Distinct Kannada flavour
The novel is an individual's journey in search of one's true self that confronts the caste-ridden tradition.
Bharathipura, U.R. Ananthamurthy, Oxford University Press, p.308, Rs. 450
Indian literatures, with some exceptions, usually mean Indian writing in English. Certainly, lack of good translations is one main reason for this low visibility. But there seems to be yet another, equally important, political reason related to the nature of translation itself: Should translations be in reader-friendly, standard “global” English or rendered in inflected, “local” English, true to the native idiom?
Evidently, this is more to do with cultural imperialism that operates within the logic of globalisation than with the aesthetics of representation. If we recognise that each bhasha literature has its own poetics, particularly in the way in which it negotiates the modern nation, it becomes all the more important for translations to reject universalised, global English and explore the possibilities of bringing out the interiority of Indian language texts.
It is in this context that we need to welcome the second translation of U.R. Ananthamurthy's important work, Bharathipura, by Susheela Punitha (the first one was by P. Sreinivasa Rao, Macmillan, 1996). Very rarely do we come across an Indian bhasha fictional work getting translated twice. Perhaps Shivarama Karanth's “Marali Mannige” is the only other Kannada novel that has seen two translations.
Bharathipura is a dense text, with multiple voices and references ranging from the local to the national and global. Known as one of the important novels that shaped Kannada modernity in content and form, it had employed a fresh idiom to explore the experience of the new individual. Published in 1973, eight years after his much-acclaimed Samskara, it had resulted in heated arguments over the writer's take on caste, particularly the untouchables.
While many hailed it as a masterpiece for its multi-layered structure and extensively nuanced treatment of the caste question, others criticised it for its “reactionary” attitude towards social change and for portraying untouchables as “things” who could not think or act for themselves.
In many ways Bharathipura is a quintessential Ananthamurthy novel. Highly complex in its treatment of social change and the contradictions of revolution, it was misunderstood by both progressives and conservatives alike.
However, it inaugurated a new culture of criticism that celebrated a text's complexities and ambivalences, the ability to “go beyond” all ideologies as a true hallmark of Kannada aesthetics. Even to this day, it has remained a dominant paradigm in Kannada literary judgement, as can be seen in the introduction by Manu Chakravarthy.
Like Samskara (and Avasthe that followed in 1978), Bharathipura is about an individual's journey in search of one's true self. The journey, of course, is also intricately connected to the social and the political forces outside, and operates at both the metaphorical and metonymical levels.
But unlike Praneshacharya's journey in Samskara that takes him to an exploration of modernity, Jagannatha in Bharathipura confronts the caste-ridden tradition, which functions according to its own immanent laws that can frustrate any attempt at change. Thus Jagannatha realises, to his horror and dismay, that imposing a change from outside can be counterproductive. The subalterns cannot be represented without indulging in violence, which ironically, makes the liberator turn into an oppressor.
The two central events in the novel, one where Jagannatha forces the untouchables touch the saligrama, the sacred stone held in great reverence by his ancestors, and the other where he organises the temple entry movement, turn out to be farcical rituals, resulting in the re-emergence of faith with a renewed vigour. In a moment of introspection the hero wonders whether by forcing the untouchables to touch saligrama and make it profane, he is actually making it more sacred.
The novel offers an incisive narrative of the social and political tensions of the nation during the 70s marked by a disillusionment with radical ideologies. It is also an attempt to rethink the values associated with the national modern, by linking the novelist-hero's personal experience with the national situation but through a gendered discourse, since the novel is plotted through the consciousness of the male protagonist. Thus the modernist preoccupation of seeking an authentic form of a pure, inner experience seems at variance with the desire to transform the caste ridden society.
And there are other voices who do not completely agree or disagree with the hero's action, but join hands with the cause for different reasons. It is through these characters that the novelist tries to mediate the gap between the hero's individual consciousness and the outer world that shapes the inner life of the people.
Bringing out all these nuances and embedded voices in the narrative demands a close reading of the text as well as the sensitivity to choose “from both languages to make the third language of the translation specific and distinct”, as Susheela Punitha observes in her note. In order to establish the distinct Kannada flavour, the translator has employed three kinds of referencing.
Expressions which are self-explanatory are retained in the narrative, whereas those that are context-specific are provided as footnotes. Other culture specific, but context-free words are listed in the glossary.
The earlier translation too used extensive footnoting, but the rendering strained the reader because of the use of third person and wrong choices of expressions, which made the tone flat and dull.
The present translation is aided by an incisive introduction and an interview with the author by Manu Chakravarthy which helps the reader place the novel in its context.
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