Book Reviews

A Poet-Translator’s Bravura

The Emotive Achievement of Mukundarama Rao

A Poet and a Translator need different types of understanding and skill. Poet- Translator and Translator poet are two ways of assessment. Of these two which is the correct and fitting description for a person who combines the abilities and aptitudes of both? Opinions vary as all opinions are and would be. The skills of the two are different and sometimes they do not pair well. But, there are always exceptions to a general rule. The poet needs empathy for what he sees and wants to give expression to. Elemental feelings, emotions as Wordsworth called them demand Nativism, the need for the local, regional observation, analysis and understanding. The translator has to get into the soul of the original poet and try to put forward what is felt with reasonable nearness to precision. Mukunda Rama Rao is both and he has skill and achievement shown in his performance as both. He is both an imaginative poet and a painstaking penman.

Mukunda Rama Rao’s book Nobel Kavitvam on Nobel Laureates in Poetry is unique and the very first of its kind in Telugu. Thirty-seven Nobel Prize winners from 1901 to 2011, their lives and distinctive writing are all provided with meticulous care in this book. For one thing, it is an arduous task getting English translations of the poems of world-renowned poets. Then this author translated poems from English of poems in European and other languages also. It is a stupendous effort of translating the poems into Telugu, really a labour of poetic love and admiration. Only a few can be presented here.

In this World

In this world all flowers would wither away
Even the sweet songs of birds would be short-lived
I’d always dream of the summer that’s always remembered.

In the world lips come together delicately
Sweetness would stay just like that
I’d dream of that kiss only which remains in memory.

In this world every man would be grieving
Either for the friendship or the love lost
I’d dream of the stable, mad love. (page.30)

Eugenio Montale was the winner in 1975. The author Mukunda Rama Rao calls this writer a combination of comfort and grief. Born in Genoa, the poet feels that we are not going forward; only seeing but not thinking; we are experiencing time and that is not relevant now.

Seeing Off

May my sending off reach you
Are you those that think Christ would return, friends!
I love, I love the Earth

The one who gave it to me
The one who’d take it back
I love. (p.182)

Latin America’s people’s poet Pablo Neruda of Chile was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1971 two years before his demise. It was the tradition of Chile to send reputed poets to foreign countries for cultural transmission. Here is one of his poems selected by the editors of this book:


Twisting this word
I’ve been thinking of entwining it
Since several years now ... over this
Some big dog, with its tongue
Or a big river, with its water rubbing it again and again
This has become soft and shining now

In word I need a salt metal
Earth that wouldn’t bite
In the word iron salt
Is blood of those spoken and unspoken

In the innards of the innards of the letter
I’m thinking of blowing my enthusiasm
I’m thinking of licking the fire in sound
I’m thinking of hearing darkness in wailing
I’m thinking of spitting out
Words like stone virgins. (p170)

Revered and adored as Viswakavi, Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913. Here is a very short poem of that great poet rendered into Telugu by the author, which I reverse translated.

The Gift of the Humble One

The Desert deeply regrets: ‘Poor you, you bring me a lot of water
What can give you in return, I have nothing.’
Replies the Cloud: ‘Desert, I don’t ask for anything
You yourself have been granting me joy with the fortune of gifting me. (p.60)

Of the thirty-seven Nobel awardees between 1901 and 2011, only three were women. All can be included here as a mark of acclaim for the imaginative fair sex. Gabriela Mistral was the first woman who was the 1945 winner. She belonged to Chile Vikuna in Latin America. The author tells us that the fervent emotion generated love was the inspiration for her poetry. Here is a poem:


My heart feels like one becoming a fluid
When becoming soft like a candle
My veins’ slow oil
Does not become liquor
My life feels like running away
Like a deer, without noise, in peace (p. 107)

Nelly Sachs was the first German, a Jewess, who got the award in 1966. The author quotes herin the epigraph of his note: ‘I wouldn’t have stayed alive if I had not written. Death is my preceptor. Metaphors are my sounds, my dumb cries. I write only to liberate myself from me.’

O, Smoke Chimneys

Even if the worms of skin destroy my body
I see in my eyes God – Yobu 19:26

Cleverly built smoke chimneys of the quarters of death
While in the air Israel’s body is moving like smoke
The blackened street welcomed
Is it not the sun’s ray
That wiped it

O, chimneys
Irmia’s liberation route, Yobi’s dust*
Like the way made for refugees’ smoke
Placing stone on stone, who invented you

O, Quarters of Death
Welcomed and employed
When the one a guest offers a feast
Your own fingers
Like a sword between Life and Death
Placing thresholds

O, Smoke chimneys
Your fingers
Still like the smoke in the air is Israel’s body. (. 161)

*Irmia and Yobu are Jeremiah and Job

Wislawa Szymborska is a Polish lady who eon the Nobel in 1996. She was the bold and courageous woman who defied the Soviet dictator Stalin as a hateful snowman. Here is her poem:


‘Woman! What is your name?’ ‘I don’t know.’
‘What is your age?’ ‘I don’t know.’
‘Why are you digging this most?’ ‘I don’t know.’
‘How long you been hiding?’ ‘I don’t know.’
‘Why did you bite my finger?’ ‘I don’t know.’
‘Don’t you know we have not harmed you?’ ‘I don’t know.’
“On whose side are you?’ ‘I don’t know.’
‘This is war, you have to decide something?’ ‘I don’t know.’
‘Is your village still there?’ ‘I don’t know.’
’Are they your children?’ ‘Yes’ (pp 261-262)

This work of Mukunda Rama Rao stays alive as long as Telugu readers read great poetry in translation too. This book is undoubtedly a treasure house.

Mukunda Ramarao’s ‘vidani mudi’- the knot that cannot be untied - is his poetry, his work as an original poet in Telugu, his mother tongue.. For one thing it is a collection of poems about intimate relationships between the poet and his kith and kin, a succinct presentation of Nativism. He is a poet with a lot of difference from other poets. Intimate, blood relationships are the basis of his poetic urge as well as the poet’s output. In what could be an epigraph to his oeuvre the poet wrote this relationship is the opportunity (need, in my view) to express himself. In a foreword the reputed Indraganti Srikanth Sarma wrote that Mukunda Rama Rao’s path is not one among the many writing poetry today. He is very delicately sensitive, the poet who loves and admires his kith and kin.

I used his poems in the year 2000 when I brought out my books of translated poems Voices on the Wing and More Voices on the Wing. His ‘valasapoyinamandahasam’ drew lots of acclaim in those days. Who does not consider his married daughter a perennial smile that migrated? To my mind he made his debut and rose to prominence by the feeling he expressed in the poem. The feelings of the bride’s parents are emotions always felt in tranquillity. It is one of the sweetest poems in the recent years. Ever since my Voices our friendship has grown more and more intimate. The daughter in the house when moved away to her in-laws leaves a hear throb. The picture of the ‘hand in hand’ at the end is the picture of the hands of the viyyankas and the poet has seen the pride and the pinch in the hearts of the groom’s father and the bride’s dad.

The Smile that Migrated

valasa poyina mandahaasam’
Being a form of lovely consciousness
When she is bidding me farewell
I Realized.
All these days resting in my own heart,
The little one flew away, like a dove,
Leaving an icy curtain on my eyes.
Knowing and knowing full well,
It’s like a Siberian bird migrating,
Gathering all in the knapsack of scintillating joy.
Until its comes into experience,
Pain or grief wouldn’t ever be understood.
Flying joyously, loudly
The little games of childhood
Mischievous acts
Decorating the entire house,
She would be reminding us all.
No signs of flying away -
Only the agitation of not being present here
Just a feeling of dullness being left, alone
Either you, or me
Wouldn’t allow all the plants growing at the same place
All fruit and flowers to be on the tree or plant.
However much you denied
The pain that doesn’t leave
Wouldn’t stain the parting hearts
Otherwise look
It’s like the pride in the winner over the loser
-That hand in hand.
Maybe it’s a gesture to be fearless
It glows like a smile
Just like mine once!

Another poem which leaves a heart throb is ‘cheelina prapanchala madhya’ describing the feeling of the new bride of being between the cloven worlds. The trapeze trope is powerfully telling. What can be more painful than the ‘pieces of the broken mirror’?

Between the Cloven worlds

cheelina prapanchaala madhya’
Before becoming the better half
The girl was a free bird in one world
Now, she is pendulum between two.
She is an endless stream of conscience,
With a foot each on either side,
Quenching the thirst of both.
For her mother
There are three worlds now:
Further on between how many
Has she to trapeze!
Then there is the father
The cause of all
Looking at reflections
In pieces of the broken mirror.

Antargatham is not a simple poem. It requires reading and reading again many a time. It describes the inner pangs always hidden and the tension felt. Each time to rebel or rush becomes an act of desperate courage. The anguish is about the handling and living amidst dichotomies. These are undercurrents we experience in life.

The Innermost

As the ocean takes in yet another grain of sand
And gets caught in time’s crook, led where being tugged
Moving, moving, till snapped all of a sudden.
Picking up or watching the examples that come slashed
Absent-mindedly, its movement without beginning or end
Spreads every day one darkness and day light
Even then all wouldn’t be alike.
Though seem dependent, none would stop for another.
Flower beds or piercing thorns
How to bear those, the age that wears each is learning.
To look back is to lag behind.
Each time to rebel or to rush becomes an act of courage.
Exhausted we stop to go on looking
At those getting lost in the darkness
Our shadow becomes darkness for others.

‘Ayinaa’ depicts the state of minds of parents and kith and kin when their beloved come from foreign countries after long waits of those in the motherland. The longing is long. The visits are much expected and waited for. They are remembered long. The use of the trope – clouds – is revealing. Only the clouds that bring showers are remembered with poignancy.

‘vidani mudi’ lives long in the readers’ minds. Mukundaramarao has already made a name as a ‘meaningful’ poet and carved a niche for himself in the Parthenon of our poetry.

Even So…

When they came
How long they’d stay
Are unknown
If I know
More than pain of their leaving
The joy of their coming is more
Even among the clouds coming and glowing
Only those that drenched are remembered
For any length of time!


Human life is so complex that it has multitudinous aspects and kaleidoscopic combinations of shades and colours. Mukunda Rama Rao, a student of mathematics, professionally an IT veteran and, as for sensibility, a lover of familial feelings of love and affection, looking at life with concern and compassion. This is the essential quality of ‘Nativism’ a word used by a new movement gathering strength in recent years in our poets writing in English.


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

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