First of all – a few words about PUNJABI. It is an Indo-European language within the Indic branch of the Indo-Iranian subfamily. Its region is the Punjab – the land of five rivers – which is divided between India and Pakistan. It is spoken by total 120 million people all over the world including one million in this country. It has two scripts – Gurmukhi used in India and the Farsi which is used in Pakistan. I can’t read and write in the Farsi script.
B. turn from
one language into another. xiii
the Punjabi word taken from Sanskrit is: Anuvaad.
Anu. Picchey Pichhey, Nālo-nāl, NeRhey-NeRhey
Bāt. Idea behind a sound/word
word is silent. The sound is uttered word.
ow the age
old question: Is it really possible to translate poetry?
My answer is:
Yes and no.
the world have known each other through translation, of course. There
is a certain element of truth in the cliché that it is impossible to
translate poetry; that poetry is what is lost in translation. No word
which is basically a sound can be replaced by another word, especially
in another language. In that sense the translation is not possible.
But what is
it that comes through even in the translation and what is it that is
lost or not communicated? These basic questions will continue
to be asked without any definitive answers.
[Pushkin said: Translators are “Couriers of literature.”
Moscow published the Punjabi translation of Pushkin in 1980, but it
did not touch a chord with any Punjabi reader. Why? Did the translator
not do his job properly or was Pushkin too lyrical to
be translated? No other Russian poet comes through enjoyable in Punjabi.]
’ll relate my personal
experience. It can’t be wrong; theories can be.
For the last twenty years
I have been working on English translation of my poems with my English
poet friends like John Welch, Julia Casterton, Stephen Watts and Yvonne
I always do the first
draft and later work on each and every word including punctuation and
spacing sitting with my friends. One of the frinds went further making
it a more painstaking task – she transliterated the poems without
knowing the language. She was not interested in my first drafts.
Using poetic license
I tend to take some liberty with my poems and use words or imagery which
is not in the original. When my above-mentioned collaborator sent me
her ‘Englished’ – as Daniel Weissbort put it – version of my
poem, I was unable to relate with it. I objected. She emailed me back.
I quote some extracts as they are quite relevant to our talk:
Every syllable and omission was deliberately placed, after much thought. What you have produced is a literal translation which sounds jumbled in English. Please don't put my name on it under any circumstances.
I think that you may be looking for literal translations rather than the type of version I try to produce, with metre and word-sounds which give an impression of the Punjabi, that I've heard you describe at length, but which works to an English ear.
you don't want me to send off my version for publication, please tell
me and I won't. I admire your work immensely and the way you explain
it but I can't translate it, if you reclaim it each time I try.
Since then she has not
spoken with me. That was a couple of years ago.
I think in my case I
was asserting my right of moral ‘ownership’ and it was ‘intellectual
appropriation’ in the translator’s case. It did not work and a compromise
was never tried.
Thank goodness, there
can’t be any breakdown of working relationship with the classical
poets, whose work is more difficult to do e.g. Nanak, Sufi poets, Wāris
Shāh. [Punjabi] and Kālidās.
[Sanskrit]. They are not there to
object and the translators are always left with full freedom and much
Modern Punjabi poetry
is easier to do as it is influenced by English /Western poetry. Poetics
is changed now – Imagery. Syntax. Diction.
When I do my rare poems
into Punjabi saying sheepishly ‘Translated from the original in
English’ I again take some liberty. I don’t think any body else
could do full justice in Punjabi as I do, as in both the situations
I am in control. It’d be worth noting how Beckett handled it when
he translated into English his own poems written originally in French.
must admit that all
these years I could translate just 25% of my work – about 120 poems.
The rest is simply not possible. I find my essays in Punjabi, written
in the John Berger style, much more demanding and so far I haven’t
dared to touch any of those.
I think, feel and dream
in Punjabi. Its every sound is tangible from within unlike English.
I started learning English when I was six, but still I am unable to
reach its essence, its soul. I think my prose is more intense, austere
There are numerous Punjabi
words which are my favourite, while there is just one word Telephone
in English I like most. I was mortified to realise this that the language
which gives me my bread and butter and which my sons speak with me is
so strange to me.
y poetic training was
also equally influenced by Western modern poetry. Brecht, Ritsos, Neruda,
Hikmet, Cardenal etc. I have known through English translations. I have
translated their poetry into Punjabi without much difficulty, but if
I were to translate my favourite contemporary English poets like Dannie
Abse, Adrian Mitchell, Owen Shears and Jackie Kay, I will find it really
It is right to say that
my encounter with English always suggests subconsciously – and it’s
not by force – to always reconsider my own writing and thinking.
Most of the
time the real worth of a poem is put to test when it is translated into
another language; in this instance from Punjabi into English. This is
another way of deconstructing the text.
said: “I love Italian, it’s the most beautiful language
to write in, but terribly hard for writers, because you can’t tell
when you’ve written nonsense. In English you know right away.”
I do know that Punjabi
in that sense is not much different from Italian. I am always able to
filter out the nonsense from my poems! Like the Qura’nic angel Nakeer,
the English-speaking secular angel Auden is always perched on my right
shoulder taking notes of my deeds.
Problems of grammar,
diction and idiom will remain for ever; that’s what translating is
Here is a simple sentence
– I love you. English glosses of the Punjabi sentence will
be: I you to loving am. It may give some idea how the Punjabi
mind works through the language and vice versa.
The idea in the original
is the soul which after translation incarnates itself in a new body.
The whole translating
pursuit is only liberating after it has been accomplished. It is said
– a poem is never complete. I’d say, it’s more so when it is translated.