‘It’s like rowing a boat made of salt across a river’ – Jerry Pinto

Jerry Pinto | Writer
Jerry Pinto | Writer

Daya Pawar’s Marathi autobiography Baluta is one of the earliest in the genre of Dalit literature. Introducing Pawar’s book to an English-speaking audience, Jerry Pinto has just come out with his translation of the same. Editor, short story writer, novelist and translator rolled into one, Pinto speaks to Usri Basistha about discovering Pawar’s work, the rigours of translating, the scope for more such translations in a country like India and how his readership surprises him.

Edited Excerpts from an Interview

You have a rather eclectic body of work behind you. You have edited, written both poetry and prose and, translated. If asked to pick one, which of these would you say you enjoyed doing most?

I have a confession to make. I love writing. I love what I do. I enjoy words and playing with words. They don’t always do what you want them to do but they often surprise you by revealing your own intentions. So I don’t have favourites because all the work I have done comes out of the same place: a fascination for language and its ability to create worlds, make magic and inflict pain.

Daya Pawar’s autobiography Baluta was published in 1978. How did you come across the idea of translating it to English now?

I had first read an extract in Arjun Dangle’s Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature. When Naresh Fernandes and I were working on our anthology Bombay Meri Jaan: Writings from Mumbai (Penguin India), we had included an excerpt from Baluta. So I had always operated on the assumption that it had been translated and somehow I had not got hold of a copy. Two years ago, I asked Shanta Gokhale — who knows everything there is to know about the Marathi sphere — whether she had a copy of Baluta in translation and she said that she did not. I was shocked and asked if she thought I could translate it. She said she was sure I could and thus encouraged, I set out. And Hirabai Pawar, Daya Pawar’s wife and Pradnya Daya Pawar, his daughter, kindly gave me permission and were most gracious in extending any assistance I needed.

Is there any kind of preparation that a translator needs to undertake to get into the author’s shoes?

I am three translations old and would not dare to advise other translators about what they should do. But I did what I thought was right. I read the book through, two or three times. This is only to get into the rhythm of the language. I read it aloud once, to hear it. I read other books. I looked at works on Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar to see if you can tell which talk he must have been giving in Parel that the young Daya Pawar was at. I read about the Mahars. I rummaged through Gazettes. I felt inadequate. I wished I knew more. I wished I were someone else. But I was not someone else. I was me and I kept telling myself that the important thing was that I was willing to try. I hope that counts.


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