Category Archives: Translated Works

The Crooked Line by Ismat Chughtai. Translated from the Urdu by Tahira Naqvi

413WM8yVqeL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_ Title: The Crooked Line (Tehri Lakeer)
Author: Ismat Chughtai
Translated from the Urdu by Tahira Naqvi
Publisher: Feminist Press
ISBN: 978-1558615182
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation, Feminist Literature
Pages: 393
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

When I got to know of Women in Translation month toward the end of July, I knew that Chughtai would have to be one of the authors that I would read. Chughtai is something else. I can never use the past tense for her, because she lives on and on and on through her works no matter how cheesy it might sound to you. I recall the first time I had heard of that name and most people in my college only associated her with “Lihaaf”, her most popular short-story on love between women. But there is a sea of work that Chughtai wrote and while most of it is fairly popular, it isn’t as famous as her short stories. Her novellas, novels and even her memoir, Kagaji Hai Pairahan (loosely translated to a life of words) are stunning. Everything she wrote will go down in history.

My relationship with Chughtai’s works is of fierceness. I always associate the word fierce with her and her heroines. Their inner lives as captured by her remain as probing and mysterious as they were when first published. There is no recipe for emancipation in her books. Her heroines don’t try to break free from their worlds in ways which are extreme, but work around them. I don’t mean this as a good or a bad thing, it is just how things were then, when Ismat Appa was growing and observing the world of women around her.

“Tehri Lakeer” one of Chughtai’s most autobiographical work (translated wondrously by Tahira Naqvi as “The Crooked Line) tells the story of Shamman and her world, the women in her family – from her mother to her sisters and cousins, to her time at a boarding school and experiences there and how she grows into a woman on the brink of India’s independence, at the same time fighting her inner battles. “The Crooked Line” is about Indian women living in purdah (the world Shamman is born and grows into in the first part of the book) – her Amma who is callous enough to let Shamman being taken care of by her sisters. Her Bari Appa (oldest sister) who is a premature widow and uses this to her advantage time and again in the family. Her cousin Noori who very early on understands how to wield power over men. Chughtai’s characters may appear weak and subdued but don’t be fooled. They are strong and yet know when to appear weak.

The world of purdah disappears as Shamman grows up, with its own set of rules and it all comes down to how women control men around them. Shamman, now educated sees herself different from her family and is almost alienated by them. She doesn’t even understand her place in the modern world and is somewhat stuck in a limbo. Ismat Chughtai’s characters are also known to traverse paths of identity confusion more often than not. Be it Masooma (from the novel of the same name) or even Bichchoo Phoophee, they are always stuck, always searching and breaking paradigms in their small ways. Shamman does the same and is seeing the world change drastically – be it through her friend Alma, who has a child out of wedlock and is unable to love it fully or abort it – or through Bilqees, the femme fatale who uses men and is always surrounded by them, without knowing if she loves them or is just using them.

This is also a constant in the book – women who are neither here nor there. Women who were in purdah had no control and women who have the freedom don’t know what to make of it. In all of this is Shamman’s role as a headmistress (which reminded me so much of the Brontë sisters) and her relationship with the gossiping colleagues to her own sexuality as and when it blossoms, Chughtai’s feminism is not contained or a listicle of sorts. It is the kind of feminism that questions and makes you very uncomfortable while asking those questions. She isn’t apologetic and neither are her characters. Tahira Naqvi’s translation from the Urdu is top-notch as she keeps all phrases and words intact, where they should be. There is also a glossary behind for those who might need to refer it. This was perhaps the last Chugtai book that I had left to read. Knowing me though, I will go back to her works, almost every year. She was truly a woman of gumption and it reflected in her writing all the way. Read her. Breathe her works. And I would be very envious of you, if you haven’t read her at all, because there is so much there for you to read and adore.

Half-Open Windows by Ganesh Matkari; Translated by Jerry Pinto

Title: Half-Open Windows
Author: Ganesh Matkari
Translated from the Marathi by: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386338358
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are very few contemporary novels out there that speak of the nature of the urban spaces we inhabit and how close is the relationship that we have with them. In my opinion, we need more books such as these that make us contemplate and look at our spaces differently. “Half-Open Windows” by Ganesh Matkari is one such book that reexamines the society we live in, through the characters that are constantly making an appearance and questioning our lives. The book was originally published in Marathi and now translated to English by Jerry Pinto. This edition is published by Speaking Tiger.

What is the book about?

Half-Open Windows is not an easy book to peg. Sometimes it is angsty and at others it is just a social commentary. All said and done, it is also about (and most majorly) the city of Mumbai – the treacherous and yet quite a seducer – Mumbai. The story is about people who are connected to SNA Architects – an upcoming firm in the premium area of Colaba. The characters are way too many for me to describe here – but what I can tell you is that from an attention seeking suicidal person to corrupt co-owners of the firm to a lonely widow going about her life, you will see many shades to Mumbai and perhaps even more.

I haven’t read the book in Marathi but Jerry Pinto does a fantastic job of retaining the flavour of the city and the phrases in the local language without which the book would have been incomplete. At the same time let’s not forget the city of Mumbai that is another character in this book for sure – witnessing it all and the force behind all the good and the bad. “Half-Open Windows” is just but a reflection of our selves. Do not miss out on this read.

The Book of Destruction by Anand

Title: The Book of Destruction
Author: Anand
Translated from the Malayalam by Chetana Sachidanandan
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0143068464
Genre: Literary fiction, Translated fiction
Pages: 242
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Book of Destruction” by Anand isn’t an easy book to read. I am forewarning you because it is the truth. At the same time, you must read this book according to me, even if it means slaving through the first couple of pages (actually it is a slave-through after the first couple of pages) but do persist and then you will know why you will fall in love with this piece of work.

Anand’s book is about thugs and hashashins (assassins as called in Persian), it is about destruction and murder – right from the medieval times to the world we live in. The book is a three-story episodic narrative – all of them centered on one narrator and a man named Seshadri, with whom it all begins. In one, the narrator knows of the book of destruction and also the fact that he has been selected to kill – in the second a discotheque is bombed and in the third there is a staged orgy to which the narrator is led.

“The Book of Destruction” is essentially on the nature of murder and what drives a human being to kill (very little as a matter of fact). At the same time, I also thought the book was rambling endlessly and out of hand at sometimes, which could’ve easily been cut out. Having said that, Anand’s research is point on and only makes you want to know more about people who exist in the shadows.

Chetana’s translation is spot on and makes you wonder what the original would have read like. I think it happened to me more in case of this book because of its density and detailing. I absolutely enjoyed “The Book of Destruction” and if you are remotely interested in violence in literature, then this is the book for you.

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez

Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez
Translated from the Spanish by: Nick Caistor
Illustrations by: Peter Sís
ISBN: 978-0151011476
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 103
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Books about books have always fascinated me. There is something so relatable about them that it breaks my heart and also repairs it at the same time. They are love letters to books – almost love stories between books and collectors – I am sure most will agree with me when it comes to this. A reader and his or her books can never be apart.

“The House of Paper” is one of those books you just cannot get enough of. It is a short book – a novella of 106 pages or so but every page and every sentence and every word gleams in it. This one was a reread for me and I had actually forgotten how much I loved this book, till I read it now. The story is of a Cambridge professor who is killed by a car while reading Dickinson (or so it is assumed). A book is sent to her – a dirty, dusty copy of Conrad’s “The Shadow-Line”. A colleague of hers travels to Uruguay, determined to know the connection between these two people and instead ends up hearing a very strange story – of the man Carlos Brauer and how he has built himself a house from books by the sea. The rest is for you to read and find out – the why, what and the how that is.

“The House of Paper” is magic realism and a lot more than just that in my opinion. Books and reading form such a core of this read that you wished it were longer and that it would not end at all. The book raises questions of mad bibliophiles and the length they will go to for their love of books. At the same time, it doesn’t make it too philosophical or dreary. This book is perfect to the ones obsessed with the written word and for one I cannot stop recommending it. I must also add here that the translation by Nick Caistor is tongue in-cheek, lively and not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Peter Sís. My copy by the way is from The New York Public Library and I was delighted that it came to me in India from there. Only booklovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.

The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza

Title: The Gardens of Consolation
Author: Parisa Reza
Translated by: Adriana Hunter
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453503
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Gardens of Consolation” by Parisa Reza is a book about common people, literally caught up in conditions which are not ordinary – things happen around them, their country changes and they just hope and pray that things remain the same. It is the story of a family that sees Iran through the changes and what do those changes mean for them and their lives. Historical fiction isn’t easy to write. I mean there is so much already written about history timelines of a country – that sometimes as a reader I wonder: what else is left to read about this? Then comes along a book like ‘The Gardens of Consolation’ that defies my way of thinking and presents me with something new and exciting.

The book is set in 1920s with young newlyweds Talla and Sardar Amir travelling from their native village Qamsar to the suburbs of Tehran, where everything is new to them. Sardar is amazed at what he can do when it comes to work and Talla is slowly coping with the ways of the world – a major change being with the Shah announcing that the chador must not be worn anymore. This is just one of the incidents but it leaves a huge impact on Talla’s life. The book then proceeds with them moving to Shemiran where they raise their son Bahram – who is somewhat of a prodigy in school and after and how his political leanings (nationalist) change him and the family. The overthrow of Mosaddegh plays a prominent role in the book and of course how Iran progressed as a country from pillar to pillar, thereby also witnessing its decline in the coming years.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot, so this is the story in brief. Having said this, the characters of this book almost become family. I could empathize so much with Talla – be it the situation of the chador to the time she is envious of the girlfriends her son brings home to also the time she goes back to her hometown and yet cannot recognize all that was left behind. Reza’s prose and Adriana Hunter’s translation does wonders to the prose. Sardar on the other hand is a content man (so is Talla by the way) and that’s why he is under constant fear of his world being torn apart one way or the other. I think so many of us can relate to this – time doesn’t matter, neither does class, what matters is the common fear of feeling secure throughout your life. Bahram’s character on the other hand is immensely complexed – he wants more and yet he doesn’t want more. We see him grow from a child to a teenager to an adult and see how his perspectives change as well.

Reza’s writing is compassionate. She makes you want to know a lot more about the characters and the situations they face on a day to day basis. “The Gardens of Consolation” makes you hoot for common people and hope and pray that all goes well in their world – and when you start doing that in a book, it means you are hooked to it. Reza makes you weep (a little), smile (a lot) and makes you a see a world that you never thought existed. A read not to be missed.