The works of Rabindranath Tagore, the pride of Bengalis, has been translated into numerous languages, Indian and foreign. People from diverse fields have admitted their being influenced by his thoughts and writings, be it poems, novels, essays or anything else. His works are still being translated into newer languages. If things go well, a new language is going to be added to the list – Lithuanian.
A surprise visitor
Laimute Kiseliene is a professor of choreography and dance methodology at the Lithuanian University of Education. One fine day she got a visitor, a frail old lady, who had with her three bound books with the word ‘Tagore’ written on them, and a journal made of birch tree bark. One look at the handwriting and she was convinced that it was none other than her father’s.
Then the story rolled out from the old visitor. She had got the diaries from Antanas Poska, Laimute’s father. Antanas was a Lithuanian traveler, explorer and anthropologist. He had reached India at the end of an incredible journey on a motorbike from Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, in 1930, having started in 1929. He had started with a friend, Matas Salcius, who reached India separately.
Antanas Poska, Tagore and Indian culture
According to Laimute, Antanas fell in love with India, and stayed on for five years. He became very interested in Tagore, whose works had a great impact on him. In fact, he managed to meet with the bard on two occasions, in Kolkata. Though initially not very receptive initially, Tagore warmed towards him when Antanas expressed his interest in India and told him about his long journey to the country to learn about its great culture.
He wanted to translate Tagore’s works with his permission, but Tagore was not very receptive, telling him that foreign translators made it a business to make money from his works. But he did fulfil his dreams, translating Tagore after he returned home, making the Nobel laureate’s works the first ever Indian literature to be translated to Lithuanian. He also visited Shantiniketan, as is evident from the fact that one of his works is dated ‘1932 at Shantiniketan’. Antanas also had a lot of nice things to say about the people of Bengal.
He studied at Bombay University and at Calcutta University, and worked at the Anthropology Laboratory of the Indian Museum in Kolkata. He studied the commonalities between Lithuanian and Sanskrit, and Lithuanian folklore and Indian Vedas, and expressed his passionate support for Indian independence. Poska made friends among the Indian intelligentsia, including the great linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, who gifted him a photo of Tagore that he always carried with him.
But unfortunately, upon returning, Stalinist Lithuania sent him into an 18-year exile for apparently no reason. During his exile, he kept translating, using birch tree bark as he was unable to get hold of paper.
The lady who brought the manuscript was a friend of Antanas’s. He had given the manuscripts to her, at a time when she worked in a Soviet-controlled publishing house. He wanted them published, but the government destroyed most of his works. In fact, Antanas had also given her a note that read ‘These translations are a small bit of light for all those in despair,’ referring to the sufferings Lithuanians faced under Stalin. She immediately realised that these were a great cultural heritage, as well as that they were very sensitive. She managed to hide these from the Soviet authorities.
Waiting for a publisher
They stayed hidden till a few months back, when she decided to return them to their rightful owner, Antanas’s daughter, Laimute. Laimute is very enthusiastic about getting the translations published. She has described her father as very enthusiastic about Tagore and Gandhi. According to her, he also wanted to translate the Vedas into Lithuanian. As of now, she is waiting for someone to validate the works, as there is no one she knows of who can do that in Lithuania. She is hopeful of getting these invaluable manuscripts published some day.