Ashok R . Kelkar



Translation as Recovery


In a typical monolingual nation stage in the West competence in one or more languages other than the first language of a person is looked upon with some wonder of not dismay or envy, In A country like India bilingual is not a phenomenon, it is a way of life. (This may come to be the case the case , in tomorrow’s Europe in all probability.)  A situation of this kind therefore offers a better vantage pint for a more balanced perspective on translation.


            Translation, to this ay of thinking, is no more than paraphrasing a message in another language.  (In Sanskrit, interestingly enough, there is no word coterminous with translation: one says bhāāntaram anuvāda, paraphrasing in another language.)  Paraphrasing in turn is reproducing a message with a fresh formulation; and reproducing a message is producing a message. A child without a fresh formulation is simply repeating a message. A child initiated into language through reception, reproduction, and production roughly in that order.  Translation, in short is part and parcel of language use,


The fact that formulation can be present or absent in reproduction indicates that language use is layered activity. Reproduction implies prior production of some source message Thus, there are two language transactions here ; primary and secondary.  The whole thing can now be conveniently mapped in some such way: 















listening 1









speaking 2








listening 2

















formulation 2











            Of one carefully compares (1) and (2), it will immediately become clear that (I) maps reception and (2) maps paraphrase.  The language underlying the secondary (that is, cued and modeled) language use may be the same as or different from the language underlying the primary (that is, source) language use.  Speaking-and –listening may be replaced by reading –and writing without making any essential  difference.  So---



3.                  Reproduction may be—


some-language/ different –language

spoken / written


            Translation is different –language paraphrase.  Spoken translation is called interpreter ship.  Different-language repetition is perfectly possible.  Consider the following—


4        German to English

Berlin/ ber’lin:n/→ Berlin/bә: (r)’lin/


Deutschland Germany

Note:  The first is clearly a repetition.  The third and probably the second also are paraphrases since both call for a prior identification of the place.


            Any language use is considered acceptable (as distinct from tolerable) if it wholly conforms to the underlying language norms that constitute the language use.  But in the case of paraphrases (including of course translations) an additional demand comes into play.  When is proposed same-language or different language paraphrase that is acceptable in the language of the secondary use also acceptable as a paraphrase of the message in the primary use?


Thus ---


5.         (a) Good-bye and see   you (again)  are both perfectly good English. But----

            (b) Are they good paraphrases of each other?

            (c) Are they both good paraphrases of auf Wiedersehen in German?

            (d) And, if the answer to (c) is yes, are they equally good paraphrases of the German message?

Note:    The answer to (c) probably depends on the answer to

(b) If we bring in farewell into the picture, matters will get only slightly more  complicated.


The curial question for the present purposes is then---


6.         (a) Given the pair, say auf wiedersehen : Good –bye---

Is the proposed translation (Good-bye) an acceptable translation?

(b) More generally-When is a proposed translation an acceptable translation?


Note:  The answer to (a) depends on the answer to (b).  


There are (at least) two alternate ways of answering the last question are (at 6b). True with many pairs (at 6a) the answer will be same whatever answer we offer to the more general question. But for quite a few pairs the general answer will make a significant difference to the specific answer.


            In Case We Are Wondering what auf Wiedersehen is saying in German, the answer in English is more clearly See you again.  On the other hand, in case we are wondering how one says in English what auf Wiederseben is saying in German, the answer is either of the two.  If we use the expression doing in German in place of saying in German The relevant context  (textual contact and / or situational context), will have to be brought into the picture.  Thus the answer to the second alternative question (how one says in English etc.) May turn out to be something like this:  one says Good-bye in formal English  Bye-bye in informal British English, See you  (again) in informal  American English. So—


7.                  A pair of alternative answer to (6b) will be—


A proposed translation is an acceptable translation if and only if—


(a)It satisfactorily presents in the target language the comprehension lowing from the source message.  That is, it satisfactorily decoded the source message.

(b)It satisfactorily presents the formulation in the target language such that this formulation satisfactorily captures the source message.  That is, satisfactorily reencodes the source message.


8.                  For  the Marathi expression māmā --          


(a) An acceptable reendowing translation in English will be maternal uncle

(b)   An acceptable rein-coding translation in English will be mother’s brother in some contexts (any relation of your’s? – Yes he’s my...) but uncle in most contexts (please listen to me...).

Note:  One wishes that bilingual dictionaries were more informative on this point.


Which of the two answer (7a, 7b) we accept for the crucial general question hinges upon many things, It will especially depend upon the overall function of the source language appearing in the primary language use and the target language papering in the secondary language use.


9.                  The overall function of language can be any of the following;


(a)   the utilitarian function (language as a way of controlling the environment, natural or human, as, in Open the door, Is it locked?, or even Open sesame! in appropriate situations),

(b)   the associative function (language as away of defining the social setting as in Good-bye, ?sorry I’m with you, you son of a bitch! in appropriate situations),

(c)   the intellectual function (language as a way of redefining shared information or insight, as in Old is gold Out of sight out of Mind, Two and two is four or To say ‘It is I’ is to use stilted English in appropriate situations),

(d)   the poetic function (language in the way of shared play, as in joking story-telling lyric zing creating an appropriate situation along the way),


Normally, one would expect, a source message conceived in utilitarian, associative, intellectual, or poetic terms will likewise be received in translation in corresponding terms.  But exceptions of course do turn up.  Thus, a poetic message may be offered in translation for intellectual purposes (as in a scholarly or pedagogic bilingual edition or as cited evidence in a cultural history).


Again, normally, one would expect, a decoding translation will be faithful to the source message rather than the target language in cases where it cannot be faithful for its viability in the secondary, language use on Its relationship with the source message.  (using it in a bilingual edition will simply be an extreme example of such dependency) Likewise, one would expect, a reendowing translation will be faithful to the target language rather than the source text in cases where it cannot be faithful to both.  In other words, the translation will be independent for its viability in the secondary language use of its relationship with the source message.  Thus, utilitarian source messages will typically call for reendowing translations of independent viability.


But there is at least one uncomfortable exception-poetry.




What strategy do we adopt in translating a poem for being received as a poem? (we are not thinking here of a poem being offered for intellectual purposes). How does one account for the fact that apparently contradictory demands are being made on translations of poetry?  These are expected to be at once ‘faithful’ and ‘free’!


Obviously something is wrong somewhere.  Let us ask the crucal question once again in respect of poetry.  When is a proposed translation of poetry an acceptable translation?  And let us now once again offer the pair of answer already offered (at 7a, 7b). Now If the stress is on translation as poetry, our concern should be that the secondary language use (what happens between the translation and its recipient) should be as closely like the primary language use as feasible.  The translation in the target language should be acceptable as a poem in the target language.  In other word, an acceptable translation of poetry should be a reendowing poetic translation.  But there is a a stringent limit on the ‘feasibility’ of the whole enterprise.


If we put the stress on translation of poetry, our concern should be that the translation, in being faithful to the source poem, cannot but be dependent.  The translation has to be faithful to the source message rather than the target language where it cannot be faithful to both.


In short, an acceptable translation of poetry as poetry is a dependent recoding translation.  This alone does justice to the fact that poetry resists paraphrasing—whether in the same language or in another language.  (as many literary critics writing in Sanskrit put it, poetry is  a-sva-¿ abda-vācya- that is, it does not lend itself to being reproduced in the reproducer’s own  speech, it is not para-phrasable. There are three distinct yet interrelated reasons for this state of affairs.


10.              Poetry cannot be paraphrased without residue in that---

(a) Poetic language needs to be seen to be or not so much a means of communicating experience as a medium of understanding experience.

(b) poetic language tends to demand that the recipient fuse listening and comprehension so that the sounds reinforce the sense.

(c)   poetic language tends to resort to displacement and enrichment in the formulation –and-interpretation.


Note: Displacement can be seen in metaphor, metonymy, irony, obliqueness and the like: the Sanskrit critical terms are lakṣaṇā and vakrokti.  Enrichment can be seen in intended suggestion, reverberation, intern nation density and the like; the Sanskrit critical terms are vyañjanā and ati¿āyana.


This calls, of course, for the setting up of or pair of an alternate to (6b) in addition to the ones offered at (7a, 7b).


11.              A proposed translation is an acceptable translation if and only if—


(a)   It gives priority to faithfulness to the source message and thus remains dependent for its viability in the secondary language use on its relation to the source message .

(b)   It gives priority to faithfulness to the target language and thus re remains independent for its viability in the secondary language use on its relation to the source message .


In  proposing dependent viability as an alternative mode of translation so as to do  justice to the fact that poetry cannot be paraphrased without residue (to), we have, so  to say, proposed at the same time a certain revision in Our mapping of paraphrasing (at2).  A fresh map is here proposed with respect to dependent translation of poetry.































Compare (12) with (2). Independent viability of the other map at (2).  Translation of poetry is, then, typically conceived as dependent reechoing translation –selecting strategy (b) at (7) and strategy (a) at (11).  So it needs to be at once ‘free’ to re-encode and ‘faithful’ enough to remain dependent.  These two demands are theoretically independent of each other but practically in conflict with each other.  No wonder then that translating poetry is notably difficult.  The notorious comment in French that translations, like women, can not be beautiful and faithful at the same time certainly has a point, the underlying male chauvinism notwithstanding!




We now propose to briefly look at how two contemporary Marathi poets, ARUN KOLATKAR and DILIPCHITRE, translate an early 17th century bhakti poet, TUKĀRĀM –we have selected a poem that both of them have translated.


A few words by way of ‘placing ‘ this piece of translating activity.  In the history of modern Marathi poetry, the ‘modernist’ phase beginning with B.S. MADHEKAR and P.S. REGE is known as navakavitā * (new poetry) KOLATKAR and CHITRE are both poets of stature belonging to the ‘third’ generation’ of this phase.  One recurring feature of nava kavitā is the way  it harks back  to  medieval bhakti  poetry – in particular to the viṭṭhal bhakti poetry tradition in Marathi of which  TUKĀRĀM is the last great figure.  For a fuller discussion, see Kelkar and behave 1978).  It is as if the ‘modernist’ poetry was recovering a lost sense of intense concern with ‘ the human condition’  - the loss being associated with much of the non-bhakti poetry in Medieval Marathi and, more recently, with the middle phase of modern poetry just preceding the’ modernist’ phase. Another interesting trait of MARDHEKAR, REGE, KOLATKAR, and CHITRE is that (like the late-19th century KESHAVSUT, the first modern poet, before them) They have all tried their hand at writing original poems in English: MADHEKAR and KOLATKAR more notably than others.



What drew KOLATKAR and CHITRE to translating TUKĀRĀM?  It is as if translating TUKĀRĀM was an act of saluting a past major poet whom they specially admire, an act of’ “ acquiring what we have in heritor” ( to use Goethe’s phrase), an act of recovering TUKĀRĀM has appeared in the UNECSCO ache me).


We begin by presenting the Marathi original with my own ‘ interlinear dependent decoding translation followed by KOLATKAR’s and CHITRE’s dependent re-encoding translations.  The poem has no title ad is numbered 676 in the so-called sarakārῑgāthā (collection put together and brought out by the four versions will be labeled O, A, B. and respectively (TUK ĀRĀM KELKAR, KOLATKAR and CHITRE).




kāya khāven ātān  koīka·ejāven

gāv āntarā hāvenkoṇyābalen //I//

kopalāpāīlagānvace he laka

āt ān ye ṇen ghāl ībh īka koa maja //dhru//

ātān ye ṇencav īsā · iī mha atī

nivā·ākarati divā ān ta//2//

bhakyālokī n yāsa sāngitalī māta

kelāmājhā ghā tadurbalācā//3//

tukā mhane yā cācsanga navhe bhalā

śodhī ta viṭṭhalā jāū n //4//



To eat? Now, where to go?

On what strength to live in the village? (I)

The village chief is angered, and so are the villagers

Who will give alms to me now? (Refrain)

They say now this fellow has given up any sense of good taste

They debate the verdict in the Council Chamber(2)

Good men and true set down the matter thus to this fellow

Have ruined poor me (3)

Tukārām)  says the company is not so good and true \ Let me go look for viṭṭhal now(4)


What will I eat now:

Where will I go?

Do I dare to stay on In the village? [I]


Villagers furious,

Their chief Crain grumpy,

If I beg I’ll only see

The door in my face [2]


I’m shameless they say,

An exhibitionist

The elders in a conference

Are taking a decision [3}

The angry gentry

Have done their bit

And brought ruin

On a defenseless man [4}

What do I want, says Tuka,

With these people ?

I must get going now

And search for Vital [5]




Where shall i go now?

What shall I eat?

With whose backing

Shall live in this village? [I}


The village chief

is furious with me

All the public

Hates my sight [2}


I plead with them

But they won’t listen.

I’ve lost all deceny

They say

Their council has

Convicted me. [3]


It’s no go

According to

The powers that be

I’m burnt out. [4]


Says Tuka,

It’s no good

To remain

In such company.

I had better

pack up

And go

In search

Of Vitthal. [5]



Considering that A.B, and C are all dependent translations, we can keep the picture at (12) in mind in going over the steps through which translation activity proceeds.


The abhanga verse form in O has four short lines (the fourth being even shorter rhyming aaax or approximately so (thus, āven  at  O: I, but ācā, alā alā ā at O:4) in each stanza; the refrain has also four short lines but no rhyme scheme.  This has a bearing on the assignment of now to go (as in O, A, C) rather than eat (as in B), and on the free verse form) in B,C) and the bound prose form )in A).


Note that the last stanza in C (C: ʃ) is longer than the rest.  The conversational format with an embedded signature of the poet (tukāmha ṇe at O: 4a)  has been retained ) in B,C –compare them with O, A) as also the battery of question-word questions (at O:r, R).  Marathi’ modernist’ poets feel more at home in the conversational mode than in the more rhetorical or ‘ singing’ modes of the poetic tradition.


Moving on to comprehension1 formulation2 (at 2), there are two problematic spots (at O: Icd and at O: 4ab).


O: gāvān tarāhā ven / koyā balen

A: On what strength to live in the village?

B: DO I dare to stay on/ In the village?

C: With whose backing/Shall I live in this village?


The ‘whose’ of C probably stems from miscomprehending koyā


14:  O: yācā/sanga navhe bhalā

       A: the company is not so good or true

       B: What do I good / To remain / In such company.


Does the   pronominal yācā (of this one) refer back to yene n (Ooze) and yā sa (O:3a) (this fellow- the me of O:I, R in the eyes of the village councilors) or rather to the councilors themselves, bhale loka (O:3a, and they –concord at ):?  The company of this fellow in the signature stanza (O:4, A:4, B: ʃ , C ʃ) will make for better grammar and the company of these good fellows and true  will make for award grammar (singular  this for the plural loka-people) but better common sense (giving up the company of these supposedly honorable people sitting in the Village Council in favour of the company of God Viṭṭhal).  B opts for the plural third person, but A, C simply skirt the problem of reference (give up my company or their company?)            The skirting is the better solution in that it retains the ambivalence of the source, with its sardonic rejection of one’s public self ( me  as seen by  them) and  ironic rejection of the gentry (bhale loka- good men and true-fit to sit ion the Village Council or an English jury).  The poet is rejecting the whole worldly existence –himself included –in favour of God’s company.  The deft irony with which this is done _okay, so I am no good, but none of us are) is very much in TUKĀRĀM style –which thus departs from the humble surrender typical of much of the bhakti tradition.

            It is significant that both B and C seek to recover ‘TUKĀRĀM (with his deft irony) for their own disillusioned, worldly generation.  This is seen in their selection from the large TUKĀRĀM corpus and their reendowing of TUKĀRĀM in a modern idiom.  Thus B has grumpy (B:2b), exhibitionist(:3b), defenseless (:4d) and  C has backing (:I c- compare O:Id, A: Icd),  public (:2c),  the power that be  (:4c),  burnt out (:4d),  pack up (:ʃ f).  AT these points, B and C slide into independent reendowing.  In the present author’s judgment only defenseless brings some welcome enrichment; backing and   Burnt out are textually  indefensible (koṇyāi is what, not  whose,  and baḷ need not involve anybody’s backing ; kelā ghāta  is  brought ruin and not ‘ declared me to be exhausted through prolonged stress’,  grumpy a and  exhibitionist  are a shade too coy;; the power that be  and pack up a  shade too brash.


Other felicitous reencodings, besides defenceless (B: 4d), are—Do I  dare (B:Ic),  The door in my  face’ (B:2d),  have their bit (B;4b, with a –like irony), lost all decency (C:3c), and perhaps had better (C: ʃe-compare  let me  A:4d, I  must B: ʃc).


 In the balance, both B and C have similar goals but brings it off more successfully than C, which overdoes things somewhat.


How may one expect English-reading ‘ mod’ young men or women of contemporary India to respond to these reendowing translations (B, C)?  Not being one of them, I can only speculate.  The chances are that they may not have even heard of TUKĀRĀM or at best have only heard of him—this unfortunately may apply even to the Marathi speakers among them.  The chances are that they may be found to be either unreligious or irreligious or religious in a trendier sort of way –in any case they may not have much inclination to read bhakti poetry unless for reasons not intrinsic to it (in preparing themselves for some test, for example). Will these translations effect a ‘recovery’ of TUKĀRĀM for them?  Will they be enticed to enter and remain to enjoy and admire? 

Professor Lothar Lutze and I discovered each other across cultures at a time when both of us were discovering Hindi language and literature.  I thought it would not be inappropriate to celebrate our mutual discovery by my speculating on ‘ translation as recovery’ across time.  My title of course alludes to SUJIT MUKHERJEE’S Translation as discovery (i98i).  For an earlier and more detailed perspective on translation theory, see KELKAR I98ʃ




KELKAR, ASHOK R., To translate or not to translate?, in: META: Journal DESTRADUCTEURS, NR. 30/3 Montr éal, Sept.  I98 ʃ pp. 2ii-223.  (inclusive of a comparison of five available English translations of Charles bordelaise’s les correspondences’ with the original and with each other.)


KELKAR, ASHOKA R, BHAVE, SADASHIV S, Bhakti in the modern mode, in; Vāgartha, Nr. 21, new Delhi-I978  PP. I3-39 (Repr. with corrections, south Asian digest of regional writing, Nr. 6, I977, PP.3-28, published I98I; E. ZELLIOTT, m. BERNTSEN, eds.):  The experience of Hinduism, Albany, N.Y. I988, pp. 297-320.  (Inclusive Of translations of 17 contemporary Marathi poems made by ARK


MUKHERJEE, SUJIT, Translation as discovery..,. New Delhi I98I.




This was published in Tender Ironies: A Tribute to Lather Lutze, ed. Dilip Chitre, Günther-Dietz Sontheimer, Heidrun Brüekner, Anne Feldhaus, and Rainer Kimmi 9. New Delhi: Manohar, 1994,p 237-50.