“Padma Awardee Haldhar Nag: Haldhar is the helmsman and kudos of Kosali poetry. Haldhar is a heap and knurl for Kosali songs and Kosali songs’ heraldry and hermit is Haldhar. Haldhar has kindled Kosali’s poetry. If you hark Haldhar’s poem then definitely you will hum and hypnotize. Hick Haldhar’s Kosali poetries are hungry man’s hymn and hearsay of humanity.”
Haldhar Nag hails from the remote village of Ghess, in Bargarh district of Western Odisha and writes poetry in the Sambalpuri-Kosali dialect. It was a pity that the poems of Haldhar Nag could not reach the general public of Odisha, because it was in a dialect that was different from the primary spoken and academic language – Odia. With many efforts, Surendra Nath studied the poems of Haldhar Nag in the Western-Odisha dialect and started penning them down in Odia. And then he began translating those poems into English. Within a timeframe of two years, he has compiled a part of Haldhar’s poems into three volumes in English.
Surendra Nath, after retiring from the Indian Navy in the rank of Commander, started his second innings by wielding his pen. He began writing prose in the form of short stories and then took to novels. He has two fictions to his credit – Karna’s Alter Ego and Kavach of Surya. After his novels received appreciation from readers, he forayed into poetry and then into translations. At a time when the present-day authors and poets are keen to gain name and fame, overnight, by translating fiction, poetry and non-fiction works of famous national and international writers, Surendra Nath is doing all that he can to popularise, at the national and international level, the rich literature of his state, Odisha. Towards this end, he turned his attention to the literature composed by Odisha’s early authors and poets. But at that time, a poet named Haldhar Nag, who was not too well-versed with the mainstream Odia language, received the Padma Shri award and drew Surendra’s attention.
When I met Surendra Nath with utter joy he said, “I have not translated Haldhar Nag’s poems into English for fame or money. I am making considerable efforts to spread the rich folk-literature of the land of Odisha to distant countries through my translations of Padma Shri Nag’s works. There are many suchhidden literary talents in the nooks and corners of Odisha. We must all try to promote Odia literature including our folk-literature, so that they can reach worldwide. Only then Odisha’s fame will rise at the national and international level. Having translated Haldhar Nag’s poetry into English, I am feeling a great sense of pride about our Odia language and our literature.”
BIBHUTI PATI talks Surendra Nath
- How did it occur to you to translate Haldhar Nag’s poems into English?
Ans. Sometime in early 2016, I chanced upon a social media post that had gone viral, about a person clad in dhoti and vest, barefoot, receiving the Padma Shri award from the President of India. I got curious about this man, who I learned was called Haldhar Nag and belonged to my state, Odisha. Soon afterwards, I watched him being interviewed on the TV. He was speaking in the Sambalpuri-Kosali dialect, while the host spoke in Odia. I could make out that not many in the audience understood what he spoke; even the host missed the depth of this man’s words. He recited two of his poems on the show. It was then I realised that Haldhar Nag deserves to be read by a wider audience. The dialect of western Odisha, in which he writes, is a different tongue even for the majority of Odias. I decided to translate his poems into English.
In April that year, I visited him in his village, Ghess in Bargarh district and asked his permission to translate his works. To my great satisfaction, he promptly agreed. What I saw in his tiny house, appalled me. He lived in a modest cottage of two rooms, built with grant from Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana. One room was full of certificates and awards. For lack of shelves and cupboards, most of them were stacked on the floor. Only the Padma Shri award he had kept inside a box, and at my request, he brought it out and showed me.
What struck me most about this man was he wasn’t concerned about his shortage. Rather his concern was about the spread of literature in his language.
2. How many volumes have you translated so far?
Ans. Three volumes. They are collections of Haldhar Nag’s poems. The volumes are titled Kavyanjali Vol. 1, Vol. 2 and Vol. 3. The first volume is available for sale in major bookstores; the second volume is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released on September 12th. Translation of the third volume is completed, and it is slated for publication in January 2019.While volume 2 contains several of his unpublished poems, the entire Volume 3 features his works that are not published yet.
3. Do you think after the English translation, Haldhar’s poetry will receive any international acclaim?
Ans. I firmly believe so. That was why, I chose to translate his poetry into English, one of the most widespread languages. In fact, after the translation, Shri Nag received Gateway Litfest Lifetime Achievement Award in February 2017. He has been honoured in several Indian states and in Dubai. His recognition has reached the USA too.
For any international acclaim, litterateurs worldwide need to appreciate a writer’s literary genius, first.For that to happen, an extensive collection of the writer’s works must be available in a language spoken worldwide. Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore translated his works into English himself. We know the writings of other Nobel laureates like Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Svetlana Alexievich, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez through translations. I desire to translate the entire works of Shri Nag into English, which looks like a tall order though.
4. You have translated three volumes. What is the speciality of Haldhar Nag’s poetry?
Ans. Haldhar Nag is a multi-faceted poet. One striking feature about his poems is a twist in the last stanza, that springs an awareness into your conscience. For instance, Our Village Cremation Ground is a poem of seven stanzas. For the first six stanzas, he goes on narrating the horrifying scenes in the cremation ground, and in the last stanza he brings in the twist:
Cremation ground looks fearsome
But this ground is our real home.
To this ground have journeyed many,
Yet to travel are so many.
To this end we shall all journey,
At this place we’ll finally crowd.
This is our village cremation ground.
Another speciality is the rhythm in his poems. Every poem can be sung to a tune. Indeed, Haldhar sings out his ballads in public gatherings. He is that rare breed of a minstrel and bard that lived in the olden times. He has a capacious memory and can recite any of his poems from his mind. He does not write free verse but sticks to perfect rhyme and meter, though he is not averse to free verse poetry of the new generation.
He throws in a rich variety of figures of speech like simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, personification. He uses almost every figure of speech, though he may not be aware of those technical terms. I even came across a sonnet of his (Ati or Too Much), and I am sure he has no idea about what a sonnet is.
There is a host of other uniqueness in this Haldhar’s poetry. His themes encompass a wide range like mythology, social injustice, nationalism, historical, nature, and several more. Well, I almost forgot to mention that his poems could be as short as a single stanza of six lines (Panch Amrut) or as long as 1340 stanzas (Prem Paechan). He has written ten epic poems that are longer than 250 stanzas each.
5. You retired from the Indian Navy. How did you shift towards literature? Who is your inspiration?
Ans. That’s interesting. I always had an affinity for literature and have read compulsively since my schooldays. While in the Navy, I tried my hand at writing short stories to the appreciation of few.I didn’t pursue writing seriously because the demands in uniform were of a different kind. But after I left the Navy and joined an international school in Dubai, I realised writing was my second calling. I wrote many short stories and articles that were published in a few magazines there. I joined a couple of online writers’ forums, where we would critique each other’s writings. I moved back to Odisha, Bhubaneswar in 2007. Here I met many renowned authors who inspired me. Mr Ruskin Bond, Mr Manoj Das, Mr Chandrahas Choudhury are some who urged me to write. Mr Bond selected some of my stories and compiled them into anthologies along with his own stories. That proved a great fillip to me.
6. I have heard from a reliable source that you have forayed into writing novels. Can you tell me about your novels ‘Fiction’?
Ans. It took me long to reach there. Quite late, in my mid-fifties, I wrote my first full-length novel Karna’s Alter Ego. The book came in for appreciation and was selected by Raja Ram Mohan Roy Library Foundation and distributed to state-level libraries. I followed it up with a sequel, which is awaiting publication in December this year.
Despite their titles, my novels are not really on mythological themes. The first book is about a boy,in the present time, named Vasu, who, despite being talented,faces misfortunes like Karna and begins to identify himself with the Mahabharata character. Interestingly, Karna turns up from 5000 years in the past to encourage and guide him.
Here’s sneak peek into the sequel. Vasu is now grown up and looks up to Karna as his ideal hero. He sets out on a hunt to find his hero’s Kavach Kundal (armour and earrings) which had been taken away by Lord Indra. Karna joins him in the quest, but only to provide moral support. The adventure tests Vasuwith several life-threatening situations, until finally, he emerges an enlightened human being. It’s not so much about finding an armour that protects externally, but rather about growing so much internal strength that you are protected from within.
7. You’ve picked up the character of Karna and brought him into the present time. How did it come to your mind and how do you think it will be of interest to the reader?
Ans. Karna stands out as a strong character in The Mahabharata. From his first appearance in the epic, at Astra Darshan, when the Pandava and Kaurava princes were displaying their skills, Karna left an indelible impression on everyone he met. Every warrior including Arjuna was afraid of standing up to him. But he was also the most vilified and unfortunate character. In my story, Karna is an entity from the past without his superhuman abilities. My job was to characterise my protagonist Vasu as a strong character like Karna but without his frailties, for which he needed Karna’s guidance. The man from the past takes a liking to the strong-willed boy and guides him to forge through life. He sees Vasu as his alter ego and wants him to succeed in life and not go down fighting like he had.
Readers always root for a character that suffers from many disadvantages and emerges a winner in the end. Karna teaches Vasu, through examples from his own life, to be morally upright, to never deviate from ethical principles, to be considerate to the less fortunate, to consider failures as stepping stones to success. Vasu grows up through a series of failures, and in the end, Karna admits that the student has overtaken his guru in goodness.
8. Sir, this is my last question to you. In Odisha, publishing a book is a great challenge, isn’t it? What do you have to say about this problem and challenge?
Ans. You are right; publishing is an arduous task, more so Odisha. There isn’t much presence of any big name in the publishing industry in our state. The ones that are present are mainly vanity publishers, who expect authors to pay the full money for publishing. Besides, there is a lack of professional approach towardsvital aspects of publishing like cover design, editing, proofreading, getting influential reviews and finally marketing and the right sales pitch. As a result, the author ends up spending his time and money for all these activities, which should typically be taken care of by the publisher. The small-time publisher takes his share of profit from the author and sits back. He has nothing to lose as he hasn’t invested any money in the project.
But I guess, that is the situation not only in Odisha, but all over the country. The big publishing houses only look at you if you have already earned some reputation, or else you are left to fend for yourself. But, with access to self-publishing and the incursion of eBooks, the situation is changing for the better for authors. With the development in technology, publishing via eBooks and POD (Print on Demand) is now possible at no cost and no waiting time. It’s welcome news for new authors, but here’s a caution – with the absence of checks, one tends to put out low-quality writings all too quickly. The market is flooded with such cheap fiction. Even for self-publishing, authors need to rigorously follow all the steps as publishers do for traditional publishing.