( This was an interview with Arunava Sinha, translator, that I did in 2011 for the Hindu. The original url is here: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/leave-nothing-out-add-nothing/article2539907.ece )
Arunava Sinha on translating Buddhadeva Bose’s classic Tithodore and the future of translations.
Arunava Sinha is an award-winning translator of classic and contemporary Bengali fiction. His “day job” is as an internet professional. He won the Vodafone-Crossword award (2007) for Chowringhee, which was also short-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, UK (2009). He recently translated Buddhadeva Bose’s masterpiece, Tithodore (1949) as When the Time is Right. In this interview, Arunava talks about translating Tithodore, BB, and the future of translations.
Why and how did you get into translating Bengali writers?
I started with short stories in the late 1980s for a city magazine Calcutta Skyline. But the whole process gathered steam when Penguin published my translation of Chowringhee — which I had actually done at the author’s behest in 1992 -— 14 years later, in 2006.
On what basis do you make these selections?
The primary appeal is subjective: do I love the book and do I want my friends to read it? The only reason not to translate a book that passes these parameters is if it’s so rooted in a local culture and geography as to lose its richness when read in a different cultural context, as translations are.
When did you begin translating Tithodore?
I began in September 2009. The first draft took one month, working six hours a day. I translated as if I was “possessed” by the experience and felt bereft when the exercise came to an end. Once it was complete, I revisited it thrice to iron out all angularities of expression, but I firmly believe in the motto of “leave out nothing, add nothing”.
When the Time is Right reads very smoothly. Comment.
It tells an absorbing and dramatic story, marked by Buddhadeva Bose’s seemingly casual voice which is, actually, intensely poetic. Given that he was a notable poet and verse-dramatist himself, Bose seems to have used these skills in prose. While translating, I discovered that Bose’s prose is rich with the cadences and inflexions encountered in poetry. The conversations are never dull, the dialogue and self-expression is honed and always heard. His observations about people are nuanced and layered and his characters are very aware and articulate themselves through casual conversation. Bose understood language deeply and all his choices of word, phrase and form are deliberate.
When do you find the time to translate?
Whenever I get a window, which could be hours at a stretch or a few minutes. I was lucky when working on Tithodore, in that my day job was not as demanding as it is now, allowing me to work for about six hours a day. Sometimes, I am working on three books in different stages in the production cycle: actually translating one, working on edits of another and proof-reading a third. When it comes to actual translation, it’s usually one book at a time, because once you’ve got a writer’s voice — or think you do — you don’t want it polluted by anything else.”
Have you considered translating poetry?
Considered, yes. But I’m not equal to the task. I’ve tried my hand at a few small poems, but my work with verse is not good enough to be published.
Where you ever trained in doing translations?
No training. Is there even such a thing in India yet? There should be though.
I hear translations are a very expensive and tedious process…
I don’t think a translator who loves the work they’re doing and the book they’re translating would consider it tedious. Expensive yes; you do have to invest plenty of time and energy. But that’s true of any creative effort, surely. The passion of sharing is what starts it off, but once you’re into it, the need to complete the work becomes a living force in itself.
How would you define a “good” translator?
One who is true to everything in the original — content, form, voice, cadences, spirit — and still make the final product as accomplished and effortless a read as the original.
Is it possible to tell a good translation from a bad one, especially if you do not know the primary language?
Yes it is. Assuming the original title has been chosen well, if the translation reads awkwardly while telling a great story, you know it’s the translation that’s at fault here.
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is a international publishing consultant and critic. She also has a monthly column on the business of publishing, “PubSpeak”, in BusinessWorld online.