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

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Would it have helped in your process if you had the chance to meet the author in person?

That is an interesting thought. Gedanken [German for thought] required. Thought experiment: if Daya Pawar had been alive, how would my translation have changed? Not much, I think. But things might have been easier. I could have asked him what he meant by X and what exactly Y was and who are some of the people he Literamentions with code names. I suspect he might not have wanted them revealed or else he would have put them into his book in the first place but it would have been nice to know.

You have previously translated Sachin Kundalkar’s Marathi novel Cobalt Blue. How is the experience of translating an autobiography different from fiction?

Each book provides its own challenges. It isn’t about Kundalkar versus Pawar or autobiography versus fiction. It’s about the book. Here is a sentence. This is a family of words. It has intimate relations with other families of words around it. These clans have lived together. They have often risen off the page and entered the minds of hundreds of thousands of readers already. They have therefore acquired many lives and have in turn shaped the lives of the minds they have inhabited.

Now your duty as translator is to take this family of words and all the other families and you must resettle them in another language. You must make sure that the family is intact, in spirit if not in letter. But you must also consider the host community.

In other words, now you think about the reader. He or she is from another language tradition. He or she is accustomed to another temperature and pressure. How am I supposed to make them comfortable with this text while at the same time reminding them that it is from another tradition? You don’t want to lose all traces of the original. You want some hiccups, some stumbles. It’s exhilarating just to try.

How does a translator deal with the anxiety of keeping the author’s voice intact, especially if it is such a singular voice as Pawar’s?

Hope. You can only hope. I often liken the work of translation as that of rowing a boat made of salt across a river. You are hoping to make it to the far shore with some of the savour but you know you will be blamed for the river’s depredations. And yet many salt boats are still being launched across turbulent rivers. That’s reason for even more hope.

Do you think Pawar’s direct prose will help the new generation of Kindle readers connect with the narrative?

It’s not about the technology; it’s what use you make of the technology that counts. I don’t think young people should be scorned for using such technology as is available to them. I don’t think that young people are any the less for reading ebooks. You could be reading a codex-type book and actually be reading something trashy. And the gum-popping kid next to you may be studying ancient Farsi on her iPhone. It’s difficult not to be judgemental of the young, but we must try.

I think every time one works on a translation, however, one hopes to bring the book/poem/play to a new readership. The wonderful thing is about surprises: your readers are never the people you assume they will be. It’s a good lesson in humility each time. So do I hope young people will read Baluta? I hope they will. And then one leaves it to individual choice. Because there’s nothing so dispiriting as a book you are forced to read for whatever reason.

There are many Bhasha writers in India whose works are waiting to be translated. How do you think the voices of such regional authors can be promoted in our country?

I wish I knew. I wish I could say: we need more this or that. I wish I could say we need more governmental support but right now, I don’t feel empowered to tell my government anything. I don’t know if anyone is listening. I can only say: we have thousands of bilingual people. Whenever someone says to me, “We need more translations,” I can only reply: “What are you doing about it?”

usri.basistha@tehelka.com

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