A priceless heritage in Dogri

Dr. Neena Gupta Vij

The English translation of Madan Mohan’s Dudh! Lahu! Zehr!, Sahitya Akademi awarded Dogri short stories by Vandana Sharma represents a unique and special moment in Dogri translation and publishing history. A book of exemplary literary value, the translation was published by Sahitya Akademi in December 2017. Entitled, Waiting for Neelkanth and Other Stories, the work firmly establishes Vandana Sharma as a translator with potential who has come up with flying colors in a daunting and challenging task in which the exceptional and amazing talent is required. Dr. Vandana, Associate Professor, Department of English, Central University of Jammu earlier translated one of the most representative works of Dogri literature, Ramnath Shastri’s Bawa Jitto into English.
The quality of the translation once again raises the much debated issue, why the translation is kept out of the circle of creative literature. If we analyze the challenges put across to the translator during the process of translation, it will unravel the undisputed truth that translation is a creative process. The book is introduced through a “Translator’s Note,” where Dr. Sharma makes it clear that translation is a challenging task as it involves language, culture and perspective and some of these aspects are untranslatable. Nevertheless, the translator has negotiated the difficult task of balancing literal and cultural translation well. She has shown a remarkable insight in the translation of the titles of stories, specially where equivalence was difficult or would have detracted from the meaning. Some of the titles of stories are changed according to context while some are translated into their literary equivalents in English .
In a literary translation, one of the biggest challenges is to carry an idea intact in all its shades and layers of meaning, from one language to another. Take the title of the book Dudh! Lahu! Zehr! It is the story of a milkmaid, Nanki, who refuses to sell milk after realising the fact that the milk sold by her forms blood in human beings which in turn converts to poison. Now the literal translation, Milk, Blood, Poison would have sounded comically literal and bland. Focussing on the overtones and undertones of the most powerful story of the collection, which conveys how poison in various forms exists both within and outside humankind and Lord Shiva, as Neelkanth is the only saviour. “Waiting for Neelkanth” captures the ardent need for the milk of humanity, allegorised as the waiting of the characters for Nanki. The collection, hence has been titled as Waiting for Neelkanth and Other Stories. The translator has also taken into consideration major thematic stand of all stories, which is ‘waiting’ in one form or the other.
The first story. “Lingering Fear,” translated from the Dogri, “Pathari” conveys in the title itself fear, lurking like the malevolent stone in Beero’s kidney, her “pathari,” that once she is in hospital she will never see her husband or family again. Her worry and pain are beautifully caught by the author and come across in the translation, as a litany of complaints against her husband who has time only for his hukkah and his sarpanchi, but not for her and poor Beero dies in the hospital waiting for him.
The author, in his note, has remarked that some of the stories from this collection are not only special to him but he is sure that they would find a place in the canon of Dogri literature. These stories are important not only as narratives of certain experiences but also striking because of the concerns they explore, such as the helplessness of young women to sexual assault “The Sin of my Street ” (“Meri Gali da Paap) “Ek Lamkdi Loth” (“The Hanging Corpse”); the relative inability of most men to reconcile themselves to a diminished role in society that lurks inside the physical “body” literally, and metaphorically in the social body of society as a cancerous tumour, in “Apology”( “Maafi”); and the emotional and ethical issue of abortion of unwanted pregnancies and the consequential psychological trauma are captured allegorically in “The Unwelcome Guest” (“Oh”), where the aborted foetus revisits them like a ghost from the past.
“Shaenkri’s Old Man” (“Shaenkri da Budda”) is a baffling story that blends form and content dextrously to convey a sense of the inscrutability of life and death. “Serpent” (“Sapp”) where sexual desire is represented as a serpent that cannot resist temptation. “The Cuckoo’s Call” (“Kook”), and “Running” (“Dorh”) are two different stories about the need for the move from village to town in search of livelihood. “The Death of a Man” (“Ik Aadmi di Maut”) is postmodern in the question it raises and leaves unanswered and “Two pairs of Shoes” (“Jorein”) raises the simple task of storing shoes in a temple to the level of real sadhna implying God’s mysterious ways of dispensing justice. The title story is a masterpiece as it allegorises the turning of amrit, life-giving milk that nourishes life, into life-blood spilt on the road as violence spreads in the world.
These stories are a priceless heritage in Dogri, and in English their value increases in its power to preserve this heritage for other cultures, places and peoples. The deep fragrance of the soil of the region, Mansar, Basoli, Navan Sheher, Jammu; the reference to places like Shah’s Street and Pacca Danga, the taciturn yet patient strength of the people, the particular problems of these people and the peculiar inflections of the Dogri language all come through the translation by Dr Sharma. The English translation serves to bring the text to the world at large.
The book has copious endnotes to enhance understanding of the cultural and linguistic nuances of the original stories. Adapting to the culture of the target language is an important factor of translation, as is the need to preserve the literary and experiential aspect of the source text. It is a pleasure to note that most of the time the ambivalence of the original stories is maintained and thus most of the complexity of the original narrative is preserved in the translation.
The problems of women disempowerment, relationships, life, death, conflict and survival are represented along with the specific significance of certain culture and location centred values that influence the character, behaviour and response of the Dogri people. The translator has ensured that the collection will familiarise the reading world with a slice of life as experienced in the Jammu region.
Sometimes, it is the translated version of a work which becomes more popular than the original, especially among the people who use and speak the language into which it has been translated. This is a slim volume of 75 pages and priced at Rs..140/- The copies of the English version are being widely disseminated in all parts of the country and abroad by Sahitya Akademi in order to afford an opportunity to the people to read and appreciate the particular concerns of this corner of India.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Central University of Jammu)