"The book had to be reborn in English"

Aditya Mani Jha | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on March 25, 2016
Vivek Shabhag, the author of Ghachar Ghochar

Vivek Shabhag, the author of Ghachar Ghochar

Excerpts from a conversation with Vivek Shanbhag, the author of the novella Ghachar Ghochar

What was the first piece of fiction that you ever wrote (that still survives in some form)?

This was a short story I wrote when I was 16 and it won a prize in an adult story competition. It was later published in my first book, a collection of short stories; I was 22 by then.

What was the story about?

It was about a person living in a city, or a slightly bigger town. Upon coming back to his village, he finds that there are some practices that they (the villagers) do that he can’t connect with. He realises that he can’t even connect to his own family.

So it was a kind of culture shock (though not in the right order)?

It was a kind of culture shock. I grew up in a small place, in a little town in coastal Karnataka, and my only experience of the city was when I went on vacation to Bombay. For us, Bombay was the only city; Bangalore was not there at all. So it was like this: you go to college and then you go to Bombay.

How did this translation of Ghachar Ghochar come about?

Publishers had been asking me to bring out a book (in translation) for some time now. But it had not been possible, more because of me rather than them. I was not keen because translation requires a lot of effort. It is as if the work had to be reborn in another language. This book took us (myself and Srinath Perur, the translator) 18 months end to end. I know Srinath for the last 4-5 years. I read his books — one is a published book and the other is something that he shared with me. He is also a fiction writer, although he has not published a book of fiction. I felt that Srinath can do this because he is deeply engaged with the language and his style of writing is such that he pays a lot of attention to smaller details. He had read the book in Kannada and liked it, so that’s how we started (the process of translation).

I remember reading an article about the different translations of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. There were several disputed words and clauses and one of the things that made the book a difficult one to translate was the structure of the German language, with its compound words and modal verbs that impart ambiguity to phrases. What are some of the challenges unique to translating Kannada texts?

Yes, for example, in Kannada, the verb comes at the end of the sentence, so the structure is very different from English. The second thing is that in Kannada, you can move across tenses very easily. You can leave a lot of things vague. You don’t have to definitively say things. These are the spaces that writers make use of.

The most important decisions that we had to take while translating Ghachar Ghochar had to do with tenses. In the English version, we moved a small paragraph (written in the future tense in English) from its place in the original Kannada text, because I had used past tense while writing it in Kannada. But I don’t think it affected the reading experience.

Published on March 25, 2016
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