I have come to the bitter con¬clusion that if Hindi writers are treated like poor relations of English ones, they have only themselves to blame. Why on earth do distinguished Hindi novelists allow their work to be hastily translated into clownish and farcical English? Is it impossible to wait till a reasonable translator comes along? A couple of years ago, Bhisham Sahni’s brilliant novel Tamas was, so to speak, done for in the translation. It is now the turn of Mannu Bhandari’s Aapka Bunty. This is rightly considered a land¬mark in recent Hindi fiction, but it may as well be said at once that the author has no hope of being treated seriously—or treated as a writer at all—by anyone who happens on this English version. Incident¬ally, she is lucky that her other novel Mahabhoj has found a far better translator, and among English readers that may save her reputation to some extent.
Aapka Buny is original in theme as well as in the detail with which it depicts psycho¬logical interaction. It focusses almost wholly on a child, which alone is unusual for an adult novel. Bunty lives with his divorced mother and longs uncomprehendingly for his father.
The relationship bet¬ween mother and son is depic¬ted as being almost incestuous, a drain on the child, who is also unconsciously used by the mother as a pawn in the power game with her former husband. (The subtlety of the depiction lies largely in the fact that we see all this through Bunty’s eyes; when the writer actually articulates what is going on between the adults it seems almost an intrusion.) When Bunty’s mother decides to marry again, his incompre¬hension, distrust, feeling of rejection overcome all the well-meaning gestures of the new pair; and in a series of very believable little domestic epi¬sodes, we see the lovable child turning into an unmanageable one. He ends up being sent to his father and step-mother, blanking out in school, and finally, in disgrace, on his way to boarding school. In her pre¬face to the original, the author says that she could not take sides in this fictional warfare—but there is no doubt that she makes us feel for Bunty more than for any of the others, and that is the strength of the novel.
Jai Ratan’s translation of all this is, to use his own words, choke full with mistakes (p. 14). It is as if, to use his own words again, he had door¬-crashed into the English lan¬guage (p. 88) and he makes the reader want to wash his hand of this affair (p. 99). I suspect that Jai Ratan was once, on a dark night, attacked by an English idiom. And since then he has been avenging himself upon the species. Even other¬wise, he used his language on the principle that awkward or unnatural English is in some mysterious way closer to the original than English which sounds right. Take this simple sentence from Chapter Twelve: ‘Mummy toast mein makkhan laga-laga kar de rahi thi. This, the original sentence, used the word ‘toast’, which is now simple everyday usage in both, Hindi and English. The obvious thing to do would have been to retain the word in translation, and take account of English usage by saying, ‘Mummy was buttering the toast and passing it on’. Instead, the translation reads, ‘Mummy was putting butter on bread and passing it on to Doctor Sahib’ (p. 141). Nearly every sentence in the transla¬tion has similar, if not worse faults; and I leave it to the gentle reader to imagine the effect of the whole.
A Touch of Sun is Mridula Garg’s own ‘transcreation’ of her Hindi novel Uske Hisse ki Dhoop. The English title is an unfortunate choice, suggesting as it does heatstroke rather than anything else. But this is a novel of which any woman with a sense of duty dare not disapprove. The woman protagonist is married to a male chauvinist pig, falls in love j with another male (chauvinist pig), goes back to the first male chauvinist pig, and learns at the end, somewhat rapidly, that she must be an individual. Well, three cheers. And no-one could object to Manisha’s realization that ‘…as long as she endeavours to fill the void in her life with the love of (a) man, it will remain as it is … a gaping hole.’
Nonetheless, the Indian woman’s struggle to acquire an identity very rarely consists of having to choose between two attractive men. The process is usually harassed, squabbly, confused, self-contradictory, and more likely to feature a mother-in-law than a lover. I grant that I have no right to tell the author what sort of story she should have written; but there is no doubt that the course of this narrative, as well as the tone of the writing, are more suited to school-girl romance than to the serious exploration of a woman’s problems. The said tone often clashes comically with the seriousness of the intent. Here, for instance, is a passage which is supposed to depict Manisha’s tragedy in having to put up with her first husband:
She wanted to say something tender and loving to him, something that could soak up his fatigue by its mere utterance. She searched for the right words but could find nothing appropriate.
‘Won’t you change?’ she said
ultimately with great love.
But it was no use.
Jiten did not hear her.
He was asleep.
Let us hope this reforms a few husbands, including mine. Otherwise, the passage is a good example of the language of the ‘transcreation’. It is full of phrases (‘something that could soak up his fatigue by its mere utterance’) which, owing to differences in cultural expec¬tations, convey genuine feeling in Hindi but are merely senti¬mental in English. Equally sententious, in English, is the frequent use of the present tense, although it works in Hindi:
A deep discontent tugs at her as the play of love ends, leaving her stranded on the side lines.
She has never talked of this to Jiten.
How can she?
Incidentally, these solemn pauses between the lines are overkill both in modern Hindi and modern English. When all this is combined with bad grammar, it is not the easiest I of chores to read it through.
Shama Futehally is a freelance journalist based in Delhi.