“How to Love in Sanskrit” by Anusha Rao and Suhas Mahesh

Translation of ancient writings is a many-edged sword. The advantage is that you are presenting works that have stood the test of time; they obviously appeal to the human condition. However, they are also taken centuries out of context. Oh, yes, and in a different language. Which tempts the translator to explain everything too much.

The solution is to pick the right poems and translate them in a way that appeals to the modern reader. And here, these translator/poets have succeeded. Most of the poems are a couple of thousand years old, but these translations bring them right into the modern day. There is a very brief editorial comment for each poem, sometimes explaining a religious or cultural concept that puts the work in perspective or deepens the meaning of an image.

These poets do a particularly good job of turning specific elements of Sanskrit into English. This is a point where the comments help. One example would be the ability to turn any noun into a verb, such as to “pillowize” a rock. Here, we are given just enough information to help our understanding but not enough distract us from our intimate contact with the poem.

As far as choice of material, these works are typified by subtle humour and irony, verging on the sardonic. Sometimes I found myself chuckling aloud, surprised by a twist of phrase. Some are incredibly romantic, some more prosaic. There are even references to global warming, cell phones and Vogue magazine.

These are short, economical poems, and their use of imagery and metaphor (often brief but complex) reminds us that a picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words.

This is not merely a volume of translated poems. These translator/poets have stamped their style on the writing, giving the work a unity of expression and a personality to enjoy. The true test of a book of poetry is when you’d like to meet the poet afterwards.

I will leave you with a key quote that sums it all up: “I tell you love is weird.”

An enjoyable read, full of small surprises.

 

5 stars.

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