A celebration with verses. That is what the national broadcaster Akashvani (earlier known as All India Radio) has been doing for the last 68 years to mark Republic Day. All stations of Akashvani broadcast poems written in the 22 official Indian languages. Translations of these poems are broadcast in the voice of reputed poets from respective regional languages on January 25.
These poems are presented at the National Symposium of Poets or Sarvabhasha Kavi Sammelan held in an Indian city every year. This year’s edition of the symposium was at Ranchi on January 5. “ The symposium was launched as a national integration initiative by Akashvani. After the symposium, the Hindi and English translations of these poems are sent to all stations of Akashvani. These poems are translated into the respective regional languages at these stations,” says Sreekumar Mukhathala, programme executive, Akashvani Thiruvananthapuram, who has been coordinating the programme for a few years now for Akashvani stations in Kerala.
In addition to Malayalam, the poems in Sanskrit, Hindi, Assamese, Punjabi, Tamil, Odia, Urdu, Kannada, Konkani, Kashmiri, Gujarati, Dogri, Telugu, Nepali, Bengali, Bodo, Manipuri, Mythili, Marathi, Sindhi and Santhali.
This year there are two poems in Hindi. So 23 poets will recite poems in 22 languages. “Every year the poems are translated into Malayalam by leading poets in the language who also record them in their voices. Among the stalwarts who have been part of this programme are ONV Kurup, Sugathakumari and Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri. ONV Sir regularly used to translate Sanskrit poems,” Sreekumar says.
Poems by those aged below 50 were chosen for this year’s national symposium and Malayalam was represented by NS Sumesh Krishnan. The poem for the symposium is selected by a coordination committee from entries received at the station.
“The poem in the voice of the poet is broadcast first followed by the translation. Some states have more than one language and these poems are broadcast on two days, as in the case of Assamese and Bodo in Assam,” Sreekumar says.
Malayalam poets who have translated and recorded the poems this year are Prabha Varma (Sanskrit), Ezhachery Ramachandran (Tamil), Kureeppuzha Sreekumar (Assamese), K Jayakumar (Bodo), K Rajagopal (Odia), Kanimol (Urdu), Indira Ashok (Kannada), Sreejith Perumthachan (Konkani), Santhan (Kashmiri), Indira Babu (Gujarathi), Chavara K S Pillai (Dogri), Aryambika (Telugu), Kallara Ajayan (Nepali), Deshamangalam Ramakrishnan (Punjabi), Gireesh Puliyoor (Bengali), Sreelatha Varma (Manipuri), Sreedharan Unni (Mythili), Ahmed Khan (Marathi), Uma Thrideep (Sindhi), Manju Vellayani (Santhali), Lopamudra and Rajalakshmy (both Hindi).
Poet Prabha Varma has translated the Sanskrit poem by Abhay Singh into Malayalam. He says, “I have been a part of this programme for over two decades now. It helps that we get both Hindi and English translations of the poems. I understand Sanskrit also to some extent. This particular poem is an invocation to India. I do not do verbatim translation. The accent is on taking the essence of the poem and putting it down in my own words. Robert Frost has said that ‘Poetry is what gets lost in translation’. But there is another view that what transcends translation is poetry. I go by the latter.”
K Jayakumar, former Chief Secretary, Government of Kerala, and a lyricist, had represented Malayalam at last year’s symposium and has translated the poem in Bodo (by Bijith Gawra Ramchiyari) this time. “Since it is a language that is unfamiliar for me, the English translation came handy. It is about internal conflicts and violence and makes a plea for peace,” says Jayakumar.
Prabha Varma also points out that there have been times when he had to translate works that does not always adhere to the norms of poetry. “Some of them are just statements. All the fun lies in how you express an idea. The language used in correspondence has to be presented in a sublime way to create a poem. Unfortunately that is not happening in several Indian languages,” he observes.
The programme is being broadcast without break since 1956. “Even when the symposiums were not held during the pandemic we aired editions from the previous years,” Sreekumar says.
Sreekumar maintains that there are dedicated listeners for the programme as the poems deal with a variety of themes, ranging from human emotions, patriotism and spiritualism to subjective topics. “The nature of the translations also vary from poet to poet. While some conform to meter, there are others who present them in prose format,” Sreekumar says.
To listen to the poems, tune in to Akashvani on January 25 at 10pm. Repeat broadcast is on January 26 at 3pm.