Re: Telugus writing in English (:

Ramakrishns S. Pillalamarri (pkrishna@ARL.MIL)
Tue, 2 Sep 1997 18:30:14 -0400

>At 15:26 -0400 02/09/1997, Jagdish Bisa wrote:
.........snipping all intermediate stuff .......
>-Jagdish (  ) Bisa

Congratulations to Uday Bhaskar who has succeeded in making Jagdish quoteless!

While trying to crystallize some amorphous thoughts on the topic de jour, I
have been following the discussion.

It looks like most, if not all, the discussion is being carried on by
J(agdish)B, U(day)B, and KB(apa Rao). Which is fine; as discussion on many
threads is carried on by a few of the members of the group, most of the

However, without naming names, because everybody can follow what I mean, I
would say that the discussion is being directed at each other of the
participants, instead of the point at issue. And the initial question of
why there aren't many Telugu writers writing in English, and the subsequent
question of why many of the Telugu books haven't been translated into
English (and other languages) is being sometimes trivialized into the
question of why Telugu should be any more difficult than the reverse.

At the risk of being offending some by coming across as speaking of
truisms, I would like to 'exhort' the members to tackle the matter being
discussed instead of it being a point-by-point attack and/or defense of
prior posts.

That said, a couple of my own cents.

Translating a Telugu story/novel into English turns out to be simple, or
difficult, or impossible, depending a little on the subject matter, and a
lot on the author's treatment of it. As (who else?) VSN said in SRKV, "kavi
pratibha lOna nunDunu kAvya gata SatAmSamula yandu tombadi yaina pALLu".
There is the "katha", and there is the "kathanamu". VSN's Rama asks
Viswaamitra (while being taken along with him for the ostensible purpose of
protecting his ASrama) tell stories of his experiences, adding "mari
evvarinEn kathA-kathana munDadu nee vale".

Recently I read rAcakonDa viSwanAtha SAstri's novel, "illu". It is a rather
short novel, and one could really read it without putting it down. I was
fascinated by his capture of the local (I am not sure of its exact locale,
viSAkhapaTnam?) dialect to a level that it would make it extremely
difficult, if not impossible to translate. A translator hell-bent on doing
it has but two recourses. One is to throw away the heavy dialect soaked
with regional, social, cultural, professional (it revolves around
litigation for a while) lingo, and just concentrate on the story. The other
is to minimally translate all the above to the best of one's ability, and
provide exhaustive footnotes describing all the nuances thereof. In the
first case, it becomes a plain story, a pale imitation of the original, a
skeleton of the gorgeous shape it was. In the latter case, the compact
story/novel balloons into a volume that takes away the effect the original
had in its compactness and brevity. In neither case the power of the
original story preserved. Jagdish Bisa said as much in his recent posts.

It is one thing to translate a Telugu story into English, for Indian
audiences, and quite another to do it for Western consumption. Again it
depends on the subject matter, and the author's treatment of it. A novel
such as "rEgaDi vittulu" probably can be easily translated, as the
principal emotion there, the love of a farmer for growing food out of the
soil (well, cotton in this particular case, not as edible as grain, but one
of the essential of things for humans) is universally appreciated. But a
novel such as "illu" where the cast of characters display a variety of
caste-related prejudices, a level of litigious behavior (made part of their
genes as it were, over generations, developed as a defense mechanism
providing them the means to navigate the mean streets of life) would be
very difficult to translate. The behavior portrayed therein would be very
difficult to understand for anybody not exposed to similar situations. And
if you provide amplification and footnotes, it might serve as a scholarly
exercise (leading to a PhD perhaps) but would utterly fail, as a joke would
fail when methodically explained.

And a story by SreepAda subrahmaNya SAstri would be more difficult in this
respect than one by rA. vi. SAstri, IMO.

Where as RVS uses strong language and raw emotion in his portrayal of
characters, SSS does it with a level of subtlety that the difference is
remarkable. While RVS hits slaps you in the face, SSS pats you on the back.
Both are pointing out the foibles of human nature, the societal injustices,
but in their own unique and different ways.

Ramakrishna " Does 'ayyO, pApam' translate to 'beautiful!' ?" Pillalamarri

illu: (gross paraphrase, from memory) - sOmayAjulu ciTTemma inTlOki pOtUnTE
cUsi, anantam "velanATi vErupurugu pravESincindi" anTADu. atanu telagANyuDu.

To explain this to other Indians, let alone Westerner, one has to explain
the caste-reference velanADu, the termite-reference vErupurugu, the
(alleged) animosity between velanATi and telagANyapu brahmins. Or a skilled
writer could use parallel references to Midwesternser's prejudice against
people from the East-Coast, or that of Northerners to people from South
etc... But it wouldn't be the same. Whatever the translator does, it would
be a compromise, and would diffuse the sharp picture.

I am reminded of a side-story narrated by Jimmy Carter at a Johns Hopkins
speech. Seems he was speaking in Japan once. There was a guy providing
simultaneous translation. JC told a rather long "American" joke, wondering
and worrying as to how the T would handle it. However, T seemed to handle
it quite effectively, judging from the tremendous applause it received. JC
later drew the T aside and asked him how he did it. And the T said, I
didn't translate it at all, I just said "the President just told a joke",
and the audience dutifully applauded!