Monday, 3 June 2013

OF MORALS AND FABLES


 
Our childhood was replete with stories where animals spoke and acted like humans and as the story ended there was always a ‘moral’ to be drawn from it. Be it Aesop’s Fables or the Panchatantra, these didactic narratives which were a part of our childhood days have stayed with us even today. This review will focus on the translation of a hundred of Aesop’s Fables into Konknni by Fr. Pratap Naik SJ and Shilpa Salvi titled Isopacheo Kannio. Many of these narratives are used as ‘lessons’ in our textbooks and reading them made me remember many of my textbook ‘lessons’ once again!
 (L-R) Shilpa Salvi, Fr. Pratap Naik SJ, Vincy Quadros, Fr. Feroz Fernandes, Dionisio N F Carvalho, Premanand Lotlikar, Isidore Dantas, Anita Pinto at the release of Isopacheo Kannio on Children’s Day, 2012 in Children’s Park, Campal, Panjim.
            Aesop’s Fables are believed to have been composed somewhere around 6th century BC by Aesop who was a slave and a story-teller in ancient Greece. These short fables not only served as “entertaining anecdotes” but also taught “a pointed lesson by indirect means.” Scholars point out that the genre of fables is fundamentally concerned with relations of unequal power between individuals and groups: in terms of money, prestige or power. Fables were believed to be an expression or cultural form of the lower classes and that it articulated their disadvantaged position. But such fables are also found in aristocratic writings as well.
            Naik and Salvi have done a wonderful job. The translation is crisp and the editing is tight. But most importantly, the language and choice of phrases used in the book will not be a bother for the children reading this book. The translators have taken immense pain to be concise while remaining true to the structure of the story.
           Translation is a tricky business. Sometimes the flavour of the fables can be lost in the process of translation. Take the example of Konkani Folk Tales retold by Olivinho J. F. Gomes (National Book Trust, 2007) from Konknni to English where one gets the feeling that the translation is too academic. Fables and/or folk tales whether in English or Konknni are fun to read in the original and somehow the flavour has to be maintained. In this context, one can also mention Venchik Lok-Kannio, a collection of folk-tales (not a translation) by Dr. Jayanti Naik, which were rendered into Romi a few years ago by Felicio Cardozo. The flavour and mellifluous flow of a Konknni folk-tale is best introduced to the reader through this book. 
            In Isopacheo Kannio all the hundred stories are accompanied with illustrations by Dominic Cordo. It must be said that each illustration is carefully thought out and the crux of the story is ably depicted. However, this book could also have benefitted from a better cover, one that immediately appeals to the kids and filled with complementing colours. 
As mentioned earlier, fables convey a “political message” and when put in the context of ancient Greek city-life, the message that is given is of unequal power-relations where the weak must obey the strong. But there can also be another possible reflection on these fables, that is, if one does not want herself and others to suffer from the situations and power-relations described in the story they can strive to create a social universe to prevent the narrative of the story from playing out. One can also ask, “Why should we choose to act like animals when we can choose not to and when we can create an environment in which acting like animals is unnecessary?”
Since these stories do not take place in any particular context and share many structural features with the Konknni folk-tales such as the extraction of morals from the stories, the process of rendering and understanding Aesop’s Fables in a distinctly Konknni register has not created any problems. Thus, as pointed above, these fables could have multiple ‘morals’ derived from them and hence the translators could have provided more than one ‘moral’ (even if they are contradictory to one another) for the reader to reflect upon.
This is a wonderful addition to the corpus of Konknni literature. Isopacheo Kannio is a must read for all young readers.


All quotations from:   
Clayton, Edward. “Aesop, Aristotle, and Animals: The Role of Fables in Human Life.” Humanitas 21, no. 1 and 2 (2008): 179–200.
Rothwell, Jr., Kenneth S. “Aristophanes’ ‘Wasps’ and the Sociopolitics of Aesop’s Fables.” The Classical Journal 90, no. 3 (1995): 233–254.

For more on Romi Konknni see here.


Isopacheo Kannio translated by Fr. Pratap Naik SJ and Shilpa Salvi (Ponnje/Panjim: Dalgado Konknni Akademi), 2012; pp. 206, Rs. 100/-; Phone: 91-0832-2221688 (Available at Dalgado Konknni Akademi, Panjim)

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: June 4, 2013).

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