The Arduous World of a Translator
Vikrant Pande

The Arduous World of a Translator

"A translator has to do consciously what an author does naturally"

New Delhi, December 11, 2020

Vikrant Pande has undertaken a mission of bringing translations of Marathi literature to the masses. For years, some of the best written Marathi books remained restricted to the region for want of translators.

For Pande, 55, who has completed ten books with the latest on Duryodhan from Mahabharata, it has been a journey that started with translating a collection of short stories.

His foray into translation was interesting. “I was reading Ranjit Desai’s Morpankhi Sawlya, a collection of short stories on nature, when I translated them so that I could read them out to my children. I sent the translated stories to my friends and to my surprise, they thought I had written them! They didn’t look like translations, giving me an idea that I could translate well. I quickly checked and found that most Marathi classics, which I had read since childhood, had not been translated. It gave me an opportunity to try them. I was lucky to find an editor in HarperCollins who was keen for me to work on the Marathi classics and the journey began,” Pande told NetIndian.

The journey began with Ranjit Desai’s tribute to Raja Ravi Varma. “Holding the paperback of one’s first work is like, to use a cliché, holding one’s child. The feeling is indescribable. It is the final output of months of work. While translating one is too close to the subject, so seeing the final paperback with its coloured cover page, beautifully done by the publisher, is a matter of pride. A friend of mine who owns an original Raja Ravi Varma painting was kind enough to give an image of the painting which was used on the cover. The book, my first one, is also close to my heart as I have been an avid collector of Raja Ravi Varma oleographs. The story by Ranjit Desai on the painter is a touching tale, tragic yet inspirational.”

Pande’s next venture was Shala, which rekindled memories of school life. “Shala is my favourite for various reasons. Milind Bokil’s Shala evokes the memories of our childhood, when it was not so common to go over to a girl classmate’s house or chat with her after school hours. The protagonist Mukund reminds us of our schooldays -- leisurely and uncomplicated life. Mukund is in love with a classmate. The author reminds one of a mofussil town or a suburb, a town not yet touched by modernity. The pace of life is simple. The setting is conservative but not orthodox. It is a lovely story and the simplicity of the characters and their emotions strikes a chord with the reader. Shala was tough as it was not easy to get the ‘voice’ of a teenage boy. I had to do consciously what the author probably had done intuitively. And Milind is a good friend. Shala deserves to be read by many more. It is a universal story, which goes beyond geographical and cultural boundaries.”

Shala was also made into a movie in 2011 and is available on Disney+Hotstar.

History has been the driving force behind Pande’s translations. As he explains, “Some of the topmost books in Marathi are in historical fiction, be it Shriman Yogi, Sambhaji, Rau Bajirao Mastani, or many such. Maratha history from Shivaji till 1857 is full of interesting characters. Shivaji was the founder and is etched in history books. Sambhaji is the misunderstood son who was brutally killed. Bajirao and Mastani is a story of a romantic tragedy. Panipat has been documented by many authors. There are gems in Marathi history so well portrayed by authors like Ranjit Desai, N. S. Inamdar, Vishwas Patil and Shivaji Sawant.”

Translation is an arduous exercise and Pande picks Shriman Yogi, other than Shala, as the most challenging. “Shriman Yogi was a tough act to follow simply because it has reached an iconic status and I was conscious that I have to get the emotions as well as the actions scenes with the same intensity without making it melodramatic. Some of Shivaji’s dialogues bring tears while reading and it was not easy to translate them.”

Of all the ten books that I have read, I personally loved Shriman Yogi and Shahen Shah. What were Pande’s views? “They are my favourite too. Ranjit Desai does not become a devotee of Shivaji while writing Shriman Yogi. He is factual yet manages to get the emotions very well without becoming maudlin. He portrays Shivaji as a character with all his faults and strengths. He does not elevate him to a God-like status which many authors have done. I am grateful to Ranjit Desai’s family for giving me a chance to translate Shivaji’s book. In Shivaji, there are lessons to learn for everyone. Shivaji talks of a concept like Swarajya, which goes beyond vision and mission. It is something to live for.”

Even Shahenshah is a wonderful read. “In Shahenshah, N.S. Inamdar shows a very balanced portrayal of Aurangzeb, who has been shown in a bad light by most authors. In Shahenshah, we come to know of the man who is called Alamgir. He is revered, feared or reviled.”

Duryodhan, published by Eka, Westland is a riveting read of the original by Kaka Vidhate. What were the reasons for translating Duryodhan, not actually a popular character from the Mahabharata?

“It was a fascinating journey to translate Duryodhan. It gives a completely different perspective of the characters like Duryodhan, Shakuni, Krishna, Dhritarashtra and others. We come to know Mahabharat from the Kaurav point of view. Most Mahabharat renditions are from the Pandav perspective. Here, we come to know, and in most places sympathize, with Duryodhan. It is a remarkable story.” It may be mentioned that Duryodhan was published in 1994 and has accomplished multiple reprints.

What makes a good translator? Pande’s response should help those who wish to take up this tough vocation. “A translator has to do consciously what an author does naturally. The translator has to understand where the author is coming from. Knowledge of both the languages is essential but the translator must have deep understanding of the language into which the book is being translated. One cannot do for money alone as writing, be it original or translation, is a tiring and time consuming job. I have a larger purpose behind translation – that of getting Marathi literature to world stage. That purpose drives me.”

Pande is happy that translators are now getting the respect and recognition they deserve. “Of late, yes! Many of us do not know the translator of classics written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho, Leo Tolstoy etc. They are all translations. The translator today has started getting recognition and is sharing royalty with the author. The translator’s name has started appearing on cover page. I see these as good changes.”

His other works, all published by Harper Collins, are Darkness, mystery and horror stories of Ratnakar Matkari; Karna, The Great Warrior by Ranjit Desai and Karmachari by V. P. Kale, a collection of short stories about ordinary people. Noted actor Mohan Agashe praised Karmachari. “Unless told, you don’t even suspect that it’s a translation of a book from another language.”

Pande is not sitting idle. His coming translations include Vishawas Patil’s novel Sambhaji (Eka, Westland) and Anita Padhye’s biography of filmmaker Vijay `Goldie’ Anand (Manjul Prakashan).

Pande is also working on the much-awaited book with Westland on the history of the State Bank of India.

An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), who spent about 25 years in the corporate sector, Pandey has settled down in Vadodara, Gujarat and devotes all his time to writing and translation.


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