I have just finished reading Cobalt Blue. It is a stunning novel. Jerry Pinto’s translation is exquisite. I have no idea how to explain it, considering I cannot read Marathi.
The story is extraordinary. Not just in the basic premise of the paying guest being a lover to both siblings, but even in the way it has been written. The author has to be highly skilled to experiment with two voices ( Anuja and Tanay), two characters, siblings and tell the same story from two points of view…and yet be so different! Anuja’s attempt in maintaining a diary at the behest of the doctor comes to nought, quite rapidly but it does not seem to interfere with the structure of the tale at all.
The creation of the nameless paying guest is a bit discomforting. Here is a young man, an orphan, who very rapidly learns to manage his life. I am not sure if you can call it Bohemian, but he certainly has pretensions of being cultured. He strums a guitar, idolises Dali, Picasso. Husain, Van Gogh and is unable to grasp the paintings of Anjolie Ela Menon. He is fascinated by cobalt blue, much in the way these painters had their blue phases — literally and metaphorically. His search for finding companionship, and disrupting the equanimity of the siblings lives is cruel and dare I say, infectious? His coming in contact with the siblings is a point of transformation of the brother and sister. He passes on the bug of loneliness, ironically with it a sense of a burning desire to seek and strive for what they desire.
Sachin Kundalkar is best described as a writer though he is better known as an award winning film director, screenplay writer, dramatist and novelist. Kundalkar wrote this novella when he was 22 years old. For ten years it remained accessible only to those who spoke Marathi, till Jerry Pinto, at Shanta Gokhale’s request translated it into English.
The English translation of the Marathi novel, does not say much about the original. For instance, when was it published, by whom, how was it received etc. There is a brief note about the translation process. Jerry Pinto (who learned Marathi in order to translate this novella) has acknowledged Neela Bhagwat for helping out with the trickier bits of translation, especially in the sociological implications of phrases. Or for that matter to Shanta Gokhale for “listening” to the drafts. Teresa Lavender Fagan, translator, says, “A translator must absorb the essence of a work, feel the author’s soul and do what she can to minimize what must necessarily be lost. The paradox of translation: the desire to replicate a work in one’s own language while knowing it can never truly be done.” And this is what has been achieved by Jerry Pinto in Cobalt Blue.
Sachin Kundalkar Blue Cobalt Translated by Jerry Pinto. Penguin Books India, Hamish Hamilton, Hb. R. 399. Fiction