Category Archives: Indian Translations

The Runaway Boy (Chandal Jibon Trilogy) by Manoranjan Byapari. Translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy

The Runaway Boy by Manoranjan Byapari

Title: The Runaway Boy
Author: Manoranjan Byapari
Translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy
Publisher: Eka
ISBN: 978-9389648850
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations Pages: 370
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

The Runaway Boy by Manoranjan Byapari is the first volume of a trilogy, titled, Chandal Jibon. A story of a boy told in three volumes as he makes his way through life.

Little Jibon’s story begins in a refugee camp in West Bengal, as his Dalit parents flee East Pakistan in search of a better life (during the partition of India and East Pakistan), and well because circumstances make them. They do not get treated well in the camp. The harsh reality of it all hits them hard.

In all of this as Jibon grows, he only has one dream: To flee this life of misery and strife. The idea that Byapari’s character’s name when translated is life says a lot which doesn’t need to be elucidated on. So, once he turns thirteen, Jibon runs away to Calcutta in search of a better tomorrow. The elusive better tomorrow that most people who aren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth are constantly aspiring for. All he wants is to work hard and bring back food for his siblings and his mother.

And then there is caste that plays such a big role in the book – the only one I guess when everything is determined by the caste of Jibon – the political that mingles with the personal, the inequalities that exist, the distribution of wealth and property that is absolutely unfair, and more than anything, the book holds a mirror to our society and the world we live in through Byapari’s unapologetic and razor-sharp writing.

The Runaway Boy is a semi-autobiographical book but somehow it doesn’t read like that, or maybe I didn’t bring that to fore while reading it. There is so much the book has to offer – a coming of age story, historical fiction, and in all of this, a story of a person’s life. It is extremely introspective, and yet provides such a holistic view of the world we inhabit. A must-read!

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.

Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari. Translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande.

Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari Title: Darkness
Author: Ratnakar Matkari
Translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9353573331
Genre: Short Stories, Horror
Pages: 228
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 3/5

I love the horror genre – whether it is in movies or books. Something about consuming it, getting terribly scared, and then not being able to sleep for days. Yes, it does seem kind of sadistic, but I enjoy the “thrill” of that as well.

So, when I came across Darkness by Ratnakar Matkari – a collection of 18 horror and supernatural stories, translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande, I was whooping for joy. Finally, there was one collection of horror stories, in translation, from the sub-continent. I am sure there are more, but I don’t know of them for now.

The book starts off with great promise. The opening story “Birthday” is about a young boy who can predict death-days by knowing your date of birth. Honestly, I was spooked by it. I think I even got gooseflesh. The titular story “Darkness” is excellently written – pulpy, takes the reader to the edge, and leaves you wondering what actually took place. A story of doppelgängers? Time travel? What just happened? As I progressed, I was skeptical about the quality of stories but surprisingly the pace and fear factor were maintained. “By the Clock” seemed predictable but wasn’t. Most of Matkari’s stories seem predictable but they aren’t and that’s the beauty of evoking the chill in the reader, long after the story is over.

At the same time, some stories did not work for me and seemed rushed. “I See Vikram” was so-so – about an affluent kid who seems to have an imaginary friend from the slums did not do it for me when it came to the writing or ambience.

Most of his stories hint at other dimensions, other worlds, time-travel, and of what will come to be which is already known to the characters. “Monsoon Guest” is a great example of infusing mythology with horror – some way also reminded me of the movie Tumbbad – the eeriness, the ambience which becomes a character in itself, and the dialogue that takes over the story.

While reading this book, I also often wondered if the experience would be even more enriching reading it in the original Marathi, and the answer was a resounding YES. Couple of reasons for it: The terrain and locales in which these stories are set are so deep-rooted in Maharashtra that only reading them in Marathi would do complete justice to the writer’s vision and storytelling capabilities. The second reason being, nothing like reading anything pulpy in the original language only to truly feel the emotion the author intended you to.

“Darkness” for me worked on several plot points, stories, and gave me the much-needed spooks. At the same time, it also got repetitive in most part, and predictable. I would still recommend this collection of stories, wonderfully translated by Vikrant Pande – keeping the essence intact in most stories. It is the kind of collection that will jolt you and make you also look over your shoulder once in a while.

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.