Across the Divide

Across the Divide, Ranu Uniyal, Yeti Books, Calicut 2006

ISBN : 81-88-330-22-1

Book reviewed by KALA KRISHNAN RAMESH in The Hindu

Suckling Eve, V.G.Thampy translated by Bindu Krishnan, Monsoon Editions, Rs.125.

While Suckling Eve is let down by the quality of translation, Across the Divide shows the definite promise of a sensitive poet.Old-fashioned poetry used to be clear — you could tell between poetic artifice, created for effect, and ineptness; today’s poetry writing is a free-for-all where anything goes.

Years ago, a poem in Chandrabhaga began “Poetry translation is a transmigration”. The transmigration, one would guess, to be of the soul-sense from the body of one language into that of another. A treacherous shift, where the translator needs to be as alert as the poet; if the poet inhabits, even partly, a sort of shamanic-prophetic territory, as sometimes the poet V.G. Thampy appears to do in the collection of poems in question here — awkwardly titled Suckling Eve — then these skins have to be lived in by the translator as well. Bindu Krishnan, the translator of V.G. Thampy’s poetry from its original Malayalam into English, falls way short here. She seems unable to grasp the largeness — and one means this not always in a complimentary way — of Thampy’s wordscape.

Unfamiliar world

Thampy’s world appears alien to the translator — take for example her capitalisation of Woman and Nature, in her introduction to the collection; nothing in the poetry itself, or in Thampy’s foreword, appears to warrant such an idealisation. It is evident that Thampy (from the poetry here and his introductory note), struggles in a far cruder way, in a far less intellectual world: he speaks of the blood stains of “scraping against the age-old question ‘What did your body do to you?’” and he also speaks of his own poetic soul as burnt and scorched.

Even if you have no Malayalam, which I do myself, the reading cannot but give you a feeling that the Malayalam of the poems in this collection must be “better” in their original.

Having said all that, let’s turn to what does come through in the translation. For the most part, one is trying to find the Malayalam equivalents to the sentences here, but there are parts of some poems that stand strong, like sections in “Suckling Eve”, “Smitha, the Name of a River”, and then the intense sense the poems carry — one can blindly sort of feel their effect hindered by the words.

Through the window-frame,A water colour painting An earthen pot, edges broken Among hibiscus bushes Another body of dreams In the dim blue light….

Let’s hope the next time Thampy’s dreams are translated, they find a vessel less cramped, and a more able bridging into the host language’s largesse.

I am not sure what to say about the poems in this collection. Old- fashioned poetry used to be clear — you could tell between poetic artifice, created for effect, and ineptness; today’s poetry writing is a free-for-all where anything, as in the rest of the post-modern world, goes; there are neither distinctions nor conventions. And this makes it difficult to actually fault a poem and say “It does not sound good”, because you would probably just be asked, “To whose ear?” So I am just going to let the typically north-Indian habit of dropping of articles pass as part of the style of a north-Indian NRI poet and I am also going to let pass a number of clumsy constructions and poems that say nothing as a reflection in words of the fragmented, flimsied, passing nature of the world, where anyway, images have predominance over words.

Some work, some don’t

But then, what do we have here? Do we have poems that grab your head-strings, since the heart is outlawed in that past-the-modern world that we have just been talking about? Do they resound, remake themselves into meaningful units for the reader? Do they succeed as words, as units of meaning, as poems? Not many do.

However, some do, and when they do, they do so because they are “real” in a sense that the bad ones cannot seem to be. The poems in which Ranu speaks of herself in this land not hers, of what it means for her to be away from her homeland, searching for meaningful contexts has a charge that strikes through the inadequacies of language and syntax. Amongst these, I liked “Across the Divide”, “Apparition”, “Like You Mamma”.

In “Like You Mama”, Ranu writes:

I wouldn’t want to be like you mama Washing and scrubbing,nursing your swollen hands, chapped limbs. While everyone else walked out Without a second glance.Oh yes, I am sure mama,I wouldn’t want to be like you

There’s hope here. Uniyal’s writing has definite promise: it’s the sort that can be worked on, since it’s the craft rather than anything else which is the problem; she does not have the sophisticated word-tools to represent the complex states of being, the complex ideas that the poems contain and they sound naïve and simplistic. I’m sure her next collection will be firmer, surer and sound well.