Translation is an activity that awards after life to the present life of a writing. If the target language is English, that is spoken all over the world, translation of a writing from a language like Punjabi acquires special importance. With this perspective in mind, the Department of Development of Punjabi Language chalked out a special programme for translating the writings of outstanding Punjabi writers into English. Prof. Mohan Singh, the greatest Punjabi poet after Bhai Vir Singh and Prof. Puran Singh, deserved this honour more than any other poet of his times. Poetic creation came naturally to him and the language, structure and texture he imparted to his poems was faultless. I trust that present volume of 70 poems of Prof. Mohan Singh entitled under Dreams and Desires will be widely welcomed. Dr. Tejwant Singh Gill, is an eminent Scholar of English and Punjabi literature. He has successfully preserved the fragrance and vitality of the folk idiom of the original author.
Surely this translation ensures future life in English to Prof. Mohan Singh’s poems written by him in Punjabi.
Dreams and Desires is a collection of 70 poems of Mohan Singh. Except Jai Mir (1968) and Nankayan (1971) they are drawn from all his collections. The reason for leaving aside the two, are not the same though both were commissioned writings. In the former, he sang paeans to peace, come with the triumph of socialism over capitalism. Arising from ideological simulation rather than authentic experience, poetic expression, here, is bound by rhetoric only. This is not what the poet might have desired in the deepest recesses of his heart. Nankayan is the epic that he wrote on Guru Nanak whose Bani is a matter of past significance, present meaning and future value now and ever after. Relying on the janamsakhis, Mohan Singh wrote this epic to exalt the personage who provides the Punjabis, best scope and horizon for seeking definition and self-definition. Whether these crucial issues come within the ken of the poet is doubtful to contend, but so much else is there in the masterpiece to relish and marvel at. Exquisite description of nature, felicity of expression and mastery over metrical composition, come readily to mind. Since translation of the whole composition can only do justice to them, so I though it better to forego the temptation of including a part of it in this selection.
Ten poems are taken from Saave Patr (1936), his first collection. Mohan Singh’s dream of love and romance is expressed with full-throated ease in the poems taken from this collection. They not only brought him laurels then, but even now are a matter of nostalgia for their readers. It will not be too much to hold that they still claim a viable community of readership. Ambi de Boote Thalle (Under the Mango-tree) was the most celebrated of them all, and it figures prominently in this selection. There were some patriotic poems as well, of which Sipahi da Dil (Soldier’s Feeling) and Sikhi have a haunting halo around them. Both are to be found here. These ten poems taken from the poet’s first collection seek to give voice to the lived experience of the Punjabi people, chafing under alien rule on the one hand and social and moral impediments on the other.
It was after three years that the next collection, Kasumbhra (1939) appeared. As a teacher of Persian, Mohan Singh was then on the faculty of Khalsa College Amritsar. His association with Teja Singh, Gurbachan Singh Talib and Sant Singh Sekhon motivated him to delve into the 19th century romantic poetry and the leftist writings of the thirties. Coupled with Marxian and Freudian awareness that formed the ideological ambience then, the poet to seek solace from the hiatus, creates figures like the maiden in Kuri Pothohar di (Pothohar Lass) or like one lighting a lamp on the grave. Their portrayal becomes a fond feeling with him. All the same, he comes to realize that to achieve reconciliation between them is not a matter of the heart and head only. As the poem Taj Mahal excruciatingly shows, exploitation of the poor at the hands of the rich is a factor to drive this loving wish aside. In spite of this disillusion, to have a dream of the fond love and relish a desire for the ideal goal, remains close to the heart of the interlocutor.
Poems of the next collection i.e. Kach Sach (1942) proceed in the same vein. That so much discord should prevail between the rich and the poor, the head and the heart, love and indifference, seems very disconcerting to the interlocutor, invariably the male, whom to defy everything seems the only thing to do. Of the seven poems drawn from this collection, at least four seek to persuade him to expect things better from whatever quarters hold out a hope for the future. But the most agonizing of them all is Mainu ajj kisey ne dasia (Today someone to me did confide) in which the turmoil, that arising from a random reminiscence is so potent that not only the conscious but the unconscious also, gets disrupted and dislocated at the same time. In spite of all this disruption and dislocation, cynical and nihilistic way of living does not find favor with his harrowed mind:
Even now are unsparing
Phantoms of enticing love,
From the dungeon of bitter hatred
Arises their dark call,
And the mind got utterly effete
Extends welcome to defeat.(p. 37)
Is it defeat? Apparently yes, but defeatism not at all. It is a discontent off the sort that may be having its sources outside, but the resources to assuage it are very much inside. The next collection with ten poems to contribute for translating is very appropriately named Adhvate (1944). There is a poem bearing the title of the book itself, in which this state is not existentially of the interlocutor only, it is ontologically of the whole cosmos. In such a state, anything howsoever random or tiny it may be, acquires incommensurable meaning. This is what happens when someone with loving demeanor appears at the threshold as in Koi supne de vich aave (Someone comes in dream). Memory proves to be the richest mode for negotiating this resourcefulness. That way, the poem, Yaad (Memory), makes a wonderful reading in which is recalled the image of the legendary Heer, who utterly woebegone in the house of her in laws, on hearing that her lover Ranjha is around, again finds solace in life. On a correlative note, ends this poem when the interlocutor thus portrays his own state of mind:
Once again haunts the memory of one
For whose sake the world’s censure was mine.
Though as an analogue of the male, the dilemma of the female also starts seeking its voice in the poetic discourse of Mohan Singh. What earlier was poetic expression turns into poetic discourse now. Not only of the addressor, it is aware of the addressee’s situation as well. However, in the next collection, Vada Vela (1958) from which eight poems are taken for the purpose of translation, it is the potential of memory and waiting which fascinates the poet in the first instance. In Udik (waiting) and Yaad (Memory), their scope has widened so as to draw within all aspects and facets of nature. Now this nature is Nature in fact, because more than picturesque and pictorial, it is generative and regenerative as well. It is not only rich but enriching also. That is why, in another poem, again with Yaad as the title, it comes gorgeously attired to dazzle the beholder, but more than that to cast an eternal charm upon his mind. Was it because Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership was really in its glorious phase at that juncture and more and more innovative policies were being adopted for ameliorating the condition of the people? For the Bharati Sahit Akademi Award to come his way for this collection was also very appropriate, then.
The next collection was Awajan (1962), from which again ten poems are taken for translating. Memory and waiting, alone or in interlock, keep on exercising their eternal charm upon the mind of the interlocutor. Any moment in life, be it during journey in the train, they dawn and begin to add meaning to life. So for love to be close, rather to get within, becomes the over-riding feeling. Now even pain loses its traditional meaning. It is the stoic state of mind that is hearkened. That way, IK Geet (A song) sounds so enticing that to let it go unnoticed, would not be fair either to its melody or the feeling it seeks to convey. For a full grasp of the point being made, it is appropriate, albeit essential, to quote all the four stanzas:
This time pain has another glow,
Neither is it of innocence born
Nor is it what the youth adores,
This time pain has another glow.
Neither from heart’s core it arises
Nor in some hidden corner it abides,
Who knows where it has its abode,
This time pain has another glow.
Neither asleep nor awake
Nor in sweet swoon is it lost,
Swooning in body’s every pore,
This time pain has another glow.
Neither is it in haste to meet
Nor anxious for separation to show,
It has a gait distinct from both,
This time pain has another glow. (p. 69)
Mohan Singh’s penultimate collection for my purpose was Jandre (1964) from which seven poems, introspective melancholy seems to wrap manifold passion into scintillating persuasiveness. The poem, bearing the name of the book itself, makes it so very explicit. Written in the form of a narrative, it portrays the female who leaves the house of the male, presumably her husband, because he has monopolized everything, including their infant children. So acute is her outrage that no impediment can come in her way. After years, harrowed and harassed, she returns to the house that long ago had ceased to be her home. But now she cannot leave it, because grown-up children have replaced the locks. Really poetic is the Wanjarin (She-peddler) who refuses to sell her wares earlier because the interlocutor wants to buy only a part of them. Finally, when she has only sorrows for sale, he buys the whole basket:
Third time, she-peddler came
With basket of sorrows on her head,
Tears were there in her eyes
Hard it was for her to speak.
On the ground she put the basket
Go for the whole basket she prayed,
With nothing to restrain me now
I struck the deal without any refrain. (p. 74)
His last collection was Buhe (1977), published a year before his death. Ten poems taken from it for translation show without an iota of doubt that the earlier process of mellowness has fared forward, but with resilience, that drew from Sant Singh Sekhon the remark, “Wisdom is not an unworthy succession to enthusiasm.” The veracity of this remark is borne out by the poem bearing the name of the collection in which the door remains open to all dispensations. It is no less true of Annah Pather (Blind Stone) in which his openness is reserved for all the privations as well. It is a strange but charming coincidence that the last poem of the selection is Piar (Love) in which, rather than heavenly, ideal and transcendental, it is awarded immanent proportions:
Love is not like a dream,
When the dream snaps
Someone chisels a word,
Another smothers a stone,
That then this to us moans:
Love is like a piece of bread,
Without which hunger doesn’t go
And life’s purpose is not served. (p.91)
I have translated these poems with the desire to award an after-life in English to the present life they have in Punjabi. For this purpose, a contrapuntal sort of translating strategy has been devised. To my mind, it is unlike the literal method that marks much of Gurbani’s translation into English including Teja Singh’s that is so far the best. At the same time, it is not like free translation, so much a favorite of Prof. Puran Singh in Nargis and a couple of his other collections. In my translating strategy, the focus is always on rhythm, utterance and discourse, rather than on diction, meter and syntax. In this way, he latter are bestowed the care they deserve, when a text in the source language is to forge for itself a place in the target language. This becomes all the more essential when the two languages be wide apart, as English and Punjabi are for that matter. That is all, I am tempted to say in this regard.
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