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Gained in Transcreation


The Tribune, Jul. 23, 2005

Photo: Khushwant Singh

It is a daunting task; nearly 6000 hymns which take a relay of reciters, reading non-stop for two days and nights. For the Sikhs, it is a word of God through six of their 10 Gurus and saints both Hindu and Muslim. Many people translated the more popular portions: Acharya Vinoba Bhave and Osho Rajneesh did a commendable job of rendering the morning prayer Japji in Hindi and English. The first to try his hand at translating the entire Granth was the German scholar Trumpp. He gave up after a few pages. The task was taken up by M.A. Macauliffe who had Sikh scholars to assist him. All his translations are incorporated in six volumes on the Sikh religion. The translations, though literal, read poorly.

The first Sikh to undertake the task was Manmohan Singh of Amritsar. He translated the scripture into Punjabi and English prose. The translations were accurate but did not attempt to capture the melodic elements in the hymns. Next came Gopal Singh Dardi who had undoubted ability to handle the task. He presented his translations to the Pope and claimed to have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature and persuaded Indira Gandhi to nominate him as member of the Rajya Sabha and then governor of Goa and Nagaland.

Somehow, I felt that anyone who could do that sort of thing could not have imbibed very much from the Gurus' teachings. I did not read his translation.

The S.G.P.C. then commissioned Gurbachan Singh Talib, professor of English, to do the translations and published them. They too are lacking in poetic content. Two years ago G.S. Maken of Chandigarh published four volumes of his translations. I went through them cover to cover and learnt a lot about the faith I was born into without knowing much about it. He too did not try to capture the poetry of the original.

The most recent translation is by Kartar Singh Duggal published by Hemkunt Press in four volumes: The Holy Granth - Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Duggal has written scores of novels and collections of poetry, won many awards and has been a member of the Rajya Sabha. He rightly describes his renderings as transcreations instead of translation and has done his best to convey their meaning in verse. His work is bound to be more acceptable to readers than any of the others. His volumes should find a place in every public library in the country and abroad, and hopefully in some private homes as well.