5-11 July 2013 #663

Viplob Pratik bares his soul

The author's new collection of translated poetry, ‘A Person Kissed by the Moon’

Let’s face it, translations of Nepali poetry have been done too poorly for too long. In fact, are poems translatable at all? Can the sound of words in a language lend itself to be verbalised into another? Given the existing translations of Nepali originals to English available on book shelves, the answer is no.

Exceptions would be translations of Mohan Koirala, Bhupi Sherchan as well as the book Himalayan Voices by Michael Hutt of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Although there is a lot of mediocrity around, Nepali poetry attained a high degree of sophistication in recent years, but this is not reflected in the translations that would give it a wider global audience. The conflict and the violence unleashed on Nepal’s psyche set off a burst of creativity, but it is confined to the Nepali speaking world.

In the foreword to Viplob Pratik’s new collection of translated poetry, A Person Kissed by the Moon, which he helped edit, Turkish poet Elif Köksal says: ‘Translators are traitors, as the saying goes. Translators and editors of poetry, unfortunately so.’ But Köksal, who is the author of Homelike in Kathmandu adds: ‘Viplob Pratik’s melodious, comforting Nepali may not translate perfectly, but there is something else, something precious in his writing that is worth the treason.’

Indeed, Pratik has a melancholy that pervades like a sweet ache through the lines of the 30 or so of his poems translated from Nepali to English. Pratik became a poet when he was a child and was acclaimed as a poetry prodigy. And if it is true that the voice of words in a poem reflects the real-life personality of the poet, then Pratik is proof of this. His poetry is full of existential angst, wavering resolve, moral doubts, unanswerable questions about chance, needlessly self-effacing humility, and of life and after.

Manjushree Thapa, whose translations of Pratik’s verses are included in this book, once wrote: ‘How to write of sadness without bathos? How to speak eternal truths without generalisations? What kinds of line-by-line movements might make a poem fresh and unexpected? These are the craft and vision questions that face Pratik now …’

A Person Kissed by the Moon contains lines that resound long after you have set it aside for some mundane chore. The sound of voices echoes in your mind and even in translation, it carries the urgency of a Nepali appeal. There are words of a poet’s place in the universe, amidst the mystery and beauty of nature and overwhelmed by the bestial violence of war. These lines are translated by Jyoti Thapa and bring back haunting memories of the nightmare of conflict:

Save the very man you have tortured

So that breathing his last

He will signal you with his eyebrows to

finish him off

And bless you for taking his life without delay.

This is how it should be

This is how you have to make your mountain of corpses

Set the blood-river flowing; bring about

the monsoon of tears.

This is how you win the war.

This is how you win the war.

Pratik’s words have a hesitancy that reflects his humble manners and ways. But he is also brave as he confronts his demons head on, using his words as a sabre as he opens up his own soul for all to see. This is Manjushree Thapa’s translation of the Undefeated Person:

I’m eager to hold out a costly tray

decked with tears strung as finely as pearls

I stand alone in the field

The moon is alone/the sun is alone/the earth is alone

I stand alone in the field

Available in Amazon

Kunda Dixit

Read other book reviews:

Taking the lead (Take the lead: Nepal’s future has begun by Anil Chitrakar)

The Everest industry (Penguins on Everest by David Durkan)