RUKHSANA’S RESIDENCE BY ANITA BHARTI
Translator: Nupur Jain
RUKHSANA’S RESIDENCE – 1
Thoughts about you can never cease
Rukhsana, from the depth of your eyes
arises the question with a new lease of life –
A silent tear rolling down
your sudden shudder from pain
by a memory that turns you pale
For your children, by my faith
Rukhsana, school is as distant now
as an immortal from its death
Books once loved and cared for
now lie in mounds of dirt
as if punished for being read
In the hand of your daughter
A question written in her answer book
Enumerate the characteristics of a secular country
is in search of an answer.
RUKHSANA’S RESIDENCE – 2
A sewing machine lying there
stitches memories vague and faint
of cloths stitched and bonds hitched
Of your spirit and energy spent
Endless pairs of salwar-kameez
Innumerable shirts all along
Frocks and blouses and petticoats
You have stitched for so long
Visits and chatters at your doorstep
Even the proud Chaudhari’s daughter-in-law
Praises you while kissing your hand
For dresses stitched without any flaw
In a plain tone, Rukhsana says
I am also like this sewing machine
Rusted, lifeless with broken threads
And bobbin stuck in its own place
Rukhsana I wish to quote to you
The verses of Rahim,
but how to tell you
Rahiman, don’t slit the threads of love.
RUKHSANA’S RESIDENCE – 6
Homes and houses demolished
Work and trade ruined
Life and property destroyed
Love and affection killed
There is more to it than appears
That riots also behead
the dignity and honour of women and girls
at the blood thirsty altar of violence.
If it were not so, tell me why
at massacre junction why men
just shed clothes before helpless women,
thrust forward their proud erection
RUKHSANA’S RESIDENCE – 7
Weeping and mourning, Rukhsana says
We were uprooted from our home
By our own elders, kith and kin
In anger, rage, disgust and scowl
Now we have no roof over us
Nobody to look for in need
Banished from our soil, our roots,
where our four generations had lived
How will you price this betrayal
Of the ancestors and their generations?
How will you recompense this loss
Of lives, emotions and affections?
Paying off a debt of a morsel
Served with love takes an eternity
How will you pay off the debt of
The slaughter of the faith of four generations.
RUKHSANA’S RESIDENCE – 10
Am I a woman
Man or human
Who am I
What am I
What should precede
Or Sarfaraj’s stake
Who was I
What was I
When running away
From their clutches
Or Sarfaraj’s stake
Above all these
I am only a woman
Made of lifeless flesh
It was an interesting experience to translate these poems by the Dalit poet –Anita Bharti from Hindi to English. These poems are written after the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 in Uttar Pradesh, yet another episode in the history of communal violence in India. The riots caused the exodus of lakhs of Muslims fleeing from their homes, along with a high death toll. As with any other conflict, one heartbreaking feature of the riots was the sexual and emotional harassment of women. Anita Bharti has composed her series of ten poems- ‘Rukhsana ka Ghar’– on this theme of sexual violence. She explores this indignity through the motif of homelessness.
Thus the translation of these poems was a task of immense responsibility and care. The poems though simple, are steeped in emotion and grief, and the translation of this emotiveness is a huge challenge for the translator. To accomplish this, I endeavoured to fully understand the character of the riot victim – Rukhsana,and so I made a deep study of the Muzaffarnagar riots and tried to understand the situations of the victims thoroughly. Only then did I move forward with the translation. I have selected 1st, 2nd, 6th, 7thand 10th poem out of the ten poems under the same title. This selection is based on the themes that are discussed in these poems. These five themes were more appealing to me than the rest, though the rest also depict the gist of the helplessness of the victims of riots in the refugee camps.
My translations was motivated by a desire to provide a broader audience to the poems that project the futility of war or riots or violence of any kind. The loss of property, lives and most importantly values is the outcome of such acts of violence. The translation of these Hindi poems into English is the first step in this direction. I hope it appeals to the hearts of the target audience and proves successful in its efforts to bring about a change.
In my translation, there are differences all over the five translated poems which differs from the similarity and connection found in the original series among the ten poems. I treated each poem as a separate entity so that I could focus on minor details of problems faced especially by female victims. I will speak about the last poem separately as it is different in theme. I have changed many things in the poems to conform to the demands of English.
During translation, I took several creative liberties with the text to enhance the emotiveness and stay true to the aesthetics of target language. In the first poem, I foregrounded the question arising from Rukhsana’s eyes to bring about the insecurity about survival itself felt by Rukhsana after incidents. I have changed the original line of Rahim’s couplet, which are very famous in Hindi literature, as I felt that it couldn’t be translated into English without losing its essence. So I translated it keeping in mind its objective in the context of the poem. I have used Roman Jacobson’s technique of interlingual translation as suggested in his essay – “On the linguistic aspects of translation”. But I have retained the names of the clothing like salwar-kameez occurring in the second poem to keep it attached to its roots.
The simile of distance between earth and mars was more poignant in 2013 as Mars had not been conquered yet. After the Mangalyaan – the space vehicle that reached Mars, Mars no longer represents an absolute impossibility, and a distance that can’t be conquered. This presents a problem for the translator as the metaphor ran the risk of dilution. But, as Reuben Brower in his essay- Seven Agememnons, points out a translator translates in a time and age that can be different from the work, and the dynamism of the text entails that the translated-text reflect these changes. So I changed the simile to the distance between an immortal and his death to refer to the absolute impossibility of the prospect of education for the children, thereby highlighting the systemic disempowering of minorities.
Benjamin Walter says in his essay, The Task of the Translator writes “The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original. In this spirit, I have tried to add or reduce few things in the poems as they may not be relevant in the target language. In the second poem, I have reduced the description of the female gathering in Rukhsana’s house and praising her as I could not translate the exact Hindi phrases to English. I added a few lines of description in the poem Rukhsana’s residence – 6 which were not mentioned in the original to foreground the mundane and aimlessness of actions during riots. The poem Rukhsana’s residence – 7 has few lines added to it to make it more appealing.
I have changed the free verse without division into stanzas in the original to rhymed and varied stanza forms in the translations. The first 19-lined-poem has been translated into four rhyming tercets (three lined stanzas followed by a quatrain (a four lined stanza). The second poem which comprises of 26 short lines has been changed by changing the first line to a single word followed by five rhyming quatrains with medium length lines. The third poem is originally a nine lined poem with repetitions, which has been changed into a rhyming octave (eight lined stanza) and followed by a quatrain. The poem Rukhsana’s residence – 7 originally consists of 12 irregular lines and the translation is longer with four rhyming quatrains.
The last poem, Rukhsana’s residence – 10, is quite close to my heart. In its tenor, it doesn’t restrict itself to just survivors, but represents the identity crisis of women in patriarchal systems such as in ours. I have translated as it is from the original with only minor changes dividing it into stanzas. The original poem is written in terse lines composed in free verse which remains the same in translation. The translation is divided into four stanzas starting with a quatrain, followed by two octaves and ending again in a quatrain. The first quatrain reflects Rukhsana’s struggle to trace her identity, as does the last one where she finds her identity is restricted to a mere objectification, a listless physical presence. The two octaves employ repetitions, each repetition completing a situation. It signifies that the identity of women in patriarchal systems remains forever bound to men – in birth, marriage, and even in crisis.
- Brower Rueben, Seven Agememnons.
- Edited by Venuti Lawrence, The Translation Studies Reader, Routledge, London, 2000.
Nupur Jain completed her Masters from SP University of Pune, where she studied Translation Literature among other subjects. She is greatly interested in the mechanisms of translation and hopes to pursue research on it soon. She is presently teaching at a college in Pune.
Translations by Huzaifa Pandit
Rukhsana’s House- 1
Will I ever be able to erase you –
Rukhsana- from my memory?
The pressing questions that haunt
the deep wells of your sad eyes
A splinter of a tear
scars your innocent cheek.
During conversations a sudden shudder
From the rush of a memory –
the distressed tremble of your body
Now, the school is at an exact distance of
earth to mars from your children.
Tender books nestled in the proud bags
of children, now lie ravaged by grime and dust.
Or may I take the liberty to claim
That the books are suffering punishment
For the grave wrong of being read.
A short question written
On a notebook by your tiny daughter
Seeks an answer:
What are the characteristics of a secular nation?
Rukhsana’s House – 2
Who can say, Rukhsana
Frocks, and comfortable shirts
Have been sewn
On the sewing machine
God alone knows how many times
The women of the village
must have passed through your door
In fact, even the daughter of Chaudhary too
wore clothes stitched by you.
Strut around and like a lover
Plant a tender kiss on your hands:
Love! What magic you brew!
How lovely are the clothes you sew!
But, gathering the smoke filled moments now
a dejected Rukshana
lies within the wasted folds of a refugee tent
and points in a listless voice:
I am just like this sewing machine
lifeless and rusting
the thread of my life is torn
and the bobbin lies paralyzed
imprisoned at its own place.
Rukhsana, I’d have quoted
Verses of Rahim to you
But how must I word my urge
the thread of love.
Rukhsana’s House – 3
Last night the fierce rain
Growled all night
In the refugee tent
the sleeping children were woken
by the shameless water that seeped in
all night they sat up shivering, dumbfounded
The children have no dry clothes to
Wear the next day.
The flood gushing from your eyes
Has lifted the lid off
the water in many dead eyes
Rukhsana’s House – 4
From the last fifteen days
We have nothing to eat
After fighting the tempests in heart and head
Riots don’t happen, riots are orchestrated
To crush the existence
of people like us –
we who are consumed night and day
in the bitter struggle of a livelihood.
The feud with the fact of our existence
Rukhsana’s House – 5
You, the daughter in law
Of the blacksmith of Muzzafarpur
When you were stoking the fire in the furnace
And forging tools in the furnace
Haansiya, daaw and ballam
Did you know then that one day
They will be used to erase your existence.
You were quite happy and chirpy
A few days ago:
Ammi! Our trade has really picked up these days
The furnace stays lit night and day
This Eid we’ll definitely come
To meet you and get our eidi.
But did you know then
These tools are not for farmers
But to reap the harvest of riots.
How naïve was your desire
to get eidi!
Rukhsana’s House – 6
Riots don’t just destroy houses and property
Riots don’t just destroy livelihood
Riots don’t just tear bonds of love and affection
Riots don’t just snatch lives and means to live
The honour of women and girls is put to the sword too
If it weren’t so, tell me
Why would you stand before a hapless and disrobed woman,
and point out your proud erection?
Rukhsana’s House – 7
Who can we claim as being our own now
when our elders themselves
uprooted us from our village and home
We have been living there for four generations.
What does the betrayal of four generations cost?
Is it possible to pay this price?
What will you bid, tell me
It takes a century to settle the debt
Of a grain of salt in a morsel fed with love
Then how will you pay the price
of betrayal and murder
of the trust of four generations?
Rukhsana’s House – 8
I don’t know where is Siberia.
I don’t know how cold it is in Siberia.
I don’t know what children wear in Siberia.
I don’t know how women live in Siberia
I don’t know what people eat and drink in Siberia.
I don’t know whether a doctor comes to check on sick children there
I don’t know how the debt of my children is settled there.
But Rukhsana knows
No one sleeps under the open sky in the chill of Siberia.
Rukhsana’s House – 9
Is in deep mourning
While fleeing for her life
Little she-calf Chun-Mun,
Unruly hen Rajjo
The darling of the children of the household
Golden haired goat – Soni
Were all left behind.
All are missing.
Rukhsana has heard
Before being slaughtered
Rajjo thrashed her claws furiously
Rest, who took Chunmun and Soni
Nobody knows, nobody says.
Rukhsana’s House – 10
Who am I?
What am I?
Woman, man or a human?
What should be appended to my name?
or Sarfaraz’s sister?
When I was fleeing
Who was I then?
or Sarfaraz’s sister?
Far from them
just a woman made from a lifeless lump of flesh!
The journey from translation, to transcreation has been a contentious one, differing on the agency and role of the translator. While the former asserts a close reproduction of the source text, the latter asserts the primacy of the target text. Between complete servility and complete autonomy, the translator’s task is to evoke a sensibility that neither divorces a translation completely from its roots, nor remains a bastard child of its origins. In choosing to translate Anita Bharti, I was to a degree saved from making a choice as the original Hindi poems are written in plain conversational language, and lent themselves easily into English without any great need of innovation. In fact, it runs close to being dismissed as an anti-poem, and restorting to pamphleteering in its quest of explaining the plight of its protagonist ‘Rukhsana’. However, as Keith Ellis, pointed out rightly “The tendency to dismiss much of third world poetry (and literature) as ‘propaganda’ or pamphleteering derives in fact from the attempted universal legislation of what is a very local or regionally based definition of poetry, one which following Aristotle’s script in Poetics and the Rhetoric sees in metaphor the essential ingredient of poetic language. In fact, metaphor has achieved so much prestige among certain groups in our century to prompt a tendency among these groups to regard as ‘anti-poetry’ manifestations of poetry in which its suzerainty is not apparent”. These poems must be seen in light of this anti-metaphoric mo(ve)ment as they seek to bring in an immediacy of traumatic experience that exceeds language, and symbol. Such experience demands that the language be attuned to this excess by drawing no attention to itself, rather by stripping itself of ornamentation point out the limitations of language. Set in a refugee camp, these poems are a timely reminder of the subalternity of women, who emerge as double victims in a state of crisis – victims of both violence and patriarchy. Rukhsana is the prototype of this double victimhood, displaced from her language and sense of belonging. Her explanation of the catastrophe is, therefore, set in relation to others- her children, her familial possessions or the beautiful clothes she sews. Eventually, she concludes that her identity is merely the residue of her corporeal self, attesting to the erasure of her ‘self’, simultaneously commenting on the erasure of larger Muslim identity. The poems are, therefore, crucial as they speak back to power, and point out the varied trajectories of violence that mark the social, economic, and cultural spaces of the persecuted Muslim woman. As such these poems closely fit the cartographies of displacement and disempowerment, but also point out the possibilities of solidarity that defines effective art.
Huzaifa Pandit is pursuing a PhD on Resistance poetry from University of Kashmir. His poems and translation have been published in several national and international journals including Indian Literature, New Reader Magazine and Jaggery Lit.