Translation for Intercultural Understanding

 

A translator’s responsibility lies in overcoming problems posed by divergence of languages and cultures, while translating a text in native language for a non-native audience.  In translating a poem from an Indian language into a foreign language like English, a translator invariably desires to translate a foreign audience into a native one. Elements of native flavour /culture  need to be essentially preserved. As a result ‘hybridity’ may emerge in expression, while content remains un-effected. Susan Bassnett among others advocates translation of culture as an essential feature of  Post-colonial translation of texts. ‘Inbetween-ness’ does not surprise anyone in such contexts.

 As for my work, the language chosen for translating the literary works of Dalits was English, as it was felt that it will have universal appeal and extended range to reach greater number of audience. It was neither the Queen’s English or King’s English but Indian English as it is used in the land. It was felt that it is a component of world Englishes.

  Translation of a play, with political overtones is, indeed, a daunting task. This play Coolie, the Sovereign [Kuuli Raju] written by Sri Boyi Bheemanna in 1942 first as KashTa Jeevi [Hard Worker] was modified subsequently, in view of prevalent political situation and was published in 1947. It was meant for the stage. His own views are amply vivified in the introduction to the play. I deem it an honour to have been assigned the task of translating the play.Major concerns of the dramatist are relevant even today. That speaks for the universality of the theme chosen.

 My experience as an actor during student days and as a director after I took up teaching emboldened me to accept the offer to translate this play. My exposure to theory as well as practice of translation appeared inadequate when I started my task in right earnest. As the work progressed I gained in confidence. I could get the pulse of the playwright and it is Sri Bheemanna garu who did the rest. I am only a tool . I realized how difficult it is to translate a play, especially Kuuli Raju, which was written for the audience of pre-independence India. Its publication soon after 1947 has all the features of a political play of those days.

  This play has sharp, witty, at times soliloquy like dialogue. Each character has a unique style of expression. Sri Bheemanna’s scholarship and craftsmanship are evident in every line he scripted. A plethora of emotions, multiple characters, factions, elections, electioneering make it an engrossing experience. Coolie, the Sovereign has to wear all the ornaments of Kuuli Raju—crisp dialogue, songs, prayers, sloganeering, metered poems, love lyrics, bhajans and burrakatha [folk art form of Telugus alone]. Carrying these into an alien language like English is a difficult venture. Cultural chasm is a major deterrent. Yet, I tried  my best to do justice. Failure is mine and credit should go to all those who motivated, supported and cheered me all through.

   Retention of original flavour of the source text is an essential feature of any translation. Literary translation differs from translation of documents. Creativity, an asset and an impediment, aided by intuition enables a translator render justice to the task undertaken. I retained some original expressions in Telugu, the source language—deliberately at times, unable to locate an equivalent term in English, at others–a practice in post-colonial context. I attempted to approximate the thought process and speech patterns of the characters in this play.

 The play begins with a traditional prayer to God to bless his patron Vemula Kurmayya and all others associated with uplift of Harijans [ as the Dalits were known in those days], coolies and poverty stricken masses.The paly Kuuli Raju written in 1942, was dedicated to Sri Kurmayya, a minister in presidency of Madras in those days.It was titled KashTa jeevi [Hard Worker] initially.

Subsequently, the title was changed and KashTa Jeevi became Dhanya Jeevi [The Blessed one], staging several performances in the state. Those who played a major role  in its performance were young men from Kapu, Kamma , Brahmin castes imbued with congress socialist ideology and reformist views of communists.Later, India gained independence ,congress governments were formed and my contacts as a congressman with  powers that be , led to some ideological shift in the play , which was renamed Kuuli Raju [ Coolie, the sovereign]  and was published from Madras in   book form in March, 1948,”states the playwright in his introduction to the play and goes on explain his concept of ‘Gandhian Socialism.’

 

 He does not endorse violence  and pleads for peaceful agitation along the lines of ‘Satyagraha’ of Gandhiji.Boyi Bheemanna proposes in the play that the first President of free India has to be a Dalit woman.Though he was a Dalit by birth, he was not happy that the caste tag was attached to him. He felt that a writer does not belong to any narrow band of group or ideology. He and his works are to be reckoned as belonging to entire humanity.

  “Dynamism characterizes creation. Keeps evolving  every moment. In the process old order crumbles making way for the new. That is revolution. It is natural. I discouraged ‘  armed revolution based on violence’ in this play. When ample avenues are there to create a welfare society through elections,  violence ridden revolution is not needed today. Gandhism aims at structuring a welfare state based on truth, non-violence and universal love. That is possible if the coolies come to power through adult franchise.

  This play depicts a socialist  system , bereft of differences of caste , creed and factions, evolving through Gandhian movement,” states Sri ‘Bhimanna’, as he spelt his name. I preferred to spell his name as ‘Bheemanna’ to enable non-Telugu audience to pronounce his name properly.

 In the first scene of the first act one notices Nishkul Yogi motivator of coolie movement singing a song exhorting people of India to awake and emancipate the country from foreign yoke.

He goes on to inspire the youth further in a ‘metered poem’ in Telugu.

           Caste and creed, suffocating noose
           around the neck of virtuous Bharat,
           arise young men, uplift  the land,
           casting aside caste and creed!                                   Coolie, the Sovereign, 3]

As is well known the opening scenes in Shaspeare’s plays strike  the key note of the play, here too the playwright Boyi Bheemanna points to the content and message of his play in the very first scene itself.

Instances of hybridity in expression may be found in the rendered version the  following ‘metered poem’in Telugu:

Paramjyothi : Aha! How prosperous and blissful is this Andhra land.
          
                        As woman in child-bed like green fields,
                                                   our golden Telugu thalli!
                        Ripe with sweet fruit tender mango tree,
                                                    our nectar Telugu thalli!

                        As an eternal spring; soothing shade ,
                                                   our Lakshmi Telugu thalli!
                        Plentiful, bounteous, Annapurna like,
                                                   our mother, lovely Telugu thalli!                                  [57]

Here, ‘Telugu thalli’ literally means Telugu Mother. The reference is to the motherland of Telugu speaking people. Hence I retained Telugu expression deliberately, as ‘Telugu mother ‘ sounds awkward and is inappropriate, context wise.

‘Burrakatha’ is a folk art form meant for performance on the stage, very specific to Telugu people and Telugu culture alone. While translating this art form I found it very difficult  to use English alone. So I added some expressions specific to Burrakatha in English version to familiarize them to non-Telugu audience. The following episode illustrates my endeavor:

Jogulu:[Sings as a burra katha]

Hail!Hail! our Indian nation
             Hail! Hail!

Youth: Bhala !  Bhali !

Jog:     Hai! Hail! Our coolie union!

Youth: Bhala! Bhali!

Jog:     Hai! Hail! Our Paramjyothy!

Youth: Bhala! Bhali!

Jog:    No use! You boys are fit to eat and roam! Nothing else!(song)
                       Food and cloth for every person….

Youth: Tandano! Tanetandana!

Jog:    Well spread fields, warm home….

Youth: Tandano! Tanetandana!

Jog:     Fairdeal for all  people…
.
 Youth:   Tandano! Tanetandana!

Jog:              Offers all this, coolie union!

Youth: Tandano! Tanetandana!

Jog:   For such a coolie union candidates caste your votes, dear all !

(Song)

           Cast your vote! cast!

Youth:Sye!

Jog:    Clashes we abhor!

Youth: Sye!

Jog;     Fiendish feudalism!

Youth: Sye!

Jog:     Bury in a deep pit!

Youth:  Bhalanoyi Tandana!

            Melu bhalanoyi, o coolie!                                                                                                    [83-84]

 

In a three member’ Burrakatha’ team, there is a main narrator, supported by two ‘Vanthalu’[ side kicks]. One of them supports the narrator while singing and giving cue for continuing the story narration, while the other ’Vantha’ or supporter acts clownish with comical dialogue, funny gestures, offering  the audience much needed comic relief. Jogulu is the prime narrator.

In my translations’Bhala Bhali’ [ word of appreciation], ‘Tandano ‘tanetandana,’ [ just repeating like a parrot  to please and add pace to narration] and ‘sye’ [ throwing a challenge; also an affirmation ,specially meant to rouse passion of listeners and viewers’]  are retained to reflect native flavor. True translation does not look well. The main narrator’s version is in English to help audience grasp what is being conveyed.

In act12 in the conversation of Viswanatha Rao and his son Prem Kumar I retained Telugu expression as it is Telugu at the beginning, slowly switching over to English later on.

Visw: Abbayi!

Prem: Namaste, nannagaru!                                                                                       [90]

‘Abbayi’ literally means a boy. Here it reflects affectionate concern of a father for his son. ‘Nanna Garu’ meaning ‘respected father’ Those were not the days of ‘daddy’ and ‘mummy’ but ‘nanna’ and  ‘ammaa.’

Todays ’children have many uncles like ‘paper uncle,’ auto uncle,’ ‘milk uncle, ’’postman uncle’ etc. Every other man is an uncle and a lady is an aunty for children of present day.

This experience of translating a play in Telugu helped me translated Dalit poems written by men and women comfortably later on.

                     

 

       

 

 

                                               

—-T.S.Chandra Mouli

 

 

T.S. Chandramouli

T. S. Chandra Mouli , an academic , poet, translator and critic, is a Fellow of Royal Asiatic Society, Great Britain and Ireland. With 3 books of poems in English to his credit, he published 26 books[19 edited anthologies of literary criticism and 7 authored works]. He completed translation assignments for institutions of higher learning.
His poems in English and translations of Telugu poetry and fiction are extensively published. He is the Chief Editor of VIRTUOSO, a Refereed Transnational Bi-Annual Journal of Language and Literature in English, approved by U.G.C.
Vice Chairman of AESI [Association of English Studies in India] for a second term, Dr Mouli made panel presentations in International Conferences in universities in China, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia,the U.K, France and Sri Lanka.
Email: tscmouli@hotmail.com; Ph:91-9849005304.

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