Last week, I interviewed the scholar, Ashoka University professor, writer, and translator, Rita Kothari, for Desi Books. It was a rich, enlightening discussion and not just because we translate from the same language (Gujarati.) I found her points about how we struggle to decode certain sociocultural and political issues through translation and how we're unable to capture what the silences mean to be most interesting. Have a listen.
As much of my literary translation published so far has involved works from the classic Gujarati canon, I get asked sometimes about some of the problematic social mores of earlier times. My response is that I generally avoid translating works that feel problematic to me. But, yes, we have to consider such works as representative of their time when gender, class, caste dynamics were different. In that sense, they're more like sociocultural and historical artifacts to me. That said, I also remind people that things aren't all good now. Even when we might have improved some of our sociopolitical attitudes and behaviors, our language hasn't always caught up.
When I first began doing literary translation, I had already been writing my own fiction for several years. And, of course, I’d been a demanding reader and book reviewer for many years already too. With my first literary translation, though, I made some stumbles. Looking back, I see two main reasons. First, I was so in awe of the legendary Gujarati writer, Dhumketu, whose works had never seen a book length translation like this one. Second, the stories are set in historical time periods and written during an earlier time with more archaic dialects, idioms, and syntax and I wanted to bring as much of that over as possible. I was lucky to work with a strong editor who was far enough from the writer and the text to help me make necessary changes. Still, with the US edition of this first translation, I’ve grown more confident about what to edit and how. This upcoming US text still has the music of the original but also beats to a new rhythm.