THE work of translation is perhaps just as important as the other `original' writings of Indian writers in English, though sadly less celebrated. Apart from the Rushdies and Arundhati Roys that the world celebrates, there is another, shyer and more various, Indian literature in English waiting to be discovered in the literary translations from Hindi and the regional languages of India. Among the many English translations of regional writings from India to emerge in recent years, Sudhakar Marathe's translation of Borade's renowned Marathi novel Pachola (translated as Fall) impresses one for its originality, quite apart from its lucid and meticulous rendition of a modern Marathi literary classic.
Borade's Fall is at one level a novel of unrelenting deprivation and hardship. The narrator is Parbati, the wife of a village tailor, whose moderating influence on her husband is tragically insufficient to prevent his disastrous confrontation with Garad, a local figure of considerable wealth and influence in the village. Although it is a clash of personalities that sets events in motion, it is equally clear that mechanisation and urban fashions are just as crucial to Parbati's husband's downfall and the consequent destitution of their family as his local opponent. He is not only largely powerless against these forces but also painfully ignorant of them. It is Garad's better understanding of three factors as well as his economic clout that leave his enemies little chance against him. The novel ends bleakly with no evident prospect of improvement in Parbati's harsh lot, despite her heroic resolve and dignity. As such, Parbati's story is emblematic of rural poverty and powerlessness particularly of the Dalits in the context of modern Indian urbanisation. What distinguishes Borade's work is the strength of emotion he manages to convey despite the harshness of the lives that he portrays. A superbly understated and tender moment in Fall occurs towards the end:
I finished clearing up and was about to lie down when He called out. I wondered why He was calling. Better see. So I went to him and asked,
So He said, "Sit here a while."
His voice's gone all soft. Whatever's happened to him today, I wondered. Ne'er does his voice get so soft, so why today? He's asking me to sit, so I'd better sit down. Then He began to stare hard at me. I couldn't make out why. Better ask, I thought
"Why're ye looking at me like that?"
He took my hand into his. And his eyes were just swimming with tears. The lump in his throat was riding up and down. Now what's the matter with him, I wondered. Whate'er's happened to him? I asked him, "Why're ye behaving like this?"
So he said, "Ye've really suffered because of me, dear."
It felt so good to hear this. My heart was full. My tiredness was all gone, gone. I'd never been able to hear such words until this day, see? E'en if once in a way I can hear such words that'll do for me. I'll slave hard as if I had four arms and not only two. But I won't let him suffer even a little. I felt like opening my heart out to him. But I held back. I only said, "How `suffered'?"
"I can see everything, can't I? I too try hard; but goodness knows what goes wrong at times. I feel all churned up inside. Then everything goes wrong in my head. I try, really do try, but I can't check my feelings. I myself don't know how I am behaving then. That's why ye have to suffer."
"So what if we have to suffer? Just ye get well, that's all."
(Fall, pp. 93-94)
Characteristically Parbati doesn't reveal her own feelings despite the understanding and pathos of that moment. She concentrates on the practical; her husband's unexpected appreciation and honest self-appraisal reinforce a far deeper bond than the mere conventions of love would express. Nothing changes in real terms; but the moment is supremely important in their lives, showing briefly their love for each other in spite of every circumstance against them.
Marathe's translation of Fall carries the reader along compellingly in its conveyance of Borade's powerful social vision: unrelenting and scathing in its depiction of the petty abuses of power, and at the same time detailed and compassionate in its portrayal of the lives of ordinary people caught up by the forces of change.
In its unsentimental though profoundly sympathetic rendering of rural penury, Borade's novel may be compared in the English literary tradition with the works of naturalist writers such as Thomas Hardy, Richard Jefferies and D.H. Lawrence. Marathe's English translation is interestingly influenced by these figures. For his translation of Marathi rural idiom, Marathe uses the inflections of English dialectical speech, with its ye's and ain'ts, favoured by the naturalist writers of English literature. Yet the use of the English literary idiom does not detract from the simultaneous use of `Indianisms', colourful expressions and metaphors drawn from Marathi idiom and oral narrative traditions of India. In the details of experience too the translation strikes one as wonderfully faithful to the nuances and rhythms of Indian rural life imaginatively perceived through the medium of its displaced and marginalised narrator.
Such details are readily recognised by the Indian reader in the way that Parbati consistently refers to her husband as `He' rather than by naming him, or the way in which she slaps her forehead with her palm in frustration, and in a thousand other gestures and verbal subtleties which are identifiably `Indian'.
The resultant synthesis of language and experience in Marathe's translation of Borade's Fall may be hailed as a fictive innovation of importance, particularly in relation to rural writing, of which there are presumably many instances in the regional languages, but few so far which have developed such a distinctive voice in the area of Indian literature in English. Some other examples one could think of in obvious thematic and narrative comparison with Fall are Raja Rao's seminal novel, Kanthapura, which also uses a female narrator (though in Rao's case a high-caste Brahmin woman) to great effect in describing the effects of caste politics and colonisation in the life of a rural community, and Kamala Markandaya's Nectar in the Sieve, a study of a peasant woman's endurance and dignity in the face of adversity.
Fall could be read alongside these classic novels of Indian literature for its depiction of the Dalit condition (as the translator Marathe defines it in his useful Introduction to the work), as well as for its unique and elegant literary voice in this translation.
Fall, R.R. Borade, translated by Sudhakar Marathe, New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1999, Rs. 30.
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