Vikram Seth decodes the 'mesmeric hold' of 'The Hanuman Chalisa'

New Delhi, June 21 (IANS): Acclaimed novelist-poet Vikram Seth got introduced to the poetic cadence and eternal philosophy of 'The Hanuman Chalisa' when he was writing the character of Bhaskar Tandon, the Kapoor family's boy genius in 'A Suitable Boy' who had memorised Tulsidas's adulatory ode to Lord Hanuman at the age of five.

That was in 1993 -- and Bhaskar, who is all set to re-appear as the world-renowned Emeritus Professor of Mathematics in 'A Suitable Girl', the sequel-in-progress of Seth's magnum opus, now wishes to get down to translating the devotional poem that had so captivated him.

Like his character, Seth himself got down to translating what he described at a meeting in New Delhi on Thursday evening as the only poem in human history that continues to live, even after centuries, in the hearts of millions of people and gets recited by them daily.

He mentioned his Usha Mami, who's in the nineties and lives downstairs in their Noida home on the outskirts of the national capital, and how she goes to sleep only after listening to 'The Hanuman Chalisa' at least two times daily.

"Whether you are an 'andh bhakt' or an 'ardh bhakt'," Seth said, "the poem will affect you and move you. That explains the mesmeric hold 'The Hanuman Chalisa' has over the community."

So, why did Seth, like the distinguished professor Bhaskar Tandon, translate the 'Hanuman Chalisa' -- a task that can be hazardous in a country where generations have grown up reciting or listening to the poem?

Seth explained that he believed 'The Hanuman Chalisa', although written originally in Awadhi in the 16th century, belonged to the world -- and not to a particular religion or to people pursuing a particular kind of politics -- which is why it needed to be translated.

Moreover, Seth said, he owed his own fame to a translation he read of 'Eugene Onegin', a novel in verse by the 19th-century Russian playwright, Alexander Pushkin, whose statue stands outside the Rabindra Bhawan in New Delhi, which he saw on his way to Thursday evening's venue.

It was 'Eugene Onegin', as we all know, that inspired Seth to write his first world-acclaimed book, 'The Golden Gate', in the poetic style known as the 'iambic pentameter'.

The task of translating Tulsidas's "incantatory rhyme and mesmeric rhythm", however, was like "learning to dance with chains".

And as Seth admits in the Introduction to the slim volume, "it was not possible to recreate the wonderfully musical echoes and alliterations in the original."

Despite the challenges, for Seth, translating 'The Hanuman Chalisa' was its own reward. As he writes in the succinct Introduction: "At any rate all this is a means, however imperfect, of acquainting or re-acquating people with a magical and joyful work impressed in the memories and affections of millions, which encapsulates a whole culture in fewer than ninety lines."


Top Stories

Leave a Comment

Title: Vikram Seth decodes the 'mesmeric hold' of 'The Hanuman Chalisa'

You have 2000 characters left.


Please write your correct name and email address. Kindly do not post any personal, abusive, defamatory, infringing, obscene, indecent, discriminatory or unlawful or similar comments. will not be responsible for any defamatory message posted under this article.

Please note that sending false messages to insult, defame, intimidate, mislead or deceive people or to intentionally cause public disorder is punishable under law. It is obligatory on Daijiworld to provide the IP address and other details of senders of such comments, to the authority concerned upon request.

Hence, sending offensive comments using daijiworld will be purely at your own risk, and in no way will be held responsible.