Monday, January 4, 2016

Lost in Translation? (Part 2)

It was quite right on my part that I decided to review the book "A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces" compiled by David Davidar in parts. The year 2015 was a tough one, I was unable to turn my attention away from my 3 year old son for a good part of it, bought a few books with a certain urge to read, however they lie piled up in my cane shelf untouched, my blog page too gathered dust with very few visits from me. My reading was hugely discontinuous and as a result this review post comes after a significant gap, it deals with what impressed me, what failed to in a new set of 11 stories from the book.

In the first part of the review,  I shared my opinion about the first 10 stories of the total 39 in the book (Part 1 of Review). In this set of 11 under discussion, 9 are translated works. For the sake of argument one may quote the "Ship of Theseus" concept, that the original with all its components replaced is not quite the original. However, the act of translation has only helped in unraveling some impeccable works of fiction and get me more acutely interested in Indian literature.

Stench of Kerosene by Amrita Pritam, translated from Punjabi by Khushwant Singh has a very commonplace premise - the terrific necessity of becoming a mother after wedlock for an Indian woman and the stigma associated in case of a failure. How this banal premise is woven into story of a married couple Manak and Guleri wins attention. I liked the translation done by Singh much more than his original work in this book.

Gold from the Grave by Anna Bhau Sathe, translated from Marathi to English by Vernon Gonsalves  narrates the tale of Bhima, a villager who moves to Mumbai in hope of a good pay packet and adequate food for his family, he works in a quarry and manages a decent living but its closure leaves him to hunt for gold in the ashes of corpses. The story dunked in irony deals with brutal reality of unemployment in big cities.

The Man Who Saw God by DBG Tilak, translated from Telugu by Ranga Rao is a simple tale, speaks volumes on benevolence and forgiveness and how through these qualities one actually sees the Almighty and not merely by reading scriptures and idling in temple premises.

Three stories down, good but passable, their content fit to be made into short films but none left a deep impact.

And then comes the interesting piece - the next short story - Inspector Matadeen on the Moon by Harishankar Parsai, translated from Hindi by C M Naim. The story is a fanciful account of Inspector Matadeen's trip to the Moon who makes his visit under the Cultural Exchange Scheme to represent India, the Government of Moon makes a written request to Government of India (which has an established Ram Rajya) on how despite being an advanced civilization, the police force is inefficient and requires help from fellow Indian policemen. Sounds preposterous, right? What unfolds is an excellent laugh riot, a satirical account so full of imagination that it unleashes life to the whole book. It is three cheers to the author for his sense of creativity and humor and bigger , many more cheers to the one who translated it for capturing the essence so well without hiccups, it is a task next to impossible. This story is a definite masterpiece. 

From humor and satire, one journeys to the other end of the literary spectrum to utter darkness, blatant reality and serious overtones in the story Draupadi by Mahasweta Devi, translated from Bengali to English by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. The protagonist is a tribal woman, Draupadi Mejhen, referred to as Dopdi in the story (the Santhali name and not the Sanskrit one), the most notorious rebel in the villages of Jharkani forests. Straightforward account of Special Forces chasing tribal leaders, set against the backdrop of an Operation Bakuli in Bankura, Burdwan and Birbhum districts of Bengal, the operations' repercussions and the trail of destruction it leaves. The story takes the guise of a factual account, in some ways I felt I was watching snippets of the movie Bandit Queen.

Countless Hitlers (originally known as Alekhun Hitler) by Vijaydan Detha, translated from Rajasthani by Christi A Merrill and Kailash Kabir is another gem in the book. (One can read the full text of the story here) The story deals with five men, some younger, some older, all farmers, all cousins of near about the same stock, their trip to Jodhpur to buy a tractor, their speed adventure with a certain cyclist on the way back home and the picture they left behind them on the road. Not so simple as it sounds, an intense tale with a gripping narrative.

Mirror of Illusion (known as Maya Darpan in Hindi) by Nirmal Verma, translated from Hindi by Geeta Kapur deals with the extreme solitude a young, unmarried girl Taran faces living amidst her widower father, widowed aunt in a dismal house, she's always lost in reverie and nostalgia. There are hopes and aspirations for a cheerful life, better future outside but will Taran muster courage to get out like her brother did is what the story handles. Thsi emotion soaked tale was made into a movie way back in 1972.

Reflowering by Sundara Ramaswamy, translated from Tamil by S.Krishnan is a simple tale of how man is meekly replaced by machine at times. The protagonist Ibrahim Hassan Rowther does bills in a cloth shop, his mental arithmetic is lightning quick though he is not blessed with eyesight and this sharp mathematical acumen makes him indispensable to the business till one day a small machine takes his life by storm. How Rowther regains his lost ground in the shop and by what means forms the rest of the tale, uncomplicated but highly impressive.

Mouni by UR Ananthamurthy, translated from Kannada by HY Sharada Prasad is an account of lives of two men, rather two enemies in business, Bhavikere Kuppanna Bhatta and Sebinakere Appanna Bhatta, a simple, passable tale, though not rudimentary as the story of Ram and Shyam we read in our primary school, apt for recreation into an art movie and as mentioned in the epilogue it was made into a critically acclaimed movie in 2003.

Old Cypress by Nisha Da Cunha - the longest short story in the collection by far, packs highs and lows in itself. A deserted house in a hilly tea estate, mist laden overgrown garden,  an unused tennis court and an old cypress tree in a corner of the garden, a setting that sends you slouching in your chair as you begin, then the lives of a couple in early retirement who look to shift from Mumbai to this hill estate bungalow makes you sit erect for a while before the long, cumbersome paragraphs of many conversations weigh heavily upon your shoulders and send you slouching once more. Nothing remarkable in the tale except Raymond Carver's poem. (refer poem)

The Blue Umbrella by Ruskin Bond, a favorite tale and a favorite author, both packed in one can only prove wonderful. The story is about how a pretty, blue silk umbrella changes the lives of a village girl Binya and an old shopkeeper Ram Bharosa. A beautiful tale set in the hills and Ruskin Bond's lucidity makes the reader feel one among Neelu, Gori, Bijju, Binya, Rajaram and Ram Bharosa, one among many simple souls living in the hills. A movie based on the story directed by Vishal Bharadwaj is a visual treat and quite faithful to the source.

These short stories form an eclectic blend, penned originally in different regional languages and English by some great minds, these carry abundant local flavor and an imprint of societal structure of that region. Eighteen more stories to go and this time I promise myself to get back fast for what possibly will be the last part of the book review. Happy New Year to all!