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Errors and distortions in the MCLI translated Surdas poetry called Sur's Ocean

Errors and distortions in the MCLI translated Surdas poetry called Surs Ocean

Professor Gopinath has started analysing translations from MCLI. In this post he analyses Sur's Ocean, translated by John Stratton Hawley, of the original Hindi collection of poems of Sant Surdas.

He says:

--- Q: Have you got a chance to read any of the Murty Library books? If yes, what do you think of them? 

I have ordered some but only one has arrived (Surdas's). I randomly selected poem no. 364 (p. 618) of this book for a closer look. There is something afoot here already: 

While Lakshman is calling the boatman as “bhaiyya”, the boatman also refers to Lakshman as “bhaiyya” in the original Hindi text (and all the different versions of the original text seem to agree on this; see p. 911). Curiously, the boatman calling Lakshman as a “bhaiyya” is not reflected in the translation. Is it that the translation/translator wants us to believe that the Indic world is strictly hierarchical? To my ("untutored") mind, the Hindi text (Surdas’s) has the boatman respond to Lakshman in a bantering and familiar tone but the translation makes it look very “proper” and respectful! Also, note that Lakshman calls out “bhaiyya” 3 times while the boatman 4 times in the original Hindi text! 

The book is certainly attractively produced (printed in India!) but one aspect struck me also. The name of the translated book as “Sursagar" is nowhere on the title page and starts to appear, if you hunt for it, only from p. xii (and only on the sideflap, etc); only the name “Sur’s Ocean” appears prominently. A casual reader may miss the connection with Sursagar. Luckily, this volume has both Devanaagiri on the left page and the translation on the right page for the poems itself. But in the introduction only Roman is used; for example, where the metre is being discussed, Devanaagiri would have been far more appropriate and should have been given side-by-side with Roman. I believe that such a situation is unsatisfactory and it will be nice for any serious translation exercise to ensure that an Indic script version (not just with roman diacritical marks) is placed side-by-side of any Indic word in any “English” document. For eg. no [Nitish] by itself but [నీతీష Niitiish], or [नीतीष Niitiish], or even [नीतीष నీతీష Niitiish] for multillingual contexts. This ensures accuracy of pronunciation, etc. 

I am personally mortified that Paanini who took such painstaking efforts to get the minutest grammatical aspects right is dishonoured by all of us (esp in the English world) by not even taking the efforts to write/pronounce isolated words like Niitiish correctly. (I have seen a few Hindi newspapers and they are doing fine.) This is especially true for any effort that is supported partially or fully with Indian funds (incl. GoI). Adding to all this, in the Lib. of Congress catalogue, as per the frontmatter of the book, the author is "Suradasa" (2 extra a's)!

Author: Professor Gopinath

Published: March 14, 2016

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