translation Posts

Guest Post: Aditi Maheshwari, publisher, and Tomoko Kikuchi, translator discuss “Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh”

Guest Post: Aditi Maheshwari, publisher, and Tomoko Kikuchi, translator discuss “Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh”

neerav sandhya ka shahar cover

Last month I heard about an interesting translation project — Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh. It was a Hindi translation (2013) of a Japanese publication (2004)– Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni. It had won the Grand Prize for manga at the 2004 Japan Media Arts Festival and, is probably the only manga comic that deliberates upon continued suffering of the second and third generation victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in the year 1945. It has been published by Vani Prakashan in India. Aditi Maheshwari, Publisher, Vani Prakashan and the translator, Tomoko Kikuchi, have shared their thoughts about this process. Aditi will be participating in the Book Souk, Jumpstart. ( http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home ) Logo

 

 

 

Aditi Maheshwari, Publisher, Vani Prakashan 

Three challenges entail a literary translation project undertaken by any publisher. The first and the most basic is staying true to the core and the essence of the original text under translation. The second is doing justice to the cultural idioms and paradigms as expressed in the original, while maintaining its relevance in the new audience. Third and most importantly, ensuring that the original text does not turn out to be anachronous for the new audience, who most likely do not share a similar history. The third challenge naturally applies to historical works from another culture, language or era or those dealing with long lasting impacts/influences of historical events.

Having worked extensively on translations in various world languages (including but not limited to English, Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, German, French and Japanese) and with world renowned literary stalwarts (such as Zwigniew Herbert, Wislawa Szymbroska, Tadeusz Rozewicz, Tomas Tranströmer, Herta Müller, Salman Rushdie, Tasleema Nasreen et al) in the past, one would assume Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni would have been a fairly standard affair.

However, just like every translated work which is a product of extensive research, meticulous referencing and sheer volumes of literary acumen,Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni proved no different. In fact, it unveiled a fourth and new challenge, hitherto not faced by us. This had to do with the art form that Manga comics are and the added visual dimension which they brought to the table. All of a sudden, ‘being true to the original’ developed a new meaning. With visuals being the ready reckoner window to the heart and souls of characters in the comic, the treatment of cultural idioms, anachronism had to be more accurate with very little scope for exercising literary liberties. Page

Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni is a ‘slice of life’ account of the far reaching social, psychological and physical setbacks for the Japanese youth caused by the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 68 years ago. The culmination of journey from Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni to Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh required meeting the aforementioned challenges. It was imperative to have a translator on board who had a deep understanding of the Japanese culture and also had exposure to the Indian cultural paradigms and Hindi language itself. The translator of the book, Tomoko Kikuchi, a young Japanese woman who studied Hindi at JNU and completed her Ph. D. in Hindi literature at Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, Agra was the steering force behind the project.

Even with the right translator on board who could translate sans use of a bridge language like English, we often found ourselves standing on the crossroads with the cultural idioms of Japan and India during the project. For example, the female protagonist in the first part of comics refers to her same-aged male friend with a Japanese pronoun that translates to ‘aap’ and not rather casual ‘tum’ in Hindi. Despite the awkwardness of the formality that the use of ‘aap’ would bring in, the translator chose it over ‘tum’ because according to her, it reflected the real dynamics of such friendships among young people in Japan fifty years ago. As the story continues in the second part, ‘Sakura ka Desh’, the new gen-Y Japanese girls are not shown referring to their male friends with an ‘aap’, exerting their equality by using their names or ‘tum’.

We discussed this and many similar issues at length with linguistic experts like Dr Rekha Sethi (Assistant Professor, Hindi, Delhi University). We finally concluded that although we were well intentioned in remaining honest to the original text and avoiding superimposition of indigenous reflections over it, the possibility of linguistic improvisation at few places, could not be overlooked. Translating a Manga comics in Hindi was a daunting yet fulfilling task for our editorial department. Publishing prose or poetry is always much easier than comics. We treat comics as an art form that involves synchronizing the editorial team towards exploring deeper layers of narration, conducting intensive research on the subject matter and above all, paying attention to what translator has to say. Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh is the result of this process.

Authored by Fumiyo Kono, Neerav Sandhya Ka Shahar: Sakura Ka Desh (2013) is originally published as Yunagi No Machi Sakura no Kuni (2004).

(C) Aditi Maheshwari 

Tomoko Kikuchi, Translator 

Tomoko Kikuchi, skv No2, GBSSS Gblock, GBSSS DDAFlat, 22 Aug 2013दो साल पहले मैंने सुप्रसिद्ध जापानी सचित्र पुस्तक “हिरोशिमा का दर्द”(NBT) का हिन्दी अनुवाद किया, जो छोटे बच्चों को परमाणु बम की त्रासदी को बताने के लिए सर्वोत्तम पुस्तक है । उसके बाद मैं सोचने लगी कि उसी संदेश को भारत के युवा पाठकों तक कैसे पहुंचाया जाए । अक्सर युवा पीढ़ी युद्ध या विश्वशान्ति के विषय से विमुख रहती है । उन दिनों मुझे संयोग से जापानी कॉमिक “नीरव संध्या का शहर, साकुरा का देश” का परिचय हुआ । 2004 में जापान में प्रकाशित उस कोमिक ने मुझे सहसा आकर्षित किया और मुझे लगा कि कॉमिक्स का रूप भारतीय जवानों को भी जरूर आकर्षित करेगा ।
अनुवाद की पुस्तक को प्रकाशित करने के लिए पहली शर्त है कि यहाँ के प्रकाशक को ढूंदना, जो बहुत मुश्किल काम है । इस पुस्तक के लिए मैंने कई प्रकाशकों के साथ बात की, आखिरकार वाणी प्रकाशन से मुलाक़ात हुई । माहेश्वरी जी ने मुझे सहसा यह जवाब दिया, “जापानी कोमिक्स का हिन्दी अनुवाद एक नई कोशिश है, बहुत दिलचस्पी है ।” यह सुनकर खुशी से ज्यादा मुझे हैरानी हुई, क्योंकि तब तक मैंने एक भी प्रकाशक से ऐसे सकारात्मक और स्नेही बात नहीं सुनी थी । इस प्रकार माहेश्वरी जी की कृपा से पहली शर्त पूरी हो गई । बाद में जापान फाउंडेशन की सहयोग योजना के तहत प्रकाशन के लिए कुछ आर्थिक सहायता भी मिल सकी ।
अनुवाद करते समय दो भाषाओं से संबंधित संस्कृति और इतिहास का पूरा ध्यान रखना होता है । पाठकों को अपरिचित संस्कृति से परिचित कराने के लिए अनुवादक को दोनों को जोड़ने वाले पुल की भूमिका निभानी होती है । सीमित जगह में पूरी सूचना डालना बहुत मुश्किल है । इतना ही नहीं, कोमिक्स में एक विशेष प्रकार का प्रयोग भी है, जिसमें आवाज और भावना को लिपिबद्ध किया जाता है।
मसलन, जब कुत्ता आवाज़ देता है तो हिन्दी में भौ भौ कहा जाता है, पर जापानी में वन वन । ऐसी आवाज भी है, जिसका जापानी भाषा में शब्द उपलब्ध है और हिन्दी में नहीं । जब कोई हैरान हो जाता है, तो जापानी में उस मनोभावना को “गान” उच्चारण से अभिव्यक्त कर चित्रों के साथ अंकित किया जाता है , परंतु हिन्दी में इस प्रकार का कोई प्रयोग नहीं है । जापानी कोमिक्स के अनुवाद में इस प्रकार की बहुत सारी समस्याओं का एक एक हल निकालना पड़ा, आपको भी पुस्तक देखने पर जिसका अंदाज होगा ।
अनुवाद में एक संकट यह भी था कि एक तरफ कोमिक्स का संवाद एकदम बोलचाल का होता है, परंतु दूसरी ओर मेरी भाषा एकदम पीएच. डी. की है । इस स्थिति में समन्वय लाने के लिए डॉ रेखा सेठी जी ने मेरी बहुत मद्द की । कभी उनके घर में, कभी आई. पी. कॉलेज में लंबे समय तक बैठकर हमने एक एक संवाद का सही रूप ढूंढ़ निकाला । उसी दौरान अनजाने में हमारे बीच भारतीय और जापानी संस्कृति का काफी आदानप्रदान हुआ होगा ।
(C) Tomoko Kikuchi 
28 Aug 2013 
Prof. Alok Rai, writer and translator

Prof. Alok Rai, writer and translator

Alok Rai 2Prof. Alok Rai, Ex Faculty, Department of English, University of Delhi.

Born and bred in Allahabad, Prof. Alok  Rai grew up in an affluent Hindi – Urdu environment which explains his strong linguistic background. He holds a graduate degree in modern English literature and became a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. At, the University College of London, he had written a Ph.D. dissertation on George Orwell and later he has also published books on the said author while also writing on the formation of modern Hindi. As a translator his translation of Nirmala was published by Oxford University Press many years ago. He has been involved with the business of writing, with language in society. His interests include, Modern English Literature; cultural processes in modern North India, with particular reference to issues of language and literature.

He is also the grandson of the legendary Hindi writer Premchand. Years ago when I was guest-editing the special issue of Children’s and Young Adult literature of The Book Review I asked him for a review of series of biographies that had been published in Hindi by Children’s Book Trust. ( Chirsmaraniya Mahaan Vyaktitva Vol 1-9, Illustrator: Sahana Pal Children’s Book Trust, 2001) I no longer have the bibliographical details with me but I discovered that the review had been posted online. ( http://www.orchidapps.com/goodbooks/node/5968#.Uhs0T5Jgdsl ) . I am reproducing the review as is. 

We hate poetry, Keats wrote, that has a design on us. This set of short “inspirational” biographies, published by the Children’s Book Trust – with an average of 5 or 6 worthies per each one of nine volumes – goes well beyond design. This is, as the criminal lawyers say, “intent”- as in “loitering – and the intent is deadly serious. Because of course the underlying purpose of the series, indeed of such series, is nothing less than the abduction of the young, seizing their minds well before they have reached the age of consent. Even more crucially, of dissent.

There is a tendency in our gerontocratic civilization to treat matters pertaining to children as being not very important. There is no reason, here, to run through the familiar complaints about the priorities that enable aging gentlemen to acquire toy phalluses at enormous state expense even as they can’t find the funds to provide schools, or meals, or medicines for millions of children. And yes, of course, I know that there is a distinction to be made between the said aging gentlemen and the good men and women who have collaborated in this CBT project of providing these inspirational biographies – and of course I’m joking when I accuse them of “criminal” intent. But there is a serious argument here: what we do to our children, whether with the connivance of the NCERT or without it, is crucially important. And while this CBT series might seem a somewhat modest vehicle to bear the burden of a serious argument, at least there is no danger here of offending Their Lordships, and so understating the seriousness of the issues on which They have pronounced breezy obiter dicta.

But let us get over the grosser matters first. No one can assemble a list that is universally acceptable, and while one may quibble about why X or Y is or isn’t one of the persons chosen for such hagiographic, inspirational treatment, the actual CBT list is, for better and worse, catholic and random. There are sundry 19th century figures – Gokhale, Dadabhai Naoroji, Sir Syed – and lots of the other kind. Muslims? – aforementioned, and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Kidwai, Azad –and I wouldn’t expect Jinnah here anyway! (No Nehru or Gandhi, either, by the way.)  Women? – Vijayalakshmi Pandit (!), Annie Besant, Kamla Nehru, Ba. Writers – Bankim, Bharati, Iqbal – and scientists – Meghnad Saha, Bhabha, Visweshwarayya. Lots of politicians, of course: whatever would we do without them? More importantly, whatever shall we do with them?  I might have said that the inclusion of Savarkar and Shyamaprasad Mukherji in this august company is surprising – but it isn’t, is it?

It is also not my case that there is no room for inspirational stories in the necessary socialization of the young. Indeed, I would argue that it is the neglect of this essential dimension of education in our schools that is both a cause and a symptom of the coarsening of our society, the rampant desensitization that emboldens a Modi or a Singhal or a Togadia to gloat over the grief of the victims of Gujarat in the hope of reaping an electoral advantage. Persons – and so, a collective, a civilization of persons – is distinguished by the texture of their moral anxieties, by their unique sense of moral occasion, and by the narratives in which the implications of their defining moralities are laid bare. Nothing very complicated, this is Arjuna at Kurukshetra, being lectured to by his charioteer – endlessly kitschified, this still fulfils an essential sustaining function. Just as the moral conflicts that are regurgitated by Bombay melodrama do. We are the kind of people who notice, so to speak, moral conflicts. And that indeed is exactly where my problem with this inspirational gallery assembled by the CBT lies. Quick clarification: whether or not our society is rapidly descending into anomie, into a moral vacuum, is not at issue. The question is, how is this situation to be addressed? Are the self-proclaimed and much-touted doctors really equipped with a cure – essentialized religion, 100% proof ! – or are they themselves only symptoms of the malady, and more likely than not, will only exacerbate the situation by their crude ministrations? My answers to these question are, respectively and respectfully, no, yes, and yes.

Elizabeth Taylor, the well-known philosopher, once said, “The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”  Well, there aren’t many vices on offer here – but there is a serious danger of OD-ing on virtue!  OK, cut to the chase – obviously, every “life” is a selection – children discover very early on that you can’t even tell a single day in its entirety. So, my problem is not with the fact that the biographies here assembled are selective – but rather with the understanding that motivates the selection. The way I understand it, inspirational narrative works through the common narrative experience of identification: above a certain minimal level of complexity, the reader/listener is enabled to identify with a number of characters or, modishly, subject positions, with good and bad, with high and low, so that one can experience moral difficulty, because it is only out of moral difficulty that one develops a sense of moral complexity. Children’s fables about always  being good and always telling the truth and always always respecting your elders are treated by children with the contempt they deserve.  The trouble with these monsters of goodness is that no one can identify with them – one may be forced to admire them, or one admires them, but one cannot identify with them: they inhabit a mythic realm far above the muddled worlds in which we must live. So, what’s wrong with that? They are models of goodness, towards which we aspire, right?

Wrong! In fact, such “heroic” biography has been the staple of fascist pedagogy: larger than life characters who never never do anything wrong, except to draw some significant moral lesson from it, so that their narrated lives are a relentless accumulation of virtue – virtual money in a virtuous bank, so to speak. However, this dread moral lesson works rather paradoxically, because its highly coloured universe succeeds only in communicating not the possibility of virtue for us mere mortals, but its impossibility. The humanist alternative to such fascist “heroic” biography is biography that enables us to identify with the common humanity – common to reader and narratee, to mahaan vyaktitva and child reader – by showing the great man also as being vulnerable to human frailties etc. The possibility of virtue. We are enabled, ideally, to redeem the ordinary life we live by aspiring to live it differently. “Heroic” biography – the mode that I have designated as fascist, both by association and tendency – on the other hand, encourages one to turn to such biographies as necessary and necessarily mythical for a life that is rendered unredeemed and unredeemable. That is the sense in which such simple-minded, direct reaching after unalloyed virtue, through the instrumentality of selective biographies is not just naïve and pointless, it is positively harmful:  even worse than the TV that our poor children would rather watch. And who can blame them?

26 Aug 2013

(C) Prof. Alok Rai

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Prof. Alok Rai will battle it out along with three other renowned experts at the forthcoming JumpStart festival

( http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home ) during the session entitled ” The Great Language Debate”. It promises to be provocative – even revolutionary – ideas about the future of our languages and cultures. Are we building a healthy and sustainable ‘bibliodiversity’ for the next generation? Or are we creating a whole generation of linguistic exiles, neither ‘at home’ in their mother tongue nor in English? Can we move towards a common language without ‘flattening’ culture? 

Guest post: Arundhati Deosthale writes about her collaboration with Julia Kaergel

Guest post: Arundhati Deosthale writes about her collaboration with Julia Kaergel

Arundhati Deosthale, co-founder A&A Book Trust, writes about her experience in translating the Mimi series into Hindi and her collaboration with award-winning German illustrator Julia Kaergel. 

 

aa-book-trust-logoA & A Book Trust feels privileged to have had this opportunity to introduce two extraordinarily talented women in children’s literature. In 2009, I met Doris Dorrie in Munich. All those who know German cinema know her as a maker of off-beat film maker, a novelist and a teacher in film institute. It was a pleasure to discover that she writes books for children too. She presented me copies of her Mimi picture books series illustrated by Julia Kaergel, and the rest is history. I had till then seen Julia’s work in children’s libraries and had heard about the various prizes she had been honoured with… Mimmi

Mimi series just couldn’t have gone to any other illustrator other than Julia, her insights into child-psychology, her uncanny skills to go beyond the text, and sense of fun have contributed brilliantly to the success of the series in Germany, Switzerland and also in India. Mimi came in to Hindi directly from German, as a part of the ‘Girl- child’ special picture books project and went on straight to the villages through Room to Read libraries in 8 Indian states, including Uttaranchal. The acceptance of Mimi across the cultures; especially the interiors of India, among the first generation to see the picture books speaks of the vividness and universal appeal of Julia’s art. We did have to make two minor changes though, namely deleting the two references to pork and beef, when Mimi shops with her mother. But Julia accepted these willingly, appreciating the sensitivities of two communities in India. Chirag, an NGO working for education and rural development, runs a primary school in Shitala, a cluster of villages in the Nainital district of Uttaranchal. The Chirag school kids picked up Mimi for play-acting. It was such a pleasure watching the children draw and make paper pyjamas and a la Mimi to wear these upside down on their heads. They raised some really interesting questions for Julia and Doris, the makers of this series like Mimi who keeps things from parents for quite some time, is that OK?

How come that her parents don’t seem to be minding her being such a menace?

And

Is she a ‘good’ girl or a ‘naughty’ one?

These were the questions which made the teachers and parents think aloud on the difference in parenting and schooling between our two respective cultures. One could say that the children were a bit envious of Mimi whose imagination runs amok in both the books, and parents surely did some learning playfully. And this surely is an amazing response to a picture book!!

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Arundhati Deosthale and Julia Kaergel will be in conversation on 29 August 2013 @ Jumpstart. Julia Kaergel will also be conducting an illustrator’s masterclass on 30 Aug 2013. Details available at http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home

(C) Arundhati Deosthale 

23 Aug 2013

Translations, children’s literature, Jumpstart 2013

Translations, children’s literature, Jumpstart 2013

Vasilisa the Beautiful

 

 

During my childhood I was fortunate to have read many stories published in the former Soviet Union. Some of my favourites were and continue to be  the folk tale Vasilisa the Beautiful  collected by Alexander Afanasyev (1930s); Alexander Pushkin’s verse fairy tale  The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan (1831) and Nikolay Nosov’s The Adventures of Dunno and his Friends (1954). These were written in Russian and the English translations were made available by People’s Publishing House (PPH). The translations were a delight to read, all the books were richly illustrated, the printing was done on very good quality paper, usually the books were hardbacks and the price points were incredibly low. These books establish for me a high benchmark in terms of what can be achieved in children’s literature. Years later I still possess my copies of these books and now my daughter is beginning to enjoy flipping through the books. (The other day she very grandly announced to me that these are my books. Not yours!) Alexander Pushkin, 1831

The translations were usually done by a wide variety of people around the globe. Inevitably the language used is perfect in the destination language without carrying over any awkward phrases or sentence structures from the source language. ( “Awkward” only if it is impossible to translate a phrase or a sentence accurately in to destination language.) But by focusing on the perfect use of English without compromising on its quality did not take away anything from the original story. There is no doubt that the stories originated in the former Soviet Union as all the details remain the same. Even the illustrations are not adapted, reduced or modified for publication in the destination language. They were reproduced as is. Even if they were unfamiliar and at times challenging for children since they were so far removed from their own culture, it really did not matter. The illustrations accompanying the story were sumptuous and complemented the story well. Even their placement on the page was always done correctly. The text matched the illustration laid on the page. So a young reader would not get unduly perturbed.

Logo At the annual JumpStart event  ( 29-30 Aug 2013) translating children’s literature or “Speaking in Tongues” is going to be the theme. The speakers are a wide variety of publishing professionals from India and abroad. They consist of publishers, designers, translators, educators, authors and illustrators. They will be sharing their experiences and discussing the significance of words, illustrations, languages and cultures and how they help shape/influence young minds. Also addressing issues such as “building a healthy and sustainable ‘bibliodiversity’ for the next generation? Or are we creating a whole generation of linguistic exiles, neither ‘at home’ in their mother tongue nor in English?” These are sessions I would like to attend. Hear what are the challenges of producing children’s literature across cultures, the successful experiments/collaborations that have happened recently etc. For more details http://www.jumpstartfest.com/home gbo-white

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an International Publishing Consultant and columnist.

Twitter: @JBhattacharji

20 Aug 2013 

“No Child’s Play” Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

“No Child’s Play” Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay

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“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.

Marc Auge, “No Fixed Abode”

Marc Auge, “No Fixed Abode”

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Ethno fiction…a narrative that evokes a social fact through the subjectivity of a particular individual. however, since this is neither autobiography nor confession, that fictional individual has to be created ‘from scratch’ or, in other words, out of the thousand and one details observed in every day life. ( p vii)

Slim, elegantly produced volume. It belies the disturbing facts that lie within. The horror of the story is not just in the plot but in the events seeming plausible. The blurb on the dust jacket says “Contrary to popular opinion, according to the website for the Coalition for the Homeless, forty-four per cent of the homeless in First World countries actually have jobs.”

A book I would recommend.

Marc Auge, No Fixed Abode:Ethnofiction
Translated by Chris Turner
Seagull Books, Calcutta, 2013
Hb, pg. 80
$19 / GBP 12.50 / INR 325

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

Ambai “Fish in a Dwindling Lake”, translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom

Ambai “Fish in a Dwindling Lake”, translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom

Fish in a dwindling lake

( This was a review commissioned last year, but never published. So I am uploading it today on my blog. 26 June 2013)

Fish in a Dwindling Lake is a collection of short stories written by well-known Tamil writer, Ambai. It consists of short stories and four long stories. Interestingly the short stories are merely titled as “Journey”, but the longer stories stick to the motif of the journey. The narrator is usually a universal “she”, who is never given a name, probably making it easier to discuss various positions and responsibilities of women. To bracket them as merely as a wife, mistress or a reliable widowed aunt would be doing injustice to the characters created. They do occupy these socially defined and recognized spaces, but Ambai’s strength as a storyteller shines when she is able to describe their lives or an incident or a conversation or a journey that they undertake, but in a manner that shows these strong women have the quiet ability to question and make their choices and be at peace with them. For Bimla in the title story, “Journeys had become the symbols of her life. Journeys with objectives, journeys without; meaningful journeys, journeys made of necessity; journeys which were planned, but never happened; journeys which broke all decisions; journeys which had become rituals.” The stories raise questions about human relationships, sexuality of a woman and the fact that there is nothing wrong in discussing it or being aware of it. In “Journey 5”, Gomati Ammal invites her childhood friend, now a renowned professor, to move in with her after she is widowed. They belonged to the same village near Tirunelveli, but belonged to different castes. Plus, her family was paying for his education. She pleaded with him when they were young to elope and get married, but he refused and married a classmate of hers. But once she was widowed and her children were settled abroad, she wrote to the professor, “I have lived all these years in accordance with your wish. Now at least let me be with you?” So they worked out a convenient arrangement where he visits her twice a month. “He is never asked at home, why and where he is going. Neither does she say anything when she sees me. After all she is a woman who studied with me, isn’t she? Isn’t she my friend?” Using the personal pronoun or naming the protagonist instantly distances the reader from the experiences of the character, although there is an instant recognition and empathy with her. But with a character in the third person it is possible to share minute details that usually remain confined to a woman’s domain, but strike a universal chord, as the pregnant girl in “Journey 4” says ironically, “only a wife knows what goes on inside a house”.

These stories were first published in Tamil by Kalachuvadu. The publisher, Kannan Sundaram says that the English edition has “translated and published all the stories in the Kalachuvadu edition in the same order of stories with the same title. The first story in the Kalachuvadu edition has not been included as it was included in another collection of Ambai stories in English earlier –In the Forest a Deer.” For the translator Lakshmi Holmstrom, “The current collection of eleven short stories translated from Tamil; it showcases Ambai’s technical skills at her mature best. Her style can be elegant, witty and lyrical by turns. … Some of her short stories work through ironic juxtaposition of incidents, or through repetition of images, as in poems. The longer stories, on the other hand, while still using the repeated symbol or motif, are intricately constructed, moving back and forth in time almost cinematically, interweaving different kind of texts and narratives.”

Ambai is the nom de plume of C. S. Lakshmi, a renowned feminist, who established SPARROW (Sound & Picture Archives for Research on Women). So it is probably possible for Ambai to jot down these varied instances in a woman’s life since she is immersed in these stories 24×7. In an email to me after the publication of this anthology, she said that for a storyteller “stories are all around one. We must just open ourselves to them.” Hence, the title story “Fish in a Dwindling Lake” is about Kumud, her relationship with her extended clan and friends. But it also works beautifully by tracking the life of Kumud, who quietly and steadily, as happens with women, adapt and survive since the instinct for self-preservation is extremely strong. So like the fish in a shrinking lake, she may have to struggle to survive but will always find sufficient oxygen to live. This is an anthology worth reading.

Ambai “Fish in a Dwindling Lake”, translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom. Penguin Books India, 2012. Pb, Rs. 250 pp. 150

Abdourahman A. Waberi, “Passage of Tears”

Abdourahman A. Waberi, “Passage of Tears”

waberi passage of tears

So I read Passage of Tears. My introduction to Abdourahman A. Waberi. What a writer! I am not sure if he worked on the English translation, but after a long time I felt as if I was reading a novel, not a translated piece of literature. It was originally written in French and has been translated brilliantly by David Ball and Nicole Ball. It is a novel set in Djibouti, told by Djibril. He opts to live in Montreal, from the age of 18, but returns to the country of his birth, to prepare a report for an American economic intelligence firm. The story unfolds from there in two dimensions…one of the events happening to Djibril and the second, the life of Walter Benjamin that gets written instead of the testimony he has been asked to note down.

Waberi lulls you into expecting a straightforward novel. The beginning is classical, in it being an ordinary narrative, plotting, placing the framework etc. And then he slowly begins to spin a web around you of different narratives and experiences. And yet are they really? Before you know it, you are sucked into a frightening world where money reigns supreme, in the name of God (call Him by any name you will), relationships are ephemeral. Literature remains a constant. You discover it, you use it, you create it, but words depending on how you view them, they can be inspirational, they can convey stories and histories or they can be viewed as “agents of contamination”.

Waberi’s relationship with Walter Benjamin is extraordinary. How on earth does he vacillate in the narrative from a discovery, to a personal relationship, to being in awe and then coming closer to Walter Benjamin resulting in a conversation bordering on the confessional to that of a disciple with his God/mentor to writing a biography of the man? When Waberi realises some of the similarities in their lives, there is a perceptible calmness that infuses his jottings about “Ben”.

Fiction where the creative license blossoms from reality or a sharp understanding of it, retains a power that cannot be matched with any other. Waberi is such a brilliant writer. Sparing with his words but packs quite a punch. It is not surprising to discover that he was twice a jury member of the Ulysses award for reportage. Now he is due to publish a new novel early in 2014. A book worth buying.

Abdourahman A. Waberi, Passage of Tears Seagull Books 2011, Hb. pg. 200
English translation by David Ball and Nicole Ball.
Jacket design by Sunandini Banerjee

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

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