman smiled and said, ‘A man may be reborn as his own son. Even the very low-born can, through gradual reform, become a Sat-sudra. And then, should his son be intelligent, learned and wise, he can acquire the right o f Brahmanhood.’ This is the tradition o f caste reform among Bharatvarshiyas. It is remarkable that Brahmans engage themselves voluntarily in this difficult and laborious task. At some places landowners may have engaged them, but at most placcs the Brahmans themselves have taken on the task o f spreading their creed.

The darkness o f night had gone. The eastern sky brightened. I can no longer remain on earth. Before departing let me introduce m yself briefly so that readers are not misled. Using the sun’s and the m oon’s rays, Kalpurush writes history on the earth’s surface; his associate Smriti Devi occasionally recites portions o f that account. I am that lady’s companion o f leisure. Whenever I feel the lady is having difficulties in reciting, I try to make her forget the text. I don’t always succeed, except at night and in a dream. My name is Asha (hope). Usha (early morning) is my sister. I go now to meet her.

Index Abdulla, V., 54 Adiga, Gopal Krishna, 30 Ahmad, Aziz, 157 Alaol, 23 Anantha Murthy, U.R., 49, 54 Andrews, C. F., 130 Asia Magazine, 108, 109 Asokamitran, 107 Bachchan, Harivansh Rai, 30 Bandopadhyay (also Banerjee or Banerji), Bibhutibhushan, 73, 74, 157 Bandopadhyay, Manik, 47, 74, 75, 77, 161 Bandopadhyay, Samik, 158-164, 166 Bandopadhyay, Tarashankar, 73,75, 161 Bardhan, Kalpana, 161 Basak, Radhagovinda, 64-65, 6768, 70 Basheer, Vaikom Mohammad, 48, 51, 157 Bhagavat Gita, 34 Bhagavat Purana, 23 Bharatiya Jnanpith, 30, 31 Bhattacharya, France, 76 Bhattacharya, Rimli, 74,78,80,108, 165-169 The Book Review, 52 Booker Prize, 32, 61, 74 Bose, Buddhadev, 30, 41, 93 Bridges, Robert, 124 Brihatkatha, 22, 63 Chakrabarti, Nirendranath, 40 Chakrabarty, Ajit, 86,115,117,119 Chakrabarty, Amiya, 40, 107, 120, 168, 169

Chakravarty, Bikash, 120, 121, 126 Chakravarty, Sumita, 112 Chatterjee, Margaret, 77, 80 Chatterjee, Visvanath, 90, 97 Chattopadhyay, Bankinchandra, 25, 49, 114, 148-151 Chattopadhyay, Ramananda, 114 Chattopadhyay (also Chatterjee), Saratchandra, 25,107 Chaudhuri, Nirad C., 125 Chaudhuri, Sukanta, 43, 140, 173 Chowdhury Sen Gupta, Indira, 43, 140 Clark, T.W., 76, 78 Critical Inquiry, 160 Cutler, Norman, 146 Dasa, Sarala, 44 Das, Bikram K., 172 Das, Sisir Kumar, 125-130, 134,135, 148 Dasgupta, Chidananda, 78 Datta, Bijit Kumar, 112 Debi, Ashapuma, 60 Deb Sen, Nabaneeta, 93 Derozio, Henry, 35 Desai, Anita, 61, 134 Devi, Mahasweta, 158-164 Devi, Shyamsree, 143 Devy, Ganesh, 45 Dey, Bishnu, 30 Dharmarajan, Geeta, 50 Dharmashastra, 34 Dhoomil, 66 Dingwaney, Anuradha, 122,144-147 Dutta, Krishna, 112, 131, 132, 135, 169 Dutta, Roby, 83, 95, 115, 116 Dutt, Maikel (Michael) Madhusudan, 114


Translation as Recovery

Dutt, Romesh Chandra, 24, 49, 54, 141

Journal o f Asian Studies, 93 Jussawalla, Adil, 41, 69, 159

East India Company, 35 Elmhirst, Leonard, 131

Kabir, Humayun, 90 Kamban, 44 Katha, 50,51 Kaviraj, Sudipta, 148 Kaviratna, Sarasvati, 44 Keats, John, 90, 91 Khuddanikaya, 22 Kipling, Rudyard, 124 Krishnan, Mini, 51 Krittibas Ojha, 44

Fanon, Franz, 28 Firaq, Raghupati Sahay, 30 Fitzgerald, Edward, 67, 141 Flaubert, Gustav, 25, 65 Ford Foundation, 90 Fort William College, 35 Gangopadhyay, Sunil, 40 Gathasaptashati (also Gakokosa and Sattasai), 64, 67 George, K.M., 90, 98 Ghosh, Kashiprasad, 35 Ghosh, Shankho, 103, 171 Goethe, 24 Gitagovinda, 69 Gokak, Vinay Krishna, 30 Granoff, Phyllis, 79, 80 Greene, Graham, 65 Guha, Naresh, 76,79, 112 Gunadhya, 22, 63 Gupta, Nagendranath, 88,89,97 Haque, Kaiser, 105,106, 107 Hariharan, Githa, 51 Hasan, Khalid, 152, 155 Hastings, Warren, 34 Hyder, Qurrutulain, 49 Illustrated History o f Indian Writing in English, 28 Indian Institute o f Advanced Study, 28 Indian Literature, 102 Jafri, Ali Sardar, 168 Jai Ratan, 152, 157 Jap-ji, 143 Jataka Tales, 22 Jayasi, Malik Mohammad, 23 Jones, Sir William, 24, 34, 46, 63, 149

Lago, Mary, 121,122, 131, 135 Lai, P., 24, 36, 44,45,139-143 Lalita, K , 50 Latin American Literature, 59 Living Webster Encyclopaedia Dictionary o f the English Language, 44, 84 Longman Dictionary o f Contem­ porary English, 44,162 Macaulay, T.B., 35 Macmillan Publishers, 51,54-55,99100,103-105,109,111,116,118, 121, 125-127 Maddem, Marian, 148, 149, 150 Mahabharata, 22, 33, 44, 63, 141, 142 Mahapatra, Jayanta, 171, 172 Mahfouz, 41 Maier, Carol, 144-147 Majumdar, Gopa, 74, 79, 80 Mann, Thomas, 60 Marquez, Gabriel Garcia, 41 Manto, Sadat Hasan, 152,155,156 Marshman, Joshua, 48 Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna, 65-70, 125 Menon, O. Chandu, 49 Indulekha, 49, 54 Mishima, 41 Mitra, Asok, 105 Mitra, Shambhu and Tripti, 169

Index The Modern Review, 114, 121 Mohanty, Gopinath, 171, 172 Moody, Harriet, 86,93 Moore, T. Sturge, 112, 120, 122 Mouni, 51 Mukherjee, Meenakshi, 1S9 Mukherjee, Soumandranath, 148, 149 Mukherjee, Sujit, 111 Mukherji, Tarapada, 78, 80, 82 Mukhopadhyay, Bhudeb, 177-204 Muktibodh, 65 Murray, Gilbert, 130 Naipaul, V.S., 124 Nandy, Ashis, 100, 111 Nandy, Moti, 40 Naravane, V.S., 90, 97 Narayan Rao, Velchuri, 24 National Book Trust, 25,26, 29, 47, 160, 164 Nihlani, Govind, 156 The Nobel Prize for Literature, 74, 114, 127, 130 Nopany, Nandini, 143,154 Osman, Shaukat, 107 O xford A d vanced L e a r n e r ’s Dictionary o f Current English, 21,43, 45,91, 139, 140, 141 Oxford Book o f Modern Verse 18921935, 119 Oxford Tagore Translations, 100 Pampa, 44 Panchatantra, 45 Parappurathu, 54 Patel, Pannalal, 48 Pather Panchali, 60, 73, 74, 75, 79 W.W. Pearson, 102, 106, 111 Pendse, Shridhar, 47 The Plough and the Stars, 55 Poetry (Chicago), 117 Pound, Ezra, 117 Premchand 48, 56, 140, 142, 153

207 Radice, William, 61,106 Raju, Cherabanda, 160 Rakesh, Mohan, 153 Ramanujan, A .K , 2 4 ,4 0 ,4 2 ,4 4 ,6 6 Ramaswami, C.V., 35 Ramayana, 22, 33, 44, 63, 142 Raychaudhuri, Tapan, 148,178 Ray, David, 65-68, 70 Ray, Satyajit, 61, 74, 75, 104, 131, 134, 173 Ray, Sukumar, 171, 172, 173 Renu, Phanishwar Nath, 153 Rhys, Ernest, 124 Richman, Paula, 146 Roadermel, Gordon, 152, 153,154 Robinson, Andrew, 111, 131, 132, 133,134 Rothenstein, William, 115,116,118, 124 The Rough and the Smooth, 55 Roy, Kshitish, 77, 80 Roy, Raja Rammohan, 35 Rubin, David, 152, 153, 154 Rushdie, Salman, 124 Sahitya Akademi, 2 5 ,2 6 ,2 8 ,3U, 47, 55, 77, 102, 103, 125, 135, 164 Sahni, Bhisham, 152 Said, Edward, 145 Sarkar, Jadunath, 114,121 Sarkar, Shyamal Kumar, 93, 115, 122, 126 Sen, Am artya, 134 Sen, Gertrude Emerson, 108,112 Sengupta, Mahasweta, 122,123 Sen, Samar, 40 Shahani, Kumar, 169 Shakuntala (also Sacoontala), 34, 46, 63 Shrimad Bhagavat, 34 Shukla, Shrilal, 26 Siegel, Lee, 69 Singh, Amritjit, 67, 69 Singh, Doodhnath, 66 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 158164, 166

208 Sri Aurobindo, 141, Aurobindo Ghosh, 150 Tagore, Rabindranath, 25, 40, 41, 47,59,60,83-135,142,143,165170 Tagore, Surendranath, 101,109,111, 132, 133 Thakazhi Shi vasankara Pillai, 107 Tharu, Susie, 50 Thompson, Edward, 86, 87, 88, 96, 120, 126 Tolstoy, Leo, 24, 60 Transcreation, 21, 36, 43, 44, 45, 139, 140 Translation as Discovery, 79 Trivedi, Harish, 94, 111 Umarao Jan Ada, 60 UNESCO, 73, 74 Upadhyay, Brahmabandhab, 108, 167

Translation as Recovery The Upanishads, 34 Vaid, Krishna Baldev, 140 Vajpeyi, Ashok, 46 Valmiki, 44,63 Varma, Monika, 76, 78, 80 Varma Shrikant, 153 The Vedas, 44 Vettam M ani, (Puranic Encyclo­ paedia), 88 Vipra, Harihara, 44 Visva Bharati Quarterly, 93,111,122 Vyasa (also Vedavyasa), 44, 63 Weber, Albrecht, 64 Wilkins, Charles, 34 Winter, Joe, 91,98 Women Writing in India, Vols I and II, 49, 50 Writers Workshop, 43, 139, 140 Yadav, Rajendra, 49 Yeats, W.B., 117, 118, 119, 122, 141 Yogavashishta Ramayana, 34