Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Winter 2006, vol 4 no 4

Just a Bridge . . .
An Interview With Dr. Angelee Deodhar of India

by Robert D. Wilson

 

RW: India has one of the biggest populations on the planet yet few in your country are familiar with haiku. This is changing, however, due to the internet and people like yourself who harbor a great love for the genre and see it as a viable form of poetic expression. There is, as you say, a paucity of haiku related resources in India, and to rectify this void, you have translated into Hindi and published two haiku works: Shiki's If Someone Asks, and Classic Haiku, by Yuzuru Miura. What inspired you to undertake this mission?

AD: I was introduced to haiku in 1989, while reading a poetry journal from the United States entitled Potpourri. Soon after, I searched for books and related materials to read more about this genre. Can you believe that I found absolutely nothing except for one book, The Penguin Book of Zen Poetry, by Lucien Stryk, which was given to me by my husband.

I wrote to the Japanese Embassy in New Delhi asking about Haiku related resources and all I got was a 2 page photocopy of reference books about haiku, amongst which I found Mr. William J. Higginson's book, How to Write, Teach and Share Haiku. I wrote to him with several questions about haiku poetry. He very kindly sent me a signed copy of his book with this note: "To answer a question."

It is now 17 years since that day but I regret to say that even today almost nothing is available in India. Now, as before, the poetry sections of book stores still do not carry books on haiku--no, not even Bill's book. This lacuna is what inspired me to undertake this mission.

 

RW: Haiku is a genre that is not exclusive to the rich and educated in Japan. It's a form of poetic expression for all echelons of social strata. Perhaps this is why haiku is popular in the Japanese archipelago. You have made your two translations available to the people of India at no charge. Are you doing this in the hope of making haiku accessible to everyone, regardless of caste or financial status?

AD: Yes, absolutely! As you know poets worldwide are usually an impoverished lot of intellectuals or students, for whom it is difficult to find funds for books. I felt it was easier to publish and send out these books to those who might be interested in haiku. I had the good fortune to find a few like minded poets writing in Hindi, one of the greatest being the late Professor Satya Bhushan Verma, the joint recipient [with Cor van den Heuvel] of the prestigious Masaoka Shiki Award in 2002. We met several times and while he was very encouraging of my work he hoped that I would join him in his efforts to promote haiku in Hindi through a journal. He mentioned that although haiku had attracted many people in India, the poets did not really understand this genre. His two books, Japani Kavitayen and Japani Haiku aur Adhunik Hindi Kavita, barely made a ripple even amongst the poets writing haiku in Hindi. He was the pioneer of the haiku movement in Hindi and had established a Haiku Club in 1978. Members of this club received haiku, not only in Hindi but several other Indian languages from which Prof. Verma had translated them. This was published on a simple aerogramme type inland letter, and posted to the various members. Unfortunately, this had to stop after a few years, due to his failing health.

To my knowledge, so far there is no official haiku society in India. There are various people writing for journals/magazines that publish haiku but most of these are writing in isolation, without correspondence with each other. There are others who are publishing English poetry in monthly periodicals which carry some haiku-like poems.

I had hoped these two books, distributed free of cost, would perhaps encourage an exchange of haiku related material between poets. In this way at least we will get to know each other.

 

RW: An interesting journey Shiki's haiku has undertaken here, going from the Japanese language to English and finally to Hindi, passing through three separate mindsets and frames of references-- the fruit of this journey, your translation and publication in India of Shiki's If Someone Asks. What does one need to do to successfully translate poetry from one language to another? Is it a tedious process? And how so?

AD: To successfully translate anything into one's own language requires three basic characteristics:
1. A deep understanding of one's own cultural heritage, literature and folklore
2. A facility of more than one language
3. A level of creativity to lift a culturally specific poetic genre out of one language and carry it across into another

This is even truer of haiku, and while I am under no illusion that not knowing Japanese and translating from an English translation to Hindi is fraught with the danger of its being at best a poor copy of the original Japanese poem, I felt I had to do something.

I have been very fortunate to have an education in which both English and Hindi were given equal importance right from kindergarten. Our scholastic system is such that we are bilingual or multilingual from the very beginning. Although I have been writing in English, I have been translating [mainly for myself] for several years now. I started translating my own English language haiku, just as a literary exercise, and found to my delight that it worked for me.

No, it is not a tedious process at all. It is a challenging one, no doubt because I do not have at my disposal the skills of a language expert which would enable me to use refined, esoteric words in pure Hindi. I had to refer very frequently to the dictionary. I have several dictionaries at my disposal and I get very important feedback from my husband. What is very frustrating, though, is not being able to convey the exact essence of a haiku in everyday Hindi, which would be understood easily by everyone.

 

RW: What impelled you to translate a second volume of haiku, Classic Haiku, so soon after the publication of your first translation, If Someone Asks?

AD: Prof. Yuzuru Miura's bilingual [Japanese-English] Classic Haiku caught my fancy a long time ago, as it presented me with a selection of 100 poems by 32 Japanese poets I felt it would be a good place for me to follow up after the Shiki book. In Classic Haiku the reader is not burdened with too many biographical or other details, and for me that was the key: to present many Japanese poets to those writing in Hindi in a simple, easy to read manner.

My translations have been done over several years now. And though it seems that I have done this quickly, in reality it is not so. It took four years to translate If Someone Asks, and a year and a half to translate Classic Haiku, which I was working on even while putting the finishing touches to If Someone Asks. Coincidentally I received funds for both these books from my late aunt and some financial assistance from my husband, so I could publish them one after the other.

 

RW: You stated in the Hindi Translator's Note to Yuzuru Miura's Haiku Classics: A Master's Selection, "It has been a challenge to translate and present these haiku in ordinary, everyday Hindi in a modern format which leaves behind the five-seven-five syllable count to which Indian haiku poets have been accustomed." Please elucidate.

AD: Ah, the 5-7-5 conundrum! Yes, this is a real problem. Here poets have somehow got stuck with this "syllable count," ignoring the other essentials of the haiku genre, basically due to a lack of resource materials. Poets writing in Hindi seem to sacrifice the essence of the moments experienced by them at the altar of 5-7-5. If only our senior poets had had the exposure to English language haiku books/journals and followed up by studying the evolution of haiku as an international phenomenon, they would write freely and with greater facility today. I have received several gift books in Hindi and English from my haiku colleagues in India, reciprocating the two books I had sent them. I had enclosed a questionnaire with each book and asked for their definition of what a haiku poem is. Almost 90% of the poets who replied felt that it was a three line poem with a 5-7-5 syllable count. Hindi, being a phonetic language with pure sounds, is different from almost all other languages and, in essence, is a syllabary in itself. Now if we stick to the 5-7-5 pattern and put anything which comes to mind in three lines, it doesn't make a haiku but this is what is being done here. None of these poets mentioned the need for a seasonal word at all. I also found that many of these poets were writing epigrams and three line socio-cultural, political, religious, satirical poems and passing them off as haiku. It would be very easy to confirm what I am saying by going to some websites of Indian poetry in English which purport to be publishing haiku.

Also, the other problem seems to be the fascination of these poets still regarding haiku as a so-called Zen poem, whatever that means. Fortunately, this is now changing, due to the availability of international haiku on the web.

When pure Hindi is used to translate a haiku, the result may not be comprehensible to the average reader. In both my books I chose to use easy to understand colloquial Hindi for this purpose.

 

RW: Why did you select Haiku Classics as a target for translation?

AD: I felt very strongly that it was necessary for me to translate and share Haiku Classics with my colleagues to give them a glimpse of the Japanese poets from both ancient and modern times. I rejected the idea of writing a haiku primer for poets who were already so deeply entrenched in their beliefs of what a haiku is that it would have made no difference. I also rejected the idea of publishing my own book of haiku. I concentrated instead on the translated haiku of the Japanese masters to speak for themselves.

 

RW: Are there other works you plan to translate in the near future?

AD: Most certainly yes! I have several works of translation in progress and hope to make these available to the haiku community soon. The other things I am concentrating upon are:

1. Publishing through Hindi journals and on the Hindi poetry websites, haiku related essays in both English and Hindi targeted to my colleagues in India

2. Translating haiku from Hindi into English and sharing the work of Indian poets with my haiku friends worldwide through a bilingual anthology

 

RW: You have taken it upon yourself to spread the haiku fire and have become the leading progenitor of haiku in India, not only translating haiku into the Hindi tongue, but also by contacting and networking with other Indian poets. Are you comfortable with this role?

AD: No, I am not at all comfortable with this role, because it is something which takes up a lot of my time, energy and finances. I am in no way a leader of anything at all. There are several very senior poets who deserve that credit, one of whom I have already mentioned earlier and others who deserve recognition. I hope that I can rectify this deficiency by introducing their work in the coming months. I have gained a lot of knowledge from new friends in the Hindi haiku community, who have generously shared their books, journals and views with me. I look upon myself as just a bridge between my country's haiku poets and those in the rest of the world. Only time will tell whether I have been successful or not. I hope the younger poets will get inspired to write haiku, not only in English but in more than one Indian language; and then we can think about setting up a proper official Haiku Society of India.

 


Angelee Deodhar Angelee Deodhar is a haiku poet and artist from India. She has a keen interest in promoting haiku and its related forms throughout the world. Her artwork is a form of modern digital haiga. She tells us that it provides her with an opportunity to share different cultural perspectives with a view to improved friendships among haijin.

Her haiku and haiga have been published internationally in various books, journals and on the Internet. She is a member of several haiku groups worldwide, the chief among them being the Haiku Society of America, Haiku Society of Canada, and Haiku International Association-Japan, Meguro International Friendship Association-Japan, Evergreen Haiku Society-Japan and the World Haiku Association-Japan.

In her work life, Angelee is an eye surgeon, a member of International Arts Medicine Association and is published in medical magazines. She lives in Chandigarh with her physician husband, a son and two dogs.