Notes (with sampler) on Literary Translation

Literary Translation is passionate pain. There cannot always be a one-to-one correspondence between the source and target languages. The difficulties, problems and impossibilities are many. It is not because the practitioners are not consummate in their skills. The path is not smooth always. It is stony and thorny and the path would have boulders and thorns and one has to go round, climb or change the direction to some extent to reach the goal. Cultural variations, dialect multiplicity and things like proverbs present major difficulties. The proverbial phrase compounds in Telugu do not have equivalents or suggestive similarities in English. There is a very often used sentence in Telugu while narrating a story: Katha kanchiki – manam intiki – which brings in Kanchi – possibly Kanjeevaram, the abode of Goddess Meenakshi in Tamilnadu. The story, it would be said, would go there, to Kanchi, (i.e., end) and we homeward. A practitioner friend of man rendered this title as ‘The story that missed the bus’. This is surely one way to jump over the boulder and in this case the reader of English who knows Telugu would do well to accept it with a large heart without cavilling.

Experience is personal and individual. In my earlier essay on logistics I tried to show how I attempted to convey both the flow and the flavour of the source language in my rendering. (I may be permitted to say that I always preferred ‘free rendering’ to ‘literary translation’ for fear of professors of Applied Linguistics with their scientific theories). In the land of Telugu speaking people, there are culture-based varieties and variations as well all society-based dialectical differences. And then words like ‘Dalit’ have serious connotations and when talking about social classes it is desirable to talk of the toilers, underprivileged, down trodden and depressed. (In civilized dialogue caste is taboo.)

The practitioner has pious obligations. It is his duty to present the different dialect variants in persons of the depressed strata of society. The practised speech in the higher level of language is not obtained in the speech of the poor, underprivileged toilers in rural areas and of such even living in towns and cities. Sometimes the dialect of these is used for not always unjustifiable humour.

Here are some specific examples. Practitioners need to portray the life and language of the characters in fiction. North coastal Andhra, particularly Srikakulam and Vizianagaram Districts have a different dialect which is not different from those in the Godavari districts or Telengana regions. These regional and rural dialects are varied,

Leading sometimes even to communication breakdown. Here is an attempt to show how this could be done to preserve the cultural, social, dialectal variations and make the narrative flow with ease carrying the flavour. The variants may be named special ‘idiolects’ with no denigration intended. These too may be found in the educated and the uneducated. Here is a story with North Coastal Andhra rural dialect. The characters are rural, not educated but with a strong moral sense. The story in Telugu was published in Andhra Prabha Weekly 22-1-1986.

The main women characters in the story belong to the working class, living in a town. Hard working and morality and decency bound they show how strong the moral sense could be. Indigence is not a bar for moral rectitude. The influence of an unseen character makes the central character bold. The language through out is of the rural characters with no education. Still they have the capacity to think, judge and act. Here is the translated story in its entirety.

Baleful and Truculent

‘Don’t blame or say anything to her!’

‘I wouldn’t go, that’s it. … Don’t blame me ... something is happening in me …I’m not able to see… my eyes are seeing black shades, legs are tottering… I’m not well at all. Don’t blame me..’ Gairamma told her mother firmly.

(Gairamma is for Gouri)

‘What is happening? The little woman sat down helplessly. What can I do bagamantuda?Appayyamma moaned in distress, her heart soaked with love.

(Appayyamma is Gauri’s mother and Asirayya, her father. Bagamantuda is the expression Oh, God!)

‘Yeh! Why are you getting upset like that! Perhaps she felt homesick and wanted to see her natal home. Came here running. Where is the muhurat to go back today? She’d stay for a short while here and go back. Why do you become powder for this?’ Asirayya tried to puff at his cheroot and making sure it went out threw it away to the corner of the makeshift fence before their hut.

(Muhurat is auspicious time – usually fixed by an elder. ‘Become powder’ is to be anxious, worried or badly agitated.)

Gairamma held her head between her knees and sat looking at the cow-dung washed mud floor.

‘What is happening to you, little mother, tell me … feeling weak? Perhaps she has gone with child!

Her anger vanished, worry disappeared too and Appayyamma began again:

‘Whatever happened, dear? Any good news. .. why don’t you tell me? She asked with affection.

(The nuance is ‘have you missed your periods?’)

‘No such thing. Keep shut. While I am feeling like death coming, why do you bother me?’’

‘Oh, keep silent …. You go get some hot water for me, the little girl would massage my legs with oil … my legs are hurting me… go, my littler mother; I’d take birth from you next…’ The sick man pleaded.

‘Die! Right - but do you really wish to be born to this little girl! She would not go to her husband and I am struggling and trying my best to muster all my strength … I went there with this girl giving the all I could and again this girl has come back. Don’t you remember how many times this has happened? Would your leg aches ever go … What is important, your pain or her married life?’

Appayyamma grew wild and went on: ‘Have I not come here as a little girl, went to my parents for a festival or two and sometimes didn’t go at all. When once we got her married, why should she come away like this? Whatever you may say, what ever play acting she does, she must go. If the one who should be there is here, people would start asking, asking questions and spreading canards making my stomach turn. Did we ever face words like those? Though her staying here does not hurt us, for those who see us, it would not look nice. You must start in the morning train,’ said the angered mother.

(Telugu festivals aaviti and sankranti are important for the village folk. Aviti is more important for showing respect to manes, presenting new clothes and it is a family meet.)

Putting away all the earthen bowls and cooking pots in their places and taking up a pot she went out to the water tap at the end of the street.

In Asirayya’s eyes tears eddied. Seeing his daughter, he said: ‘ Gairee… she went away telling us that she wouldn’t hear any more of what we say… Listen to her. She is having her concern. She has a good manas is. Isn’t she worried about you alone?’

(Manas cannot be translated into a single word. It is mind-heart and sometimes thinking and even intellect.)

‘Stay silent saying nothing, ayya.’ Gairee stood up and picked up a small bottle from the corner.

‘What is this? No oil in it. … I’d go and get a quarter rupee’s’. Bending into half she emerged out of the hut and walked fast on the path.

Asirayya felt chill and had shivers. Bending and turning on the string cot, he tried to reach the earthen bowl where a little fire was kept with burning char coal in the paddy husk. The bowl is a little warm though there is no fire in it. The fire must have gone out long ago. The words of his woman near the water tap are being heard.

‘We gave her half of a tola of gold, a brass water pitcher, some aluminium cooking utensils and plates. We too all these and left our girl there. Still, why is she not staying there? Those are good people. Asked if there has been a squabble, she says there’s nothing of that sort. They have a little landed property; they grow two bags of mirch and ground nut two. They have a buffalo and four goats. When there are rains and busy work on the fields this girl has come here running. Why should she come running away like that in this season? His knee pains are not new. Last time when she came I bought a saree too … why can’t she go back silently? Nanitamma put in her hand a five rupee note asking her to but bangles.

(Tola is a measure of weight of about 11.6 grams. Mirch is Chilly, Nanitamma is Lalitamma, the revenue officer’s wife who is a friend of Gauri’s and generally respected by all in the village.)

‘If it is so, Appayyamma, Wouldn’t your sambandhi say anything? Luckily your son-in-law is a good man… otherwise she would get into trouble, be careful! Any what does he say?’

‘What would he say, if this girl comes rushing here with a love for her natal home?’
‘Did you light your fire for cooking your food?’ asked woman bringing a pitcher to take water and Appayyamma lifted her pitcher to her head.

It is getting dark. Appayyamma brought some burning coal and lit her earthen stove.

Asirayya lit his cheroot.

‘Gairee… why do you sit there like that? Wouldn’t you rise and do up your hair? I’d rub oil on his legs. He would never be satisfied. Darkness is falling… get up …I’d do it. Go and wash your face.’

Gairamma rose up slowly.

“Orayyya … I’m getting jittery’, said Appayyamma. “did she come away raising a rumpus there?’

‘Oh, no, would she do anything like that? Wouldn’t a young girl go to her natal home’

‘Not like that … I’m frightened. If someone were to ask “Why didn’t your go back’. What can I say? .. You know how respected we are in the gudem. Didn’t we resolve many a problem? Didn’t we resolve the crisis when Yarakayya’s wife suffered injustice? Aren’t they living happily now? If your girl hasn’t told me what the problem is how can I ever know about it? Perhaps she told her friend Paramma.’ Saying this Appayyamma got up suddenly and walked out briskly not answering her husband’s queries from his cot.

(Gudem is a small hamlet on the outskirts of a village where the poor live in small huts.)

Paramma and Gairee are childhood friends. But Paramma is slightly older. She got married and went to live with her husband. After about six months the man fell ill, his disease got worse and he died. Many told her parents to marry her off again but, Paramma was adamant. She refused to marry again. She has been working as a maid in the Revenue Inspector’s house. His daughter began teaching her reading and writing and put ideas of rectitude and things like saying that marriage is just once for a woman. Gairee would talk at length to Paramma. She imbibed the educated girl’s ideas.

Women in the locality say that Paramma did not listen to anybody when they brought up the idea of marrying again. She would say firmly’ Taali is only once. Morality is just the same for everyone. My life has turned like this. Marriage alone is not life and living. God above is there for everything.’

Appayyamma was surprised that such a young woman should speak like that,

‘Anyway, Paramma is a straight forward girl. If asked for anything she would do anything even would sacrifice her life for others’ good.

Appayyamma called Paramm standing outside her hut.

‘She went to the big street’s house. Someone is coming there perhaps to take a look at their daughter. All the busy work is entrusted to Paramma. Sister-in-law, your daughter has come ... What news! Why not come in, why are you standing outside?’

‘My husband’s legs are stiff and I want to take my daughter to her in-laws but she is not ready to go. … Come in, daughter-in-law ... you say bride–looking would we get any sweets?’

(Bride looking is a visit of the groom’s people to have a look-see of the young bride-to-be)

‘Why did you come running? What is Gairee doing? That is a visit for ‘looks’. Those people demanded a dowry etc., of twenty-five thousand. The young girl’s mother sat down in discomfiture. ‘

Appayyamma thought that it was the best time to ask. She sat on the cot lowered by Paramma and thought of asking her the moment Paramma’s mother left the place.

‘Did she tell you anything? Any girl would jump in joy to go her hubby’s place. Why is our Gairamma not eager to go … very young husband…’ She wanted to say something more but having looked at Paramma’s face she kept quiet. How older is Paramma after all.‘Let it be, atta. Let her be here for some more days. Let her be convinced.’

‘What is there? Did she tell you anything? Should she not tell me, the mother who had borne her?

‘No, don’t make it a noisy issue. After all what is there to tell you?’

’You talked about the teaching of manas. Did those people do or say anything? How would I act if she does not tell me anything? Mother, mother, I’d die and be born to you. Those people know about us. I cannot stay put if they say anything. What happened? Tell me.’

“Nothing happened,’ Paramma said slowly.

‘If you don’t tell me it would be like killing and eating me.’

(This is a sort of threat.)

‘Don’t use such strong words. Our people are anxious to marry off our girls but is it not necessary to understand what that family is and how the groom’s health is?

Appayyamma felt like a thorn piercing her. Among those who fixed the match she was one. She is not ignorant as not to understand what the young woman said. The sting unsaid is that it the health condition of the groom was not checked before the wedding.

Paramma realized that she had hurt Appayyamma. She said:’ my fate is like this. Did he wish to die? .. He fell ill and died. .. But what is the stupidity of this fellow, your son-in-law? Though he has his wife in his home he has relation with another woman much elder and not in permissible relationship. If asked by his wife he would say that she does not know anything. What more should she know? They are living together and doesn’t she know what foul behaviour is? … As that girl (
the Revenue Inspector’s daughter) said what is relationship etc for a beast? What is age and what is shame? … Would we hang bones on our neck though we do eat mutton? He pain is hers. Don’t blame or bother her for some time.’

Appayyamma did not stop even for a minute. She rose like n ignited fire work that zooms towards the sky.

‘Olamma, Olamma, what injustice and what villainy!’

(This is an expression of both pain and the surprise about the wrong doing of some.)

Paramma was frightened to see the old woman like a burning cracker and she was a little ashamed too to have hurt her. She went behind Appayamma saying softly: ‘Atta, of what use is it to have a squabble for things like these? If they are immoral, we have only to be silent as if we have not seen or known about the goings on. If we reveal these the shames is on us too. That big house girl says that Gairee must be brave and work to be on her own feet. One should not keep mum thinking that it is one’s own punya. One should rebel and hit back: that would be a consolation and satisfaction.’

When Paramma was repeating her praise of the girl in the big street, Appayyamma did not wish to hear anything more. She went into her hut with bagfuls of thoughts, dignified and grave and concentrated on cooking food.

‘Where did you go?’ Asirayya asked. He knew that his wife wouldn’t stay put.

‘Come , I’d serve you food.’ When the mother said this and began filling the plate for her Gairee, looking into her mother’s eyes got agitated. She started eating.

Appayyamma said: ‘What is that eating? Eat well. Only those whose actions are beneath the caste honour and pride should be afraid of anything. Why should you fear?’

The young woman looked at her mother with her eyes filled with wonder when she burst out.

-It was not day break but Appayamma set out saying: ‘Don’t look for me.

Asirayya was still asleep. Alighting from the train with hands moving forward and backward (in an army man’s drill) with digniy she walked a full kos and when the sun rose a length of two arms she stepped before her sambandhi’s house.

( Punya is merit. Sambandhi relationship indicates the link between the bride and groom’s parents. Kos is about two and a half-mile distance.)

‘Vadina!’ She roared.

(Atta is mother-in-law or aunty; vadina is elder brother’s wife or sambandhi)

‘Olamma! Appayyamma! Where is the young woman?’

‘Don’t you know where she is? Your son has been rollicking openly with a woman older then himself and one with wicked relationship. What need is there for him for my daughter since he has another woman? I don’t like the play acting.

We are people who solved many a dispute in matters related to weddings. We counselled people and fought for justice. We are not those who promote enmities.’

‘What is it? What are you saying?’

‘You ask me!? Where is that man?’

‘Went to the town, he hasn’t come back in the night. I thought that he came to your house,’ said the woman with innocence.

‘He hasn’t. I came here to dissolve my daughter’s relationship with your son. What I am objecting to is not something you don’t know. I did not have eyes but my daughter has a manas (mind-heart). I came to know that just a little ago. Whatever have we given, you keep it all for yourself. If you want to have a ‘trial’ come to our place, tell our village elders and take the girl back if they judge that she must go to her husband. I give you three days’ time. On the fourth day if I don’t find a husband for my daughter, my name would not be Appayyamma any longer. I’m not even Asirayya’s wife.’

In that street there are twenty dwellings on each side. Since it is breakfast time all men and women are in their huts.

Appayyamma’s loud angry words slapped the backs of all and all and they came out to see what was going on.

Seeing the gathering with tears in her eyes Appayyamma told them all what she wanted to say. Experience told her that there would be no point in stoking the fire of a quarrel. What she would do she told all. There was no answer from anyone.

She turned round quickly and none in the street made any attempt to stop or, greet or question her. None tried to assuage her grief or show her any sympathy for the injustice. Nobody took ‘vakalat’ either to her or the ones in their village.

After she walked for half a furlong her son-in-law appeared. There was a woman by his side.

“Atta!’ the young man said.

‘Who are you? Am I your atta?... Is this the shameless woman for whom you have thrown fire and ashes on my daughter’s life? (She went of rebuking the woman calling her harlot etc.) I told your mother… After three days if you do not come to take my daughter after meeting the elders respectfully and stop dallying shamelessly with this woman, you are not anything to us. Lack of food or poverty does not mean lack of respectability and morality. You, shameless dancer, who are you? What is your connection with this man? With him you spent the night in the town … you shameless harlot…’

Spitting out vehemently with disgust Appayyamma walked forward not looking back.

She returned home like a hurricane. Yesterday’s peace, calm and yesterday’s confidence just disappeared. Once at home she broke out again:

‘May his head be tonsured! May his injustice perish! That man may be eating grass but why should that buffalo of a woman have decency … big is she with brawn and fat… woman who has given up all sense of shame… She would even sleep with a man on the road.’

Asirayya asked: “What is all this?’

‘The great service you have rendered. I saw that with my own eyes. Now you look for another match for my girl. If that fellow is promenading with that shameless woman … why should she care for him? I gave him three days’ time. Within a month’s time I’d marry her off again. … Not within three days, he wouldn’t come even in three years. … Such shameless fellow would even kill my water if she goes there. That woman is like buffalo after which has two calves I wouldn’t send there even if she wants to go.’

Asirayya kept mum.

‘If you can, come rouse an argument and take an agreement and take her away, I told him. … All the men and women in the street kept seeing the wonder. But none interfered and none asked about the quarrel. I know what his courage is. But sending the girl to such a house is like destroying her which I would not do. It would be like cutting off her head.’

Appayyamma went muttering in a low voice.

-At sundown Gairee came in with a carrier ammayi garu gave her.

(Ammayi garu, is a respectful way of referring to the Revenue Inspector’s daughter.)

‘My mother, my mother!’ said the distressed mother to her daughter. She continued further and said ‘I have seen with my own eyes. None in the street bothered about the wretched crime or asked me any question. … Aren’t morality and justice dead? …

Don’t fear. My mother’s younger sister’s son is working in a mill in Komatipalli.

I’d send word to him and fix the marriage.’

‘For whom would you fix a marriage? If he is without morality or a sense of caste pride would we bite grass? My marriage is performed and now it got burnt. Would I die if I have no husband? He is a man with no morals. Yes. But what are we? For a woman there is marriage only once. … Never ask me to marry again. If you do I’d hang myself.’

Picking out a burning faggot from the corner she broke into two noisily, and put it in the burning fire.

‘What, you left him and came away: I didn’t say anything. What if he had gone? We can find a good man now … Whatever he might have thought of Appayyamma, he doesn’t know what I could be and what my ability is.’ Appayyamma said in a loud voice.

‘Don’t say anything…’ Asirayya roared in anger.

Appayyamma remained standing looking at her husband and her daughter turning her eyes to one and the other.

‘Ammai garu said that she would teach me reading and writing. Till now I was with her in their house. Don’t say anything more to me. Isn’t morality the same for man and woman? What would I have done if he’s dead? Having a manas people should be bound by morality. That is what our elders said always.’ The young woman’s eyes were sparkling.

Appayyamma remained motionless wondering if it was her own daughter that was speaking.


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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