When Mangalesh Dabral Strayed From Urdu Words When Translating Jaya Ganga Into Hindi


This number does not exist, yeah number maujood nahin hai. The lines between Mangalesh Dabral’s verse and reality blurred for Paris-based Indian writer and filmmaker Vijay Singh last year around the same time when the Hindi poet was claimed by COVID-19 . Never having met the poet-translator – who had translated poets / writers such as Pablo Neruda, Zbigniew Herbert, Bertolt Brecht and Arundhati Roy (The ministry of the greatest happiness/Apaar Khushi ka Gharana) – for Singh, 69, Dabral will remain only a telephone voice. The one with whom he had deliberated on love, life, death, poetry, music, rivers, mountains.

Thirty-six years since Singh’s first French novel Jaya Ganga: the Ganges and its Double (1985), reprints / translations (Jaya Ganga: In Search of the River Goddess, 1989), and a Hindi film (Smriti Mishra-starrer Jaya Ganga, 1996; Available on Cinemasofindia.com), comes its first edition in Hindi (by Rajkamal Prakashan) and an English reprint (Rupa Publications), published recently.

Soul Search: Indian writer and filmmaker Vijay Singh. (Source: Sanjay Acharya)

In the early 1980s, Singh, a doctoral student at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, wrote a factual-fiction article on the intersectionality of caste and class in modern Indian society and politics, which has was published in the French daily Le Monde. This earned him a book contract with Ramsay Publishing, to sketch a Portrait of India, which will be published at the 1985 Festival of India, an event that showcases the country’s rich and diverse culture. An inexplicable fascination with the writings of the master of surrealism André Breton (notably Nadja, 1928), and his exhibition on “sensuality… love, fortuitous encounters”, had led the history student from Jawaharlal Nehru University to Paris, where he met Breton’s artist. woman writer Elisa, and, through her, the cream of the crop intellectual.

Book commission urged Singh to embark on a Ganga yatra, from Gomukh (Uttarakhand) to Gangasagar (Bay of Bengal), pilgrimage-odyssey-romantic, but without foresight. “Until today, there is no proper navigation to Allahabad (Prayagraj),” says Singh, who had changed 200 boats and traveled by jeep for six months.

There was no directional help at hand. “No sadhu, no guru that I have met had made this trip,” he said, “The book kind of ends in Benares; my trip from there was less difficult. Ganga has been very kind to me. The trip “(him) showed the Hindu belly that the Western rationalist had thrown in the dustbin of history”. Among other things, he met people who couldn’t pay Rs 150 to cremate the dead, so they tied him to a stone, and when the river receded, the bodies resurfaced and the dogs attacked. – it’s not just a COVID reality post. With Ganga as a common thread and metaphor, Singh combines spirituality and surrealism. Fiction and poetry meet memory, travelogue, reportage, letter, history. Jaya Ganga, an instance of automatic writing, is “empirically and realistically verifiable fictitious research,” he says.

The story follows the young semi-autobiographical Parisian writer Nishant who, haunted by the memory of Jaya (partly real, partly fantastic), sets out on a journey along the Ganges and plans to write a book about it. On the banks of the river, he meets Zehra, a poet / nautch girl, falls in love, saves her from the mess, instills hope for a better future together. Nishant is a soul in limbo, torn between the past and the present, the ephemeral and the physical. The elusive Jaya is the Breton “convulsive beauty” (like Nadja), in whose quest lies the author’s research.
self identity.

Jaya Ganga, the book, contains inadvertent stories, intertextuality and humor, like a conversation in a tea room, where people authoritatively claim that an atomic bomb killed thousands in Bhopal. , a reference to the gas tragedy of 1984. Dabral, a man of simple words, was alienated by some of Jaya Ganga’s “flowery prose”. “Double adjectives,” which work in English, “become a disaster in Hindi and French,” says Singh, whose preference for reported speech met Dabral’s emphasis on dialogue format.

Dabral also avoided using Urdu words (rihaish / residence, shaista / civilized), which were used in the film. “He bequeathed the language to the actors in the story, whom I had distorted by writing in English and French,” Singh explains. Dabral, whose poetry includes untranslatable English words, was not a linguistic Puritan. In Jaya Ganga, the untranslatable lines have either been removed or the pathniye (readable) reinvented. For example, in Nishant’s letter, Dabral transformed “You are the miracle by which the leaves change color / The magic by which Ganga wears her sparrow veil” into “Pattiyon ke sonné badalta chamatkar ho tum / Aik sammohan apsara ka devavtar ho tum ”. After the impeccable rendering of Dabral, Singh wants to translate his Tourbillon d’ombres (1992) into Hindi. “Of all my books, this (the Hindi edition of Jaya Ganga) is the first that comes closest to the French edition.”


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