Articles and Reviews

Friday, December 03, 2010

Parasangada Gende Thimma -Part 1

                          ‘Avva’ and ‘My Dear Lady’:   The Varied Avatars of a Text

     This paper, a comparative study of a Kannada text, its English translation, and the film based on the text, from the point of view of “ rhetoricity”  has three small sections: while the first section  analyses,  briefly, the Kannada novel Parasangada Gende Thimma  by Shrikrishna Alanahalli, the second section analyses the major features of the translated version  by P. P. Giridhar, and the final section its film version, and then it concludes with a few general comments on the act of translation.   

     Srikrishna Alanahalli, a highly gifted writer, passed away before he could fulfill all the promises his three novels, poetry and  short stories had raised in the literary world of Kannada.  Whereas in his first novella Kadu, he exposes the cruelty and violence inherent in a feudal village from the point of view of two children, he takes up a more ambitious task in his second novella Parasangada Gendethimma .1  

In this, he attempts to register the complex experiences of the rustic people in a small laid-out village, suddenly exposed to the changes introduced by the ‘City.’  The principal characters are  Gendethimma and his wife Maranki.  While Gendethimma  is a poor, uneducated, small-time itinerant hawker, buying a few things from a city (Mysore) and bartering them in his village for food-grains, Maranki, his wife, has seen a bit of city-life.  Once Maranki enters the life of Gendethimma, the traditional and stagnant joint family breaks up and the feudal village-society is disturbed with factionalism, finally leading to the sad death of both but ushering a few long-lasting changes in the rural society.

     It is a novel full of unresolved ambiguities: a strong concern for the marginalized sections of society coupled with association of  licentiousness with a lower caste (Parava caste), depiction of  Maranki as an ‘amoral’ woman who, in the end commits suicide out of remorse, etc.  However, the most glaring is the author’s ambiguous attitude towards rural culture and society: while he apparently dislikes it and desires change, inwardly he has a fascination for the collective agricultural activities, songs and festivals which are an integral part of the village-life.  In other words, he is not objective (though Amur, in his introduction, sees him differently) in his depiction of a transitional society; he clearly privileges rural culture in relation to urban culture associated with lack of ethics and consumerism.  However, the author does succeed in  giving his characters such a life of their own with his competent use of  rustic, caste-class-region specific dialect of Kannada that the novel breathes rural life.

     Maranki is a metaphor in the novel for city-mores, both attractive and threatening.  Even though some critics argue that here the author is concerned with ‘modernity’ and that Maranki stands for modernity,  as  for as Maranki is concerned, the term ‘modernity’ merely connotes cleanliness and hygienic concerns personal as well as public on the one hand, and, on the other, loose morals and greed for money.  Such items like women’s undergarments, soap, face-powder, tooth powder, and hair-oil, having a bath at least once in two days, gramaphone –these are the markers of modernity in the context of this novel.  

Considering these markers, Maranki can better be seen as standing for ‘Town/City’ as against ‘Village/Rural culture’ as in, for instance, Hardy.  In fact, Hardy’s novels, particularly Far From the Madding Crowd with Gabriel and Bathsheba as its main characters, appear to be at the back of the Kannada novel.  The Kannada novel contrasts ‘pyaate’  with ‘kote’ –‘kote’ (that part of the society within the fort-walls) being protected from outside influences while ‘pyaate’  (where businessmen and others live) being open to aliens and intrusions.  The author, born and bred in a small village has so much internalized that rhythm of village-life that, in the end he wants Maranki to die, not because of his patriarchal or regressive ideology but because  of his fear of urbanization.  In this context, it is interesting to see how ‘the city’ in relation to ‘the village’ has consistently been viewed by modern Kannada writers (Chaduranga, Lankesh, Tarasu, and others) as an evil force, which intrudes into the calm and peaceful life of the village, only to destroy it.    

     Over and above all, what makes this novel very powerful is the rustic dialect that the novelist uses freely and authentically.  Proverbs, adages, abuses, expressions of tender feelings, all are faithfully copied from real life and used in the novel without any reserve or restraint of decorum.

     This novel was translated into English by P. P. Giridhar and Macmillan India published it in 1998, in their ambitious series of ‘Modern Indian Novels in Translation.’  As it came out in a prestigious series of an international publishing firm, it needn’t be added that the translation is very competent and that it is also faithful to the text with no noticeable omissions or additions.  Once it was made into a good movie also (in 1978), the original and later its translation both received renewed attention from readers.

     A translation is, for all practical purposes, a new work and it exists in its own rights in the sense that it caters to a different readership, in a different cultural space.  Therefore, arguably, it should not be compared with the original leading to value-judgments. However, for academic reasons, if we do compare the translated version with the text in the source language, we notice many seemingly minor differences all of which add up, as pointers, to a kind of rationale shaping this (or any other, similar) translation.  Let us analyze these features.

(1)    Frame:  A. K. Ramanujan uses this term to refer to those features that are not the part of the original text such as : the translated version’s Title, Cover-page and Blurb, Introduction, Glossary, words in italics, etc.  All these elements together reflect the translator’s / publisher’s construction of the ‘implied reader’ of the translated text.

a) Title:  The title of the Kannada text is ‘Parasangada Gendethimma .’  ‘Parasanga’ refers to any rustic dramatic performance; and in the text, it connotes the extraordinary ‘dramatic quality’ of the stories narrated to children by Gendethimma.  The term also tends to be ironical in that his life itself becomes a ‘parasanga’:  a simple man is charged with disturbing the quiet life of the whole village on the one hand, and, on the other, he is cheated by the very woman whom he trusts most.  Also, in rural language, ‘Gendethimma’ connotes an uncouth man, not having a proportionate body like a ‘gende,’ a kind of fish with a small head, lean legs and a protruding belly, as if he is suffering from Malaria. 

     The English translation omits the adjective ‘parasangada,’ and it does not explain or suggest anywhere the connotations of ‘Gende’thimma.  Therefore, a non-Kannada reader takes Gendethimma as any other uneducated, rural young man.

b) Glossary:  It is kept to the minimum, and it glosses, mostly, Indian mythical gods and goddesses, festivals, and food, and not any abstract concepts. 

c)  Italicised words:  Perhaps as a policy of the publishing firm, no Kannada word or phrase (however alien it may appear in English) including such terms as ‘Uppittu’ and ‘Paksha’ are italicized.  The intention appears to be that italicized words scare away or at least bother any prospective reader.

      (2) Vocabulary and Tone:  Consider the way the following  Kannada words are translated into English (their literal meaning is given within brackets):
shaanubhogara kadata’ = Village revenue officer’s cloth manuscripts (shaanubhogike means keeping land records and collecting land-revenue; it was a hereditary job)
 ‘jagali’ = front veranda (the raised platform in front of each house, where outsiders sit and talk)
 ‘amruta’ = manna (nectar, mythically a drink of gods that makes them immortal)
 ‘saalu mara’ = Avenue trees (trees in a row on the road side)
 ‘angadi’ =kiosk (a petty shop), etc. 

     The English equivalents are not only explanatory but also they reflect an ardent wish to ‘familiarise’ to the reader what is ‘unfamiliar,’ thus preempting the reader from experiencing an unfamiliar society.  Consider, especially, the use of  ‘manna’ which is a Biblical term having a religious connotation, and ‘Avenue trees’ which gives a picture of the boulevard in Paris).

     We notice a different kind of logic working in the following equivalents:
‘thika’ = ‘bottom / backside’ ( slang: ‘rump’ or ‘arse’)
 ‘gadige mole’ = ‘pumpkin breasts’  ( ‘pot breasts’)
‘uchche maadalu’ = ‘needed to visit the backyard’ (to piss, to urinate)
ee naayaksaani munde’ : ‘this wretched filly’ (‘this bawdy/lewd whore’)
thoo yenniga soolemagane’ : ‘you perishing milksop’ (‘you sissy whore-son’)
ninna bundge nannaatuyya’ : ‘may vermin fall into your mouth’ (‘may my menstrual blood / urine pour into your mouth’)
yelugeelellaa tindnondu’ = ‘having eaten all kinds of rubbish’ (‘having eaten feces/excrement’)

     The operating principle responsible for these translated forms is one of prudery, which sanitizes and disinfects anything that may disturb the genteel and cultivated sensibility of the implied reader.

Since English is a second (or third) language for us, we know only one kind of English – formal and bookish.  Hence, it is impossible to use dialectical variations of English which could convey what the rural dialectical form of Kannada conveys in the original text.  Even granting this inbuilt limitation, one wonders if the translation has to be so formal as the following expressions reveal:

Sannaputtannanoru’  = ‘Mr. Sannaputtanna’   (‘respectable Sannaputtanna’)
‘Gudi’ = Joss-house (‘a small temple’)
 ‘laateenu kattiddaru’ = ‘the thatched house was illuminated’ (‘ a lantern was hanging, giving feeble light’)
 ‘kaadu kompe’ = ‘This primitive God-forsaken outpost of human habitation’ (‘a remote and faraway village)
 ‘bidiraala chadure’ = ‘the clever sylph of the bamboo’  (‘the clever woman of the bamboo grove’)
hotte gottaagodilla’ = ‘sands of time running out’ (‘we forget time / we lose a sense of time’), etc. 

      However, the icing on the cake has to be this: once, overcome with emotion, Gendethimma tells Deviravva: ‘budravva! Nimmantha satuvanta taaydeeru iraganta nangyaatara yasana’; in translation, this reads, “ ‘My dear lady,’ Gendethimma beamed disarmingly, ‘ I have nothing to worry about as long as good, truthful and motherly women like you are around, have I?’ ”  (‘Forget it mother; as long as honest and motherly women like you are there, I have nothing to  worry about’)

     (Here, to be fair to the translator, I have to add that we can never be sure how much of this ‘familiarising process’ is due to the ‘Copy Editor.’  Every major publishing house in India, today, has a Copy Editor, who decides for all practical purposes the tone and vocabulary of the translated text.)

     The effect of such expressions is to  systematically erase the rural atmosphere, the very rustic breath that has shaped the Kannada work; and in this process, even the uncouth, poor and ungainly Gendethimma gets transformed into a member of genteel society who can patronizingly talk to the elderly Deviramma as “ My dear lady, ….  .”

      Cumulatively, all  these factors build up an ‘implied reader’ who doesn’t want to be bothered with ‘unnecessary details,’ who wants the narrative made easily comprehensible (the Introduction lays down the whole plot succinctly), who cannot be bothered with too many italicized words, and whose urbane and ‘cultured’ taste has to be catered to.

     It is the construction of such an ‘Implied Reader’ which influences even the selection of texts to be translated:  The Implied Reader wants  the text to be small and handy; hence, many of the Kannada texts translated in the Macmillan series are : Sara Abubakkar’s Chandragiriya Teeradalli  , Anantha Murthi’s Bharatipura, and Krishna’s  Gendethimma  -- all within pp.200.  If a selected novel is long, it is cut short (in Masti’s Chikaveerarajendra,  the entire introductory chapter is completely deleted).  More importantly, most of the selected novels are those that depict Indian rural life steeped in  poverty, ignorance, superstitious rituals and beliefs, slowly opening its eyes to modernity associated with English education.  Hence, Kuvempu’s Kaanuru Subbamma Heggaditi  gets selected and not Malegalalli Madumagalu; and Masti’s Chikaveerarajendra  and not Channabasava Naayaka.       


(Continued in part 2)

Dr. C.N. Ramachandran

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