The Avatars of Bhujangaiah

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About the Book Unarguably, Krishna's Bhujangaiahna Dashavataragalu is the apotheosis of his narrative technique. It is a story that forever teases the reader through the characterization of Bhujangaiah, who while remaining ordinary yet step by step ascends to the spiritual world, through the narrative technique that paints the anxiety, the joy and the trauma of a rural society that is at the crossroads and through the skill of compelling the reader to meditate upon the illusions of life even as...
About the Book
Unarguably, Krishna's Bhujangaiahna Dashavataragalu is the apotheosis of his narrative technique. It is a story that forever teases the reader through the characterization of Bhujangaiah, who while remaining ordinary yet step by step ascends to the spiritual world, through the narrative technique that paints the anxiety, the joy and the trauma of a rural society that is at the crossroads and through the skill of compelling the reader to meditate upon the illusions of life even as he enthusiastically tells a story with elan.

Alanahalli Sri Krishna (1947-1989) was a writer who in a period of two decades wrote four collections of poetry, three novels and three volumes of criticism to create a new wave of modernism in Kannada literature through his irrepressible zest for life, remarkable talent and creative abilities, before hastening in his almost characteristic manner away from this earth. All the three novels of his Kaadu (1972), Parasangada Gendethimma (1978) and Bhujangaiahna Dashavatara (1982) earned immense popularity and were translated into many of the Indian languages, and were successfully made into movies. In all the three novels Krishna has through "events" that resonate the innocence of childhood and the ebullience of youth has behind the screen of cultural interstices explores Man's fundamental nature such as desire, anger, hate and cruelty.

Dr. C.P. Ravichandra, who is a Professor of English in the University of Mysore, is not only known to be a competent translator but also as one who has critically theorized about the problems of translation. He is familiar with the cultural ambiance of Bhujangaiah which is replete with emotionally highly charged details and situations. He has internalized the socialist of the Linguist community in and around Mysore, which the novel uses. Professor Ravichandra has mastery over the target language which provides an exciting cultural transaction between the languages. Through this translation Ravichandra has contributed to the linguistic wealth of English, increasing the borrowing ability of the English language. A genius in Kannada has found an uninhibited expression in the climate of another language without resonating foreignness.

A translator's lot is an unenviable one. Whereas 'creative writers' consider him/her a second-class citizen of the literary world and patronizingly allow him/her to exist on the rim of the literary circle, critics love to fault him/her for omissions and additions in relation to the SL text. However, people continue to translate and readers continue to read such translations. Maybe, the urge to communicate, to share with others what he/she enjoys in a particular text, is as strong in a translator as in any other writer. One such translator, who has an irrepressible urge to communicate, is Dr. C. P. Ravichandra.

Ravichandra, a well-known critic (and the awardees of the coveted Northrop Frye Award for the best critical article of the year), is a Professor of English in the University of Mysore, and, by vocation, a translator of Kannada works into English. He has already published some of his translations of Kannada saint-poets into English; but, I must confess, what he has undertaken to do in this work is really challenging —challenging for two reasons: the novel, Bhujangayyana Dashaavataaragalu, is quite voluminous (running to some 500 pages), and it is written in a caste-region-specific dialectic variation of Kannada. Anybody would think twice before venturing into such a task.

Srikrishna Alanahalli, the author of this novel, was a highly promising navya (Modernist) writer in Kannada, who, before his untimely death (at the age of 42), had written three collections of poetry, two collections of short stories, and three novels. While his short stories showed him treading a new path, his first two novellas Kaadu (‘forest’) and Parasangada Gendethimma ( `Gendethimma the Raconteur') caught the imagination of readers to such an extent that they were immediately translated into English and most other Indian languages, and later were turned into very successful films also. (Girish Karnad directed Kaadu which won the President's gold medal and in which Amarish Puri, the famous Hindi actor, took the lead role.) Bhujangayya was Alanahally's most ambitious novel.

The present novel has a two-fold objective: to document the very process of an ordinary man of flesh and blood slowly ripening towards an extraordinary person who renounces the world, and, through him, to capture the ethos of a stagnant life, gradually and unwillingly, shaking itself out of stupor. Bhujangayya, the character around whom the novel revolves, is a man of steely will and astounding self-confidence; and the novel, in a leisurely manner, records the many twists and turns of his life. A small farmer in the beginning, Bhujangayya, in course of time, turns into a smalltime hotelier, a shopkeeper, a contractor, and finally a blind mendicant. His knowledge of curing persons from snakebite becomes the cause of his death in the end; with the full knowledge that his attempts to save one more victim of snakebite might lead him to death, he succeeds in bringing the victim back to life, but meets his own death as a result.

What the novel emphasizes is that each new turn, new twist in his life, makes Bhjangayya more and more introspective regarding the meaning of life and living. Also, importantly, every new attempt on his part to rise from ashes like phoenix (the name of a successful story by the author), also involves Bhujangayya's crossing the traditional caste-community barriers on the one hand, and, on the other, losing interest in earthly possessions like land, money, and physical pleasures.

Alanahally, who spent his childhood in a small and remote village of Karnataka, had a penchant to record, authentically, the tumultuous changes ushered in the Indian society by a complex set of causes in the pre- and- post-independence India. He attempts to register in his novels the very pulse-beat of a people, caught in the vortex of sudden changes brought in by urbanization, industrialization and modern education — in short, 'Bharat' that was painfully transforming itself into a modern 'India.' In the course of events unfolding in this novel, we see how each avatar of Bhujangayya introduces a change —resented initially and finally-accepted: a 'high-caste' man opening a hotel, getting into a second marriage with a low-caste' woman, setting up a grocery store, digging up a tube-well in his land to make his dependence less on the whims of the Rain God, and finally, knowingly, giving up his life to save one who had violated his wife. (Incidentally, it is fascinating to study the motif of 'hotel' as a leveler of castes and classes, a recurring marker of modernity in Kannada fiction from Shivarama Karanth to Devanuru Mahadeva.)

As a translator, Ravichandra's accomplishment is enviably brilliant. He has perfected a style in English that is concise, precise, and forceful. More importantly, he appears to have found almost a perfect balance between the Text's demands and the Reader's expectations. Hence, reading his translation is a real pleasure.

However, to do justice to the amount of dedicated labor he has put in as a translator, backed by a meaningful ideology of translation, I want to be more specific about Ravichandra's translation. Let me consider now the three categories which distinguish one translator from another: a) culture-region-specific terms; b) expressions of abuse; and c) proverbs and adages.

a) Regarding culture-region-specific terms, Ravichandra usually searches for the most appropriate term in English (if any); for instance, milk-hedge for 'Mill beli'; fickle mind for `tikkalu swabhava'; spell for `modi'; white-blossomed Babool tree for biliya jalada huvina mara; and such. Most translators would have italicized these terms and glossed them in detail at the end. When he doesn't find such suitable equivalents, he uses the term and explains it unobtrusively in the text itself: `propitiatory para,"Kesaribhat, a sweet dish made of semolina,' the unaging tree of plenty, Kalpavruksha,' `for binna, the holy alms,' etc. Owing to this technique, not only the reader understands the text immediately, but the glossary (considered an absolute necessity in a translation) becomes redundant.

b) b) Abusive terms and expressions are language-culture specific, and as a rule ‘indecent’; normally, in the name of 'taste' and 'decorum,' most of the translators either avoid them or use euphemism. But, Ravichandra translates them literally so that the readers of the translation are as shocked as the readers of the SL text. Consider these expressions: "Now, shut your ass and behave like a responsible man" "Should we then, merely, sit here and shave pubic hair?" "You lousy son of a bitch!" "You son of a whore, who husbands his mother" "You son, born to my husband's second wife"

c) c) Similarly, regarding proverbs and adages, Ravichandra opts for literal translation. For instance, "The horse laid eggs when the perilous day dawned" "To drink empty the seven ponds" "He plants the sacred shrub at home, though indulging in acts of immorality" "When advised 'unlearn your trait shrew,' she said, I may leave my husband but not what I have learnt" "A beggar grown suddenly affluent will open the parasol under the full moon"

d) Such literal translations of abuses and proverbs help the TL reader to recognize both the norms and their violation in an alien social system in the form of abuse. ( For instance, I am sure the phrase ' Widow's son' will not be taken as a terrible curse or abuse in any but a Hindu society.) Ravichandra here has worthy precedents in Chinua Achebe and A. K. Ramanujan.

A translator's task is a tight-rope-walking in which even the rope is prone to break at any time. On the one hand, there is the SL text, which is a network of language-cultuie-specific assumptions and connotations, demanding of the translator total loyalty to it; on the other hand, there is the TL reader, who comes to the text with his own 'horizon of expectations' constructed by his own literature, language and culture, demanding of the translator to cater only to his needs; and, obviously, both these demands are so opposed to each other that it is almost impossible to meet both. Hence, A. K. Ramanujan exclaims in one of his articles that the translator's task "more often than not... like Marvell's love, is begotten by despair upon impossibility."

Still, A. K. Ramanujan himself continued with his commitment to translation and introduced Kannada and Tamil mystic poetry (besides Anantha Murthy's novel Samskara) to the readers of English; and, since times immemorial there have been translators, struggling in their own way, to bridge two languages, two peoples, and two cultures. It is to this dedicated group of bridge-builders that Ravichandra belongs. We need today, more than at any other point of time, such bridge-builders.

Sample Pages

Item Code: NAO662 Author: Alanahalli Sri Krishna Cover: Paperback Edition: 2010 Publisher: Sahitya Akademi ISBN: 8126027851 Language: English Size: 8.0 inch X 5.5 inch Pages: 382 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 470 gms
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