Translating India: Delicate balance between beauty and originality in translating Marathi to English
This feature on challenges of translating from Marathi to English is from a 10-part Translating India series where 10 translators share their experiences of translating from their respective languages
I began translating simply because I wanted my children to be able to appreciate the short stories I was reading in Marathi. When I realised that the translation had come out well, I also realised that many gems in Marathi literature which I had read since childhood were unknown and unavailable to the people at large. Ranjit Desai was my favourite author and I began with his Raja Ravi Varma. It was important to take a topic which I liked, else I would not have enjoyed the process.
Milind Bokil's Shala, NS Inamdar's Shahenshah, the Life of Aurangzeb and Rau, The love story of Bajirao Mastani soon followed. I recently completed Ranjit Desai's Shivaji: The Great Maratha.
I define translation as "creativity within a defined space". The original writer has set the tone, context and the broad framework within which the translator has to use his creativity. Each translation is thus a challenge and fun. I have to keep in mind that the reader is reading in English and has not read the original. Translators are unfortunately called "traitors" as the reader who has read the original is likely to trash the translation. Luckily, in my case, I have received great reviews from the authors and critics at large, both of whom have read the original and yet appreciated the nuanced translation.
There are some novels which I enjoy translating without reading the pages in great detail as the surprise element brings out the best in me. In some other novels, I have to read the novel a few times to get into the skin of the character. In my case, I met only Milind Bokil of Shala, as the other authors were not alive. I am not sure if meeting the author makes the translation better.
Historical fiction,by its very nature, is rooted in the history, culture, and geography of theland and I deliberately used some Indian and Marathi words without bothering totranslate them into English. You can’t have Shivaji addressing Jijabai as“Mother” when “Maasaheb” sounds so elegant!
I have translated stories which are in one sense "Indian" in context. There was a challenge to decide whether I should allow the "Indian-ness" to come through or make it universal. Historical fiction, by its very nature, is rooted in the history, culture, and geography of the land and I deliberately used some Indian and Marathi words without bothering to translate them into English. You can't have Shivaji addressing Jijabai as "Mother" when "Maasaheb" sounds so elegant! Likewise, the Urdu and Persian phrases and words used in Shahenshah, the Life of Aurangzeb gives it a unique flavour which would be lost were one to translate these into English.
In Shala, the language used by one of the characters was that of a rustic schoolboy. It was a difficult task to get this into English. The protagonist too is a schoolboy and I had to be very attentive to ensure that my language was reflecting the words which a school boy would use. Some of the phrases in Mughal courts show a lot of courtesy and respect which are not always translatable. But the fun of translation is to get the right meaning without losing the original.
I would love to but cannot translate Purushottam Laxman "Pu La" Deshpande from Marathi into English and Tagore from Bangla into English. They are two of my favourite authors but the genre of humour and poetry for Pu La and Tagore, respectively, makes them impossible to translate.
There are gems in each language. Marathi is my mother tongue and I see a huge task ahead to translate the classics into English. There are wonderful Marathi plays which need to be novelised so that the readers can enjoy the powerful stories. I am working on one such play at the moment.
Translators create world literature and I do hope the translators get much more credit for their work.
An engineer and an IIM-Bengaluru graduate, Vikrant Pande currently heads a University and does translations from Marathi to English in his free time, for the sheer love of getting them into mainstream media. The views expressed are personal
- Rabindranath Tagore
- historical fiction
- Translating India
- Marathi literature
- Ranjit Desai
- Raja Ravi Varma
- NS Inamdar
- Shahenshah, the Life of Aurangzeb
- Rau, The love story of Bajirao Mastani
- Shivaji: The Great Maratha
- Milind Bokil
- Purushottam Laxman Deshpande
- Pu La De