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Neelu learns English

Ankur Betageri translates P. Lankesh’s poems

Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Recreation Ankur Betageri read his translation of Neelu poems

What is it that salvages ‘man’kind? The feminine in him. Didn’t the Mahatma also steadfastly speak of himself as the man-woman (Ardhanaareeshwara) embodiment? Ankur Betageri, writer-translator, said this was just the case with P. Lankesh’s Neelu’s poems: “Neelu was the feminine alter ego of Lankesh.”

An analysis that was quite in place. For nearly two decades that writer-journalist Lankesh wrote Neelu poems. Speculations about Neelu, in fact more about Nimmi, the name of the column in the Patrike, never ceased. However, Lankesh being what he was, the ‘man’ did, inevitably, creep in. Read this: “Searching for the end/of roads/like following the desires/of women:/very difficult.”

Neelu poems, never young and dizzy, had in them a reflective and intimate tenor, apt to be read to oneself. As Ankur, at a reading organised by Toto Funds The Arts, rightly pointed out, “they often felt like whispers”, which itself was a problem with the reading; it was left strewn all over.

Ankur, the translator of Neelu poems, read the limericks thematically, which offered a continuity. The translations had an ease about them, and didn’t sound transplanted.

However, at places, one did miss the spark of the original; this came across more as a limitation of the language. Nevertheless, some verses did work very well in English. For instance, “In this cruel world/even love/ has the danger/of looking weird.”

Many Neelu poems had very strong sexual-body references, true to Lankesh’s Navya preoccupations. Ankur, however, has chosen to exclude them. “The whole exercise of choosing poems itself is biased, it is based on my choice. I do not conform to the puritanical idea of a translator, in fact, I believe that I’m re-creating Neelu based on my sensibilities,” he explains. There are some poems that Ankur “dislikes” and has therefore consciously kept them out. “I don’t want do an in between, which is neither me nor Lankesh,” he adds. The candid translator makes no bones in admitting that his Neelu doesn’t have the dimensions Lankesh’s Neelu does.

This endeavour will surely initiate contemporary readers into Lankesh’s poetry. The non-Englishness of these open verses – earthy and rooted – in a way, tease our understanding dulled by West’s hand-me-downs.

Neelu poems had a distinct stamp of Lankesh: “As we go on/meditating about/the demonic nature of man/ all love and/faith here/ begin to look like the footnotes/ in a book.”

Before Ankur took over, C.K. Meena regaled the audience with an enticing excerpt from her to be published novel, “The Weekend Wife”.

DEEPA GANESH

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