At the beginning of the Kurukshetra war, Vyasa came
to his blind son Dhritarashtra offering him sight to see the war.
Dhritarashtra pleaded not to give him sight, if it were only to
see his sons die. Instead, he would be satisfied to hear through
someone who could relate vividly the details of the war. Vyasa,
offering a boon, replied:
"So be it. This Sanjaya will give you a true report
of the entire war. I will grant him inner sight. He will be
like the Rishis who can see all … Sanjaya will see everything
that happens in the war. He will know even the thoughts of
all … whether spoken, or whether it is just in the mind
of a man, Sanjaya will know it all".
(Subramanyam 2001: 479 & 480)
A translator shares with Sanjaya the anxiety to
represent what she has visualized into articulate speech, and
at the same time remain within the limited confines of the Source
Text and not to overread or underread what she sees or reads and
comprehends. Although outside the field of creativity (in this
instance, poetic creativity), her inner sight should privilege
her to see beneath surface meanings as well as discern the creative
process behind the ST. She is also within its understanding and
she internalises the field within herself. She is urged to relate
exactly without debate or question the just and unjust actions
of men. Any transgression would invite reproach with a shriek
of adharma (= nonrighteous or immoral behaviour) from the
blind Dhritarashtra - or the reader - who has no access to the
Kurukshetra war or the ST, hence is blind. She has, therefore,
to watch her tread with care. Despite this limit to
(her) visual sight, and her distance from the field of action,
the translated text emerges, since the ability of Dhritarashtra
(the reader) to see with the mind's eye is boundless.
The sights to which access is denied, those he is obliged to
see through his mind. Sanjaya, the translator, with his extended
and enlarged vision is out to project the unfolding action: Maharaj,
hearken to all that I can see (Bhattacharya 1992: 281-282).
War and the Empowerment of Women
Among the many issues frequently debated with regard
to women's writing, one is the question of gendering of translations.
In the politics of translation, an issue such as this, not surprisingly,
invites an equally gendered response. If a woman writer were to
create space for herself within and outside the boundaries of
her SL, which amounts to giving her writing a public presence
and legitimacy, finding a translator from the mainstream is as
challenging as seeking recognition within the same. Hence, more
often than not, women translate in order to undertake the task
of carving out space for women writers outside the mainstream,
which has also been male-stream, (SL 2) as well as gain
access for them to global readership. In outreaching global attention,
the long narrative poem War, a Heart's Ravage of Seela
Subhadra Devi, written in Telugu, is a confluence of three voices
- all of women. Viewing the post-September-Eleven politico-religious
situation in the world contextually in the midst of Afghan war,
the poet being a woman, records her response as a mother, as
Scene of man-made mammoth structures' collapse
Lingers still afresh on eye's iris.
(Jayalakshmi and Rao 2003: 31)
Secondly, the poem celebrates the centrality of
woman as subject, the main narrative voice - a woman-conscious
mother. In the contemporaneous context of the poem, the poet's
response is highly meditative on the theme of woman as a mother,
a silent sufferer in war since times past. Thirdly, the translation
is a collaborative effort of two women, an effect reinforcing
the issue of empowerment - the central concern of the Seminar.
The theme of women's empowerment, however unsettling to the mainstream
writing and readership, obviates itself in literature, to begin
with, as a gender-genre-stereotypic divide in women's writing.
Except for prose writing, novels and lyric poetry, genres like
epic, humour, travelogue, drama, criticism, satire etc. seem to
be traditionally outside the gender-genre space of women's writing.
By choosing to write a long narrative poem War, a Heart's Ravage
(fifty-page long in the original), Seela Subhadra Devi transgresses
into a hitherto male-specific genre of writing long poems. It
is relevant, in this regard, to recall words of Nabaneeta Dev
Sen who avers with confidence that such gender-genre-stereotypic
distinction doesn't hold any longer (Subhadra Devi 2003: 67).
True to these words, Seela Subhadra Devi happens to be the first
woman writer in Telugu literature to write a long poem. However,
her being the first in Indian vernacular literatures as well needs
to be established. The poem although not characterized by epical
features, has in it a metaphorical, symbolic, metaphysical and
cosmic epic struggle between innocent and evil forces, besides
shading off into folklore and fable as a search for meaning at
the human level - concerns all epical in nature. Such a transgression
into a new genre, indeed, is empowerment in itself.