Wakes on the Horizon
An anthology of poems translated from Telugu
Hyderabad (India)/Roanoke, VA (USA): Vaakili. 2016
Pages 334 | Rs 199 | $ 15.95
Poetry with a universal appeal and fine sensitivity
The monumental volume Wakes on the Horizon was first unveiled at Houston (Texas) on Sep 3, 2016 by noted film actor and writer Tanikella Bharani, and on Nov 5, 2016 by leading comedian, Brahmanandam in Singapore.
The book showcases 199 poems by 81 poets, with the selection spanning the poets born from 1895 (Viswanatha Satyanarayana) to 1989 (Nanda Kishore). An eclectic variety of themes, perceptions, viewpoints and aesthetic tastes goes in to it. The translation is lucid, lucent and alluring.
Let us go to the genesis of this undertaking in the words of the veteran and competent translator, NS Murthy himself.
“I attempted some of the translations included here as a diversion from my disappointment for not having been able to continue my graduate study at University of Houston after Spring 2011 due to acute arthritis to both knees. I was not able to stand on my feet and was largely confined either to my bed or to my chair in front of my computer for over one year. Miracle as it may seem, more than the alternative medicine I took, poetry did help me come over my illness and I am now able to climb steps and back to my job.” (Preface, p 13)
Thus what we have here is poesy at its salubrious and therapeutic best.
NS Murty is a bilingual poet and translator with 5 books to his credit. Besides, he has translated about 1700 world’s best poems, short stories and essays into Telugu, which can be seen at his blog (teluguanuvaadaalu.wordpress.com). He is the winner of the prestigious Katha-British Council South Asian Translation Award 2000 along with RS Krishna Moorthy, his maternal uncle.
Translation can be easy, ticklish or tickling depending on several parameters. Every translator has his own algorithm and manifesto. Very pertinently, Murty has on the book’s back cover printed his thoughtful poem on ‘The Art of Translation.’ Let’s go through its opening and concluding lines –
I thought it was easy…
As easy as to dress a showroom doll.
When the idea is good
It matters little what language it drapes.
Once she possesses a flowing hair,
Any knot, plait or braid,
Would seem as beautiful.
… … …
I began from the basics,
Crawling to my feet inch by inch.
Time taught me to be cool
When I was up against tense.
Slowly abandoning the strictures of structure
And catching up with the spirit of the writers
I took off confidently spread-eagling my wits.
As proclaimed above, NS Murty’s distilled dexterity seeps through the entire volume.
Considering the span of century that Murty has covered, one would naturally assume that there could be poems on the many landmarks dotting it – Independence Movement in its various facets; the spell cast by Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo Ghosh and saints like them; the Sino-Indian and the Indo-Pak Wars; the Tibetan Struggle for autonomy; the Bangladesh Liberation Struggle; the Movement for a separate Andhra Province out of the Composite Madras State; the anti-Aryan/Hindu/Sanskrit Dravidian Movement; the Khalistan Movement; the Kashmiri Muslims' demand for a separate country; the woes and throes of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits; the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi; the precarious lives of Indian soldiers guarding the country's borders, etc, etc.
But almost none of the above find place in the anthology, and the translator himself admits that “…this is not a representative poetry of my times or the trends. The selection of poets is very subjective in the sense, I have taken only those poems that are within my capability to translate” (Preface, p 13).
Some of the readers may still justifiably feel that a good number of good enough writers have come to be left out, and that the selection of the writers is a bit partial, even as one agrees that it is the absolute discretion of the translator whose own initiative it is.
And he vouches: “The poets presented here have fine sensibilities whether they speak about love, separation, memory, war, nature, human relations or their angst for the all-pervading rot in the society unsettling and disturbing the spirit within” (Preface, p 14). Rest assured, anyone who reads this work would not dispute the translator’s bona fides.
Wakes on the Horizon holds a universal appeal for it deals with topics like the spirit of independence, exploitation and travails of farmers, life’s mission, fallout of globalisation, separation of friends and families, feminism, love, our disregard for history, and a different kind of apartheid we harbour subconsciously.
This reviewer has not gone by the name and fame of the poets translated but flipped through the pages desultorily and ran through the poems randomly, considering the monumentality of the book. And it has captivated him wherever he has hopped. This in itself is a guarantee whatever poems you cast an eye on, would be equally engaging, if not more.
Evocative titles like Rembrandt (p 36), One Midnight in San Francisco (p 96), Living with a Computer (p 110), Rilke (p 125), and Android (p 216) are a testimony to the poets’ trans-national spirit and modern-savvy.
Now come on, and enjoy the alliterative euphony, in a couple of poems –
Surely, these rocks were scald with the searing tears over years
(Gurram Jashua, The Burial Ground, p 16)
The lush leafy labyrinths creeping up to the mounts of cots
At daybreak, sound sweet like the bubbly, babbling of darling babies
(Duvvuri Rami Reddy, The Cultivator, p 19)
In addition to verbal music and felicity of translation effected by the translator, the refinement in the original poet’s idea sparkles before us:
When nature slips into sleep steadily in your dainty delicate hands
Surrendering to the deep dumb darkness of the night at this hour, my Lord
Why do you push this frail, impaired Lyre at me bidding to set it and sing?
I fear the string might snap, fail to tune or may not twang at all.
(Vedula, Hymn of Hope, p 18)
Perhaps, this could be among the poems that Murty himself sang within his soul when he was immobilized due to arthritis.
Social angst is a major say in the anthology, and here is how one of the greatest Telugu romantic poets, Devarakonda Balagangadhara Tilak shoots a barrage of rhetorical questions –
When God came to me last night
Looking wan and sat downcast by my bedside
Tell me, did I speak anything? Did I really say anything?
Did I mention to Him about the promising boy
So full of hope, who, after failing in everything,
Took away his life out of hunger?
(Last Night, p 25)
A same imagery is paradoxically employed, by Ismail, for both connubial harmony as well as disharmony:
Man and Woman,
What a creation!
Complementing each other’s pleasure
Like Cotton and Fire.
Man and Woman
What a creation!
For mutual annihilation
Like Cotton and Fire.
(Paradox, p 32)
The same poet in another poem has us believe that when one’s beloved is one’s whole world, one would certainly sight the entire world in her (Evening Perfumes, p 39).
Kavi Yakoob, a Hyderabadi, while talking of the chock-a-block metro life of the present times, muses and rues –
Poetic diction has changed; metaphors have changed
In the confused and confounded life…
The scars of wounds from the run within lay scattered around.
(The Run Within, p 79)
If we then ask him, ‘So where then is the restful ease?’ the metro sufferer answers as under, maybe because he happens to be a poet:
Occasionally, some books and few people
Like paintings on heart’s canvas
Lend their color to our lives.
(Ibid. p 80)
We know that time heals. But it can also transforms a person’s strong perceptions, as K Godavari Sarma proves it –
In the bubbling enthusiasm of my youth
I used to snarl at the oldies
For coloring their passiveness
As mellowness and maturity
After getting worldly wise
I call the youth uncouth
For their delusion of
Mellowness and maturity
(A Double-edged Sword, p 87)
NS Murty has translated not only Viswanatha Satyanarayana (a Jnan Pith laureate) considered by many as a ‘traditionalist’ and in a pejorative tone but also Kondepudi Nirmala who proclaims ‘We Don’t Want This Tradition’ (p 137). See how she takes a dig at the traditionalists –
The exhausted palanquin-bearers of tradition
Who confuse their deep sighs for cooing, are inured
To donning their conscience, and doffing their clothes.
The same poet yearns for the natural freedom inherent in the humans, with a beautiful metaphor –
Even a faint moonlight
That liberally casts on our face is much better
Than the bright electric light
That works under controls.
(Quick Mail Service, p 150)
With a carefree abandon of the Metaphysical poets, BVV Prasad proffers us a piece of out-of-the-box advice not to be enchained to the rigidity of our habits, lest we should lose our sensibility of enjoying the many good things of life waiting beyond the ken of our routine and drab habits –
Sometimes, we should get out of our daily rut
And declare independence from the rote routine.
For a change, we should leave the vehicle and go on foot;
Greet for the first time the unknown person
We regularly meet on the road
Forget all the cares and sleep by day and wake through the night.
… … …
I am not sure if the world is a great myth or not, but habit is;
If it seizes us like numbness…
(Habit, p 159)
Curiously, the poem “A Bouquet of Darkness” (p 17) by Chavali Bangaramma (1897-1970) finds a glaring echo in “Ah!” (p 22) by Sri Sri (1910-1983) – with both of them invoking the conceit of soaring up into the sky and plunging down onto the earth.
Whether the identicalness is a matter of coincidence or due to personal acquaintance between both the poets is a moot point. Since Bangaramma was the sister of Kompella Janardhana Rao, the dedicatee of Mahaprasthanam by Sri Sri, his close friend.
For a volume of this nature and dimension so meticulously curated, the typos are negligible. The translator and his proof-reader must be complimented on this score. The stray typos as under, it is hoped, would be taken care of in the book’s next edition.
‘Frig’ (p 79) instead of ‘fridge.’ ‘Breeching’ (p 79) instead of ‘breaching.’
‘A whiff of the caves | The sun-lion sleeps at night’ (p 39) would better have “in” after “sleeps”.
In the line ‘He is always in the look out’ (p 265), the “in” could be replaced with an “on.” In the footnote on page 322, Gulab Jamun is described as a ‘south-Indian’ delicacy, whereas it is ‘south Asian.’
The verb ‘lay’ in the sense of ‘to be/exist’ has been extensively used though it is a nonstandard/slang expression instead of ‘lie.’
To sum up, Wakes on the Horizon is a must read for poetry lovers irrespective of their clime or mother tongue.