Book: Born of the Soil (Matira Manisha)
Translated by: Bikram Das
Price: 298 (Hardback)
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Chhi, Chhi, maichiatoka ta!”
“Shame on you, crybaby! Be a man, little brother!”
‘Matira Manisha’ is a complex text to translate. ‘Born of the soil’ is an attempt by Bikram Das (Language professor at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, and at the National University of Singapore) for the same. The text originally written in Odia by KalindiCharanPanigrahi, is rich with meanings and ideologies. Panigrahi belonged to a generation of writers who started a literary movement called ‘Green Literature’ or ‘SubujSahitya’. The ‘greenery’ that inspired their writing was a declaration of soft youthful idealism and romanticism rather than radicalism which is so often seen in contemporary writing. But what happens when a meaningful text like ‘Matira Manisha’ is translated into another language? Does the meaning remain or is it lost in translation?
THE PLOT: The tale is that of two brothers, Baraju and Chhakadi, sons of ShaamaPadhan, a village elder and a highly respected person. The elder brother ‘Baraju’ is married to Hara Bou whereas the younger brother is married to Netramani. The two Jaa’s (Sister in Law’s) don’t get along and the house is rife with heat and hate. After the passing of ShaamaPadhan the Jaa’s hatred only increases till it passes onto Chhakadi. The village trouble maker Hari Mishra takes this as an opportunity and starts poisoning Chhakadi against his elder brother. But the protagonist of the tale ‘Baraju’ will have none of this. He had promised ShaamaPadhan, that come what may there would be no separation of the household. So he embarks on a path of reformation. He believes that both good and bad exist in a human being, the two are in conflict always. When the good is victorious, the person transforms into a God. When the evil in him wins, he transforms into a thief. So with the Bhagabata, vedas and the teachings of his dead father, Baraju begins his quest of transforming the human soul, the first one being his own wife.
Gandhi and Marx: The methods that Baraju employs for human transition remind one of Gandhi’s teachings. The protagonist is referred to as Mahatma at some points in the narrative. The principles of non-violence, satyagraha, and fasting are employed by Baraju at various points in the story for the good to win over the bad.
Baraju also represents the proletariats in various ways and attempts to unite the labourers to fight the greed of trouble makers like Hari Mishra. He requests workers to take beatings for the sake of fellow labourers and help them in times of trouble. The ideology stems from Marxism but doesn’t employ its violent methods. The Gandhian principle of non-violence is used to mend the bourgeois ways.
Masculinity: Hegemonic masculinity reveals itself in various ways and forms through the narrative. While Baraju is the ‘ideal’ male, his younger brother ‘Chhakadi’ is deemed as a ‘maichia’. The term, when translated to English, is ‘Effeminate’. Chhakadi is termed as effeminate at various points, sometimes by his brother, many times by his wife and also by the other villagers. Chhakadi’s motivations throughout are to prove his masculinity to the world. Hari Mishra, represents the top of the hierarchy of male hegemony and the bourgeois, and his need is to subdue all power structures. The women in the story also represent patriarchy in various ways. The struggle to own private property comes across as a major theme in the narrative.
Translation: Bikram Das mentions the difficulties in translating the text from Odia to English. He translates the major part of this work in English but keeps certain words untouched. This he does to keep the ‘Odia’ soul of the literature alive. So certain words like Jaa (sister in law) and Sindura remain as they are. He does not change them because he feels the words, if changed, would lose their meaning in translation. He gives the example of the word ‘Haladi’. On being translated into English it is termed as Turmeric. Bikram Das believes that ‘Haladi’ is much more evocative than ‘Turmeric’. So he keeps these words untranslated. The attempt to translate the last line of the story into English leaves him deeply unsatisfied. He translates the line – ‘Chhi, Chhi, maichiatoka ta!’ into “Shame on you, crybaby! Be a man, little brother!” He mentions that the words ‘maichiatoka ta’ show a certain deep affection in Odia, whereas its English translation is unable to convey the same meaning. He would prefer to keep these words untranslated but in its original form, they mean nothing to an English reader. So he translates the words because it’s a catch-22 situation.
The short story of Kalindicharan Panigrahi is a literary masterpiece, even in its translated form, with the complications of translating text from Odia to English, it retains its Odia soul. While the idealism of Baraju and his Mahatma like nature leaves no room for any grey shades, it reveals the mind of a man who perhaps thought like Gandhi.