Category Archives: Indian Translations Reading Project

The Windows in our House are Little Doors by Vinod Kumar Shukla. Translated from the Hindi by Satti Khanna.

The Windows in our House are Little Doors by Vinod Kumar Shukla

Title: The Windows in our House are Little Doors
Author: Vinod Kumar Shukla
Translated from the Hindi by Satti Khanna
Publisher: Harper Perennial India 
ISBN: 978-9353574819
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations 
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

It isn’t just magic realism that makes this book what it is. There is magic, yes. There is a lot of it, some which is mostly unseen or even unread on the pages. There is adventure, and a sense of listlessness as well. Vinod Kumar Shukla captures it all on the page. It seems as though his childhood years are encompassed in this book.

“The Windows in our House are Little Doors” is an English translation of Yasi, Rasa, and Ta from the Hindi by Satti Khanna. Vinod Kumar Shukla’s story takes place in an unnamed city, could even be an unnamed small town, a village even, or just somewhere in your vicinity. The time isn’t mentioned either. There is fluidity to it all. Yasi and Rasa are siblings. Their parents are Niya and Vendra. Ta is their cousin. Their uncle Bhoona loves to sleep and doesn’t want to do anything else. Ta is Bhoona’s daughter. But all of this doesn’t matter. Nothing matters since there is no plot as such to the book, but you continue reading it. The writing pulls you in. it intrigues and teases and doesn’t let go.

Vinod Kumar Shukla’s world is unique in that sense. Bicycles understand that they have been stolen and return to their owner. A single melon starts growing on its own, and adds to the weight of the cart, till slices are cut and sold. Houses make way for people. There is no concept of home, and yet there is. Home is at the heart of this book, told through twenty-six storeys (as it is said). Everything makes sense, and nothing does.

“Time bakes the present into the past. Sometimes, much later, shards show up in digs, buried under mounds of dirt. The shards are fragments of time. The ambulant present moves on; history keeps hiding behind it.”

See what he’s done here? I mean the writing is about time and yet he separates all of it – the past, the present, and the future, and again somehow gathers them together. The writing then isn’t just metaphorical. It takes on the shape of something else.

Shukla’s writing makes you believe like you are in a dream. Anything and everything are made possible. Sandals have a mind of their own and get lost. People get lost and are found in an instant. Bicycles smile and remind people to buy towels. Yes, anything happens. There is a jalebi store that is never shut, and the fire is always burning under the jalebi pan. I mean, I just gave in to what Vinod Kumar Shukla had to offer. I entered the world created by him and was happy being there.

The translation by Satti Khanna is magnificent. I say this with confidence, since at some points, I had the Hindi edition also in front of me and read from it a little to contrast and compare. Every sentence has been dealt with kindness and care, and perhaps that’s why the essence remains.

Worlds collide in Shukla’s writing. Day and night cannot be differentiated from. He writes, “A person wishes to become a tourist in the place he has lived for decades” and you relate hard and strong because you also have looked at your city that way. When he says, “We make our homes into prisons. Let us live in a house as if we could pack up and leave for another habitation any time” you nod your head with great affirmation because you have thought about it as well.

“The Windows in our House are Little Doors” has to be experienced and felt. It cannot just be read. But read it going blindfold. Do not read the synopsis. It is nothing after all. You won’t know till you read it.




 

Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu. Translated from the Gujarati by Jenny Bhatt.

Ratno Dholi

Title: Ratno Dholi
Author: Dhumketu
Translated from the Gujarati by Jenny Bhatt Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9390327782
Genre: Short Stories, Translations, Gujarati Short Stories
Pages: 324
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I am immensely grateful to Jenny Bhatt for having given us the translation of Dhumketu (Gaurishankar Govardhanram Joshi, 1892-1965) – in fact his best twenty-six stories (and she has selected from having 600+ of his stories), under the title, “Ratno Dholi”. If it weren’t for Jenny, I do not think we would’ve known or discovered the joy of Dhumketu’s stories.

I have gone through a range of emotions while reading this collection. From sheer joy, to pathos, to chuckling away to glory at some places, and nodding my head in agreement to whatever the author has to say. Dhumketu spoke of a time gone by and yet was so modernistic in his approach, in my opinion. Whether it was giving women agency (The Creator of Life’s Ruins), or even bringing the hypocrisy of society to fore (The Noble Daughters-in-Law), Dhumketu said what he had to, and in a manner only unique to him.

Dhumketu’s stories take their own time to unravel. The beauty of language is evident in this translation by Bhatt. She has taken care to not shake the core of his stories, and yet add her touch to them. The colloquialisms while being explained, are also given context to in the form of footnotes. The stories have a pace and life of their own. For instance, the passage of days in “Old Custom, New Approach” is looked at so casually, without losing the impact of time passed.

I think through these stories, readers are fortunate enough to get a glimpse of a different culture, shaping itself in different times, and at the same time being understanding of the socio-cultural norms of that day and age. We live in an age quick to judgement. But these stories shouldn’t be judged and looked at from broader contextual perspectives.

The thing with Ratno Dholi as a collection is that though these stories were written such a long time ago, I didn’t think they felt outdated in their form or texture. In fact, even the narrative has elements of form and structure that seem so contemporary. Kudos to Jenny Bhatt for this wonderful translation, and hope through her we get to read many more stories of Dhumketu.

The Angel’s Beauty Spots: Three Novellas by K.R. Meera. Translated from the Malayalam by J. Devika

The Angel's Beauty Spots - Three Novellas by K.R. Meera Title: The Angel’s Beauty Spots: Three Novellas
Author: K.R. Meera
Translated from the Malayalam by J. Devika
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9388292832
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations
Pages: 136
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

It has been ten days since I finished reading The Angel’s Beauty Spots, a collection of three novellas by the hugely talented writer, K.R. Meera. The book hangs heavy in my mind and heart. K.R. Meera’s writing has the knack of doing that – of worming its way through your heart and then the feeling of melancholia sets in strong.

 Why you ask?

Well because her stories are steeped in reality not very far removed from the world around us. A world where women have to struggle to make themselves seen, heard, and most of the time even loved.

These novellas are about women who do all of the above and more. They are fiercely independent and yet strangely tied to their men. They are lost, and not in the sense that they don’t know what’s in store for them, but they just wish it was easier, comfortable, and perhaps even simple. But would they be any happier if their lives were all of this? I guess not.

K.R. Meera’s women have this unique voice to them. This gumption, and yet this vulnerability that can overtake everything else. The hidden nuances as the world moves on around them. She creates a world that isn’t the one we live in or that’s the feeling I get when I read her every single time.

The book is divided in three novellas, as the title suggest.  The first is the titular novella about Angela who lives life on her terms (a string of convenient affairs and a failed marriage) and raises two girls single-handedly till tragedy strikes and things go way out of control.

The second novella (previously published as well), And Forgetting the Tree, I.. is about Radhika and the return of a long-time lover in her life and the consequences thereof.

The last novella is titled The Deepest Blue about a wife who yearns more and longs for more than her husband can offer and seeks solace in the arms of a love that transcends time.

These are the premise of the novellas. It may seem ordinary till it isn’t. Meera’s writing infuses life, disappointment, a heavy heartedness, a feeling that won’t leave, and a claustrophobic sense of hopelessness in almost every novella. And yet, there is love. There is tenderness, and moments that redeem these women. There is violence, there is also rape, and there is a lot of anger as well. Meera’s characters like I mentioned earlier, do not have it easy. They are forever drifting to find their place in the world.

There is something about them – a tenacity and a sort of attitude that also wants to give up quite easily. And adding to that the translation by J. Devika as always is wondrous – stringing it all together for the English language reader, keeping the imagery and sense of prose intact.

The Angel’s Beauty Spots: Three Novellas is a great introduction to K.R. Meera’s works if you haven’t read her before. For those who have, you are in for a treat. Either way, read her and be mesmerised by the dark places of the human soul she is willing to explore and present it to her readers.

 

Outcaste by Matampu Kunhukuttan. Translated from the Malayalam by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan

OutcasteTitle: Outcaste
Author: Matampu Kunhukuttan
Translated from the Malayalam by Vasanthi Sankaranarayana
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9388292498
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

For me, personally, it isn’t easy to read a book on how women are treated in India. It disturbs me and rightly so. It upsets me and it should. It should shake my core, because how else will we become aware and perhaps do something about it? How else will we know more and understand the atrocities committed in the name of caste and religion time and time again, without any repercussions at all?

Outcaste is the kind of book that jolts you from your cushy and comfortable existence, making you see the injustices perpetuated by upper caste men in India. A problem that sadly is relevant even today. A problem that shouldn’t have been relevant, after 72 years of Independence and yet it is.

The book is about the revenge of a single woman named Paptikutty on her lovers who belong to the most powerful families of the land. The book is based on a 1905 trial – where Paptikutty was tried for adultery. Outcaste also looks at the arc of the Namboodiri family in Kerala who were most powerful in Kerala and how Paptikutty’s revenge weakened them. It was the Namboodiri men who took her court to outcaste her because she had so many lovers. She was one of them and they wanted nothing to do with her.

Outcaste is a book that is about the patriarchal society but deep down it is also about its downfall and how that happens slowly and steadily at some level or another. This isn’t an easy read and yet I could not stop turning the pages. The book explores ancient Kerala culture and there were a lot of words and phrases that needed me to refer to Google, but it was all worth it because that’s the essence of the book. Vasanthi’s translation and Matampu’s writing gives us a cast of characters that are victims of their own choices and situations that they choose to be in because of society constructs. Outcaste is a love story of sorts, but also a march against injustice, inequality, and is a call to heal the broken with only justice and vengeance at the core.

A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There by Krishna Sobti. Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell.

A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There by Krishna Sobti Title: A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There
Author: Krishna Sobti
Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin India
ISBN: 9780670091195
Genre: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Despite the translation, Krishna Sobti’s book, “A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There” isn’t an easy read to begin with. Only when you get used to the person narratives being changed constantly, time being fluid, and above all anecdotes thrown about constantly, and in-between chapters, that you realize what a marvel of a book you are reading.

I honestly did not want this book to end. This novel (meta), memoir, a commentary on the Partition, a commentary even more on the world left behind, makes you want to explore everything written by Ms. Sobti, if you haven’t already read her. In fact, even if you have read her, you’d just want to go back and reread her books.

“A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There” is a book that can perhaps be summed as falling under many genres, but to me it was a book about the Partition, about home and longing, about old and new worlds that will never merge, and mainly about displacement. Krishna Sobti’s Zindaginama is perhaps one of the finest works on the Partition to have emerged from the subcontinent, however, this book is so diverse in the plot and sub-plots that to me it is perhaps even better than Zindaginama.

The setting of course is 1947. A young Krishna and her family are now in India. The country is new, and they are treated as refugees (more about this later). She is determined to make her own path in the world and an opportunity presents itself in the form of heading a preschool in the princely state of Sirohi. From there on, she faces misogynistic behaviour from Zutshi Sahab, the man charged with hiring for the position. And finally, she is governess by twist of fate to the child maharaja Tej Singh Bahadur, which accounts for around hundred pages of the book.

Like I said, the book is a lot of things, but don’t let that bother or distract you from the writing. Sobti’s writing is charming, often melancholic, and peppered with nostalgia. She constantly goes back in time to speak of pre-partition and how it was then. The comparisons also occur. For instance, when she meets her Nani and her great-uncle on a trip to Bombay, she is overwhelmed at how her Nani is still stuck in the past (and longs for it), and how her uncle ensures that she is well-taken care of.

One of my favourite scenes is when Sobti goes to visit her aunts in Ahmedabad and they think that drinking tea (cardamom and cinnamon) will make them forget about sad incidents. I love the simplicity of this scene. It is extremely endearing and relatable to most. Tea in a way does make you forget the bad things. Also, before I forget, my most favourite part of the book is the picnic Sobti’s friends and headmistress of the college go on due to her birthday is iconic. This happens before Partition, so the sense of it never happening again hits the author so hard, and in effect the reader.

Sobti’s writing is razor-sharp. She observes acutely and doesn’t hesitate to talk about the horrors of Partition, which is of course where the book gets the title from – a Gujarat with us and another Gujarat that side of the border. Another incident that brings out the ruin of Partition is Sobti speaking of Lady Mountbatten and Rameshwari Nehru visiting the refugee camps and how the women there were told to wear colourful orhnis to show respect for the Laat Sahiba.

Everything in this book is deliciously worded. Even though at times I wondered that it could become a translator’s nightmare – given how Sobti moves from past to present and changes person from first to third almost line after line. Daisy Rockwell has done a stupendous job of this translation. I loved The Women’s Courtyard last year, which was again translated by her. I love how she gets the nuance so right – the structure, the plot, and the meaning plus emotion doesn’t get lost at all. Rockwell gets it all pat-on and the reason I say it, is I am also reading the original in Hindi alongside.

Feminism in this book isn’t lost at all. If anything, it is so subtle and yet makes itself felt, heard, and seen on every page. From Sobti choosing to work away from home to her friends and aunts and niece’s choices, women empowerment and rights shine through the book. At the same time, it isn’t easy for them. Also, the parts when she asserts her role of a governess. Though she is taking care of royalty, she does what she must.

Krishna Sobti has written a lot about women and the hypocrisy faced by them in everyday life in her other works as well – from Zindaginama to Listen Girl! (Ae, Ladki) to To Hell with you, Mitro! (Mitro Marjani). If anything, just to know her body of work, read these as well, and more.

A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There is a brilliant book, that juxtaposes the past and the present, with nostalgia and loss at its core. It is the kind of book that must definitely be read with copious amounts of tea on the side. Read it! You will hands-down love it.