I read this April 21, 2021 article by Joumana Khatib about Jhumpa Lahiri and it set me thinking. The famed author of ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ and ‘The Namesake’ and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for the former has now written in Italian, and then gone ten steps forward to translate her latest book from Italian to English.
Sri Lankan translator
I spoke about the article with Vijita Fernando who is one of Sri Lanka’s foremost translators from Sinhala to English (mostly) and vice versa. She won both the Gratiaen Prize and HAI Goonetilke Award for translation, also the national award and Sahitya Ratna. In our chat she narrated how Christopher Ondaatje had approached her to translate his 1992 travelogue ‘The Man Eater of Punanai: a journey of discovery to the jungles of old Ceylon’. She undertook the massive job with trepidation as she had by then translated only three books from English to Sinhala. Her translation was very successful, appreciated and published in 2009 by the British publishers Rare Books and Berry. She added with a laugh an epilogue to the tale. “I was given just one copy of the book by a Nugegoda bookshop that was sent a package of the published translation. I lent my copy to someone before I had even read my own work in print. That was the end of the book. Much later a niece bought the two remaining volumes in the bookshop and presented one to me. Funny how incidental it is that I have taken it up for reading during this lockdown.”
Another friend I spoke about Lahiri and my intention of writing about her was Leelananda de Silva. He gave me some worthwhile info. Constance and Edward Garnett, connected to the Bloomsbury Group of Clive and Vanessa Bell, Virginia Stephens Wolfe and others, translated and made available to readers of English the outstanding Russian novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and others. Needless to say it was worthy of the Nobel for Literature. Leelananda also added that translation of literary work is gaining more importance and significance as ancient and new languages are being recognized. I added that we are now a global village in communication all around the world.
I remember almost two decades ago marveling at the 1981 published Merriam-Webster Seven Language Dictionary that covered translated words and phrases from French, German, Spanish, Russian, Urdu, Arabic and probably Hindi. The newer seven language dictionary edited by David Schumaker has, instead of the last three languages listed above, Hebrew, Italian and Portuguese. Malalasekera’s is the best known of Sinhala-English, Engl-Sinh dictionaries.
“Literary translators have come up with plenty of analogies for their trade. Some compare it to acting, others to performing in a chamber ensemble.” Undoubtedly it is a skilled form of literary composition and only a few are endowed with the ability to succeed in it.
American author now an author of Italian books
Nilanjana Sudeshna Lahiri born in 1967 and now aged 53, preferred to use her pet-name Jhumpa as her two first names could be unprounceable to the westerner – her primary readership. She was born to Bengali parents in London and moved to the US at the tender age of three and grew up in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, living an American life with her Indian blood strong in her mostly because her mother kept close contact with Bengali relatives back home .
Much of her work were instant successes and reviewed very favourably. Her debut collection of short stories – the 1999 Interpreter of Maladies won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her first novel The Namesake (2003) was adapted to the popular film by the same name, directed by Mira Nair. Her second story collection Unaccustomed Earth (2008) won her the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award. The Lowland (2013) was a finalist for both the Man Booker and national Book Award for Fiction. In all these Lahiri explored the immigrant experience in America; drew on her Indian heritage and the persistent feeling of being an outsider striving to connect between identities. Superb critic, formerly of the Times – Michiko Kakutani – described this conflict as an “index of a more existential sense of dislocation.”
Lahiri has written her latest novel ‘Whereabouts’ in Italian and then translated it to English. Her earlier novels in Italian were ‘In Other Words’ (Jan 2015) and ‘The Clothing of Books’ (2016) showing how quickly she mastered Italian to be literate enough to write in it. ‘In Other Words’ is her memoir of learning Italian and named by a critic as a love affair as she was always fascinated by the language, since working for a short time in Venice. She dubbed English “a hairy smelly teenager” endangering her nascent Italian which she nurtured like caring for a newborn. She also edited and translated the ‘Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories’ which consists of 40 Italian writers.
And why did Jhumpa Lahiri switch to writing in Italian? Because she and her family moved to Rome in 2011, her husband being Italian, and her long having yearned to study the language. To do this she gave herself a “self imposed linguistic exile” from 2012, giving up English and reading and writing exclusively in Italian. The thought of writing in Italian initially terrified her, but at the same time, “it was one of the things that inspired me to learn Italian, because I wanted to be able to speak about my work in Italian. I wanted to have these conversations in Italian.” Lahiri also kept busy with other translations and editing projects.
When drafting ‘Whereabouts’ she said it was an “austere, virtually plot-less book. Its unnamed narrator is a solitary Roman woman – though Rome is never mentioned – who recounts her few excursions in brief chapters: at the pool, eating a sandwich in a playground, on a guided tour. Lahiri commented: “Solitude: it’s become my trade.” She moved in 2015 to Princeton to accept the post of Professor of Creative Writing, but while in America writing her novel, she returned frequently to Rome. “The Italian was like a faucet back then,” she said. “It would only work when I was there.” ’Whereabouts’ in Italian was published in 2018 as ‘Dove Mi Trovo’.
Wanting a translation of the novel in English, Lahiri passed the task to Ann Goldstein, who handled the English editions of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet and translated her ‘In Other Words’ to English; fearful that translating her own work would contaminate her Italian. But the first drafts of Goldstein’s translation did not satisfy her so she decided to translate it herself. It will be published soon, the first book Knopf will publish that was translated by its own author.
Lahiri is not the first American writer to live and write in Rome: Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Ellison and Margaret Fuller were all expatriates there for a time. But aside from Lahiri, “not one of them found a home, a new home, in the Italian language.”
A literary critic and scholar questioned her: “What was missing or absent in the English language that compelled you to make this transition?” Her answer was “Joy.”
How rebirth takes place
(from THE BUDDHA AND HIS TEACHINGS by Venerable Nārada Mahāthera)
“The pile of bones of (all the bodies of) one man
Who has alone one aeon lived
Would make a mountain’s height —
So said the mighty seer.”
To the dying man at this critical stage, according to Abhidhamma philosophy, is presented a Kamma, Kamma Nimitta, or Gati Nimitta.
By Kamma is here meant some good or bad act done during his lifetime or immediately before his dying moment. It is a good or bad thought. If the dying person had committed one of the five heinous crimes (Garuka Kamma) such as parricide etc. or developed the Jhānas (Ecstasies), he would experience such a Kamma before his death. These are so powerful that they totally eclipse all other actions and appear very vividly before the mind’s eye. If he had done no such weighty action, he may take for his object of the dying thought-process a Kamma done immediately before death (Āsanna Kamma); which may be called a “Death Proximate Kamma.”
In the absence of a “Death-Proximate Kamma” a habitual good or bad act (Ācinna Kamma) is presented, such as the healing of the sick in the case of a good physician, or the teaching of the Dhamma in the case of a pious Bhikkhu, or stealing in the case of a thief. Failing all these, some casual trivial good or bad act (Katattā Kamma) becomes the object of the dying thought-process.
or “symbol,” means a mental reproduction of any sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea which was predominant at the time of some important activity, good or bad, such as a vision of knives or dying animals in the case of a butcher, of patients in the case of a physician, and of the object of worship in the case of a devotee, etc…
By Gati Nimitta, or “symbol of destiny” is meant some symbol of the place of future birth. This frequently presents itself to dying persons and stamps its gladness or gloom upon their features. When these indications of the future birth occur, if they are bad, they can at times be remedied. This is done by influencing the thoughts of the dying man. Such premonitory visions of destiny may be fire, forests, mountainous regions, a mother’s womb, celestial mansions, and the like.
Taking for the object a Kamma, or a Kamma symbol, or a symbol of destiny, a thought-process runs its course even if the death be an instantaneous one.
For the sake of convenience let us imagine that the dying person is to be reborn in the human kingdom and that the object is some good Kamma.
His Bhavanga consciousness is interrupted, vibrates for a thought-moment and passes away; after which the mind-door consciousness (manodvāravajjana) arises and passes away. Then comes the psychologically important stage –Javana process — which here runs only for five thought moments by reason of its weakness, instead of the normal seven. It lacks all reproductive power, its main function being the mere regulation of the new existence (abhinavakarana).
The object here being desirable, the consciousness he experiences is a moral one. The Tadālambana-consciousness which has for its function a registering or identifying for two moments of the object so perceived, may or may not follow. After this occurs the death-consciousness (cuticitta), the last thought moment to be experienced in this present life.
There is a misconception amongst some that the subsequent birth is conditioned by this last death-consciousness (cuticitta) which in itself has no special function to perform. What actually conditions rebirth is that which is experienced during the Javana process.
With the cessation of the decease-consciousness death actually occurs. Then no material qualities born of mind and food (cittaja and āhāraja) are produced. Only a series of material qualities born of heat (utuja) goes on till the corpse is reduced to dust.
Simultaneous with the arising of the rebirth consciousness there spring up the ‘body-decad,’ ‘sex-decad,’ and ‘base-decad’ (Kāya-bhāva-vatthu-dasaka).
According to Buddhism, therefore, sex is determined at the moment of conception and is conditioned by Kamma not by any fortuitous combination of sperm and ovum-cells.
The passing away of the consciousness of the past birth is the occasion for the arising of the new consciousness in the subsequent birth. However, nothing unchangeable or permanent is transmitted from the past to the present.
Just as the wheel rests on the ground only at one point, so, strictly speaking, we live only for one thought-moment. We are always in the present, and that present is ever slipping into the irrevocable past. Each momentary consciousness of this ever-changing life-process, on passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the indelibly recorded impressions on it, to its successor. Every fresh consciousness, therefore, consists of the potentialities of its predecessors together with something more. At death, the consciousness perishes, as in truth it perishes every moment, only to give birth to another in a rebirth. This renewed consciousness inherits all past experiences. As all impressions are indelibly recorded in the ever-changing palimpsest-like mind, and all potentialities are transmitted from life to life, irrespective of temporary disintegration, thus there may be reminiscence of past births or past incidents. Whereas if memory depended solely on brain cells, such reminiscence would be impossible.
“This new being which is the present manifestation of the stream of Kamma-energy is not the same as, and has no identity with, the previous one in its line — the aggregates that make up its composition being different from, having no identity with, those that make up the being of its predecessor. And yet it is not an entirely different being since it has the same stream of Kamma-energy, though modified perchance just by having shown itself in that manifestation, which is now making its presence known in the sense-perceptible world as the new being.
Death, according to Buddhism, is the cessation of the psycho-physical life of any one individual existence. It is the passing away of vitality (āyu), i.e., psychic and physical life (jīvitindriya), heat (usma) and consciousness (vinnana).
Death is not the complete annihilation of a being, for though a particular life-span ends, the force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed.
Just as an electric light is the outward visible manifestation of invisible electric energy, so we are the outward manifestations of invisible Kammic energy. The bulb may break, and the light may be extinguished, but the current remains and the light may be reproduced in another bulb. In the same way, the Kammic force remains undisturbed by the disintegration of the physical body, and the passing away of the present consciousness leads to the arising of a fresh one in another birth. But nothing unchangeable or permanent “passes” from the present to the future.
In the foregoing case, the thought experienced before death being a moral one, the resultant rebirth-consciousness takes for its material an appropriate sperm and ovum cell of human parents. The rebirth-consciousness (patisandhi vinnana) then lapses into the Bhavanga state.
The continuity of the flux, at death, is unbroken in point of time, and there is no breach in the stream of consciousness.
Rebirth takes place immediately, irrespective of the place of birth, just as an electromagnetic wave, projected into space, is immediately reproduced in a receiving radio set. Rebirth of the mental flux is also instantaneous and leaves no room whatever for any intermediate state (antarabhava). Pure Buddhism does not support the belief that a spirit of the deceased person takes lodgement in some temporary state until it finds a suitable place for its “reincarnation.”
This question of instantaneous rebirth is well expressed in the Milinda Pa
The King Milinda questions:
“Venerable Nagasena, if somebody dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, and another dies here and is reborn in Kashmir, which of them would arrive first?
“They would arrive at the same time. O King.
“In which town were you born, O King?
“In a village called Kalasi, Venerable Sir.
“How far is Kalasi from here, O King?
“About two hundred miles, Venerable Sir.
“And how far is Kashmir from here, O King?
“About twelve miles, Venerable Sir.
“Now think of the village of Kalasi, O King.
“I have done so, Venerable Sir.
“And now think of Kashmir, O King.
“It is done, Venerable Sir.
“Which of these two, O King, did you think the more slowly and which the more quickly?
“Both equally quickly, Venerable Sir.
“Just so, O King, he who dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, is not reborn later than he who dies here and is reborn in Kashmir.”
“Give me one more simile, Venerable Sir.”
“What do you think, O King? Suppose two birds were flying in the air and they should settle at the same time, one upon a high and the other upon a low tree, which bird’s shade would first fall upon the earth, and which bird’s later?”
“Both shadows would appear at the same time, not one of them earlier and the other later. “
The question might arise: Are the sperm and ovum cells always ready, waiting to take up the rebirth-thought?
According to Buddhism, living beings are infinite in number, and so are world systems. Nor is the impregnated ovum the only route to rebirth. Earth, an almost insignificant speck in the universe, is not the only habitable plane, and humans are not the only living beings. As such it is not impossible to believe that there will always be an appropriate place to receive the last thought vibrations. A point is always ready to receive the falling stone.
Dual citizens; shocking rape cases going unpunished
I have a bone to pick with my co-Friday columnist who writes from across the ocean about the Pearl. In his July 16 column, he writes at length on dual citizens entering the Sri Lankan Parliament while retaining citizenship of another country. He lauds it in no uncertain terms, while most of us natives, living in our motherland, oppose the move that was introduced in the 20th Amendment. He writes: “A Dual Citizen is back as a national list member of parliament. Now, this in a country that passed legislation that banned dual citizens from entering parliament. This of course is something I was and am vehemently opposed to …”
The previous ban which he ‘vehemently opposed’ he pins on the Kaduwa syndrome – inferiority complex; frog in the well mentality; “fear of intimidation, fear, and revulsion of learning anything new from others”. Cass labels his reasons tosh! He goes to the extreme of writing: “The only good thing that has happened is that a dual citizen is back as finance minister, no less. … Our entire national list should consist of qualified dual citizens who have experience gained from the first world.” The implication here is that all our Sri Lankan citizens holding only Sri Lankan passports are no good against dual citizens who to him are nonpareil, more so legislaters. Thus, he casts aside as useless all those holding higher qualification gained mostly locally and are loyal to the country. They to him are less in ability, qualifications, broadmindedness than those who escaped to foreign countries when the going was bad and now return when it suits them. I present sole citizens like Champika Ranawaka, Eran Wickremaratne and Harsha de Silva and very many medical professionals and agriculturists who have shown they are pre-eminently qualified in their several fields, and loyal to Sri Lanka too.
Dual citizens left the country for whatever reason, mostly escaping a sinking ship for better prospects even as second-class citizens. Then they had the bug of nationalism arising in their breasts. This when it suited them; when it was opportune for them to return to their country of birth. They seize the opportunity to be recognised, elevated, lauded; and return from obscurity in a foreign country to hosannas sung by loyalists and promoters of dual citizenship like Rajitha Ratwatte. If they are so loyal and want to serve their mother country, why don’t they give up the citizenship of the country chosen for emigration and become solely Sri Lankan citizens? Oh no, they keep a safety branch handy for escape – to obscurity though – when things get too hot here. Even Basil Rajapaksa took plane to the US immediately after his brother’s defeat at the 2015 presidential election. Now back with several brothers in high power, nephews included; in short, a government mostly by the Family, it is ideal for Brother Basil to return and to boost his return, such loud singing of hosannas and prediction this Knight with superhuman powers will kill the dragon of economic bankruptcy that is poised to devour poor Sri Lanka. He may even banish the virus that has overpowered the entire world. We Ordinaries will wait and watch.
It is no to persons like medical interns who got their entire education- high school plus medical – at government expense and then scooted slyly to greener pastures immediately after getting their MBBSs. This closed door also to those who fled punishments or change of government or jumped the ship they thought was sinking or scooted for whatever expediency. However, those who felt they had no hope of career development in this country or went for higher studies (when local universities were closed for long or did not accept them) and then decided to stay back in the host countries as citizens are welcome back as even dual citizens since their return is prompted by caring for parents and siblings left behind, or wanting to settle down on birth turf and benefit the country with foreign money and expertise gained. Some highly qualified, medical professionals mostly, revisit Sri Lanka and give immense help free of charge. We welcome them wholeheartedly and are grateful. But not those whose motives for returning are purely selfish.
What particularly irked ole Cass were these two statements of Rajitha Ratwatte writing ‘From Outside the Pearl’. “The only good thing that has happened is that a dual citizen is back as finance minister, no less” and “our entire national lists should consist of qualified dual citizens who have experience gained from the first world.” I won’t deal with the first statement. How can he judge whether it is the only good move of government until Basil delivers the prediction of saving the country? Then the promotion of dual citizens to Parliament – “qualified with experiences gained from the first world.” I mentioned how some of these come back to help us but never as politicians or into politics. Those who come into the political arena so far have not advertised their higher qualifications and some have experience in petrol pumping if not dish washing!!
Rape rears its medusa head
We have been hearing and reading about a 15-year-old girl sold for prostitution by her mother and used by the many including some high persons. The case is out in the open and due punishment may be meted out. Another case was highlighted about a younger girl and I was told that social media highlighted a father who abused his two daughters and is in hiding now. Words fail ole Cass to express how reprehensible these cases are: unbridled perverse sexual desire and greed for money; two conditions rampant now. Cass nearly fell of her chair when she read the first page news item in The Island of Wednesday July 21. “National child protection policy not implemented for 21 years, says COPE.” Rather usual in this Paradise Isle gone rotten. But what followed both inundated Cass’s heart with deep sorrow followed by raging fury, though useless. A beautiful, typically dressed 16 year old Tamil girl – Ishalini Jude Kumar – is featured in the article “who succumbed to injuries caused by a fire in the residence of lawmaker Rishad Bathiudeen at No 410/16, Baudhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7.” Stunning. Shocking beyond words. Cass believes the rape and suspects it was continuous but never will accept the self immolation.
This particular MP and former Minister has had two previous allegations against him – the destruction of parts of a forest bordering Wilpattu to build houses for his supporters and association with some Easter Sunday carnage suspects.
Rape and molesting children are extra extra-nasty social evils. The perpetrators must be severely punished. In Saudi Arabia it was said that stealing was punished with hands amputated so…
Cass leaves you on that note – to mull over as Sri Lanka is saved by the Hon Basil R and we get back to being Paradise.
To all SIRs I’ve loved before!
In this day and age where the word SIR has so much effect, my mind has wandered back to all the Sirs and of course Madams’ who guided my life through school and the influence they have had. Of course, covering ALL of them will be hard but the first teacher who springs to mind is a lady and her name was Beulah Rosa, she taught me in Grade 4 and first showed me that encouragement from a dedicated teacher can change your entire life. Moving on to Mrs. Monica Jayasekera inGrade 9 at Royal College, who made me feel that my superior knowledge of English gleaned from my private Preparatory school education was not something to be hidden from my peers who had been through the Royal Junior system that had almost no English teachers. Mrs. Jayasekera made us read out loud to the class and thereby teach them pronunciation and alleviate the fear and intimidation that the feared “Kaduwa” brought to my classmates. On the subject of English Mr. Wije Weerasinghe our revered English Literature teacher in the school, where one was supposed to learn or depart, was able to inculcate an appreciation of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the poetry of Dryden and Keats, and also the mystical writings of John Still together with which we also learned to be proud of our history, and the magnificent past of the land of our birth. He taught a Rugby player (and a front-row forward at that!) about the iambic pentameter and the rhyming couplet and that knowledge has helped in the appreciation of this language that has contributed to my livelihood over the years.
Moving on to Mr. Christie Gunasekera that legendary vice-principal of Royal College who actually taught us how to lace our boots on the first day of practice. A practice that is adhered to even today! To who’s wedding a closely guarded secret, a handful of us prefects of the day commandeered the then army commander’s car (the commander’s son was our head prefect) and “gatecrashed”. Mr. Gunasekera was feared but our love for him and our confidence in his decision-making and judgment told us that he would react favourably. After the customary “Come Here” (accompanied by the crooked forefinger), to us who were lurking in the background at Donald’s studio that he had gone to for a photograph after the Church ceremony. He ordered us to come to his house and produced a bottle of whiskey (Old Parr was the brand, I remember it to this day) and give us a drink! Now we were all over the legal drinking age and it is far too late for any legal action to be taken as all my co-conspirators (or is it beneficiaries) will deny this incident and pin it down to the senile rambling of my crumbling brain. However, let me add that even some devout followers of Islam who were with us that day couldn’t turn down the offer of an Alcoholic beverage from their beloved SIR. They had the good sense to realise that if they were going to break the law of their religion this was the one time to do it! Mr. Haniffa (who was alleged to have the first name of ABU) who took pity on me towards the end of my rugby career at school and offered to teach me his pet subject logic, free of charge and on his own time as he said, “What are you going to do when you leave school, boy”. Mr. Nanayakkara (who was also alleged to have the first name Haramanis and was universally known as HARA) knew every bad habit that the players under him had and tolerated them within acceptable limits. With only token efforts made to apprehend smokers and those who indulged in the odd alcoholic beverage.
Our coaches the legendary Summa Navaratnam whose yells of disgust during practice echo in my ears even today, some 40 years later. Mr. Navaratnam, I would never dare to call him Summa and I have come across writings of today when some of his disciples have bestowed an honorary knighthood on his and call him Sir Summa, could never watch our matches (except during that memorable trip to Thailand in 1978) and therefore probably never realised how his words of wisdom revibrated in our ears during some close-run Bradby Shield victories. That ultimate gentleman Mr. Gamini Salgado who sense of humour and ready wit enlightened so many cricket seasons. The list goes on and it is impossible to cover them all. Those were the real SIRS and Madams of our lives and of our country. Maybe, the soldiers and other members of the armed forces have got it right when they address you as MISTER and deliberately don’t call you sir at the checkpoints that we were so accustomed to during my years in the Pearl. Their SIRS’ are their superior officers and a mere civilian does not fall into that hallowed category.
I dedicate this column to all the Sirs’, and Madams’ I have loved before and wish to convey to them that they will always be a part of my life and offer abject apologies to them for having to share the same title as that they carried with so much honour and dignity, with the bearers of those titles today!
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