SheThePeople.TV is partnering with the Poets Translating Poets Festival to be held in Mumbai this weekend (November 25-27). Fifty poets have participated in a two year long project which aimed to create a platform for contemporary poets from India, other South Asian countries and Germany to translate their work — encompassing 20 languages. The festival in Mumbai is open to all and will comprise poetry readings, discussions, photo exhibitions and exciting performances, including jazz poetry performances, and readings in unexpected parts of the city!
SheThePeople.TV caught up with leading Dalit feminist poet, Pradnya Daya Pawar about poetry as a political message, the ‘Tamasha’ i.e performance poetry and freedom of speech. Pawar writes in Marathi and teaches in in the Marathi department of Dnyansadhana College, Thane. Edited excerpts of our interview:
1. Since your work is political in nature, why do you think poetry is a particularly good medium for education and activism around politics, gender and social issues?
Poetry is about you and you are about your locale. So it is but obvious that one’s poetry respond’s to one’s surroundings. Indian tradition is steeped in poetry since beginning.
(The) role of poetry in changing conscious is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s huge activity is in subconscious. It lends its own bodily content to symbolism and imagery. At the same time she appeals to collective wisdom. Be it black poetry, dalit poetry or women’s poetry, or poetry of migration. Be it Orsolya’s, Sukirtharani’s or my poetry we all voice muted voices of the so called ‘other’.
Be it black poetry, dalit poetry or women’s poetry, or poetry of migration. Be it Orsolya’s, Sukirtharani’s or my poetry we all voice muted voices of the so called ‘other’.
2. Your father, Daya Pawar was also a prominent Dalit writer. How would you say your father’s work has influenced you?
Actually he never ever interfered in my poetry. But in a way he has made an indelible impression on my mind. He used to narrate a story in my teens. It was about certain mine workers who used to take a caged myna with them while going down to the mines. If at any point of time there was paucity of oxygen in the air myna was the first to notice it and express her displeasure loudly. On hearing it, workers would stop their work. My father used to say writers and artists are like those mynas. If there is onset of suppression/oppression in the surrounding world they are the first to sense it and express displeasure. With these words they alert people around them about the impending doom. In this way poetry is always political.
I have seen his writing and his work since childhood. That’s how I have grown up. Linkages between social movement and literature, I have inherited it from him. He was one of the pioneers of Dalit literature in the early seventies. Though living in the time of Dalit Panther his voice was not harsh and bitter but much more muted and composed. He penned the first Dalit autobiography titled ‘Baluta’ which led to a full-fledged movement of Dalit autobiographies. It has been translated in many a language, both Indian as well as European. Interestingly its English translation came just an year ago, almost after 40 long years!
Read a Poem by Pradnya Daya Pawar
दृश्यांचा ढोबळ समुद्रસ્ત્રી
ही चिडचिड असह्य
झोपेतल्या ग्लानीतही ओळखू यावेत
स्पर्श आवाज आकार
थांग हरवून बसलेला
हा दृश्यांचा ढोबळ समुद्र
डोळ्यांच्या झिलमिल पडद्यावर
याला कितीदा तरंगत ठेवू ?
गायब झालीय ‘अ’ची बाराखडी…
शाबूत ठेवावा लागतो
पण मला एकदा तरी
अशी संहिता हवी आहे
जिथे सरकलेला असेल
आहे का, आणखी एखादा दरवाजा ?
जिवंत मोकाट वाऱ्यासाठी
सताड उघडलेला !
Poem reproduced courtesy the Poets Translating Poets Festival. You can read more of her poetry here.
3. Can you speak more about the ‘Tamasha’ folk form of poetry that you are acquainted with? How does watching performed poetry vs reading poetry elicit different emotions and responses?
I have a longish poem on Vithabai Bhau Mang Narayangaokar. She was well-known tamasha artist. Her lavani ‘potasathi nachate mi parwa kunachi’ has voiced agony of all the tamasha artists. They mainly came from lower untouchable castes. My grandfather was a dholki player in tamasha. (a folk instrument, two-headed hand drum) But my father never played it as he wanted to move out of caste occupations that came with a stigma. He critically wrote about it extensively. But even then he used to sing his poems, poems describing agonies of dalit women in rural drought affected locale. His poems have become a new folklore for social movements, especially men and women fighting forced displacement caused by huge world bank sponsored projects.
Myself being from third generation I was still far away from the actual practicing of it but mentally I always wanted to go back to my roots. But there was certainly not a nostalgic craving of the past. I was more interested in its socio-political moorings. That has come out in my poetry on Vitha.
4. How do you think new and upcoming poets can tackle issues of freedom of speech and speaking out their mind
This sure is no longer an easy thing to do. Preserving freedom of speech and speaking out our mind has become really hard in present day India. I have talked of emergency like situation in India. We as a writers have been protesting against all sort of curbs that are brought in commoner’s life, day in and day out. In such times artificial boundaries between literature and politics come tumbling down. Young kannada dalit writer named Huchangi Prasad was warned against writing caste related oppression. He was both beaten up and threatened with dire consequences for continuing with his -Hindu antiwritings. Not only dalit writers whoever challenges ruling party’s ideology is termed as traitor and taught an instant lesson now a days. And then there are traps as well. Young and upcoming writers will have to stick to their calling and stay away from these traps.
Preserving freedom of speech and speaking out our mind has become really hard in present day India.
5. Do you think there is the issue of messages getting ‘lost in translation’ when your poetry is translated?
I don’t think so. I think translation plays a huge role in connecting cultures. We live in a world full of cultural blindness. We have constructed our own images of the other. Those predetermined images start falling like ninepins when we try to translate. Hence translation is avoided by dictators. As far as messages getting lost in translation is concerned it’s like a half filled glass. One can look at its half emptiness or half fullness! I am all for it. That is the only way for being true to ourselves, to being human.
Translating poetry is much more difficult. We can translate words but taking its rhythm and mind you I am not just talking only about its physique, it’s soul too has to be preserved, it sure is quite a daunting task.
But when both the poets are at it, in other words, when one poet translates a poem in the presence of original poet, as was done by Goethe, the result is really both enriching and fulfilling.
The Poets Translating Poets festival is open to all — For a full schedule of events log on here