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.

 
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.

Play

SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.