I have heard the story of a spot translation, former Union Minister Panampalli Govinda Menon gave, to a speech done by former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, while he was in Kerala. During his talk, he quoted a stanza from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ – “Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” On the spot, it was translated into Malayalam, “Vellam vellam sarvathra, ittu kudikkaanillathre.” It was so beautiful and rhythmic that it seemed better than the original. Another translation I remember is an anonymous one, given to a poem by the Malayalam poet Changampuzha. The lines, “Malaya pulayante madathin muttathu mazha vanna naloru vazha nattu…” was translated into English, “Malaya the pulaya in front of his little hut, planted a plantain in rainy season…” Literally, the translation is meaning-perfect, but has no energy in it.
Those great teachers of the past never have appreciated daily discourse registers. During the times of Gautam Buddha, even writing was not in practice. Same was the case with Jesus too. We are living in Kaliyuga – a time span in which not many are going to understand anything spiritual. The infight among religionists proves this. No interpretation matches with another. Kaliyuga is the time of injustice and miseries. The Age succeeding Kaliyuga may benefit all that we are preserving with great effort.
Let me tell you a story. A few learned pandits called a meeting to explore Gita, and they all came in time on their decorated chariots. After the debate, when a Brahmin came to his chariot, he saw his driver weeping. He seemed to be
absorbed in some mind dramas. The Brahmin asked him why he was crying. He said that he was watching a big discourse that was going on at the chariot, next. The chariot driver looked like a king. Nobody could have heard his discourse unmoved. He spoke on Dharma and right living. The Brahmin left the place in silence, He understood that Lord Krishna had not come to their debate hall.
Texts without souls – that’s what we are chasing now! Right translations are yet to come.
May I share with you a story that I love to hear frequently. A Major and his unit were moving to a Himalayan post. The unit had to be there for the coming long three months. Guess the heavy bags they carry through those roads cutting spurs and crossing low peaks, but never like trekking for fun.
It was freezing cold! Quite natural for everybody to think about having a cup of hot tea. They also knew that it was impossible to see a tea shop anywhere, on the sides of this sparingly used road. No houses also were seen around there to take help. Still, they continue their prayer for a cup of tea!
And there they saw a small shop like shed afar. They earnestly prayed it to be a live tea shop. When they reached the palace, it was closed, though it appeared like a tea shop. Everybody looked face to face. The people in the unit doubted that there could be everything necessary to cook tea. They knew how to open the lock and the Major permitted them to try their luck. Yes, the shop was opened and just as they had intended, all that they needed to cook tea were there… also biscuits.
They cooked enough tea, shared the biscuits and finally left the place, quite charged. Meanwhile, the Major left a few 1000 Rupees notes on the counter under the sugar jar.
Three months later, the unit was returning after their service. That time, they had a functioning tea shop to dream about. Everybody prayed to see it open. Yes, it was wide open!
But they saw only an old man there. They got in and had tea and snacks. In between they shared a few words with this old man too. He said that everything moves only because of divine grace. He repeated that Bhagavan comes to his help, every time he needs it. Naturally the soldiers began to murmur, “Eh this man talks about God!” At last, one of them asked this old man, “How do you know that there is Bhagavan?”
He told them a live story.
“Three months back, my son had to be hospitalised. The physician there suggested an immediate surgery. I didn’t have any penny with me. I postponed the surgery and returned quite disappointed and, in the shop, under the sugar jar, there was the money I truly wanted. It appeared that Bhagavan and all his court had come down to drink tea and crack snacks. I can’t say how valuable that money was for me. It was worth my son!”
Suddenly, a silence fell all over! They realised who bhagavan was!