Hunt for a Mean-Fellow -Late Ilarani Singh (Maithili Story “Kupurushak Khoj” by Late Ilarani Singh translated into English by Vishwajeet Kumar Singh)

Hunt For A Mean Fellow (कुपुरुषक खोज)
Translated by: Vishwajeet K Singh

Translator’s Note

The present story “Hunt for a mean-fellow” is the translation of “Kupurushak Khoj” – a Maithili short story published in a collection of fables entitled “tatka gap” in the year 1964 by Maithili Art Press, Kolkota. The stories published in the handbook are an exercise to document the oral tradition of story telling in Mithiilaanchal. They reflect the age-old interesting customs practiced in Mithiilaa families with an essence of witty humor and fulsome entertainment. The title of the original text, “tatka gap”: itself refers to the cultural exercise of story telling in a family get-together. Overtly, these stories belonging to the genre of “tatka gap” always have the elements of laughter, irony, sarcasm etc, but covertly, they all have one or the other moral at the end of the story. Thus, I can say that it falls into category of “Gonu Jha’s Stories” and “Birabal’s Stories”. Because of this nature of these stories, they are never old, and rather, they are always told-retold and enjoyed in all generations with basically slight change or no change at all, in the story line.

The present translation is again a similar effort, supposed to fill the gap of cultural knowledge in the newer generations, especially, when the modern technologies have set the society at the pace of digital age. Translation becomes more important in these situations, especially for them, who stay away from their native culture across the time and space and are educated in urban set-up and sometimes in a foreign set-up, totally cut off from their own culture. It also becomes important for foreigners interested in knowing a popular culture, such as “Mithiilaa Culture” for any number of reasons. In this case, there are socio-cultural motivations, which inspire a translator to render the original text in a target language, such as English—the global language; to popularize precious aspects of a culture and find a place for it in the global cultural market.

In this work, since I happen to have strong affiliations with Mithiilaa culture, translation of this text becomes more relevant from a socio-linguistic perspective. Fishman, a socio-linguist formulates:

A translator need learn “who speaks what to whom, where and why.”

The answer to these questions supports my position as a translator (WHO) of a Maithili text (WHAT), especially when it is matter of preserving the essentialities of the source text both of matter and manner. The answer is very much clear from the fact that these stories are immensely popular in their original form in its native socio-cultural context. It becomes significantly paramount to render it to the target audience—here the Mithiilaa people (WHOM) across the globe, at the point of time (WHEN), they are distanced from their native culture and to offer them the aroma of the their cultural values and uniqueness (WHY).

Despite all the theoretical positions and translatorial practices such as the above, there are possibilities that the translation of a cultural text does not suffice the purpose of the audience. Of course, it is difficult to retain the joy and thrill of the original in English, however it is not totally impossible. Says Jakobson’s:

“All cognitive experience and its classification are conveyable in any existing language. Whenever there is deficiency, terminology may be qualified, and amplified, by loanwords or loan translations, neologisms, or semantic shifts, and finally by circumlocutions.”
--Jakobson, Roman; On Linguistic Aspects of Translation;(1966), Oxford University Press, NY.

The above view suggests that there is always possibility to render a text in any language, may be it is not possible to render it depending fully on the target language, but then, a translator is free to use various tools to meet his/her goal. Perhaps, this creates a space for the genetic mutation of a language in terms of R. K. Narayan. Keeping in view all the points, which make a translation successful, I have cruised through the marvelous piece of the story “kupurushak khoj”.

The original text “Kupurushak Khoj” was authored by Ilarani Singh, a contemporary of Mayanand Mishra and Kanchinath Mishra, is an author by hobby. She uses a unique diction of her own in conveying her message in a dialect of Maithili spoken in Northwest Mithiilaanchal. It has the cultural connotations widely entertained in the Mithiilaa, for which, there are hardly single English expressions. Yet, I have made a novice and humble effort to depict the humorous and cultural beauty of her story, bringing the translation as close to the original as possible within the idiom and expression of the English language.

While doing translation, I have made every attempt to avoid loss of meaning and message loaded in original text. I have used the culture-specific expressions as it is in the original to give the reader the essence of original text. To help them, I have used annotations as and when required without breaking the fluency and rhythm of the story.

I have taken some liberty by collating short sentences and phrases without losing the images—the reeling effect of the story absorbing the reader but not at the cost of the original flavor. Prof Kapoor’s (teaching at JNU, New Delhi) comment regarding this is noteworthy:

“Such distortions of ideas can be fatal—they lead to a complete misunderstanding of a system of ideas”

An extreme care has been taken to avoid succumbing to English and to sustain the very purpose of translation. Since Maithili falls into a category of languages, which have verbless expressions, I have to, sometimes, expand the hidden meaning in the original text to make it equate in English in terms of meaning.

English and Maithili, though, belong to one language family—Indo-European, they are distantly related to each other and have least similarity at surface level. There are extreme variations at structural level also. Take an example of intonation pattern—English uses a different pattern compared with Maithili to express the same information. To achieve the equivalence at meaning level, in Nida’s terms, I have rendered sentences in accordance to retain the original taste. Of course, it always helps to have efficiency in both the source and target languages, specially, when you are translating text of your culture into a target language.

Despite all my efforts, there are occasions when I have failed to capture the meaning of honorificity conveyed through Maithili in English translation. Maithili being rich in honorific terms and inflexions sounds very sweet, which I cannot convey through any of the English expressions and bring the aesthetic pleasure. Similarly, I faced troubles translating gender-specific terms. Since, Maithili being practiced in patriarchal society, it has gender-biased terms. I do not know why everything when personified in the story e.g. bird, utensil, food etc, as a default, gets masculine gender. It is really tough for me to construe the biasedness. Instead of my personal resistance, I have rendered translation in consonance with the original text and have not manipulated them for my personal set of beliefs.

While translating I have also to work with the fabric of the story, which seems to have gaps in its structure. It is, perhaps, because of author’s limitations. I have brought certain change in the style and form of story for the proper navigation.

Except a few hitches, I am sure that the story will bind the Mithiilaa people in closer bonds of love and understanding of their culture, irrespective of time and space distance. May be, it makes Mithiilaa culture more palatable and impresses the others also to the unexplored virgin land of Mithiilaanchal full of legends and mysteries and above all, the hospitability.

Vishwajeet Kumar Singh

Hunt for a Mean-Fellow

Long back when King Dasharatha ruled Ayodhya, Ramchandra, the eldest son of the king Dasharatha, in his early after-marriage life, had been to Janakpur, then used to be a part of Mithiilaanchal, now in Nepal. Ramchandra, now onwards Ram, was immensely impressed by the treatment extended to him by his in-laws—father-in-law, mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. He got lost in the very love and affection offered to him. The delicious dishes—makhaanak khiir1, bhetak laawaa2 etc; cooked in Mithiilaa style, arrested him. Apart from the dishes, the melodious song sequences followed by every meal was just something, he never imagined.

Everyday varieties of surprise items and varieties of titillating affairs. Ram, consequently, had not a single thought of Ayodhya, back his home. Perhaps, this is what happens at in-laws’. Week after week passed, month after month passed, Ram never thought of returning home.

Back in Ayodhya, the King Dasharatha was terribly worried about Ram. Dasharatha smelt the central problem and suspected if Ram turned to be a “ghar-jamaai3”. He consulted the family teacher Vashishtha and in his consultation, he sent an errand with a letter to King Janaka. Through that the King Dasharatha expected Janaka to send him four items—a nasty bird, a horrible-food, a useless-utensil and a mean-fellow.
1makhaanak khiir: a kind of pudding, a fruit grown in lake-water boiled in milk served as dessert
2bhetak laawaa: flakes of special kind of fruit grown in Mithila
3ghar jamaai: a son-in-law, who lives at in-laws’ and does not return home to his parents

Receiving the letter, King Janak got lost—what to do and what not to do. He called up the minister and asked him to gather the four items demanded. The matter spread like jungle fire. Everyone around started looking for the items one by one. The councilors suggested going for a nasty-bird first. Some of them suggested a crow “kauwa” fit for the purpose.

The crow was summoned to the court. The minister commanded him to go to Ayodhya, “It’s no use staying here, dear crow. They say that you are a nasty-bird.”

The crow reacted, “Honorable minister, how I can be a nasty-bird!? We always wake people up early in the morning. We clean the places killing harmful, disease-spreading insects.” He added, “Pandits call us Futurists. How come, we are nasty”.

The minister shot back, “Then, who is the nasty-bird?”

The crow replied, “Owl is the nasty-bird. He hides round the day to escape any labour. He makes faces at others and never serves any social purpose.”

The minister agreed and ordered owls to go to Ayodhya. Then came the turn of the horrible-food. The councilors named Marua4. The poor Marua was summoned.

Marua said, “We are not the horrible food. In stead, we are the food for the poor—the only food support for the poor.” He added, “Without us, the poor populace of Mithiilaa shall die” and
4Marua: a kind of cereal grown in infertile land, similar to the size of mustard seeds and black in color. It is used to get flour.

explained, “When we are served with fish, they devour it afresh” and further he explained, “ we are grown up anywhere. We are ready without any wastage of time. People get it any time”.

“How I can be the horrible food.” clarified Marua.

The minister asked, “Then, who is the horrible food?”
Marua answered, “Kushiar5 is the horrible food. It is difficult to grow. The poor cannot touch it because it is very costly. ”

The minister agreed and commanded the Kushiar to go to Ayodhya. Now, it was the turn of a useless-utensil. On the advice of the councilors, Khapari6 was summoned.

The minister told to Khapari, “Your are a useless-utensil, so you must leave for Ayodhya. King Dasharatha is in great need of you.”

Khapari reacted, similar to others, “How come, I am useless?! In my absence, can you roast anything? The poor live their lives on bhuja-phutaha7 only. Don’t think me to be useless, just because I look blackish and brownish.” He asserted, “ I am a very useful item.”

5Kushiaar: sugar cane grown for sugar and jaggery
6Khapari: a broken earthen pot used to bake bread etc.
7bhujaa-phutahaa: cereals and grams roasted and served as a part of evening break.

The minister once agreed and asked, “Then, who is a useless-utensil?”

Khapari argued, “Sir, Piyaalaa8 is a useless utensil. It is used to drink daaruu-taarii9. He makes people irreligious and digress them” and continued, “better, send him to Ayodhya.”

The minister agreed and asked Piyaalaa to go to Ayodhya. Lastly, it was the turn of a mean-fellow. Councilors discussed it. Someone suggested “nat10” to be a mean-fellow. Nat was summoned and asked to go to Ayodhya.

Nat, on the same line, put his side, “How come, I am a mean-fellow. I entertain all the people through my art” and further explained, “I keep my physique so flexible for public-shows, and besides that, I belong to Rishi Bharat’s clan.”

The minister agreed in his usual style and asked, “Then, it’s better, you tell us. Who the mean-fellow is? ”
Nat replied, “The mean-fellow is one, who lives at in-laws’ and whiles away the precious time.” and he demanded, “Is there no one in Janakpur? Someone at in-laws’.”
8Piyaalaa: a cup used to serve wine and other liquors
9 daaruu-taarii: juice yielded from the palm tree and served as a part of intoxicant after fermentation
10 nat: someone who is similar to a eunuch

There went the bell. Everyone in the court was dumbstruck. Ram, too, was in the court and he took no time learning the fact. Next morning, at the dawn only, which fell to be the day of Madhushravani11, he set out for Ayodhya without paying any heed to the invitations proffered by in-laws.

11Madhushravani: a socio-religious occasion, generally celebrated after marriage at married daughter’s home in the beginning five to seven years. Son-in-law is invited by in-laws for the rituals.


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