literary politicians

Modi writes about his 'life's dearest companion' in new collection of translated poems

A new book by finance professional Ravi Mantha features English translations of 67 poems by the BJP prime ministerial candidate. Here are two of them.

Narendra Modi is known for many things, but not for his poetry. If you wanted to read his verse, you would have to be familiar with his native language, Gujarati, in which he seems to have been a fairly prolific poet.

Until now. Ravi Mantha, a policy advisor to the Bharatiya Janata Party, has decided to spread Modi’s word to the world in a new set of English translations called A Journey.

“I was trying to understand him as a person,” Mantha told Scroll.in. “He’s been in the news for years, but nobody knows who he really is. When I saw his poems online, I was stunned.”

The financial professional realised that the English-speaking world would not be able to read Modi’s poetry and decided to translate it himself. The only trouble: he does not speak Gujarati. Mantha does not think his lack of knowledge of the language hindered him. He relied instead on his Hindi skills and school knowledge of Sanskrit to navigate the poems.

“His Gujarati is Sanskritic, literary Gujarati, so I can follow the script and the meanings of the words,” Mantha said. Gujarati friends helped him to transliterate words he had problems with and he took it on from there. “More than the original language, I think a translator must be fluent in the destination language,” he said.


A word cloud depicting the frequency of words used in the collection of Narendra Modi's poems.

This is Mantha’s first stab at translation. His first book was a non-fiction treatise on germs titled All About Bacteria, and his next one will be about nutrition. Translating Modi’s poems, he said, took a lot out of him emotionally. “I could translate only one poem each night,” he said. “It was very taxing.”

Mantha was born in Hyderabad, but has spent the last 25 years abroad, first in the US and the UK, working with mutual fund corporation Fidelity Investments. He moved to Singapore three years ago to work on public policy, and returned to India four months ago to help advise the BJP. That is when he thought of translating the poems.

“I reached out to the office and said I was a fan,” he said. “They were very supportive of me. When I finished, Mr Modi wrote a beautiful foreword and endorsed my translations.”

There are 67 poems in the collection, published by Rupa, dealing with topics of love, friendship, patriotism, devotion to god and love of nature. Mantha’s favourite is a poem called Bliss. “I connected very deeply with around 10-15 poems. Bliss is about a spiritual journey and shows the point where you feel one with existence,” he said. “You have to have been there to grasp it and he himself has been there.”

Mantha is an active contributor to Modi's campaign and hopes to return to the country if he becomes prime minister.

“Part of my excitement is that change is in the offing; I want to get the country back on track,” he said. “What I see is that for the first time, someone is looking at a wide range of experts, people who have views on socio-economic development. Three years ago [when he moved to Singapore], I did not feel it was a good idea to come back to India because the economy was in the doldrums. Now I am optimistic.”

Two poems from the book are excerpted below. Unfortunately, neither date nor dedication is listed for either poem.

Bliss

My life’s dearest companion, bliss

In this state, engulfed in love.

No one can separate us, or

Interrupt this regal sojourn together.

We soar high when we please

Or explore the ocean’s cool depths.

We become the sun rising above the mountain top,

Or rise in silence in the starlight.

In bliss we show no shyness, no attention to form.

We are a caravan, an endless bounty of love.

The wise of this world perceive us as mad,

They do not lie; yet, we are true.

We are an ocean that leaps with energy,

Not a bubble, for we are one.

Formless, boundless, no coast nor edges

We appear like water mid-ocean, infinite.

Dawn of Wonder

The dark night of defeat has faded away

Victory’s dawn has risen.

We celebrate the dawn today

And a brighter tomorrow

A massive wall of darkness has been broken.

And a brave new dawn has arisen.

Now let us all take the oath

Clamber aboard our brave and steadfast chariot

Catch everyone in self

Reject our own selfishness

Flower and fragrance are together delighted.

A brave dawn has arrived.

Now there is no story of sorrow or grief

No mourning, no more to torment

The storm has gone far away

And amid the sky’s huge spread

Thorny crises forever banished

As dazzling hopes are born and set free.

A brave dawn; time for glee.

Zeal in the house of Mars on the chart

With the scent of dreams in each cell

We keep the faith of ‘Ram’ in our hearts

There is no occasion for melancholy

A brave dawn, a time to be free.

 
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