Vol. 5 Num 575 Sat. January 07, 2006  

Unforeseen Affection and Other Love Poems

This bilingual volume of poems is somewhat remarkable at first sight in that an ex-chief minister and prime minister of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao, has translated them from Telegu into English. Telugu is the official language of Andhra Pradesh and one of the four literary Dravidian languages (Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam are the other three). Jayaprabha is a well-known, widely published Telugu poet, and Narasimha Rao's enthusiasm for her is heartfelt. In an otherwise low-key introduction that blends sensible sentiments on literary translations and awareness of Telugu literary traditions, he writes that "Jayaprabha and her poetry are inseparable...Jayaprabha means intensity--at times the unbearable intensity of a kruddha naari (angry woman), at others the intensity of unfathomably deep affection and tenderness."

A number of the poems draw heavily on Hindu mythology and Telugu culture, and the intermix can make for slow reading. Footnotes help, and the translations are creditable, but some of them do not attain the absolute "freshness" and "original imagery" Rao speaks of. One misses an A. K. Ramanujan here, whose careful delineations of Tamil poetry has made possible the opening up of an entirely different poetic landscape, and who, as opposed to Sanskrit, advocated regional languages and, in his inimitable phrase, 'native woodnotes.' Telugu is heavily Sanskritized, and in translations those'woodnotes,' which so obviously must account for Jayapradha's power in her mother tongue, get blanked out.

Still, read it, and explore. The lines below are from 'Along the Word-Paths.'

Shall I tell you a truth?
When a word, however noble, gets worn out by overuse,
I find it too narrow to express my thoughts.
And 'love' is one such word.

Like the new day that begins while I think of you,
I want some new dreams.
Some waves in the ocean of language.
They should be, regardless of the beauty of words, like--
young couples' green-chili-hot talk,
birds circling over water in the tank,
lovely green lawns,
like a baby's joyous laughs,
like the sunset in the west...

Khademul Islam is literary editor, The Daily Star.
Unforeseen Affection and Other Love Poems by Jayaprabha (translated by P. V. Narasimha Rao); Delhi: Penguin India; 2005; Rs. 250; pp. 223.