Dr. Srinivas Reddy – Musician Author on Translating Kalidasa


Kalidasa Translation
Dr. Srinivas Reddy is a scholar of languages and literature and teaches Indian Classical Music. I read his translation of Kalidasa’s Malavikagnimitram and that led to this small conversation with him.

Tell us something about you. Where did you grow up, what did you study and what do you do for a living?

Srinivas Reddy: I was born in Andhra Pradesh and raised in the US, mostly in New England. I started studying medicine when I was young but wanted to play music instead and pursued that for many years in San Francisco. Later I decided to do my Ph.D. in South Asian languages and literature at UC Berkeley. Now I’m a professor of Indian classical music and literature at IIT Gandhinagar in Gujarat.

What inspired you to translate Kalidasa’s work?

The idea to do a fresh translation of Kalidas’s full oeuvre was suggested by my editor at Penguin, R. Sivapriya, and I was enthusiastic to be a part of the team of translators.

Kalidasa is probably the most translated author. Did you refer to earlier translations or only read the original Sanskrit text?

I did refer to previous translations from time to time, mainly to get a sense of each version’s style so as to develop my own unique voice. My translations are solely based on the original text and the Sanskrit commentaries.

Translation is re-writing the text in many ways. Can you share your experience of re-writing such a famous work? How important it is for the translator to set the context of the text for the current day reader?

Translation is indeed rewriting, it creates a new original. Working on Kalidasa is a big responsibility and I feel a translator must be very true to the text while at the same time developing a register in the target language, in this case, contemporary English, to capture the spirit of the text. Introductions and notes are also a good place where the translator can explore context and relevance.

How do you choose the right language for translation – so that you are true to the original text and still resonate with the modern readers?

This is the crux of good translating. It’s a complex process, primarily involving diction and rhythm. The choices are multifarious but every translator wants to give the reader the deeper effect of the original.

What do you find a fascinating aspect of Kalidasa’s works? What keeps them relevant for today’s readers?

The most enduring aspect of Kalidasa’s work (as the tradition also remembers) is his brilliant construction of metaphors that meld natural beauty with the depth of human emotions. It’s this emotional universality that keeps him relevant.

You have also translated the Telugu epic in your book – Giver of the Worn Garland. Can you tell us about this epic and its context for our non-Telugu readers?

Giver of the Worn Garland is a translation of the 16th century Telugu epic, Āmuktamālyada, composed by the celebrated poet-king Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara. It tells the story of the poet-saint Andal in epic fashion and vividly captures the life of medieval South India.

Do you think there is a need to translate our classic literature in other Indian languages besides English? Are you aware of any programs/initiatives that are actively doing translations?

Yes, we certainly need to have more intra-Indian language translations of classical works, but this also needs the more general support of regional language learning and readership building. Sahitya Akademi used to do a lot of this earlier on.

Dr. Srinivas Reddy Tell us about your all time favorite books.

That’s tough but here are a couple: Dune, Guide and A Fine Balance.

Can you tell us about the next book you are working on and by when can we expect it?

Currently, I’m working on Meghadutam, another of Kalidasa’s work, very different from Malavikagnimitram, and perhaps the most beloved long poem of love in the Sanskrit language. It’s also part of this series and should be out later next year.

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