Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lost in Translation: Mahashweta by Sudha Murthy

It was the summer of 2005. I was preparing for the campus placements that were to take place when the new session began. But I had a job already – a summer job – as an editor. I was helping my teacher from school time to edit the English translation of a Marathi book. Marathi is a beautiful language, as is English. The cosmetic surgery occurs when you try and translate…and more often than not it is for the worse. You make a Plain Jane out of an enchantress. And I reiterate that after reading English translation of Mahashweta – translated by Sudha Murthy, the author of the Kannada original.
I have not read the Kannada version of Mahashweta. But I can say hands down the English version is nowhere close to it. The back cover acknowledges it to be written in ‘deceptively simple style’. I would say ‘appallingly simple’ is more like it. By this time if you have decided that I hate the book, you are wrong.
I love it. For one, I am wondering if the title itself is deliberate. 'Shwet' in Sanskrit means white and the protagonist of the novel gets affected by Leukoderma and gets white patches on her body. Nevertheless, the issue tackled is a sensitive one that is commonplace in our society. Each of the characters has been etched in great detail. Their thoughts have been elaborated well. The end, where the reader almost expects Anupama to get married to Dr. Vasant, is unexpected; she refuses to get married again…to anyone. The way the story comes a full circle when Anupama’s students decide to perform Mahashweta is characteristic of wholesome stories. But such good work begged for better language. I don’t mean Shakespearean…the story has many words and sentences characteristic of Indian English. Certain sentences are so typically film-like in their nature that you wonder if a person of Sudha Murthy’s calibre lacks the imagination to make it sound any better. The story is set in real circumstances and she is talking about real people. Their conversations could also have been that real in nature. It was a failed attempt at introducing fake romanticism in such a sensitive story. An example I can quote is:
As the day of Anand’s departure drew near, Anupama became paler and paler. Her husband was going to an unknown country, and people had been making malicious comments that she could not ignore. ‘One can have a wife here and another there as well. It seems white girls are very aggressive,’ they said.
Anupama was afraid now that something untoward would happen. Anand read her mind and said, “Anu, don’t worry. I’ll count every hour, every minute and every second till you arrive’.
‘Suppose something happens to make you forget?’
‘What a foolish girl you are! Have you heard what they say in a church wedding? “Until death do us part…” And that is my promise to you. We shall always be together. Anu, how can I ever think of anybody other than you?’
Anupama sighed with relief.
Surely, a girl of Anupama’s calibre and intelligence (as she has been portrayed to be) can be trusted not to have such apprehensions. The ‘every hour, minute, second’ thing is almost cheeky and one doesn’t expect such things from a serious and (supposedly introvert) doctor who has his mind on getting a post-graduate degree from England.
Overcome by shyness, Anupama did not lift her head.
‘Anu, the other day you gave me tickets and today I am giving you my heart. Please keep it safe.’
Anupama smiled and dimples appeared on her cheeks.
The analogy between the tickets and the heart almost makes me gag. And the whole statement is uncharacteristic of Dr. Anand, of a mature individual and of a real person.
From a social point of view, the language scores. It is so simple that even people with the most basic English skills will be able to understand it; and that is paramount given that the book has a strong social message to deliver (probably the only reason it was written). And the translation ensures that it reaches a wider web of people. But from a literary point of view, the book disappoints.
All said and done, Mahashweta makes good reading and touches the heart. It dispels false notions about one of nature’s cruelties called Leukoderma. It takes the focus away from the external factors of one’s personality and brings it around to internal factors like what the person stands for. More women should read it to find their foothold in the society and overcome dependence on their families or husbands and find identities as individuals. It is only when others know that you can’t be hurt that they will stop trying.

3 Thinkers Pondered:

Sowmya said...

This review reminds me so much of an observation I made in my book review of Monk who sold his ferrari regarding analogies.

The following are the words from my blog....

The style of writing is crisp, simple and straightforward but certain similes and other figures of speech could have been replaced with better ones. Like the line in page 157 “first rays of the sun peeking into the room, pushing away darkness like a child pushes away an unwanted bedcover”. Not very tasteful!


I wonder how authors can make such glaring blunders.

Irshad said...

It is a fine effort by Sudha Murthy. I agree with your review about it. One thing I noted that word "leukoderma" white patches skin condition is not true exact word is Leucoderma.

Anonymous said...

sudha Murty has done a great job.the book is excellent it has all the feelings which a girl feels when she gets those patches,as i know what it feels like.most often the people suffering from leukoderma are neglected in a society.