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Anxiety for Hindi, but justice denied

By Anant Vijay | PUBLISHED: 28, Aug 2010, 12:45 pm IST | UPDATED: 15, Apr 2011, 12:45 pm IST

Anxiety for Hindi, but justice denied The last two years has seen the English Publishing Groups shifting focus towards Hindi language. The reason for them to flock towards Hindi literature is primarily the rapidly expanding market and endless opportunities that the local language offers. The English Publishing Groups have devised a new strategy keeping in view the large readership of Hindi and their improved buying capacity. Not only are they publishing original Hindi literature, they are also presenting the translated editions of works in English and other Indian languages. However they are yet to publish any exemplary work in Hindi.

Whatever novels of Hindi writers that have been published so far are either second rated ones or those which have already been published by other publishers. I know about a few instances when they have gone ahead and published works rejected by prominent Hindi publishers. Such Publishers striving to dominate the Hindi literature market have to first understand the taste of the Hindi readers and then provide them with quality work.

This is not only because the market for English and Hindi literature are different so are the means of reaching them. Even their respective readers have varied taste. Even the quality of translation into Hindi is quite shoddy. Whatever little is being translated, lack standard. The translations are such that it leaves the spirit of the original work bruised and battered.

Even the Hindi writers are not too excited with the translation work coming their way; they would take it up only when they have either less or no work. In fact they get depressed when they get such work and this has prevented the art of translation from developing into a genre in itself. That’s precisely the reason why the translators aren’t getting the respect they deserve.

In my column in Pustak Vaarta, I had once commented on Vani Prakashan's 'Piano Teacher' which is a Hindi translation of Elfriede Jelinek's work 'Die Klavierspielerin'. Incidentally Elfriede Jelinek was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize for Literature. The translation was carried out by Amrit Mehta, Chief Editor of ‘Saar Sansaar’, a quarterly magazine of foreign language literatures in Hindi. She has a good command over German language.

At the first glance the translation appeared quite appropriate. However when Vijaya Sharma, a writer from Jamshedpur, pointed out few discrepancies in the translated edition, I had to refer to the  English translation and to my dismay there were indeed a few glaring mistakes in Amrit Mehta's translation of 'Die Klavierspielerin'.

Amrit Mehta while attempting to translate the work in the classical manner, made use of some extremely vulgar words and scenes which not only were unwarranted, but also presented the story in a different light than what the author had meant. The learned translator even took the liberty to change few of the original scenes and facts.

In the translated edition, Amrit Mehta wrote that the female protagonist slits her wrists while sitting inside a bathtub while in the original novel Jelinek had written that she castrates herself and this incident leaves her sexually frustrated. However Mehta has changed the entire context by depicting her slitting her wrist instead. The translator is allowed the freedom to select the words, but cannot be granted the liberty to alter the context and the incidents. This kind of irresponsible translation will result in misinterpretation by the future researchers and they will end up with incorrect inferences. The English Publishing Groups venturing into the Hindi literature have put an effort in changing this situation and have undertaken serious steps to provide better translations to its Hindi readers.

In the recent times Harper Collins hired Manisha Taneza to translate 'Almost Single', an English novel written by Advaita Kala. Manisha Taneza teaches Spanish in Delhi University and has in the past translated the novel, 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' written by Gabriel García Márquez and the 'Memoirs of Pablo Neruda' into Hindi. I have read both the translation (named 'Lagbhag Single') and also the original work of Advaita Kala. Manisha, in her translation, manages to maintain the flow of the novel by preserving the spirit of the original work. She has been quite open in retaining the simple English words which appear naturally in the dialogues of the characters thus producing a wonderful work.

In addition, the use of certain typically indigenous words while translating the English ones makes the language attractive. For example the use of the word 'Jananiyan' (ladies) in an episode celebrating 'Karwa Chauth' actually gives an edge to the translation and the reader doesn't get to realise that the original work is in a different language.

This particular novel by Advaita Kala is a story of the young generation. Aisha, the central character of the novel, is carefree and rebellious by nature. She habitually boozes with her friends, parties till late night, hates her boss at work and fights with her mother and relatives when they pick up the topic of her marriage. This fiercely independent and bossy modern girl is craving for an ideal boyfriend, but at the same time is weighed down by her weight! Her conversations with various sorts of friends while she goes on living her life at her own terms forms the basis towards understanding her emotions.

This is Advaita Kala's first novel and since there is a tendency of first novels being self inspired, it can be presumed that the writer has produced this work by providing wings of imagination to her own experiences. The brief about the author also point towards this fact. Her profile says, 'Advaita Kala may be best described as rebellious (a result of three years spent at Welham's), confused (after four years of a liberal arts education at Berry College, Georgia, USA), and multifaceted (having held jobs that range from being a librarian to a teppanyaki chef)'.

If we have a look at the persona of Aisha, the female protagonist, the similarity to the author is overwhelming. Aisha, too, is rebellious, of same age that of Advaita and is almost single!

Though the writer has denied that the novel is an autobiographical work, she did face the same questions when the novel was first published in English. Advaita had, then, refuted these claims and had disclosed that during her early days while her career was taking shape, her friends and acquaintances used to harp upon how a woman's life is incomplete without a man. She accepts the fact that their advice and those words have a definite influence on her novel and laid the foundation of this novel.

Advaita Kala's novel is a portrait of the evolving Indian woman. It’s a saying that if there is a transformation of the thought process and vision of the women of a nation, it should be presumed as the advent of a cultural renaissance.

This apart, if we judge 'Almost Single' as a novel then it can be said that the young English novelist has done a commendable job. The author has used the dialogue format for storytelling which is quite gripping and it never appears to the reader that the events or the dialogues are overstretched.  The well structured and tightly woven story manages to keep the reader glued till the end.

In fact, the English version of 'Almost Single' was very well received by its readers and has been debated upon globally. The Publishers have claimed that they have sold more than fifty thousand copies so far. If the translated version achieves even ten percent of that then it will pose a serious challenge to the Hindi writers and publishers. It will be quite interesting to know if the Publishers actually disclose that figure.