Mahasweta Devi, who passed away this autumn, was a figure whose work can be seen as existing in and through multiple layers of translation. The first layer: she goes to the great terra incognita—adivasi India—and emerges with narratives of extraordinary power. These Bengali works get translated into English, books that influence literature and politics far away from Bengal. Genres shift: short stories get translated into plays. A Kanhailal Heisram picks up Draupadi for Manipuri theatre. Then a translation at a meta level: the ‘Mothers’ of Manipur re-enact its shattering climax—the naked confrontation of authority—as one of the most iconic images of protest in India, live political theatre. Scholars Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak and Samik Bandyopadhyay have both rendered her works in English. In a conversation moderated by Sunil Menon, they range across a wide turf—personal memory, history and translation—offering complementary readings, sliced through with a keen edge of contestation. Excerpts:
Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak: Samik, it was 1956 when we first met, remember? That’s 60 years!