The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 22, 2002

Write view
Trite translation, wearisome verse
Randeep Wadehra

The Images
by Keshari Nath Tripathi.
Rupa & Co., New Delhi. Pages xxxiv+102. Rs 195.

The ImagesTHE works of such literary giants as Pant, Nirala, Suman and Harivanshrai Bachchan in Hindi, Amrita Pritam, Shiv Batalvi and Surjit Pattar in Punjabi, Mahakavi Vennikulam Gopala Kurup in Malayalam and many others in different Indian languages have enriched modern Indian poetry. Tagore universalised the Indian metaphor. Admittedly, evaluating a translation is generally not fair to the original work. Translating a poem is not easy. Much of the impact of a verse is lost in translation. A metaphor in an Indian language often loses its significance when translated into English. Therefore it is always hazardous to judge the worth of a translated literary work, when one has not read the original.

The Flames of Blood Seeds appeals to me. It is easy to understand. Another poem Still Remains is didactic but it competently reflects the poet’s longing for a better human being. In contrast, other poems leave one cold. In Sequence the lines, I lose my ‘Gandiv’/In the herd of golden fawns are confusing. The Gandiv was Arjuna’s bow, whereas the golden fawn episode is from Ramayana. So what does the poet want to say? How often do we read a poem, and not understand what we have read? How often do we disagree with our fellow readers on the meaning behind the words? These questions tormented me while I was going through this anthology, burdened with banal translations, cliches and stilted idiom, e.g., Astride seven horses/He comes everyday/And without fail/Returns the same day. The mythological Lord Surya, even in Hindi literature, is a stereotype.


One looks askance at attempts, in longish paeans palmed off as critiques by Sheobhushan Shukla and Shobha Bajpai, to place Tripathi in the same league as Wordsworth, Eliot, Hardy, Tagore et al. In sheer imagery and vision Tripathi is no match to Wordsworth or Eliot, and has miles to go before one could even consider him a poet of note. Eliot came up with telling everyday images relating to the society of his times, while Tripathi is still struggling with his prosody. One is only amused at Bajpai’s attempts to depict Tripathi as an avant-garde poet. She waxes eloquent about the "metallic clarity" (?!) of his compositions.

Bajpai also places Tripathi on a par with Gandhi, Ram Mohun Roy, Tilak etc. These days it is fashionable to belittle idols and icons, especially when they are dead, and such acts please the current rulers. Gandhi, even if we commit the sacrilege of taking away the halo of a mahatma from him, electrified an inert nation into a cohesive force – without resorting to bellicosity or inflammatory language. Whenever he went on a protest fast in some remote corner of India frisson ran through the subcontinent and sent the Whitehall into a tizzy. He lived by his convictions and died for them.

Good poetry needs no vindication. Bajpai and Rupa & Co have surely gone overboard in promoting a not-so-accomplished politician-poet. To quote from Tripathi’s Still Remains, Masked faces like mountains/Have sunk in deep sea-beds/And now the dwarfs and pigmies (sic)/Are roaming with high heads.

The 7 Day System
by Dexter Davis.

Arora’s Book World, Ambala Cantt. Pages iv+214. Rs 150.

No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.

William Penn (1644–1718), English founder of Pennsylvania.

The 7 Day SystemThe British politician Edmund Burke once remarked, "The only infallible criterion of wisdom to vulgar minds – success". To seek the sweet smell of success and popularity is a common human inclination. One looks for a mantra that would take one to the top of the social ladder in no time. This is the age of get-rich-quick morality. Of cut-throat competition. Of ‘arriving’ on the social scene– if possible – in the diapers-age itself.

Whatever methods you choose to become successful, certain factors remain constant. One of these is acquiring a positive image. Whether you are good or evil is irrelevant as long as you succeed in getting what you want. For this you require a sweet tongue and effective vocabulary. Dexter Davis provides you all in this volume. Well-chosen words can help you in fulfilling your quest. The author terms these words as ‘success words’, which enhance your knowledge, personality and ability – in one week flat!

Read Well and RememberRead Well and Remember
by Owen Webster. Arora’s Book World, Ambala Cantt. Pages 350. Rs 125.

Do you remember the British poet Christina Rossetti’s lines, "Better by far you should forget and smile/ Than that you should remember and be sad"? Of course, these lines highlight relationships. But for scholars and general readers it is important to recall what they read.

But, often while reading, one’s mind begins to stray a bit. This happens even with an unputdownable thriller or comedy. Unless we realise that reading is an art, it will fail to give us pleasure and for some it may become a chore. Owen Webster analyses the causes of bad reading and provides easy-to-follow solutions. Chapters like Word Recognition, Sense and Structure, Understanding etc are useful.