Living life out of habit
It was a pleasure to work with the Poetry Translation Workshop and Mohini Gupta to help translate Vinod Kumar Shukla's playful, plain-speaking poem of life's habits and meanings. Before we began, Mohini introduced Vinod Kumar Shukla as one of the most respected Hindi poets writing today, widely praised for the wisdom, humanity and magic of his verse which is written in a seemingly simple, colloquial language.
Working with Mohini's guide translation and her patient advice, we strove to recreate the original music of the poem which is created by repetition and refrains - for example "the habit of living life" a phrase which runs through the poem like a thread. Mohini advised us that Vinod Kumar Shukla uses very plain, unadorned language in the poem and so we were careful to keep this in our translation, seeking simple and short words where possible. One pleasing example of this is the change from abundant to vast in the second stanza, a short word which also lifts the image beautifully.
There was a knotty section in the middle (from "Thereupon" to "sorrow") where the poet moves the poem in a delightfully surreal direction. We spent a long time discussing and unpicking this longer, more complex sentence and the image of the straw which appears as a smile. Sometimes a word is suggested which suddenly illuminates the way. Here it was the word "surfaces" which perfectly captures the vision of hope and happiness rising from the flood of sorrow.
Liz Berry, Workshop Facilitator