Harper Perennial Posts

An interview with Jayant Kaikini, winner DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018 was awarded to Jayant Kaikini along with his translator Tejaswini Niranjana for their book No Presents Please. The winner was announced by the DSC Prize jury chair Rudrangshu Mukherjee at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet on 25th Jan, 2019, where eminent writer Ruskin Bond presented the trophy to the winning author and translator. Jayant Kaikini is a Kannada author and dramatist who has won the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi prize four times. He has also written regular newspaper columns, screenplays, dialogues and lyrics for Kannada films. Tejaswini Niranjana is a cultural theorist, translator and author. She is currently professor of cultural studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, Tejaswini Niranjana is a Sahitya Akademi prize-winning translator.

In the citation, jury Chair Rudrangshu Mukherjee, said, “The jury decided to award the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2018 to No Presents Please by Jayant Kaikini which has been translated by Tejaswini Niranjana and published by Harper Perennial. The jury was deeply impressed by the quiet voice of the author through which he presented vignettes of life in Mumbai and made the city the protagonist of a coherent narrative. The Mumbai that came across through the pen of Kaikini was the city of ordinary people who inhabit the bustling metropolis. It is a view from the margins and all the more poignant because of it. This is the first time that this award is being given to a translated work and the jury would like to recognize the outstanding contribution of Tejaswini Niranjana, the translator.”

The six shortlisted authors and books in contention for the DSC Prize this year were Jayant Kaikini: No Presents Please (Translated by Tejaswini Niranjana, Harper Perennial, HarperCollins India), Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire (Riverhead Books, USA and Bloomsbury, UK), Manu Joseph: Miss Laila Armed And Dangerous (Fourth Estate, HarperCollins, India), Mohsin Hamid: Exit West (Riverhead Books, USA and Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House, India), Neel Mukherjee: A State Of Freedom (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, UK and Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House, India) and Sujit Saraf: Harilal & Sons (Speaking Tiger, India)

No Presents Please: Mumbai Stories is not about what Mumbai is, but what it enables. Here is a city where two young people decide to elope and then start nursing dreams of different futures, where film posters start talking to each other, where epiphanies are found in keychains and thermos-flasks. From Irani cafes to chawls, old cinema houses to reform homes, Jayant Kaikini seeks out and illuminates moments of existential anxiety and of tenderness. In this book, cracks in the curtains of the ordinary open up to possibilities that might not have existed, but for this city where the surreal meets the everyday.

Jayant Kaikini, author of the DSC Prize-winning book No Presents Please, reading from the book in Kannada at the Award Ceremony, Kolkata, January 2019

Here are excerpts from an interview with Jayant Kaikini conducted via email.

JBR: There is a loveliness of everyday life in your stories which convey the variety of people who live in Mumbai and yet you manage to capture the quietness of each person. How do you manage this so beautifully? Do you revise your stories often?  

JK: I am deeply absorbed by the human world. May be there is a collective calm deep within, which binds us all and at the same time liberates us too. I don’t revise or chisel my stories. I write with a pen. I don’t type.

JBR: Are you a people watcher?  How do you build characters especially of the women?   

JK: We all are extensions of each other, like jigsaw puzzle pieces. We make sense only in the context of each other. Every individual is special. There is no deliberate attempt to build any character. I create an open space for them to evolve and grow on their own.

JBR: How do you develop plot in a short story? How do you manage to keep the tension in a storyline? 

JK: It’s not an essay or a feature writing or a film script. Yashwant Chittal, eminent Kannada writer (whose novel Shikari is available in English translation now), used to say ‘I don’t write what I know. I write to know’. I belong to that school.  You must get lost to find something new.

JBR: Why Mumbai? It is a massive melting pot of languages, cultures and dialects. I am guessing that the stories in Kannada probably preserved some of these inflections but English does not allow it. How do you come to terms with the flattening of the diction in English?

JK: Because Mumbai is Mumbai. The most liberating urban space where you feel free with a stranger. This city of plurality speaks in a ‘singular ‘ language of its own, like … “tereko, mereko”. I love it. Even the tone is distinctly homogeneous. So it is difficult to get it exactly in Kannada too.  In a way each story by itself is a new language of images and expression.

JBR: Is the English translation exactly like the Kannada text or were there modifications made to the text? 

JK: It’s exactly as the Kannada text, minimum deviation or modification. Maybe because Tejaswini Niranjana too is a ‘Mumbai chauvinist’ like me and a poet.  Translation is always safe in the hands of a poet. Since a poet is deeply tuned to ‘unsaid’ of the text.

JBR: Oral storytelling is a way of life in India. In your case too although you speak Konkani, you opted to write in Kannada and now are translated in to English. Do you think being multi-lingual and familiar with diverse ways of telling stories informs the literary structure of your printed short story? If so, how? 

JK: Multilingual sensibility is a precious virtue of our country.  More so in a big city. In Mumbai I speak in my mother tongue Konkani at home, in Hindi with fellow commuters in the local train, in English with colleagues at the workplace and in English with my senior colleagues and come back home and wrote in Kannada. Dagdu parab, Antariksha Kothari, Mogri, Mayee, Toofan, and Madhuvanti are not Kannada speakers but they come into my stories and talk in Kannada.  Isn’t it heartening?  As Tejaswini points out, these stories break the stereo type of perceiving individuals only with their linguistic identity. As I said earlier, story itself is a new language.

JBR: Does the form of a short story define your search for a subject? 

JK: I don’t search for subjects or stories. It is the other way. They are in search of me. Each story has its own body and soul. The shape of fish is hydro-dynamically designed for swimming. The shape of a bird is aerodynamically designed for flying. In the same way form and structure of a story is designed by its soul.

JBR: Do you think there are differences in the short story form of Kannada, Konkani and English? 

JK: Differences have to be there. Ongoing life is ‘ unstructured’ and ‘non-literary’. Through the window of a story we try to make sense out of it. So each window has to be different in its viewpoint and aperture.

JBR: What is the principle of selection of these stories as some date from the 1980s and some are as recent as a few years ago? And yet the English translation are not arranged chronologically. Why? 

JK: Though a bunch of stories, this book collectively works as a larger single fiction. Tejaswini and me impulsively picked 16 stories from my 5 anthologies, based on their variety and resonance. Order in which they are compiled, too was done jointly and impulsively.

JBR: What was the literature you were familiar with as a child and in your early days as a writer? 

JK: The reader and writer within me was born in 1970’s when Kannada modernist movement was at its best. My father Gourish Kaikini was a writer, scholar, thinker, journalist and staunch radical humanist. So there was an overdose of literature at home and as a child I was not amused then. I started reading and writing when I went away from home to another small town for my college education. If I look back, I think it was to combat homesickness and culture shock of switching over to English medium from Kannada medium in education. Reading, writing, extracurricular activities nurtured my self-esteem in an unfriendly new environment.

JBR: Who are the writers you admire and who have influenced your writing? 

JK: Yashwant Chittal, Shantinath Desai, A K Ramanujan, U. R. Ananthamurthy, P. Lankesh, Shivram Karanth, Kuvempu, Bendre, Thirumalesh . . . and many more have groomed and enriched my sensibilities and love for life and literature.

JBR: What has it been like winning the DSC Prize? 

JK: It was unexpected but it is a good news for Kannada, short story form and the talent of translation.  Any award is like a pat on the back of marathon runner from a cheering onlooker. You have to accept it with a smile and keep running. Pat is not the goal. 

1 June 2019

Volga “The Liberation of Sita”

‘Till you take decisions for Rama’s sake and not yours, it will continue to pursue you, Sita. Look at yourself. You are enduring great pain. You think you are enduring for the sake of someone else. You think that you have performed your duty for the sake of someone else. Your courage, your self-confidence …you have surrendered everything to others. What have you saved for yourself?’

‘What is “I”, sister? Who am I?’

Ahalya smiled. 

‘The greatest of sages and philosophers have spent their lifetimes in search of an answer to this question. You means you, nothing else. You are not just the wife of Rama. There is something more in you, something that is your own. No one counsels women to find out what that something more is. If men’s pride is in wealth, or valour, or education, or caste-sect, for women it lies in fidelity, motherhood. No one advises women to transcend that pride. Most often, women don’t realize that they are part of the wider world. They limit themselves to an individual, to a household, to a family’s honour. Conquering the ego becomes the goal of spirituality for men. For women, to nourish that ego and to burn themselves to ashes in it becomes the goal. Sita, try to understand who you are, what the goal of your life is. It is not easy at all. But don’t give up. You will discover truth in the end. You have that ability. You haev saved Sri Ramachandra, can’t you save yourself? Don’t grieve over what has already happened. It is all for your own good, and is part of the process of self-realization. Be happy. Observe their lives. You belong to this whole world, not just to Rama.’ 

( Ahalya in conversation with Sita. p 40-41)

Volga’s Vimukta or The Liberation of Sita is a slim collection of five stories. It has been translated from Telugu by T. Vijay Kumar and C. Vijaysree. ‘Volga’ is the nom de plume for Popuri Lalitha Kumari.  These are five interlinked yet independent stories inspired by Valmiki’s Ramayana. In each of them Sita meets the minor characters of Valmiki’s epic — Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila and Ahalya. With each interaction Sita learns a little more about herself and more importantly about what it means to be a woman, have her own identity rather than it being defined by the presence of a man in her life. As the translators say in their note: “The title story signals Sita’s emergence as the liberated one while the final story, ‘The Shackled’, shows Rama imprisoned in the bondage of Arya Dharma.” According to them Volga’s stories belong to a literary tradition of feminist revisionist myth-making but she takes it further and makes it her own.

Volga does not use re-visioning merely as a strategy to subvert patriarchal structures embedded in mythical texts but also as a means to forge a vision of life in which liberation is total, autonomous and complete. She also creates a community of women by re-presenting myths from alternative points of view, and by networking women across ages and generations. She achieves this through different narrative strategies: giving voice to women characters marginalized in the ‘master narrative’, extending the story of a character beyond its conventional closure; forging female bonds and creating a female collective; and redefining many conventional epistemes including liberation.

In fact reinvention of myths has figured prominently in Indian women’s writing. For instance, Mahashweta Devi’s ‘Dopdi’ and ‘Stanadayani’ ( Bangla), Yashodhara Mishra’s ‘Purana Katha’ ( Odiya), Muppala Ranganayakamma’s Ramayana Visha Vrikham ( Telugu), Sara Joseph’s Ramayana Kathakal ( Malayalam) and Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni’s magnificent Palace of Illusions. Now Volga’s brilliant 2015 Sahitya Akademi award-winning The Liberation of Sita can be added to the list.

Volga was an active member of the Communist Party of India ( ML) but quit it in 1980, frustrated by the party’s pink ladypatriarchal attitude towards women, she quit left politics and devoted herself to propagate feminism among Telugu readers through her activism and writing. Her favourite genre of writing are the short story and criticism. She has written over fifty books. For many years Volga was at the helm of the brilliant women’s organisation Asmita which is based in Hyderabad. Asmita were in fact responsible for creating the iconic “pink poster” which I fell in love with while curating Zubaan’s “Poster Women” — a visual mapping of the women’s movement in India.

It is commendable that HarperCollins India chose to print the name of the translators on the book cover rather than on the back cover or only inside. Translators names need to be displayed prominently too. A practice that has as yet not been widely adopted by publishers.

The Liberation of Sita is truly Volga at her feminist best. (For once I have to agree with the book blurb! )

Volga The Liberation of Sita ( Translated from the Telugu by T. Vijay Kumar and C. Vijayasree)  Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Noida, India. Pb. pp. 130 Rs. 199 

31 August 2016 

 

Vivek Shanbhag’s “Ghachar Ghochar”, translated by Srinath Perur

Ghachar GhocharIt’s true what they say — it’s notwe who control money, it’s the money that controls us. 

And let’s face it: there’s a vast difference in the moral underpinnings of a business family and the household of a salaried teacher. 

Vivek Shanbhag’s new novella, Ghachar Ghochar, (HarperCollins India) translated from Kannada by Srinath Perur is about a middle class family that decides to start a spice business. The family prospers financially primarily due to the hard work of the young uncle. The narrator is sitting in a coffee shop reflecting, commenting and analysing his life. It is not exactly an interior monologue but it leaves you feeling as if it is. It is a vignette of a middle class life with some very perceptive comments embedded in the text such as “The woman had not abused. She had not come here to pick a fight. We were thrown off balance by her love for one of us, and so we tore into her with such vengeance that she collapsed to the ground, sobbing. Amma and Malati called her a beggar, a whore, and it was clear from the disbelief on her face that she had never been spoken to in this manner. … On that day I became convinced that it  is the words of women that deeply wound other women.” (p.15-16)

It is the only translation from an Indian regional language that was included in the Granta edition on India edited by Ian Jack published in 2015. With the publication of this book debates about translation have opened up once more. Purists claim that they are not happy with the it. Those who are familiar with the complexity of Vivek Shanbhag’s writing in Kannada say that the ending of the English version is too tame. I cannot comment since I am unable to read the text in Kannada but I do know that I am very glad that this story was made available in English by Srinath Perur. If it helps reactivate a debate on whether the English translation is true to the original text or is it catering to a new audience by capitulating to their tastes for world literature or is the ending in the English text a weakened version of the original then so be it. These conversations are necessary and a requirement for a healthy debate about the quality of literature. All said and done, this is finely etched novella should be essential reading.

Update ( 24 March 2016):

Recently the author read this blog post and sent me this email. I am posting an extract here with permission:

Dear Jaya,

I read your blog post. I edited and added a few pars to the Kannada version before it was translated into English. And this revised version is yet to be published in Kannada.
Not a sentence from the original was edited by the (Harper) editors, except one for providing more clarity. There were some small edits to make the reading better in English but not to alter the meaning of a sentence. So the English version is not really “tame” as compared to the original on which it was based. But I must admit that no Kannada reader has access to the new version it as it is yet to be published.

Warmly, 

Vivek

Vivek Shanbhag Ghachar Ghochar ( translated from Kannada by Srinath Perur) Harper Perennial, HarperCollins Publishers, NOIDA, India, 2015. Hb. pp. 115. Rs 399. 

January 2016

On translations in India, 2013. Published in DNA, 20 Dec 2013

On translations in India, 2013. Published in DNA, 20 Dec 2013

DNA, translations(My article on translations in 2013, trends and changes has been published this morning in DNA, 20 Dec 2013. I cannot find the link online but here is a clipping of it sent via email to me.  I am also c&p the text below. )

Cobalt Blue2013 was a positive year for publishing, certainly for translations that were visible. Translations were on the DSC Prize South Asian Literature 2014 shortlist that mainly focuses on general fiction in English, not in a separate category— Anand’s Book of Destruction (Translated from Malayalam by Chetana Sachidanandan) and Benyamin’s Goat Days (Translated from Malayalam by Joseph Koyippalli). Other translations that left an impression upon literary conversations of the year are — Shamsur Rahman’s The Mirror of Beauty ( translated from Urdu by the author); Habib Tanvir’s Memoir ( translated by Mahmood Farooqui); Sunanda Sankar’s A Life Long Ago ( translated from Bengali by Anchita Ghatak) and Sachin Kundalkar’s Cobalt Blue (translated from Marathi by Jerry Pinto); Ajay Navaria’s Unclaimed Terrain (Translated from Hindi by Laura Brueck); Uday Prakash’s The Walls of Delhi (translated from Hindi by Jason Grunebaum); Syed Rafiq Husain’s The Mirror of Wonders ( translated from Urdu by Saleem Kidwai); Malarvan’s War Journey: Diary of a Tamil Tiger ( translated by M Malathy); Mohinder Singh Sarna’s Savage Harvest: Stories of Partition ( translated from Punjabi by Navtej Sarna); Prabha Khaitan A Life Apart ( translated from Hindi by Ira Pande) and an anthology of New Urdu Writings: From India & Pakistan ( edited by Rakhshanda Jalil). In fact Penguin India’s best fiction title for the year was The Mirror of Beauty, according to Managing Editor, Sivapriya. She adds, “At Penguin we are developing a focused translations list that spans contemporary texts and modern classics and older classics.”

HarperCollins has an imprint dedicated to translations from Indian literature—Harper Perennial. Minakshi Thakur, Sr. Commissioning Editor says that “The translation market grew marginally in terms of value in 2013, but in terms of numbers it grew considerably. Harper did 10 translations as opposed to the 5 or 6 we were doing every year until 2012, from 2014 we’ll do about 12 titles every year.” Kannan Sundaram, Publisher, Kalachuvadu “Translations from Indian languages to English, from one Indian language to others and from world languages to Indian languages is definitely on the rise. Personally I have sold more translation rights and published more translations this year than before. Good Indian language authors are in demand like never before.” This assessment is corroborated by Aditi Maheshwari, Publisher, Vani Prakashan who says that “When we decided to do translations some twenty years ago, it was a very new phenomenon. We did translations from English to Hindi, Indian languages to Hindi and international languages to Hindi (without English as a medium).”

Another interesting aspect of translations too has successful publishing collaborations like that of making short fiction by Ayfer Tunc, Turkish writer and editor of Orhan Pamuk, The Aziz Bey Incident and other stories. It has been translated into Tamil and Hindi, but the English edition of this book is not available in India, all though it was released at the London Book Fair 2013. According to Thomas Abraham, CEO, Hachette, “the books sell well enough without being blockbusters —they were conceived with mid- range sales of 3k-5k like all translations are, and most of the time they tend to deliver that.”

“No Child’s Play” Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

“No Child’s Play” Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

9789350297018.20130731184251

“Charming” is how Samit Basu describes No Child’s Play. Charming it certainly is. A novella written in Bengali (1990) and recently translated by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay. It is a simply told sci-fiction novel, something that we would probably bracket in speculative fiction now. It has all the fancy footwork of embedding chips in the brains of foetuses by an evil-minded doctor, so as to control them and create an army of workers. It has all the lovely bits of bad men on the run, a scientist escaping from China and using false passports to reach America in order to help a baby who has been used as an experiment and then the creation of a sensitive robot. Much of this now seems plausible.

It is like reading a Gene Roddenberry story now. At the time of publication it must have been amazing to see how the imagination works, and the possibilities that lie with science. For instance his descriptions of the doors opening automatically when a person approached. Now such technology is common. So when many of the things that they describe come to pass it no longer seems extraordinary. Yet the story does not lose its charm. It remains a good story. Likewise with No Child’s Play.

As for the translation. It is done competently but “Indianisms” like “dicky” (instead of “dickie”) are retained in the English translation. Instead of translating it as the trunk or the boot of the car, the word “dicky” is used. It left me wondering how many allowances can we make in a translation transmitting a culture too. Do we aim for perfection in the destination language or make concessions for such words?

Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay No Child’s Play Translated from the Bengali by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay Harper Perennial, HarperCollins, Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 130 Rs. 250.

Nuclear energy – pros and cons

Nuclear energy – pros and cons

Chernobyl

It is 25 years since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster ( 26 April 1986). It is a couple of years ( 11 March 2011) since the earthquakes and tsunami destroyed the Fukushima nuclear reactors. And the nuclear energy debates rages on in India, most notably about the Koodangulam nuclear power plant complex — http://kafila.org/2012/03/21/kudankulam-a-brief-history-and-a-recent-update/ . There are many pros and cons to setting up power plants based upon nuclear energy. It is a renewable source of energy that has to be considered when non-renewable sources like coal are becoming more and more expensive to mine and use. But setting up nuclear energy plants come with many disturbing aspects — displacement of people, the effects of radiation on the local community and eco-system and of course, the perennial dread of a nuclear disaster. The local eco-system would take centuries to “recover” from a nuclear spill or leak. An explosion as in Fukushima is still uncharted territory. For instance, the effect of the explosion on marine life is still undocumented.

Ramana, Examining nuclear energy in India

Two books, published recently in India — Voices from Chernobyl and The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India — are crucial in understanding the debates about nuclear energy, but also sobering reminders about what it entails. Voices from Chernobyl is a novel about the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster — contaminated food, metallic water, radioactive showers, deformed babies etc. It maybe a fictionalised account but it is horrifying since many of the stories seem to be based on real events and people. The unorthodox structure of the text does not ease one into reading the story for a moment. Instead it forces an engagement with the text. It has been translated from the Norwegian by Taralrud Maddrell. It won the Sult Prize in 2010.

The Power of Promise examines the nuclear energy programme of India, its growth, the economics of it and of course, the impact on international relations. It is probably no coincidence that these books are available soon after Indo-US bilateral treaty on nuclear energy was signed or the importing of Thorium from France. Now India’s conversations with Japan on a civil nuclear deal are being sped up. Here are a couple of reviews about The Power of Promise , published in the Frontline ( http://www.frontline.in/books/nuclear-questions/article4569496.ece ) and Kafila ( http://kafila.org/2013/03/21/understanding-the-empty-promises-of-nuclear-energy-nityanand-jayaraman/ ). There was a response to the Frontline review-article in the letters section by M. V. Ramanna but I am unable to locate it online. And here is another article by M. V. Ramanna on nuclear energy and safety in Kafila — http://kafila.org/2013/04/04/nuclear-energy-reassurances-dont-guarantee-safety-m-v-ramana/ and a debate on the subject http://kafila.org/2013/03/22/responding-to-a-debate-on-the-kudankulam-struggle-against-nuclear-energy/ .

Today it has been announced the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu is set to start functioning in less than two days. http://www.ndtv.com/article/south/kudankulam-nuclear-plant-to-start-soon-after-it-gets-all-mandated-approvals-390956?pfrom=home-otherstories . The question that begs to be asked is “are these the temples of Modern India” that Nehru dreamed about? If so, at what cost?

12 July 2013

M. V. Ramanna The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India Penguin Books India, New Delhi. Hb. pp. 366 Rs. 699

Ingrid Storholmen Voices from Chernobyl Harper Perennial, Noida, India. Pb. pp.200 Rs. 299