Some nights, I imagine what it would be like to live without a particular poem, without its bruise on my mind, what it would be to dream without it, what it would be to live in a world where words so necessary to my life did not exist, or worse: where they exist, but not for me, forever locked in a language unknown to me. I wonder, then, how much poetry is hidden, accessible only to people who know its secret code of language. If all poems existed in all languages, how many lives could have been saved, and how many murders prevented? Not many, but perhaps many. At least a few.
Who then gets to decide what and what doesn’t get translated, who gets to select and thereby erase certain voices from certain languages?
We all talk, read, and think about translation and its political and academic need, how important it is to know about diverse voices, and “other cultures”, but we often forget to talk about its poetic need. In this chaotic, terrifying time: none of us have enough poetry in our native tongues, so we borrow and lend, we need more, as much as possible: to live, to forget, to remember.
I have fond memories of reading almost everything in Hindi growing up: Bangla stories, Ukrainian folk tales, Stoker’s Dracula, poems by Mayakovsky, Cela’s Pascual Duarte, and many, many more books. Not to mention, literature, especially poetry, written in Hindi. That’s why maybe most nights, certainly not all, the poems I return to are written in Hindi – and yet, when I sometimes want to recommend a poet to someone who is not comfortable with the language, I cannot.
It seems like publishers and readers are now, more than ever, engaged with the question of translation and its importance, and mainstream English publishers in India now translate much more. Hindi prose is represented, in problematic fragments. (Is it because novels are easier to sell, or they represent a more conventional form, or because most of the selected titles depict an India easier on Western palette? I don’t know.) But Hindi poetry remains dubiously missing from the newly translated titles.
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