There is a novel by Upendranath Ashk, Shahar Men Ghumta Aïnaincidentally, translated into English by Daisy Rockwell as In a city a wandering mirror. I constantly remember the novel after the announcement of the International Booker Prize 2022. In the world of literature, the mirror of Hindi has been constantly moving for one hundred and fifty years. It presented the best of national and international literature to Hindi readers. If I say it clearly, the important role that Hindi has always played has finally started to be recognized after nearly a hundred and fifty years. The mirror of the world also moved earlier to Hindi, but stopped for the first time. There is no hesitation in saying that this will usher in a new era of dialogue and liaison.
Relationships only last when they are mutually driven. Hindi has made tireless efforts, without any grudge or complaint, to bring the languages of the world closer to the intellectual needs and literary taste of its society. But it was rarely performed with the same eagerness by other languages. It’s not just because of the Hindi publishing industry’s lack of preparation or reach, it’s also because of a lack of healthy two-way dialogue and ignorance, whether deliberate or not, in other languages about Hindi script which is among the best. Translation is only possible through mutual dialogue. The richer the dialogue between the writer-translator-editor-editor, the easier the path to a good translation will be.
The Hindi sphere is hesitant and a little dry in nature, which has hindered its progress. For whatever reason, Hindi has always been reluctant to show off proudly. Many books in Hindi are being translated. There are many translators and awards for translated work as well, but few discussions about good translators and good translations. Hindi media barely reviews translated books and ignores translators as a whole. This could be due to the mentality of viewing translation as a purely commercial or technical job. By ignoring the creative aspect of translations, we deprive ourselves of understanding the importance of translators.
Many talented writers from Hindi have easily translated literature from other languages into Hindi and here is a great example. Shankar’s Novel Chaurangi was published in Bengali in 1962, which established him as a writer and brought him great fame. To date, about 145 editions of the novel have been published in Bengali. Legendary fiction writer Rajkamal Chaudhary translated it into Hindi, which was published by Rajkamal Prakashan in 1964. Shankar is well known because of this book in the Hindi sphere, but he gained worldwide fame when the English translation of ‘Arunava Sinha was published in 2007 — 45 years after the original and 43 years after the Hindi translation. There are many Indian language writers whose books were translated into Hindi before they won the Sahitya Akademi or the Jnanpith Prize—from UR Ananthamurthy, Girish Karnad, Bhalchandra Nemade to Damodar Mauzo. This is also true for writers of international languages. Whether Mario Vargas Llosa or Olga Tokaczuk, their books had been translated into Hindi before winning the Nobel Prize. Many such examples exist when several of the world’s great books were translated into Hindi long before they gained traction or their author achieved worldwide acclaim.
But few languages do a similar task to Hindi. Few languages show a willingness to embrace Hindi works, although some changes are apparent and there are signs of two-way translation and dialogue. It is hoped that this process will be accelerated after the International Booker Prize for Ret Samadhi.
Now that Hindi is in the spotlight, we need to seriously think about our basic preparation. Everyone would like to connect with us and expect better dialogue. We will have to better highlight our literature. We will have to open multiple channels of communication with translators and editors of other languages. Ret Samadhi was written over a long period of seven years, such a marathon writing process requires endless patience. I remember Geetanjali Shree paying attention to every word and sentence. She paid attention to every comma, semicolon, ellipse, and period—how to use them, or whether to use them at all. The novel has a one-word sentence, or an entire context described by a three-word sentence that has been published as a subsection. How would each section begin, how would it end, and what motive to include in which section—serious deliberations took place on each question before a final decision was made. From the first cover designed by Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh, to the cover of a later edition of a painting by Daisy Rockwell, this journey has been full of intense conversations and transformations. Geetanjali Shree breaks the mold with a rare restlessness in her writing, she had the same nervousness with the production of her book. The more she observes each object with keen eyes, the more it keeps her creative mind active. Understanding such a complex behavior pattern of a creative character and meeting its demands is an editor’s duty. Then you need the best writing in the world.
High honors and prizes in any language do not come quickly, but books are not written or published for a prize. Why do we want to read literature from our regional languages and world languages in our own language? Be part of their grief, their struggles, their loves and understand their sensitivity and sensibility and thus untangle the knots of our own lives. To understand their society, to seek help, comfort and strength in our difficult times. The reason could be anything, but literature brings us universal truths and brings us to people of diverse races and identities. At present, most countries in the world are going through a phase of turmoil. There has been an increase in aggression and violence in almost every society in the world. History is unearthed and vengeful thoughts grow stronger. At such times, the call to humanity is a universal requirement. In India, the Hindi-speaking states are going through a phase of great turmoil and the society seems to stay on an aggressive course for at least the next 25 years. Until two generations are weary and the third learns a lesson and changes course, this may remain the pattern. Sigh! This shouldn’t happen.
Just at this point, a climate for a new type of writing in the Hindi region was created, along with the demand for creative translations. The last century has been devoted to the dialogue of Hindi with other languages of the world. It is possible that this century will be devoted to the languages of the world engaging in a dialogue with Hindi, female writing being the dominant voice of this century. They have the raw ingredients of reality. They have depth and intensity of feeling. Whatever their ethnic or religious identity, they all want to express themselves. Literature is not written to be translated, but great translations have tremendous value for literature. We need translations to bring these Hindi voices to the world.
(Satyanand Nirupam is the editorial director of Rajkamal Prakashan, the publisher of Geetanjali Shree’s Ret Samadhi.)
(Translated from Hindi by Rumi Malik)