Interview with Swami Prem Nirvano, translator of Osho’s words into German.
I became friends with Nirvano way back in the seventies while Navanit and I were on a short visit to Bremen and came down with hepatitis. Nirvano and Ethel (and their newborn baby) were the only contact we had while we were recuperating in a bare flat and they helped as much as possible until we were able to fly back to Pune.
Over the years, he became widely known to German-speaking readers for his excellent translations of Osho’s discourses into German. If you think that’s not so many people, please note that German is spoken in 40 countries, and that there are an estimated 100 million native German speakers, that’s not counting those 80 million who speak it as a second language.
Anybody who ever attempted translating Osho’s discourses into their native language knows how many difficulties arise, as it is obviously not only about his actual words but also about what is said between the lines… in short, the depth, the subtle nuances and poetic renderings that make this a complex task!
Nirvano’s background as a grammar school teacher in Bremen and later as a tutor for German literature and language at St. John’s in Cambridge gave him the skills to translate, yet meditation is necessarily an integral part of his work.
Nirvano, how and when did you start translating Osho’s books?
It was only after taking sannyas in 1976 that it dawned on me why I had studied English and German in the first place. I had always thought I had done it because I love those languages and literatures, but as soon as Navanit had told his old friend Prasad about my qualifications, and Prasad had told Osho, I was asked to translate one of the discourses. Half way through I said to myself: “Finally, I have found my destiny. My feeling is, I will be doing this for the rest of my life!”
Some German sannyasins had already translated an Osho book, and My Way: The Way of the White Clouds was about to appear in Berlin, so it caused quite a stir in the ashram when I was asked to check their work – most of which I found poor, helpless or even hilarious. Even Prasad’s finished translation of Doko Doko Dang Dang read rather strangely. When I told him, he just shrugged and said: “Well, I just translate like those trees…” – and just threw the manuscript into the waste paper basket; others were not so dis-identified.
Can you tell us a little about your way of translating Osho?
It took me a long time to really trust my first impulse. Having learnt to be painfully self-critical, I just didn’t manage to drop my inner schoolmaster who always knew better.
But after I had recovered from my aneurysm in 1996 and was fit again to resume my work, I realized that this spook had apparently been flushed down my blood-stream. Translating Osho had become like a dance! Then I looked into the matter, and this is what I saw: When first reading a sentence I actually hear Osho say it; I then dive deep into myself and when surfacing again, say it intuitively the way he would have said it if he had known German… If need be, anything can be changed later, since anyway I always go over my first draft. But let it first be written down. And more often than not, nothing or little needs changing afterwards. What a relief!
What was the first Osho book you translated?
My first complete translation of a book was Hammer on the Rock, Osho’s first darshan diary. I took over from Ma Arupa, who had already started translating it. It was printed in 1979 by Fischer Verlag, one of Germany’s biggest pocket book publishers (the book is now sadly out of print). Then followed The Hidden Harmony, Osho’s comments on the fragments of the enlightened Greek philosopher Heraclitus.
Can you say a few words more about the aneurysm? What happened to your brain, what are the symptoms?
Aneurysm is Greek for a dilated and eventually a ruptured artery. This was exactly what Swami Vimalkirti died of in 1980. But while he got enlightened in the process, I missed out on that score. In fact I had no idea what was going on or even that I had a dilated artery in my head. All I remember is a headache as never before in my life – while watching the Hollywood remake of R.L. Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – a study of schizophrenia so gripping that it took me a while before I could bring myself to get up and walk the 100 meters home. Ethel immediately called an emergency doctor who unfortunately was inexperienced and just sedated me. In the morning, Ethel got our sannyas doctor Devaprem to have a look at me, who immediately saw what was up and called an ambulance. So by noon the aneurysm was clipped by competent hands. In other words: I had just happily sailed through what might have been my last hour. Only from the reactions of those around it dawned on me that something dramatic must have happened. All I remember is the excruciating headache. Otherwise no pains, let alone an awareness of the situation; but one day I’ll watch that movie to the end…
What happened afterwards?
This event was a decisive turning point. Afterwards, there was no question of translating Osho books or running the Osho Verlag any longer. Others wanted and needed the experience. But thanks to the extravagantly long stay of nine months in an anthroposophical rehabilitation clinic, where I received most competent treatment and lots of love from the doctors down to the kitchen personnel, my mental capacities recovered from near-idiocy (I virtually laughed my head off!) to academic articulation (as if that mattered…).
How many Osho books have you translated so far?
Sorry, but I never counted them. The one I’m working on just now is always my favourite…
So what are you presently working on?
This time it happens to be Letters to Lighten Your Path – the hundred letters Osho wrote to an Indian Ma in the late sixties. Ma Jivana who now runs Innenwelt Verlag will publish it under the title Glück ist nicht von Dauer (Happiness won’t last) for the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.
Knowing you, this can’t be all you are doing; anything else?
At the moment, I am playing éminence grise (French for ‘the wise old guy’) in the German Osho Times, translating the monthly Osho discourse and any English language contributions. And keeping my mouth shut if I can manage, so as not to interfere with my friends’ work who are doing a great job!
Also, every second Wednesday I go to a kindergarten where I participate in the weekly singing hour of the little ones. A professional musician had the brilliant idea to muster some oldies in support of the kindergarten teachers in teaching the kids traditional folk songs. It is a joy, I can tell you, and every time I go home, inside I am singing with gratitude for this gift. The other Wednesdays I spend with my poetry group that I founded years ago, where a small bunch of people from 40 to 83 meet to read and share favourite or altogether new poems (like those of last year’s Literature Nobel Prize winner, the Swedish poet Tomas Transströmer). We are just a few, and three of us are sannyasins.
Nirvano and his wife Deva Ethel nowadays live in Cologne and look forward to their move to the Eifel, a beautiful near-by mountainous area full of lakes and forests. Their son Prem Matthias (34), whose name was changed to Jalsha during the Ranch time, studied Central Asian archaeology and now lives in London, where he acquired a Masters degree. Now he occasionally works for the British Museum while writing his PhD thesis. He has British nationality and intends to emigrate to Adelaide, Australia – where both his mother and his present girl-friend Fiona were born. A close sannyasin family…