Coming soon: Mumbai’s biggest poetry festival, Poets Translating Poets
For five days straight in June last year, Mumbai-based Dalit-feminist poet Pradnya Daya Pawar translated the works of two German poets — Ulrike Draesner and Thomas Kunst — into Marathi. Three of Pawar’s Marathi poems were also transformed into German verses. “I’ve been writing Marathi poetry and translating Hindi poems into Marathi for 25 years now, but this experience was challenging. I have never visited Germany or read the work of contemporary German poets. Normally, you translate a poem after it has been translated into English. But here, we sat together and helped each other out,” says Pawar.
She is one of the 51 South Asian and German poets, who, for the past two years, have been meeting other poets across nine cities in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and in 14 cities in Germany, to translate each other’s poetry. The result of this cultural initiative by the Goethe-Institut — also known as the Max Mueller Bhavan (MMB) — is a collection of 280 translations in 20 languages, including Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Bengali, Kashmiri, Odia, German and Marathi. Four of Jeet Thayil’s poems have also been translated into German.
The enterprise is culminating in Mumbai at the Poets Translating Poets festival, which will take place in the city from November 25 to November 27. Besides several poetry-reading sessions, the festival will feature discussions on varied subjects such as the difference between feminist poetry and the works of female writers. It will also have a session on how Bengali poetry from Bangladesh and West Bengal, respectively, is different from each other. There is even a talk on the market for poetry and translations in South Asia and Germany.
However, Dr Martin Wälde, the director of MMB, says, the focus of the festival is to enable poets and readers to understand and accept the world’s diversity. “Some of the questions that will arise and those we seek to debate on are: How can we preserve the diversity of cultures and languages when wars and conflicts enforce only one identity, which creates marginalisation and dislocation of refugees?” asks Wälde.
Bridging the gap
The festival, in effect, addresses the issue of identity politics (people’s tendency to form particular religious, racial and social alliances). Pawar says that translation as a practice helps understand people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds and removes these barricades. “Translation, by definition, stands for something [that is] cross-cultural. Otherwise, there is a wall between the people of different countries, because you don’t know anything about their culture. Translation is that bridge,” she says.
She adds that the more the number of initiatives taken to translate, the better it is. She also talks about Donald Trump. “With something like this happening (Donald Trump winning the US election), it’s important for people from different nations to come together. Liberal thought is coming to an end [because of Trump being elected]. So, we need to make sure that translation stays strong, and that more events like these are organised,” she adds.
Kashmiri poet Naseem Shafaie, who is a Sahitya Akademi Award winner, says she found the experience enthralling. She translated two poems, but says that the oft-repeated critique of translation as a practice — that it can never portray the true essence of the original work — is true. “The heart that pours out as ink out of pen of the writer is absent in a translation. So, it will never hold the same magic as the original,” she says, adding, “Having said that, it is important for the idea to be understood by everyone. Translations make a regional work global. The world needs that more than ever before.”