Daisy Rockwell is coming back again! Her love affair with India, especially the Hindi literary cannon is well known. Her translations of Upendranath Ashk's works have garnered a good following. She not only resurrected Ashkh for the English speaking 'junta' of India, but also other eminent writers like Arun Prakash and Shrilal Shukla. Lately her translation of Shubham Shree's poems caused a stir in the traditionalist Hindi heartland. Here is the translation of Shree's heart-felt meditation on how reading the feminist writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex "ruined" her "purity":
What have you done to me, Simone?/I was walking along /perfectly steady/on that path/where/goddess-worthy/"Purity"/awaited me/What you did was wrong./you shoved me right in the middle of the path/to be "used"/such a dirty word/Tell me, Simone, why'd you do a thing like that?
Shree's story is yet another case of 'saved in translation.' When the Hindu
heteropatriarchy rejected Shree outright for her experimental poetry, ironically, Daisy's English slang in translation restored Shree's integrity and she was accepted back into the fold.
Every regional culture of India takes immense pride in their writers. For instance, Bengalis grow up on songs of Tagore and savour writings of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Satyajit Ray. But that is not the case for the Hindi speaking belt. Beyond Premchand, no one enjoys eminence in the Hindi literary cannon. Daisy's work has brought to light many obscure, neglected classical writers, such as Ashkh and Yashpal, who are now being compared to Proust and Tolstoy. Found in translation and hailed globally, the Hindi writers and their readers owe an enormous debt to Daisy's work. A non sequitur line of thought follows - A time will come when we will be proud of our multilingual status as Indians.
In her introduction to 'Hats and Doctors'(original text by Upendranath A), Daisy writes, "Perhaps a translator should hope that her readers will develop a taste for the author's works in English, so that she can bring out more of the author's works in translation in the future. My hope, however, is the opposite: that some of these stories will induce a few readers - even just one or two will do - to turn their feet towards a Hindi bookshop one day."
She goes on to ask herself - "Why translate?" Considering meagre compensation, poor recognition and solitary nature of the vocation, it's not everybody's cup of tea. Sometimes the name of the translator is not even mentioned on the book cover, she says. The stronghold of ownership 'the author and the book', disallows the establishment of any other way of belonging or shared authority. But her obsession with linguistic detail has a strong hold on her mind and she finds herself compulsively translating even when she reads for pleasure. She has numerous thoughts on every single word and its connotations in a sentence. In one of her articles she expounded on her translating technique, by enumerating multiple sentences for one situation.
Readers can't ask for better translation than this consuming effort for multiplicity that reaches for perfection. She writes: "I struggled mightily to find a phrase which captured the actual condition that a 'kana' (Hindi word denoting blind in one eye) suffers from. 'A man with only one good eye is much more wounded by taunts of his condition than a man with two eyes would ever be.' Because this is the nature of translation. 'If you're blind in one eye, won't you feel more hurt by being called 'the one-eyed guy' than if you have two good eyes?' A translation is just never finished. 'If people shout 'Hey, one-eye!' after a man with two good eyes, will he feel half the pain that he would if he were half-blind?' Even when you see your work in print. 'He who is blind in one eye feels keenly hurt by taunts of his condition; not so the man with two good eyes.' It's never perfect. 'He who is half blind feels the greater injury from taunts of blindness than the man with perfect vision.' There's always some way to improve it. Taunts like, 'What's the matter, lost an eye?' hurt the half-blind man more than the one with perfect vision.' And it's always possible I'll change my mind about one-eyed men and stop thinking of them as Cyclopses. 'The half-blind man is pained by taunts of blindness; not so the man with two good eyes.' But probably not."
Let's shift the focus to her art and inflections of intellectual thought in it. This is a direct outcome of interaction with her works 'Odalisque' at Patto, Panaji in 2014. The exhibition invoked the famous Odalisque paintings of Ingres and Manet in the viewer's mind eye. But the collection was completely disrupted by what Rockwell had on display. The series represented Odalisque as fully participative subjects who chose their pose and manner of depiction consciously in the paintings. The artist and the subject seemed to have become co-creators in the process; a long digression from the19th century reclining female figure, often nude or semi-clad in shawls or loose robes, meant to invoke Oriental decadence and opulence. Viewing Rockwell's work, it felt that the Odalisque had truly arrived at the gates of a conscious sexual freedom!
'The Little Book on Terror', comprising essays and artistic portraits, invokes the US global war on terror. Her representation of Asian immigrants in mundane everyday poses, questions the straitjacketed mug shots of Asians in the media that are often labelled as terrorists. Her latest art piece on Facebook 'What is Allepo' completely nails her artistic quest in place. The war-torn city of Allepo in Syria was much in news due to refugee massacre but drew blank responses from Gary Johnson and Hillary Clinton - the Presidential candidates in the race upto the White House. 'What is Allepo' indicts the power structures in place for their nonchalant attitudes. In face of this indifference and power, Daisy's artistic quest gets compounded when she signs her art with her alias Lapata (meaning missing). We eagerly look forward to having her for the Goa Art and Literature Festival from December 8 to December 11. Kya pata bhulae bisaroo ko pata bata daeyeh Lapata!