Valour in translation

Vijay Lokapally | Updated on April 06, 2018 Published on April 06, 2018

Enduring hero: Children across India have grown up listening to the tales of Shivaji’s stirring deeds—his conquests and battles against the Mughals. Photo: G. Ramakrishna   -  The Hindu

Shivaji The Great Maratha Ranjit Desai Translated by Vikrant Pande Harper Perennial Non-fiction ₹799

A lovingly translated Marathi classic brings alive to readers in English the swashbuckling life and times of warrior-king Shivaji

Shriman Yogi is a classic in Marathi literature. A compelling work by Ranjit Desai, it paints a near-perfect picture of Maharaj Shivaji Raje Bhosale, a stellar figure in Indian history and an inspiring warrior-king in Maharashtrian folklore. Kids have grown up listening to the tales of Shivaji’s stirring deeds — his conquests and battles against the Mughals.

As Vikrant Pande, who has translated the work into English, observes, “The Europeans had meticulously written about their emperors but there was no dependable material on Shivaji. Most of the writings were not factual and were disposed to melodramatic versions of Shivaji’s exploits.”

It took him two years to translate the work. “I had to find a way to write in a language that was easy to understand. There were many phrases, usage of words describing parts of the fort, many different weapons, which I simplified for the sake of telling a story. I also had to edit the 1,200 pages of the original to around 800 pages. There were many episodes that I had to remove when I realised they were not adding to the main story. Also, I wanted to keep the pace fast... All this took time,” he explains.

Shivaji The Great Maratha Ranjit Desai Translated by Vikrant Pande Harper Perennial Non-fiction ₹799


From the original, the translator recreates in stunning detail Shivaji’s journey from his birth in Shivneri, a fort near Junnar, to his last breath when he dies in solitude. “I am left all alone, very much alone,” mumbles the weak and dying king, bringing the narrative to a poignant end.

Pande avoids taking liberties with the facts discovered by Desai, and one can say with conviction that the English translation retains the true voice of the Marathi original. An intriguing subject to many, Shivaji has triggered a multitude of researches, leading to volumes of writing, notably by Desai and Babasaheb Purandare.

Pande remarks, “Some authors were not assiduous, others like Babasaheb Purandare were steeped in worship, almost like a devotee.” If translating Shriman Yogi was a cathartic experience for Pande, one can understand. He confesses to shedding tears at some places in the narrative. That was the power of Desai’s writing: he could leave you ecstatic and despondent, all on the same page, and Shivaji’s life threw up many such episodes, especially during his last days.

The book picks up pace with Shivaji’s rise, as he builds his empire from scratch. Of his battles against the Mughals, Desai highlights the best and the worst among them, some victories and some defeats. Where Pande scores is that the translation keeps the reader engrossed. Shivaji’s brilliance as a warrior, a leader of the masses and a tactician is captured across the 11 chapters.

It took Desai four years of research when penning Shriman Yogi, and it became a masterpiece. In the popular retellings of Shivaji’s life and times, there are glowing references to his escape from Agra and his slaying of Shaista Khan and Afzal Khan with bare hands. Pande does a superb job of recreating this episode involving the Maratha king’s astute reading of the treachery that awaited him at the ‘friendly’ meeting with Afzal Khan. This gripping section in the book is a fine tribute to Desai’s writing.

This book also brings out a little-known side of Shivaji — his vision for a grand nation, ‘Hindavi Swaraj’. There are many who argue that more than history researchers, Shivaji can prove to be a fascinating subject for management students.

Readers get to know his mother, Jijabai, intimately in this book. The mother’s love for her son is etched lovingly by Desai, and subsequently by Pande. True, Desai was skilful with the Marathi language and Pande does justice by rendering an impeccable translation.

“Ranjit Desai is a master storyteller, and all I have done is to try and be loyal to the original while using my own creativity to tell a story in English,” says Pande.

Of late, Marathi literature has found ways to reach out to the wider world. Non-Marathi readers have enjoyed brilliant translations by Keerti Ramachandran of two works by Vishwas Patil — Mahanayak and Jhadazadati (Dirge For Damned). Pande has also translated NS Inamdar’s Shehenshah: The Life Of Aurangzeb.

Vijay Lokapally is Deputy Editor, Sports, The Hindu

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Published on April 06, 2018
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