India, a country of many cultures, languages, castes and religions, offers an impressive vista of rural life in its varied dimensions. Away from the urban boredom, anguish and material comforts, a life of scarcity, poverty, values and practicality towards a dream life makes ordinary people special. In Regional Language Fiction: Transformative Essays on Literary Translation (Authorspress, Delhi 2014), V. V. B. Rao, a renowned fiction writer, hagiographer, biographer, critic, poet and translator offers is a memorable anthology of critical essays on brilliant regional novels. He evinces interest in Translation Studies and Literary Translation.
In 2009, Authorspress published his notable book Insights into Literary Translation and Language in Distinctive Use. A prolific author/translator of more than sixty books with hundreds of reviews and articles, Rao is a retired English Language Teaching Professional and Trainer, now lives in Noida and continues to write at leisure with passion and intensity. When one talks to him, he appears agile, vibrant and full of life.
He takes up translated versions of fourteen significant novels of different Indian regional languages: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Panjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Rao understands the needs of readers of this age and therefore, without any parenthesis, he talks of the thematic worries of the regional authors, narrates the story briefly, and inspires us to go through the novel in original. His observations are precise and at times, exhaustive with a few critical remarks.
Bani Basu’s Dark Afternoons (a Bengali novel, translator: Nandini Guha) raises sensitive issue of prostitution and rehabilitation of women driven to anti-social and disgraceful occupation because unfavourable and gruesome circumstances forced such women to a life of dishonour and indignity in Indian social setup. Prostitution is not only a social stigma but it also gives rise to many social evils, diseases like AIDS besides lowering the dignity of women and men. Novel highlights narrow thinking and unsympathetic social response despite claims of reformatory measures. It reflects on the halfhearted efforts of society and wise reformers to say. A pathetic and engaging story revolves around two couples’ living in disharmony and marital discord. Questions regarding improving lives of such woman arise and therefore, a few prefer to leave home and serve the cause of depraved women living as prostitutes. Well-meaning people pool sources and knowledge and try to deal with the social evil with sympathy, consideration and secular open-mindedness. Rao evaluates author’s treatment and anxiety quite convincingly and conveys Basu’s message.
A cautious scrutiny of Joseph Macwan’s novel Stepchild displays anxiety for the wretched plight of the neglected and unprivileged segment, the untouchable. A realistic portrayal of life of lower castes in Gujarat forms the backdrop of a sensitive novel in the novel. Novel appears gripping, and touches a socially relevant and vital issue like the prostitution. If lower castes try to improve life and existential conditions to live a comfortable life, they confront hurdles the upper class people put up. Joseph Macwan creates courageous, compassionate and reasonable characters, who know to fight against the prejudices ingrained in the minds of upper class and ultimately gain victory. It might look symbolic and future events prove that the society must respond to human feelings of equality and freedom. Mridula Garg in her novel Anitya looks at complex human relations from different angles as freedom movement in the background sustains a curious interest in the angular and at times, baffling behaviour of characters. Each character has a thought he wants to express and then, asserts. In the massive social milieu, he/she feels hemmed and agonized. If one looks into the nature of happenings around and matters that influence, one finds pain and suffering. A man finds little joys but immense distress in life. A long tale of suffering of a family engages readers’ attention as the narration keeps the interest intact without diluting the main thrust of message it wishes to convey. Editor has an uncanny sense of telling a tale briefly. As usual, Rao underlines thematic anxieties of the author with a sense of sincerity.
Sri Krishna Alanahally’s ‘Pasanagada Gendethimma –A Tale of Three Villages (Of Karnataka) graphically and convincingly portrays the life of three villages after India got freedom. In the changed scenario, various outside influences exert tremendous impact on the life and living of people not only in the urban areas but also in even rural areas. Rural life also carries restrictions and freedoms. Caste plays a dominant role and determines the life pattern of rural people while assimilating urban influence. If life becomes enjoyable, it also brings break down in family system, relations and social and economic life. Novel talks explicitly of people’s social life, joys, pleasures, sufferings and ambitions of early years of Independence authentically. Gauri Deshpande’s Deliverance (Marathi –Nirgathi) concentrates on the plight of women. For a woman, difficulties she encounters, stifle her growth, to arrive at an independent decision. If she decides, it causes genuine disturbance at home with varying times and a man-dominated society does not approve of freedom as it refuses deliberately to notice sea change in social life, ethos, mores and tradition-oriented frame of family and social life. It is a furious statement of authority where the society must learn that women are not inferior to men and are capable of taking independent decisions. Liberty and equality are precious to women, Deshpande asserts in strong words. One finds again, another certified truth of time a man should accept or else he faces discord and disharmony.
Gambhiri Ghara –The Dark Abode is an Oriya novel by a celebrated novelist Sarojini Sahoo. It goes beyond the accepted norms of marital relations, for beyond the defined boundaries of human relations. It celebrates terrific power of sex and sexuality a festival of sexual pleasures infuse meaning to life, so feel and assert the protagonists of a highly publicized novel. It speaks of physical relationship and highlights platonic love and passion, a carnival of joy in imagination. Sahoo is famous for creating controversies, though she delineates man-woman with passion and understanding, and reveals the hidden and subdued love for the opposite sex, a truth nobody can refute. It reminds one of Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game and Sidhartha, or one recalls a few stories of Amrita Pritam or Naked Triangle of Balwant Gargi. However, Hesse stands alone and tall.
Gurudial Singh’s Parsa is a captivating Panjabi novel that beautifully delineates the rural scene of Panjab. Rao often goes back to the background of the author’s thought and penetrates into the circumstances that inspire a creative work. Rao often talks of factors like regional and parochial, then tries to locate the affects of caste, class and then, determines the behavioral patterns of various characters appearing in the novel. Singh vividly recalls life of Malwa, a region in Punjab, and talks of a man’s obligations towards family and society. Feelings of love and devotion impart meaning. Parsa is a symbol of hard life. Singh makes an authentic statement about rural life of Panjab, and love for the roots and soil instills devotion towards native land. Tale of the Tamarind Tree is a wonderful Tamil novel of Sundara Ramaswamy, S. Krishanan translated for Penguin India (1995). Again, with a backdrop of a tree, he tries to reveal different shades of human relationships. The tree is a silent witness to many incidents in the life of characters and talks of the small joys and sufferings. Feelings of love and hate determine the lives of people, who are simple with all human failings and weaknesses.
Rao is apt in assessing the emotional content in a tale and he does it superbly. Indira Parthasarathy’s Ashes and Wisdom (Vendhu Thanintha Kaadugal in Tamil, translated by Padma Narayan) speaks of change in the spirit of times, value system and human relations. It affects ethics and psyche of men and women. As individualism takes roots, life in contemporary times no longer adheres to conventional morality and consequently, changes bring anguish and distorted living devoid of peace and harmony. A man has already begun to live a disorganized life as materialism determines attitude and philosophy. Relations are just mechanical, physical and unemotional. De-recognition of love, compassion and warmth make lives frosty even in bed. Stark egoism brings unbearable rawness, unmitigated ego and arrogance. Man does not live meaningfully but feels he lives with purpose because he has money and so treacherously, he moves ahead while eliminating contenders for supremacy. Barrenness and desolation pierces deep into human sentiments and makes life harsh and stone. Individual pride, self and fear of loss of self-image provokes men to live life alone and monotonous and they feel, they live in fulfillment.
A few years ago, India witnessed deaths of farmers in a few southern states because of backwardness, hunger and poverty. Life had become intolerable as governmental relief and welfare schemes proved fake and futile. ‘Friends Forever’ (a Telugu novel of Peddinti Ashok Kumar, translated by P. Jayalakshmi) is a story of a poor Muslim, a nomadic, who earned living through sloth bear cubs after training the beast properly so that people get entertainment and he gets money. Good to a certain extent it is but when a man nurses feelings of love and compassion for the beast, things go crazy. A very simple story indeed and it tells touchingly about the love of Imam for a bear cub Shadul. However, wife Bihamma and son Chand nurture ambitions of earning more money and even think of disposing of the beast and here, departments of police, forest and revenue come under scrutiny for apathetic role they play. Even animals respond to feelings of love.
With the passage of time, social awareness and love for the soil, a return to the roots, going back to village and its past began to impact life. Nativism also determined the life of people. Nativism concerns local culture in its beauty and compassion discarding narrow and shortsighted mindset. Malapalli, a novel in Telugu by Unnava Lakshminarayan focuses attention on these vital issues. It takes people to past and teaches how life is lived. The major thought that gained credence in the past, became prevalent in other regional literature. When regional feelings are distorted these play a negative role and definitely prove disastrous for the country. Author highlights problems of labourers and farmers. A gripping story of exploitation, anguish of the poor and belated solution, disturbs. Nobody can ignore or brush aside its contemporariness.
Intizar Hussain’s Basti (Translated by Prances Pritchett) is a beautiful and poignant tale of partition days. It evokes feelings of nostalgia, agony and sufferings of people who witnessed spine tingling incidents of tragic days where everyone suffered and he, who did not underwent sufferings, also felt a sense of deep agony within. Author goes back to 1857 and relives tragedy, sufferings, desolation and disillusionment of past and relates the historic incident to partition days of 1947. It talks of communal feelings, love for the land, pastoral environment and town Rupnagar where people lived happily. However, pangs of separation and division of the country brought unheard of sufferings, deaths and irretrievable loss of relations, emotional attachment and property. Love for the land and soil creates longing memories, and revivifies agonies. It is a notable document like Tamas of Bhism Sahni and Khuswant Singh’s Train to Pakistan.