Tell us about yourself. How did you begin translating and why?
My first degree was in Eng Lit, my postgraduate work at Oxford University
was on R.K. Narayan; my critical concerns since then have been women's writing
from India, and Tamil literature.
How do you go about translating a work? Does it require any direct
interaction with the author of the original?
I have been fortunate in that I have never translated a piece of work simply
because I was commissioned to do it, but always because I was committed to the
work in question.
Of course it is invaluable to work with the author of the original text, and
once again, I have been fortunate in working with authors who have been
extraordinarily generous with their time in explaining their intention in
respect of certain words or phrases, as well as thrust of the work as a whole.
The most difficult aspect of translation, for me, is conveying the individual
voice and style of the original. This means paying attention to the way the
author uses language (the 'rhetoricity' of the original text, in Gayatri
Spivak's language) and trying, imaginatively, to recreate it. This is what
makes each book I translate a challenge.
How much time do you normally take to translate a book?
How long does it take? How long is a piece of string? In some sense, a
translation is never finished, one can go on doing it better, doing it
What has been your experience translating Karrukku considering the fact that
it is a complex book with a unique narrative?
I was deeply interested in Bama's work even before Mini Krishnan asked me
to translate Karukku. This is because I had just been translating an enormously
interesting novel called Koveru Kazhudaigal by Imayam just before that, and was
very impressed (and moved) by what has become known as Dalit writing in Tamil. I
sought out and read a good deal of this material, so it was both a challenge and
a privilege to work on Karukku and to have the opportunity to meet and
talk to Bama.
Yes, I think it is unique as an autobiography for its outspokenness in some
ways, and its reticence in other ways. It speaks very directly from its anger
and its pain - and I wanted desperately to convey something of that. I wanted to
convey something of its colloquiality and the way it speaks directly to the
reader. But also its dignity, its hard-won self respect.
In the introduction to the book you say: Bama does not make any connection
between caste and gender oppressions. Didn't you find that intriguing and did
you discover the reason why she didn't do so in course of your translation?
Bama chooses not to make a connection in this, her first book, between caste
and gender oppressions; she is single-mindedly focussed on the caste oppression
within the church, from her own individual experience.
Tell me, is translation a mechanical act or is there a lot of creativity
It has never been a mechanical exercise. In any case, translation is never a
simple case of rendering a text from one language to another, is it? There is
the difficult question of interpretation. And then the most interesting texts
are ringed round with meanings, and an adequate translation ought to carry
something like the same (or similar) range of meanings.
What is the state of translations in India? Is it true that it is not being
taken all that seriously in India? I mean shouldn't more works in other Indian
languages be translated into English…
I think there is some excellent translation coming from India, but I think
it would be useful to know what the readership is within the country, and who
the readers are of these translations. There is more we can do about
distinguishing between good and not so good translations, about the status of
the source texts that are being translated, about how translated texts are read,
reviewed and taught. I do believe that India is uniquely placed because of our
different languages, and the absolute necessity of good translations if we are
to know each other's literatures and learn from them.
Don't you think a number of great Indian writers have not been introduced to
the world because of the unavailability of their works in translation?
Of course a number of great Indian writers are not known in the rest of the
world. It is not simply a matter of the lack of good, lively, creative
translations of well chosen authors, but the lack of mainstream publishers who
will take them on and give them the publicity they deserve.
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