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The Absent Traveller: Prakrit Love Poetry from the Gathasaptasati of Satavahana Hala

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Reputed to have been compiled by the Satavahana King Hala in the second century CE, this is a celebrated collection of 700 verses in Maharashtri Prakrit, composed in the compact, distilled gatha form. The anthology has attracted several learned commentaries and now, through Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's acclaimed translation of 207 verses from the anthology, readers of English Reputed to have been compiled by the Satavahana King Hala in the second century CE, this is a celebrated collection of 700 verses in Maharashtri Prakrit, composed in the compact, distilled gatha form. The anthology has attracted several learned commentaries and now, through Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's acclaimed translation of 207 verses from the anthology, readers of English at last have access to its poems. The speakers are mostly women and, whether young or old, married or single, they touch on the subject of sexuality with frankness, sensitivity and, every once in a while, humour, which never ceases to surprise.


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Reputed to have been compiled by the Satavahana King Hala in the second century CE, this is a celebrated collection of 700 verses in Maharashtri Prakrit, composed in the compact, distilled gatha form. The anthology has attracted several learned commentaries and now, through Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's acclaimed translation of 207 verses from the anthology, readers of English Reputed to have been compiled by the Satavahana King Hala in the second century CE, this is a celebrated collection of 700 verses in Maharashtri Prakrit, composed in the compact, distilled gatha form. The anthology has attracted several learned commentaries and now, through Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's acclaimed translation of 207 verses from the anthology, readers of English at last have access to its poems. The speakers are mostly women and, whether young or old, married or single, they touch on the subject of sexuality with frankness, sensitivity and, every once in a while, humour, which never ceases to surprise.

30 review for The Absent Traveller: Prakrit Love Poetry from the Gathasaptasati of Satavahana Hala

  1. 4 out of 5

    Siddharth

    This ancient anthology of Prakrit love poetry is so beautiful and exhilarating, I'm just going to write down a few verses: Distance destroys love, So does the lack of it. Gossip destroys love, And sometimes It takes nothing To destroy love *** Unable to count The days of separation Beyond her fingers and toes, The unlettered girl breaks down. *** Their love by long years secured, Sharing each others' joys and sorrows, Of such two the first to go lives, It's the other dies. *** The cock crows and you Wake up wit This ancient anthology of Prakrit love poetry is so beautiful and exhilarating, I'm just going to write down a few verses: Distance destroys love, So does the lack of it. Gossip destroys love, And sometimes It takes nothing To destroy love *** Unable to count The days of separation Beyond her fingers and toes, The unlettered girl breaks down. *** Their love by long years secured, Sharing each others' joys and sorrows, Of such two the first to go lives, It's the other dies. *** The cock crows and you Wake up with a start: But you spent the night In your own bed, husband. *** As the traveller, eyes raised, Cupped hands filled with water, spreads His fingers and lets it run through, She pouring it reduces the trickle. *** She thrusts her lover Towards her husband back early: 'This man just arrived From my father's village.' *** I could go on and on. And as you've probably noted, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's translation is sharp and precise. Highly recommended!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ashok Krishna

    All amidst our mundane lives, we humans find pleasure and seek succour in two ways. We either indulge in beliefs, hopes and dreams of lofty kinds, think of the afterlife and believe in a divine scheme of things that handholds us all through our lives. Or, on the other hand, we celebrate our basic carnality by diving deep into pleasures of the senses. Art, music and poetry have been three channels through which we try to bridge the gap between our carnal and ethereal selves. While the spiritual a All amidst our mundane lives, we humans find pleasure and seek succour in two ways. We either indulge in beliefs, hopes and dreams of lofty kinds, think of the afterlife and believe in a divine scheme of things that handholds us all through our lives. Or, on the other hand, we celebrate our basic carnality by diving deep into pleasures of the senses. Art, music and poetry have been three channels through which we try to bridge the gap between our carnal and ethereal selves. While the spiritual aspect of life has been left for a few of us to lead with a fair degree of success, the rest and the most of us face and celebrate our carnality on a day-to-day basis. This book is an example of such unabashed celebration and it celebrates our concupiscent nature with candour. Lovemaking had never been a thing that people shied away from discussing in ancient India. For ancient India, sex was not just an act for procreation but was one of deep pleasure too, no matter how short-lived the pleasure may be. Our paintings portrayed it with élan, our sculptures depicted the various ways of copulation and the standards of beauty for men and women. And, who can forget that the much-talked about treatise on love, the Kamasutra, emanated from this land? Or, Kokkogam? Not to forget the greatest gallery of the art of lovemaking as hewn on stone in Khajuraho. All that was before the Victorian mores of a hypocritical nature invaded our land, but let me not digress. Talking about poetry, this book is an example of how even banal topics like adultery can be presented with unparalleled aesthetics that even the most self-righteous mind would relish reading for the sheer poetic value, without any sense of judgement and aversion. The love and the lust, the blissful and the banal, the surreal and the venereal have all been arrayed here in this collection of poems and poetic excerpts from Prakrit literature. Extracted from the works of various poets - both men and women - and peoples from across ages, they prove that love and lust have both been topics of equally pleasurable pursuit for us Indians. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, said to be a renowned poet on his own, has done a commendable job in selecting and translating the works for the benefit of poetry lovers. This book is a glimpse into that lost age, when people were candid about their physical passions and unpretentious in embracing their animality without the modern-day hypocrisy of finding cheap titillation in 'wardrobe malfunctions', all the while pretending to have risen above the lesser physical nature. And all this, centuries before 'Lolitas' and 'Lady Chatterley's Lovers' caused furore in the 'civilised world'! This is a very worthy read that one can enjoy for the aesthetically presented amorous themes!

  3. 4 out of 5

    PTS Books Club

    The Gathasaptasati is perhaps the oldest extant anthology of poetry from South Asia, containing our very earliest examples of secular verse. Reputed to have been compiled by the Satavahana king Hala in the second century CE, it is a celebrated collection of 700 verses in Maharashtri Prakrit, composed in the compact, distilled gatha form. The anthology has attracted several learned commentaries and now, through Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s acclaimed translation of 207 verses from the anthology, read The Gathasaptasati is perhaps the oldest extant anthology of poetry from South Asia, containing our very earliest examples of secular verse. Reputed to have been compiled by the Satavahana king Hala in the second century CE, it is a celebrated collection of 700 verses in Maharashtri Prakrit, composed in the compact, distilled gatha form. The anthology has attracted several learned commentaries and now, through Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s acclaimed translation of 207 verses from the anthology, readers of English at last have access to its poems. The speakers are mostly women and, whether young or old, married or single, they touch on the subject of sexuality with frankness, sensitivity and, every once in a while, humour, which never ceases to surprise. The Absent Traveller includes an elegant and stimulating translator’s note and an afterword by Martha Ann Selby that provides an admirable introduction to Prakrit literature in general and the Gathasaptasati in particular. Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (born 1947) is a noted Indian poet, anthologist, literary critic and translator. His Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets (1992) is very influential. He has edited several books of translation and criticism, including An Illustrated History of Indian Literature in English (2003). Presently, he is Head of the Department of English at the University of Allahabad. He was nominated for the chair of Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford in 2009.

  4. 5 out of 5

    shakespeareandspice

    I can't believe Indians used to be like this. Damn did we devolve! I can't believe Indians used to be like this. Damn did we devolve!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shriya

    Would have been a one if it wasn't for a few really good verses and some solid imagery. I just don't get the point of this and doubt those who claim to like it. Would have been a one if it wasn't for a few really good verses and some solid imagery. I just don't get the point of this and doubt those who claim to like it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Parvathy

    1800 year old Prakrit love poetry. With stark yet vivid imagery, the sensuality is sometimes suggestive, sometimes in-your-face. Completely delightful.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Avishek Bhattacharjee

    "Distance destroys love So does the lack of it Gossip destroys love and sometimes it takes nothing to destroy love"- Arvind Krishna Mehrotra For a lover of poetry this is a gem.Enjoyed every bit of it. "Distance destroys love So does the lack of it Gossip destroys love and sometimes it takes nothing to destroy love"- Arvind Krishna Mehrotra For a lover of poetry this is a gem.Enjoyed every bit of it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shivani006

    Never knew four lines could bring out so much emotion.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Floundering About

    Strange are time's ways. That young man given to poetry Recites catechisms, And we to our husbands return. (Page 66.) Strange are time's ways. That young man given to poetry Recites catechisms, And we to our husbands return. (Page 66.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    madhu

    distance destroys love, so does the lack of it. gossip destroys love, and sometimes it takes nothing to destroy love...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Shraddha Upadhyay

    Gāthās, songs, lute music, and A middlemost woman: Some have never relished them, And that is their punishment. I leant about this book in one of Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's lectures. It stayed with me for a long time. However I picked it only after reading Therigatha, it seemed less daunting then. I now regret not having read it earlier. Translated from a Prakrit anthology of poems from the first century, the poems cover wide ground. They do not carry any weight of morality or propriety, nothing is a Gāthās, songs, lute music, and A middlemost woman: Some have never relished them, And that is their punishment. I leant about this book in one of Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's lectures. It stayed with me for a long time. However I picked it only after reading Therigatha, it seemed less daunting then. I now regret not having read it earlier. Translated from a Prakrit anthology of poems from the first century, the poems cover wide ground. They do not carry any weight of morality or propriety, nothing is a prescription in these poems. While reading poems from two millennia ago, one can never lose sight of their historical importance. It almost becomes impossible to appreciate such work on its poetic merit. But these poems, translated in an easy, unassuming manner provide an opportunity to look at them just as verses. Their defining feature is their succinctness (Aunt, can a glimpse/fulfill?). The hauntingly beautiful images of delicate memories keep on reproducing the poetic moments of epiphany. They do not try to simplify or theorise the shapelessness of desire. The poems, in fact, thrive on the inexplicable mystery of desire (The way he stared/I kept covering myself/ Not that I wanted him/To look elsewhere). However, this mystery does not shy away from sexually explicit indications (O hideous old age/Be content/I have come to worship the stone/Men used for my pillow). There is a contentment, a confidence in the display of vulnerability. Especially in the verses of farewell and waiting, like a half-drawn arrow oft-mentioned in Urdu poetry. They also weave a sensuality in the atmosphere, connecting poems to their locale. The flowers, tendrils, birds, animals all experiencing and co-creating the atmosphere. The reading is a very participative experience, often leaving the reader to supply their own experiences and metaphors to the bare and simple text (A woman's dreams/And so seldom true). While some verses are that plain, others invoke an intricate metaphor (a strand of white hair on earth's ageing head). The end of the book made me feel undetermined and melancholy in a way all good poetry does. I had a hard time restraining myself from highlighting all the poems. I hope that these books are not chance encounters, discovered in subaltern readings to a select group. They need to stand shoulder to shoulder with Sanskrit texts and not be stymied in its shadow.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Arun

    A superb collection, wonderfully translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. The afterword by Martha Ann Selby is quite splendid too, and helped me better understand some of the poems that I didn't quite get when I read them first. If you like short spare poetry, you will thoroughly enjoy this collection. I will leave you with a short one that, hopefully, gives you a flavour of the poems. Let faithful wives Say what they like, I don't sleep with my husband Even when I do. The only reason I didn't give A superb collection, wonderfully translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. The afterword by Martha Ann Selby is quite splendid too, and helped me better understand some of the poems that I didn't quite get when I read them first. If you like short spare poetry, you will thoroughly enjoy this collection. I will leave you with a short one that, hopefully, gives you a flavour of the poems. Let faithful wives Say what they like, I don't sleep with my husband Even when I do. The only reason I didn't give a 5* is because a few of the poems didn't quite work for me.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Margot Bigg

    A lot of this went over my head, but not in the way that physics goes over my head. More in the way that Joyce's Ulysees went over my head (to the point where I am suspicious of those who claim to "get it"). Some of it's funny as hell, though--probably at least in part because the translator is pretty witty, and oftentimes blunt in his choice of words. Still, his translation of the Songs of Kabir was much more up my alley. A lot of this went over my head, but not in the way that physics goes over my head. More in the way that Joyce's Ulysees went over my head (to the point where I am suspicious of those who claim to "get it"). Some of it's funny as hell, though--probably at least in part because the translator is pretty witty, and oftentimes blunt in his choice of words. Still, his translation of the Songs of Kabir was much more up my alley.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Darryl

    I registered a book at BookCrossing.com! http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/12092361 I registered a book at BookCrossing.com! http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/12092361

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tejas Harad

  16. 4 out of 5

    Subhashini Muralidharan

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ramaprasad Kv

  18. 5 out of 5

    Soumya Vyas

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tanupam

  20. 5 out of 5

    A P

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sai Priya

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jasmeet Dhodi

  23. 4 out of 5

    Malvika

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sahil

  25. 5 out of 5

    Prashant Deshpande

  26. 5 out of 5

    Neha Bansal

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stuti Saxena

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tuhin Bhowal

  29. 5 out of 5

    Angela

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anirudh Acharya

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