Book-Review

O, Moon, My Sweet-heart! By Mahendra Bhatnagar
Published by Rachana Prakashan, Jaipur, Pages: 230, Price: Rs. 250 (Paperback)

Reviewed by Anuradha Bhattacharyya (Chandigarh)- India  Email: an6radha@yahoo.co.in

Modern India has fully understood the importance of the international language that English happens to be. This is evidenced in the fact that many Indian middle class families prefer only English as their medium of verbal communication. Many writers of fiction express themselves comfortably in English. Although India has a rich tradition of creative writing in the various provincial languages, a great urge towards international readership has prompted writers to express the same creative thought in English. Recently many works of art that are originally in modern Indian languages have been translated into English by academicians to gain wider readership. As part of this new trend, Dr. Mahendra Bhatnagar, a major Hindi poet who has been publishing his poetry since 1941, has translated into English and brought out anthologies of all his poems. O, Moon, My Sweet-Heart is a collection of his love poems that have been translated by him with the help of constructive contribution from his colleagues and friends whom he acknowledges right at the beginning of his book.
Susan Bassnett, a scholar of great calibre, who has understood the pain involved in translating into English texts from an Indian language, says, “What is generally understood as translation involves the rendering of a source language (SL) text into the target language (TL) so as to ensure that (1) the surface meaning of the two will be approximately similar and (2) the structures of the SL will be preserved as closely as possible but not so closely that the TL structures will be seriously distorted.” [Introduction to Translation Studies, 1980: Methuen]
In the book titled O, Moon, My Sweet-Heart each one of the 102 Hindi original poems is followed by its English version. Almost all of these lyrical poems are in traditional rhythm as well as duly rhymed while the English translations end up as free verse. The beauty of alliteration and the use of objective correlatives that is easily recognizable in the Hindi poems become jarring far-fetched similes in the English rendering of the same thought, thus marring their esthetic quality. Sometimes a poem is appreciated more for its lyrical sense than any profound thought. However, when the same words are translated into English, the reader is confronted with a volley of amalgamated sonorous phrases that have no beauty. For example, a poem which reads in Hindi, “pyar mera satya shiva sunder kiya”, reads in English “made my love honest-auspicious-beautiful” (pp 86-87). The entire book is full of syntactical errors so far as the English ears are concerned.
The underlying thought that inspires all of these poems is expressed thus:
“After ages,
Now again
Getting new colour and sap fresh
Sun-withered flower!” (p 83)
Or elsewhere:
“O!
The meaning of life
Suddenly changed
As if
Someone stumbling
Regained balance
With new feelings of love
And rising like huge new waves.” (p 35)

Both of these can be read in a melodious sing-song in the Hindi original. Various poems are accompanied by the translator’s footnotes that suggest that the translation is only a paraphrase; there is nothing in such poems which an English reading public might understand so the whole effort is a waste.
On the flip side, a poem reads, roughly ‘we shall open the complexes of doubt and inferiority easily on the simple honest surface of faith’ (p 48-49). In another poem, the poet chides the hesitant recluse to open the doors for strange encounters, since ‘who knows whose footfalls might create new music in one’s heart!’ (p 66-67) Many other poems suggest that the beloved is far away and remembered only as a thought, a feeling or a wish. This is what the title, “O, Moon, My Sweet-heart” refers to. A poem directly addresses the moon as a far away land of beauty and happiness which lasts only till before daybreak. Another poem suggests that the separation from one’s beloved is a reciprocated feeling and this idea is a consolation. (pp 136-149) the poet expresses love variously as a ‘curse’, a ‘boon’, a ‘sin’, a ‘diamond’, a ‘cool wave’ and a ‘guest’.
Most of the Hindi expressions of amorous experience become drab and base in the English translation. “Sugathit ang” becomes “sturdy limbs” (p 64-65) and “nangey gadraye gore pair” becomes “naked, flabby, fair feet” where each adjective is followed by a comma that is sheer atrocity towards the English language. No lover would ever be enamoured by a woman’s sturdy limbs and flabby feet. Unless one reads the Hindi poems alongside the English renderings, it is difficult to appreciate this kind of poetry.
Overall the translation is detrimental for the frequent metaphors used in the Hindi poems. Where “shanti madhuja ghol” sounds sensuous, “sugar-candy like words of peace” makes it hilarious. (p 22-23)
It is a common practice in Hindi poetry to use the third person plural form of the verbs – omitting the pronoun – to express the feelings of the poet. When an English poet expresses his feelings, he writes ‘I feel’ as simple as that. The translations in this book swallow up the nominative pronoun altogether. See for example:
“In life, what did and what not,
To get your love for a few moments!” (p 38-39)
Such are the limitations of the English translations of Hindi love poems that are full of eulogizing and hyperbole. The moon, the stars, the universe, destiny and divinity have all been subjected to the service of love poetry since ages. Dr. Mahendra Bhatnagar’s poetry stretches the comparisons and invocations even further and verges on the extended metaphor syndrome when he treats his beloved as the moon and vice-versa.

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© Author

(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Summer 2013)