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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gulzar's verse: Thodi si Zameen (Film: Sitara) (Lost in Translation)

(Female voice)
A fraction of earth, a portion of sky,

a love-nest of straws...

(Male voice)
A fraction of earth, a portion of sky,
a love-nest of straws...

(Together)
A fraction of earth, a portion of sky,
a love-nest of straws...

What I have asked of you is not much...

I can give up my life, but I have not promised it..
Does anyone live off your promises, anywhere?
a love-nest of straws...
A fraction of earth, a portion of sky,
a love-nest of straws...
Thodi si zameen...

May there be a small swing-jhulaa in the courtyard of my house...
Soil will be aromatic, and oven-'chulhaa' be freshly coated...
A hint of fire, a glimpse of smoke...
a love-nest of straws...
A fraction of earth, a portion of sky,
a love-nest of straws...
Thodi si zameen...

The night shall pass, how will we pass the days?
We will go to the fields of Bajra, scare away crows
Like the Bajra stocks, may there be stout sons...
a love-nest of straws...
A fraction of earth, a portion of sky,
a love-nest of straws...
Thodi si zameen...

Question: Is it possible to translate a song like Thodi si Zameen?

'Thodi', is pronounced in a way that cannot be represented using English alphabet. In fact, if you ask any Englishman to say it, he will fail to pronounce it at first several attempts. 'Thoda 'means "not much", or "just a little bit"... Thodi is feminine for Thoda. Thodi Zameen (Earth is feminine). Zameen is earth, soil, fields, land. Why translate it as earth and not as land. 'A small holding of land' might be the best literal equivalent available for thodi si zameen... yet it does not capture the spirit of the words for me. In fact nothing in English really does. 'A fraction of earth' or 'a small field' or 'A small landholding' cannot have the ring of Thodi si Zameen. The cry for a small land holding can be heard or felt by the peasants of nineteenth century Russia or sixteenth century England, but not by the twenty-first century Americans or Europeans. So as a language, English fails me here, and Hindi, Urdu, Pahari, Panjabi, Bengali, Marathi, all will allow me to say this easily!

Gulzar's poem is situated in an Indian village. The whole diction, the choice of words, (Bajra, Sitte, Mitti, Zameen, Chulhaa, etc) the internal rhymes, the connotations, smells and sights that such a song inspires in me cannot be conveyed in English, even to an Indian, who has not experienced these smells and sights.

How can I explain what a 'chulhaa' means to someone who has never seen it or tasted meals cooked on it? "Lepa hua chulhaa" translated as freshly coated oven-chulhaa does not convey the difference in texture and color that this occassional event signifies for a person whose food is cooked on a chulhaa. 'Lepa hua chulhaa' is rare sight, maybe seen after a festival. To scare crows to pass time during the day also is an event that is associated with fond memories for a villager; the good harvest is preceded by a great deal of crow and parrot scaring (and I have done it myself, walking around fields, beating a tin drum).

I am always amazed at Westerners and Indian who claim to have translated old Indian Sanskrit poems, or Kabir's verses or Tagore into English, using their language courses and dictionaries. When I see the claim "authoritative translation", I feel cheated, and I feel a deep sorrow for my countrymen, for their lifestyles, their faith, their dreams and desires, are painted in unreal, unsympathetic colors, using 'words' that don't know anything about the culture they wish to represent. You might ask me, why does a simple translation lead me to these questions? I am also searching for my own "thodi si zameen, thoda aasmaan"... The ground beneath my feet, and a handful of sky... in a foreign land, in a foreign tongue, and I am lost, am lost in translation!



thodeesee jameen, thodaa aasamaan
tinakon kaa bas yek aashiyaan

maangaa hain jo tum se wo jyaadaa to naheen hai
dene ko to jaan de de, waadaa to naheen hai
koee tere waadon pe jeetaa hain kahaa

mere ghar ke aangan me, chhotaa saa zoolaa ho
saundhee saundhee mittee hogee, lepaa huaa choolhaa ho
thodee thodee aag hogee, thodaa saa dhuwaan

raat kat jaayegee to kaise din bitaayenge
baajare ke kheton mein kauae udayenge
baajare ke sitton jaise, bete ho jawaan

3 comments:

ST said...

Vivek I agree entirely with you. It's rare to find an English translation rising upto the level of the original in an Indian language whereas I've seen beautiful translations from one Indian language to the other- at least I don't feel anything missing there. Perhaps it's to do with the ethos- what we see, hear and perceive around us. I can't quite place a finger on it, but I feel when we say Ma or Amma it's not the same as how 'mother' or 'mom' feel to a westerner. Commendable translation.

Vivek Sharma said...

Thanks for leaving the note ST... I hope I can acquire the ability to translate the Hindi poets I love!

Anonymous said...

Awesome work Vivek, i love humming this song every now and then and a poetic translation in english has made my day. Keep up the good work Sir. Regards Pawan Gupta- Vietnam