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Tuesday, July 31, 2001

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Ramayana of Tulsidas

SRI RAMACHARITRA MANASA - (Hindi-Avadhi): Transliteration and translation into English by Prof. G. B. Kanungo; Published by Munie Bhagwan Kanungo Charitable Society, E-6, Saket, New Delhi- 110017. Rs. 450.

THE AUTHOR of the book under review is an engineer by profession and has books on that subject to his credit. He has done the difficult job of transliteration and translation into English of this epic, alas, only tolerably well. He has abridged it skilfully and effectively that one gets a taste of the exquisite flavour of the great original. How one wishes, it was more widely recognised that Tulsi devoted years to the study of Kamban's Ramayana. Tulsi and Kamban are the two greatest poets to present Lord Rama as an avatar of Lord Vishnu, an avatar for sustaining Dharma and destroying Adharma.

One however wishes the author had taken counsel with some English-Sanskrit scholars in working out his translation. Translation is always a tricky job and English equivalents of Hindi or Sanskrit words do not ordinarily figure in the language repertoire of non-English scholars. Translation is however a must if we are to make known the essential riches of one literature to those non-familiar with the language of that literature. It may be said that when very faithful, the translation is seldom beautiful.

It is often cynically said that the original is not always very faithful to the translation. This cynical attitude underrates the delicacy and difficulty of translation. When Shelley spoke of the vanity of translation, he took little account of the indispensability of it. Prof. Kanungo makes Tulsi say, "I bow to Ganesa'' or "I offer obeisance to Ganesa'' or "I respect Ganesa''. The idiom of one langauge is of course difficult to capture in terms of another. The translator must show not merely mastery of technique but also mastery of both the language of the original and of the translation. Enthusiasm and devotion are excellent in a translator but alas they are not enough at all. Just as biography is a transmission of personality, translation is a transmission of the exquisite riches of one classic of one literature in terms of the language of another literature. We cannot do without translation but translation should stimulate and sustain in the reader the exquisite joys of reading the original to the extent possible.


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