of Experience in Translating Sri Sri’s Poems
Sri Sri, a great poet in Telugu, with his poetic power
commanded, saved, inspired Telugu poetry for over two decades.
In the dark midnight when the whole world is asleep and is
dreaming a horrible dream and pathetically muttering in sleep
Sri Sri is the one who saw the arrival of a new dawn and
welcomed it. Poetry is not the love story of kings and queens;
poetry is not the balance sheet of the conquest but poetry is
about revealing the owes and sorrows in the common man’s life
and uprooting them totally. This is the belief of the great poet
Sri Sri. He is the herald for progressive poetry in Telugu. He
thoroughly understood political, economical and social changes
that happened not only in India but across the world. These
changes brought significant change not only on the individual
but also in his poetry. Capitalistic tendency and civilization
gradually increased its grip on the people in the world.
Mechanical life and ultramodern civilization brought a radical
change in the life style of people. Like T.S.Eliot Sri Sri too
presented the dull, drab modern life in his poems.
In the poem Sandhya Samasyalu translated as Dusk Riddles the
poet portrays the social imbalances that arose due to the
British rule in India. Due to colonial politics the middle class
in India faced many problems. These problems did not arise
naturally. They were hit by these problems:
In Rocksy Norma Sharer,
In Brodway Kanchanamala!
The riddle where to go hit the student!
In Udipi SriKrishna Vilas—
A glance over there presents Badam halwa,
A glance over here presents Semiya Idly!
To choose between the two is a riddle
To an employee!
--- Dusk Riddles
Due to fresh unleash of capitalistic principles and civilization
a new class developed in India according to the poet. They were
stranded at the cross roads. They experienced Hamlet’s
hesitation and cogitation. Cinema has become a piece of
entertainment for the middle class. But to choose between native
movie and videshi movie is a problem to a student. Having a
tiffin at a hotel was a sign of civilization then. But to choose
an item from the menu is very tantalizing. For an employee to
have both the dishes is impossible and to choose one is like
solving a riddle.
For a family man choosing between life an death itself is a
made his life heavy. To repay a debt he made many debts. At last
he saw only a sea of debts. As he cannot escape from debtors; he
cannot satisfy the hungry stomachs of his kith and kin; so he
decided to put an end to his life in the middle. He too faced
with the riddle of choosing between two options: to hang and die
or to plunge in the sea:
That evening …..
A glance over here
A glance over there
Presents children’s hunger!
To hang and die,
To plunge in the sea—
A riddle crystallized
To a family man!
The poet with small words very powerfully presented the
dichotomy in the student, employee and a middleclass family man.
While translating the poem we gave importance to the meaning,
feeling and even to the length of the sentence.
Translating Sri Sri’s poems is really an experience. We
translated Sri Sri’s Rukkulu as Hymns in English. In this poem
the writer lists out the subjects and articles that inspire the
poet to write poetry. For an ordinary human being and for
enthusiastic fresh poets feel that grand things and grand issues
are needed to write poetry. The poet advises that:
“ A puppy, a match and a soap cake--
scorn none of these!
All full of matters for poetry!”
By this the poet wants to say that the common things make our
daily life can make a good piece of poem. Mere listing of the
objects brings monotony and ‘Hymns’ will lose poetic quality.
Next the poet mentions common things like Bread-piece, plantain-
peel, wooden plank—look at the poet and throws a challenge to
discover their depth:
“Bread-piece, plantain- peel, wooden plank--
They always look at you!
Urge you to find their depths!”
Here the poet is poetic. Writing poetry on these subjects one
needs poetic inspiration. He assures that ordinary things like
door- latch, camphor-plate and horse-bridle can be poetic
subjects. First the poet must decide the ‘rasa’ then he can
unravel the beauties in the objects. For having these as subject
matter for poetry one must have the power to see and the power
to capture his feelings in words:
“If you have eyes, see,
If you have words, write!”
With all his experience as man in this world and as a poet he
sums up his image of the world and as:
“The world is a lotus array!”
Sri Sri himself was a great inspiration to many new and upcoming
poets in Andhra Pradesh. Discarding all the rules and metre and
rhyme he created his own world of ‘free verse poetry.’ His
alliteration, choice of diction, combination of Sanskrit and
Telugu words appears to be simple. So many poets tried their
hand at poetry imitating Sri Sri. But many failed. They didn’t
get satisfaction over their own poetry. Sensing this Sri Sri
tried to console them in saying:
“Poetry is an unquenchable thirst!”
In Telugu version Sri Sri wrote:
“Kukkapilla, aggipulla, sabbubilla,”
Sri Sri chose these words taking care of the ending ‘la’. When
uttered by anyone they can feel the rhyme and rhythm in it. Even
these three words when uttered we can observe that they have the
same length and this adds to the beauty of the poem. If we can
write the Telugu words in English as Kukkapilla, aggipulla,
sabbubilla we can bring the beauty of the sound . But it is
unintelligible to non- Telugu readers. We cannot translate this
beauty into English. There are no articles in Telugu. When we
say ‘Kukkapilla’—it is singular and it also conveys the meaning
‘any’ and ‘all’. So in English version we added article ‘a’:
“A puppy, a match and a soap cake--”
In order to retain the native flavour, we translated
‘rasanirdesam’ as ‘show a rasa’. Aestheticians used this word
and the theories of rasa, dhvani and vakrokti are translated
into English. So we retained the word ‘rasa’ in our translation.
If we observe the words talupu-gollem, haarati-pallem and
gurrapu- kallem –the repetition of the sound ‘lla’ in the second
part of each word is rhythmical. In our translation we tried to
select the words with ‘la’ in the later part of the phrases so
that the translation will be nearer to Telugu one:
“ Door- latch, camphor- plate, horse-bridle”
These words came to us casually, we never do it consciously.
While translating the lines: ‘Kallunte chusi, vakkunte vrasi—‘we
faced the problem of transliteration. The first sentence is easy
to translate. So we did it one blow as—“ If you have eyes, see ”
but to translate the word ‘vakku’ into English is not easy.
‘vakku’ means ‘word’ and ‘speech’ also. Of the two we felt that
‘word ’ is more appropriate here. The poet’s intension is ‘if
you have eyes that can see properly’ and ‘sense the beauty’ in
ordinary things and has the capacity of choosing words for
proper feelings and expressions you can write poetry. So we
translated the sentence as: “If you have words, write!”
The next poem we translated is ‘Vadu’ as He in English. The poet
shows two kinds of people; one the labourer and the other the
land lord. The laborers complain their hardships and the land
lord pronounces the solution. …………and it is suggested through
the sound / s /. The labourer and his nature of work is
suggested through the sound / l / through out the poem. We tried
to maintain the length and rhythm of the words in the poem. In
Telugu the expression ‘muddaki kuuda dooram chesaadu ’ is
translated as ‘kept aloof even from food’ . ‘Mudda’ literally
means ‘ball of rice’, ‘a morsel of rice’ and ‘hand full of
rice’. But poet’s intended meaning is they were denied of their
daily meal. So we translated it as ‘kept aloof even from food’.
In Telugu the usage ‘joollu’ means two, and the village folk use
this word for ‘chappals’. There is a usage in Telugu—when one
loses his temper he says—‘cheppu teesuku tanta’—can be
translated into ‘I’ll hit you with chappal’. First we translated
it as ‘struck us with his shoes’ but to bring in native flavour
we translated it a ‘struck us with his chappal’.
From first to the last line we maintained rhyme and rhythm:
‘gathered and hoarded; somewhere someone; sunrise to sunset;
toil and moil; blocks and brutes’ and so on. Now go through the
poem and feel the pulse, the sense and sensitivity the poet
intends to convey:
This lovely collection of things
Gathered and hoarded by all of us together
Somewhere someone alone comes
And steals it away,
Seeing him, ‘injustice, injustice’ we shout
Bear your fate, he replies.
From sunrise to sunset
You who toil and moil like bulls
Are treated as blocks and brutes by him;
And kept aloof even from food.
“Horrible, atrocious” if you exclaim--
‘Custom! No over stepping’, he replies.
When it was beyond endurance
We threw down our tools--
And said, ‘we can work no longer,
We are dying from hunger
Show us sustenance to life’--
He shuts our mouths, struck us with his shoes
And said, ‘violence for violence’.
We felt translation as an exercise that sharpens our bilingual
efficiency and also our creative skills.
P. Gopi Chand &P. Naga Suseela
Dept. of English; J.K.C.College,
Guntur- 522 006; A. P.