Srinath Perur Posts

Kannada, Konkani, English: Memories, Texts and Distances

On 23 April 2016 Vivek Shanbhag and I were invited by Namita Gokhale, co-director, Jaipur Literature Festival to be in conversation at the Apeejay Languages Festival 2016, Oxford Bookstore, Connaught Place, New Delhi. We were to discuss his recently translated novel from Kannada to English, Ghachar Ghochar, as part of the topic, “Kannada, Konkani, English: Memories, Texts and Distances”. Before we began the discussion I read out a note contextualising the conversation. I realised that Vivek Shanbhag and I had spent a while chatting a few days earlier and would happily fall into a chat easily. Hence the note which was passed by Vivek Shanbhag too. With his permission I am publishing it here. 

Kannada, Konkani, English: Memories, Texts and Distances 

Vivek Shanbhag 1Vivek Shanbhag is a noted writer, editor and translator. For seven years while holding a busy day job he edited a literary journal of Kannada writing called Desh Kala. It was phenomenal in the impact it had in discovering new writers. It is probably the only contemporary journal in an Indian regional language that continues to be talked about in English and now edited excerpts of it are to be published.

Although he has been a name in Kannada and other literary circles for a while, few probably know his mother tongue is Konkani. A language that can be written in five different scripts –Devanagari, Roman, Kannada, Malayalam, and Persian.  (Now it is the Devnagari script that is accepted officially by state governments. )Yet Vivek Shanbhag chooses to write in Kannada. And he is not alone in this comfortable oscillation between mother tongue and the language of professional writing. I gather from him it is common practice among the Kannada, Marathi, Telugu writers. For instance, one of the finest Marathi short story writers G. A. Kulkarni was a Kannadiga; Girish Karnad’s mother tongue is Konkani but he writes Vivek Shanbhag 2in Kannada and the list goes on.

Earlier this year the English translation of Vivek’s fine novella Ghachar Ghochar was published by HarperCollins India. It has been translated by Srinath Perur. It was the only translated text from an Indian regional language included in the special edition of Granta on India ( 2015) edited by Ian Jack. “Ghachar Ghochar” is a nonsensical phrase yet the story is an impressively crafted vignette of a middle class family in Karnataka. Peppered with sufficient local characteristics for it to be representative of a Kannadiga family with universal issues such as socio-eco mobility & status of women. It is no wonder that this novella has caught the English readers by storm.

And yet,

Ghachar GhocharWhen you read Ghachar Ghochar it reads like the finest example of world literature. By world literature I mean translations of literary fiction from various cultures. It reads smoothly in the destination language of English but translation purists tell me exasperatedly that it does not retain the “flavour” of the original Kannada text.

One last point. I believe that “cultures” are not necessarily defined by political boundaries but geo-political formations. Under the British this region fell under the Bombay and Madras presidencies. Today it is bordered by the Arabian Sea, Goa, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Kannada is the official language of Karnataka and spoken by about 66.26% of the people as of 2001. Other linguistic minorities in the state are Urdu (10.54%), Telugu (7.03%), Tamil (3.57%), Marathi (3.6%), Tulu (3.0%), Hindi (2.56%), Konkani (1.46%), Malayalam (1.33%) and Kodava Takk (0.3%).

With this note Vivek and I launched into our conversation. It touched upon various aspects of translation, Kannada literature, how is Kannada literature defined, the significance of literary awards, the process of translation, etc. 

6 May 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