Posts Tagged Telugu women’s poetry

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Everyone must fight their battles themselves

You must win your battle yourself

With your blood and your marrow

You must forge your sword and shield yourself


The real unjustness

Is someone fighting your battle

The real injustice

Is someone making you your sword and shield


Always your battles were fought by others

Begging you

They crafted battle-codes for you

Drawing you to their hearts

They framed principles for you

Bullying you

They bore arms for you.


Even if it means defeat

Everyone must fight their battles themselves

If they win the battle for you

You’ll be engulfed

Defeated forever.

— Sudha

(The original in Telugu here.)

This poem was first published in the Telugu daily Andhra Jyothi. It is now part of an anthology of women’s poetry titled Neeli Meghaalu (“Blue Clouds”, published 1993) compiled by the well-known Telugu writer P. Lalita Kumari who writes under the pen-name Olga. Unfortunately the book carries little biographical information about Sudha, other than that she lives in Hyderabad.

I will refrain from commenting on the poem itself because I think its message is universal enough to be appreciated. But a note, instead, on translation troubles. Telugu is a highly inflected language, unlike English which is weakly inflected. (In this sense Modern English is distinctly different from Old English, or the language of the Anglo-Saxons, which was highly inflected.) What this means for translation is that while in Telugu you can deftly change form and meanings by changing word-endings,  translating such terse, pithy lines into English requires ungainly prepositions and determiners. Which is why the English version doesn’t sound quite the same as the Telugu. The difference in ‘sound’ is probably also due to Telugu being a syllable-timed language, unlike English which is stress-timed. Form, I think, is the toughest thing to translate elegantly.

Oh and my son liked this poem, which pleases me enormously. Though I have a vague feeling that I should be worried — swords and shields and making them yourself and fighting your own battles ….


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Translating boundaries

Ahem.  A little tooting of my own horn: I’ve started a blog in Telugu, which is however limited to selections from Telugu women’s poetry.  Why? Because very few people (even those who read Telugu poetry) know of them.  And because it’s the only kind I thrill to.

I’m posting here a translation of a poem I put up there, by my favourite Telugu poet, Jayaprabha, perhaps one of the most important feminists in India. It’s from an anthology of poems, with the same title as this poem, written when she was teaching at the University of Wisconsin.

Original in Telugu here.

Whence come the rain-bearing clouds?

Human selfishness draws boundaries

Not leaping streams

Not forests or waterfalls

Who can say whence

come the clouds bringing rain here!

Religion and ritual

break up the earth’s expanse

into bits and pieces.

If  the world’s boundaries were erased

(we’d see that)

Earth, water, air are everyone’s

Not separated into seven continents.

Although this isn’t a feminist poem in the strictest sense, I’m drawn to it because of my fascination for people whose imagination blurs boundaries.  Like that nameless narrator in Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines, the little boy whose imaginative universe extends far beyond the Calcutta he grows up in, while for his globe-trotting cousin, the world is a series of airports.

My introduction to Jayaprabha was her M.Phil dissertation on women in Telugu Romantic Poetry, now a book titled Bhaavakavitvamlo Stree. It’s a work similar to Gilbert and Gubar’s The Mad Woman in the Attic and Ferguson’s Images of Women in Literature, convincingly showing how celebrated Telugu Romantic writers simply perpetuated the woman-as-object motif of the earlier prabandha genre in a different garb. While earlier she was object of desire, for the Romantics she became an angelic object of devotion and love.  To paraphrase Velcheru Narayana Rao, earlier woman was just body with no heart; and for the Romantics she was just heart with no body.

I hope to be able to translate more of Jayaprabha’s poetry in subsequent posts. Meanwhile, here’s a fairly comprehensive survey of Telugu women’s writing.

+ This is my first translation, and I’ll readily admit that it comes nowhere near capturing the essence of the original. For instance, I find the word “viswarupam” untranslatable and had to make do with “expanse”.

+ +Thanks anu, for egging me on to this!

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