‘Oh no!’ I thought as I opened 1-Iarjeet Singh Gill’s Baba Nanak. ‘Not another of these attempts to retell the story of Guru Nanak in what is meant to be English poetry.’ These, it seems, almost invariably consist of dreary prose dressed up as flowery poetry. But I was wrong. I was very wrong. Baba Nanak, far from being cast in the style which one normally associates with the ‘poetry’ of English translations of the Adi Granth, is in fact an excellent piece of work. The works that it paraphrases are some of the finest of Guru Nanak’s works, set in the context of his life story and supported by passages from the janam-sakhis. Japuji naturally appears, as do portions of Sin Ragu, and the whole of Barahmaha, and Siddh Gost.
The style in which the life and travels of Baba Nanak is recorded makes exceedingly pleasant reading and those who wish to have the story well told as simple but effective English poetry will find Gill’s work a delight.
I do not know how Harjeet Singh Gill, Emeritus Professor of Semiotics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, was spurred into song when he elected to write in verse form the story of Guru Nanak, and of his divine hymns in a capsuled, simple, but effective style. Nothing, as far as I know, in Gill’s past suggested such a “return of the native” to the faith of his ancestors, for in his long academic career, he remained involved in the study of semiotics and signification under the tutelage of his French mentors and theorists of linguistics.
Whatever the reason, this volume underscores the nature of his inner transformation from a logician and sceptic to a seeker after truth, with Baba Nanak as his light and guiding star. I could stretch the argument and see how the science of languages, which invests all human thought and its highest reaches, possibly led Gill to apply his earned insights to the Sikh scriptures...Gill’s rendering, thus, is simple, direct and nearer to fine prose. And he sustains this discourse with imagination and insight.
In Nanak Bani Professor Harjeet Singh Gill has interpreted in free verse the compositions of Guru Nanak (1469-1539). These are meditations and reflections of Guru Nanak which form a major part of the Adi Granth composed in classical Indian ragas. Within the dialectics of anthropology and cosmology and within the parameters of metonymic observations of the religious and the profane world, there is a certain metaphoric articulation, a certain divine communication in a language that is both simple and transparent, both allegoric and transcendental…
The photographs by the author is an attempt at interpreting the ambiance in which Guru Nanak might have traveled during his Udasis.
Harjeet Singh Gill is Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
In Nanak Bani Professor Harjeet Singh Gill has interpreted in free verse the compositions of Guru N5nak (1469-1539). These are meditations and reflections of Guru Nanak which form a major part of the Adi Granth composed in classical Indian ragas. Within the dialectics of anthropology and cosmology and within the parameters of metonymic observations of the religious and the profane world, there is a certain metaphoric articulation, a certain divine communication in a language that is both simple and transparent, both allegoric and transcendental.
Translating from one language to another is not an easy task. The music of word and thought, the rhythm and resonance of the universe of conceptual discourse of one language can never be communicated in another idiom. And yet, throughout the history of ideas, across different cultures, translated texts have played a very important role... An earlier exercise of this order by Professor Gill in Baba Nanak was highly appreciated by eminent scholars who were sensitive to the rhythmic articulations of the English language.
The excellence and also the inadequacy of the translation is an invitation to the discerning reader to the domain of the rhythmic reverberations of the original text. Maybe these interpretations will serve this purpose!
Translating from one language to another is a highly complex affair and interpreting the transcendental resonance and rhythm of Nanak Bani in free verse was not going to be easy. I had made such an attempt earlier in Baba Nanak and the exercise was appreciated by eminent scholars who were sensitive to the rhythm of the English language. It was an auspicious beginning. I set myself to interpret the extremely lucid and rhythmic verses of Guru Nanak in free verse, to recreate a universe of cosmic discourse in an idiom of anthropological overtones.
The hymns follow the same order as they do in the Mi Granth, presented in Professor Taran Singh’s Guru Nanak Bani Prakash, Punjabi University, Patiala, 1969-70. This work was also often consulted for specific interpretations.. The French version of Nanak Bani by Dr Danielle Gill will be released in due course... The revised edition of Baba Nanak serves as an introduction.
Being conscious of the fact that even the best interpretation/translation is only an approximation, I follow the Sikh prayer, parhia likhiu, bhul chuk, muaf karna. I crave for the Guru’s indulgence, and above all, for his forgiveness, for the Guru alone can articulate his discourse in its multiple aspects of formal and conceptual constitution... In any case, no interpretation/translation can ever replace the sacred Guru Bani or the Guru Shabad with its cosmological reverberations in rhythm and resonance...
I am grateful to Punjabi University, Patiala, its distinguished Vice-Chancellor, Padam Shri S. S. Boparai, and Dr Parmbakhshish Singh, the Registrar, for the award of Senior Fellowship and the facilities provided for the preparation and the publication of these volumes. Thanks are also due to Dr Dhanwant Kaur for the administrative support... HSG.
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