Litro 168: Translating India
Translating India is Litro’s newest body of captivating stories from the subcontinent, shrugging off Salman Rushdie’s assertion that Indian writers in English are proving more interesting*. And sidestepping Amit Chaudhuri’s riposte as to whether this could possibly be true**.
Translating India is so language neutral as to include a photo story. LA-based celebrity photographer Dani Brubaker briefly turns her back on Leonardo Di Caprio, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Ciara. Travelling to Jodhpur, India, she draws us intimately into lives there, for a shoot exclusive to Litro.
Author and politican Shashi Tharoor introduces the issue, and will be bringing the work to the world’s largest literary festival in Jaipur next week, which also attracts the likes of Bridget Jones author Helen Fielding and Tom Stoppard.
Mangoes, banyans, jasmine, heat and jostling envelop us
Anita Goveas presents us with language and cultural dilemmas in Fragments as a drunk Bollywood co-star confuses his English with, “Make sure that kipstick is lissproof.”
A cloying PR asks, “Oh, is that Hindi? It’s one of my languages but you speak so fast here. My Tamil is better.” “It’s Marathi. I said, I think you’ve got lipstick on your teeth.”
Where the starlet, “sees her chance and squeezes between a sunshine-yellow rickshaw and a man waving at his cow that’s decided to sit in the middle of the road… the traffic patiently waiting for the cow to make up its mind.”
And where, at the beach in Mumbai, she contemplates a crowd gathering around a dancing monkey, “It moves slowly and deliberately, in contrast to its bright red fez, gold waistcoat and the bangra music coming from a radio held by a tall, scrawny man.”
In Sabotage, Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay considers the impact of mafia-killings over valuable land, equally regretting the intrusion on domestic culture of her apartment complex’s modernity, “Even the smoke from an incense stick sets off the fire alarm in the lobby…”
She speaks to her temporary neighbor, from another part of India, in broken English, ruing also the intrusion of cameras watching her always in her own apartment, installed by her husband.
In Solapur, by Benyamin, a protagonist, lower caste couple, “had to wait for the bus under the tree on which bats were practising sleeping yoga.”
They have been told, “When I see the common people like you stepping into the new age, the dream of digital India seems not too far.” But the mobile phone proves to be a new sickening instrument of abuse by upper castes.
Ominously, KR Meera writes, in The Moles of the Angel, “Outside, the desolate day wrapped the transparent wedding gown of the rain – stained with Angela’s blood – around itself.”
Susmita Bhattacharya’s widow in The Taste of Onion on his Tongue has “nowhere to go…”
“…I wait by the window, and watch other people. Especially him. His window is opposite mine. Just a sliver of street separates both our worlds.”
Farzana in Manisha Kulshreshtha’s story, The Abode of Seasons Remain Vacant, is contemplating suicide… “The earlier distraught sky was calm and poised after the heavy downpour.
“Hi, Farzana!” Rita called out from the neighbouring balcony. “You are glowing today in this pink kurta. Any plans?”
Vivek Shanbhag’s Nirvana explores the problem of identity in a population of one billion, as two businessmen spend the evening together, believing wrongly that each is someone they know.
Paul Zacharia’s memoire Sinning in Mysore explains, “We understood no word of the Hindi lyrics but we needed to know nothing. We only needed to hear.”
And further on the subject of language, “I was just learning to speak English, though on the writing of it I had some claims. I slowly realised that literature was not only about reading yourself into an ecstasy, that it had a premeditated form, purpose and plan, that it was possible to create literature if you tried.”
With Litro, the word, originating in whatever language, might be expected to win out, as Perumal Murugan’s Byepass Road sends his character Kumaresan into a quandary about the morality of his earnings.
“Should he drop it in a beggar’s bowl?… Should he send it to an orphanage?… It was best that he dropped it off in a temple hundi. But he did not quite believe in God. At least not that much. After thinking about it for a long time, he decided at last to use the money to buy a book that he had long wanted.”
There is of course no simple summary for the complex beauty of Indian stories, possibly best presented here in the final words of Mansari’s The Rite of Passage, “It’s humanly impossible to tie up all the loose ends, I told myself, and took unflappable comfort in the irrefutable justification of that argument. After all, we are only human!”
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