Hindi Posts

Ira Pande comments on her translation of Prabha Khaitan’s “A Life Apart”

Ira Pande comments on her translation of Prabha Khaitan’s “A Life Apart”

I wrote a comment about the wonderful translation Ira Pande had done of A Life Apart ( http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/2013/05/03/prabha-khaitan-a-life-apart-an-autobiography-translated-from-the-hindi-original-by-ira-pande/ ), ruing the fact it was sans a translator’s note. The very next morning I received the following note from Ira Pande. Thank you!
6 May 2013

On translating Prabha Khaitan
I have always been fascinated by autobiographies because they reveal unknown sides of the person behind the narrative. These are often not visible even to the author of the autobiography, yet they appear to the reader quite clearly. I found this when translating my mother’s writing, even though I thought I knew all about her.

I did not know Prabha Khaitan personally but her story touched something in me. For one, here was a woman who was fearless about revealing the most intimate details of her life and one looked at herself with a dispassionate eye. I tried to get a sense of her when her foster son, Sundeep Bhatoria, asked me to translate her autobiography, but he said he had never been able to get himself to read it and refused to be drawn into a discussion. So her life was a mystery locked in a story she had left behind.

What first struck me was that, despite the honesty and courage, Prabha Khaitan was unable to stand up to a man who appeared petty, petulant and unworthy of her: her lover, Dr Saraf. To me, the original Anya se Ananya, the Hindi version, brought two strange truths together: one was her courage and indomitable will to succeed and defy her Marwari clan and Calcutta society; the other was her disturbing sense of low self-esteem.

I feel there is something that a language bestows by its vocabulary to a narrative. Hindi, by its very nature and political history, is the language of the powerless and the exploited. So it lends itself very easily to self-pity. English, on the other hand, is the language of confidence and power just as Urdu is the language of romantic longing and lyric grace, of tragedy and requiems. Translating from one into another requires not just a strong understanding of the cultural predisposition of these languages but the ability to reconcile the two halves. For me, bringing out the courage and the weakness of Prabha’s persona was the problem to grapple with for both had their own place in her life’s story. I am glad that many readers have seen these two strands in my translation.

Ira Pande
4 May 2013

Prabha Khaitan “A Life Apart: An Autobiography” Translated from the Hindi original by Ira Pande

Prabha Khaitan “A Life Apart: An Autobiography” Translated from the Hindi original by Ira Pande


I recently read Prabha Khaitan’s autobiography A Life Apart, translated from Hindi, Anya se Ananya. Prabha Khaitan was from Calcutta, belonged to a prosperous family but chose to be an entrepreneur, a leather exporter. She was also a well-known Hindi writer. According to the information on the internet, her leather business was a multi-crore business. A Life Apart is a memoir that recounts her childhood, the sexual abuse that she suffered as a child (she was advised to hush it up), her experiences in America and the culture shock she experienced but she concentrates predominantly upon her lifelong relationship with Dr Saraf. She was obviously devoted to the man and his family. She remarks “my life was divided into three areas: business, creative writing and my emotional involvement. the first two were on track but my personal life gave me neither peace nor joy.” Dr Saraf’s son had become a part of her business and yet “instead of being praised for my generosity, I had to constantly hear his sarcastic comments about my passionate involvement in business matters.” Dr Saraf would complain “You are becoming like a man. All you can think of is profit and loss.’ Then, as a final barb, he’d say, ‘And why not? After all, this is how a successful business is run.’ Namita Gokhale writes in her introduction says “Pratibha Khaitan’s writing for me, lies precisely in this unwavering, unblinking, truthfulness.”

What is curious is that Prabha Khaitan was obviously a successful independent single woman, at a time when it was unusual and rarely heard of. Yet her memoir reflects the dichotomy in her life. Instead of being a balanced view of her writing, business and her personal life, it is wholly preoccupied with Dr Saraf and ends with his death on 10 Jan 1993. The last para is:

“At the memorial meeting held for him, he was remembered by several prominent personalities for his many qualities. He was called one of Calcutta’s most eminent citizens, a philanthropoist and a brilliant doctor who was survived by his wife and children.
Of a woman called Prabha Khaitan, there was no mention.”

The translation is super. Unfortunately the translator, Ira Pande has not written a word about her engagement with the text. A pity, since it would have been a pleasure to read what Ira Pande had to say about the process. She is always so informative and interesting about translation methodologies, including about the tricky area of transliteration, transcreation and/or translation. For someone like her, who is an accomplished translator ( Diddi and T’Ta Professor ) and fluent in Hindi and English, it is always a delight to hear her discuss translations and literature. She lives it. She breathes it. Hence it was very disappointing not to have a note by her. Making a text available in English for a larger market is I think insufficient, especially when it involves a translated text. The original writer has been heard, but the translator is an equally important part of the process. They too must be given space in the printed word.

3 May 2013

Prabha Khaitan A Life Apart: An Autobiography Translated from the Hindi original by Ira Pande. Zubaan, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 280. Rs. 395