14 May 2011

Gained in translation

In a pleasant new development in the last few years, the Marathi section at Pune's book stores has been teeming with translations of international bestsellers and Indian-English fiction and non-fiction works.

As you browse through the well-stacked book shelves in the Marathi section, your eye immediately catches the translation of Margaret Mitchell’s epic hit Gone With The Wind. You are amused at the thought of Rhett Butler saying his famous last words to Scarlet O Hara in Marathi, but you hold that thought and continue to scan through the dozens of new translated titles around. There’s Greg Mortenson's Three Cups Of Tea, Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Khaled Hosseni’s The Kite Runner and Thousand Splendid Suns, Rhonda Byrne's Secret, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss among many others. The absolute favourites in the pack are Chetan Bhagat, the Chicken Soup for the soul series, Dan Brown, Jeffrey Archer and Sydney Sheldon.

Non-fiction and self-help books - being factual and universal -- are especially hot picks in their translated versions. Barack Obama’s autobiographies, Kiran Bedi’s I Dare, Narayan Murthy’s A Better India, A Better World, A R Rahman’s biography, Tushar Gandhi’s Let’s Kill Gandhi, Harsha Bhogale's Out Of The Box, Shobhaa De’s Spouse – are all popular. As you glance some more, you see an entire shelf dedicated to self-help/inspirational books. Several copies of Rujuta Diwekar’s new book, Women & the Weight Loss Tamasha in Marathi have freshly arrived. The other top sellers are Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Rashmi Bansal’s Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.

There's been a 100 per cent jump in sales of translated works in Marathi at Crossword ICC Towers. "Where earlier we used to have 10-15 books, now we have almost 150 of them," says its manager Girdhar Agarwal. He attributes this somewhat to the highly literate class of Maharashtrian and Puneites in particular.

48-year-old Sneha Latkar is one such reader, who says she has a working knowledge of English, but prefers the Marathi translation as she doesn't have to struggle with the meanings and can get a complete sense of the book. "I read one entire volume of Sidney Sheldon in a matter of days. It was so gripping," she says. "I find the standard of translation very good. I’m engaged by the story, which is what matters," she adds.

We did a check ourselves and while the translation is satisfactory, and a perfectly acceptable alternative to the original, cultural contexts do colour the text somewhat. For example, Rhett Butler’s last words –‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’ expectedly sounds awkward and lame in Marathi. The dialogues in the novel suffer, but the description as a whole captures the essence quite well. From the little I saw, there was a minor gaffe in the Obama autobiography as well. But these are niggles.

Readers seem to be happy and the sales indicate that clearly. City-based Mehta Publishers, who have been at the forefront of these translations state that there has been a huge jump in the last 3 years. Its CEO Sunil Mehta tells us that he has to acquire rights from the original writer, before translating it. "For example, Dan Brown sells very well, but I have to pay him considerably for it – say 700-800 dollars," he says. As for translation techniques, he explains that the effort is always to remain as faithful as possible to the original. "We try to retain everything, even if there is erotic content. We tone it down, but we keep it," he says. As for the future, he believes, it is tough to predict trends in the book world. "But I think the next ten years will only see this market growing," he says.

Best-sellers in Marathi

1) Sidney Sheldon

2) Jeffrey Archer

3) Chetan Bhagat

4) Dan Brown

5) Rujuta Diwekar


Swamy Saran Atul said...

Extremely well-written blog. Kudos! Subscribed to it on my Google Reader. Are you active on Goodreads?

sandhya said...

Hi, yes I am on Goodreads.

Silvia Merialdo said...

Very interesting to know that there is strong and motivated reading-Marathi public!

I would be interested to know if there are any good translations on the other way around: Marathi books translated into English!

sandhya said...

Silvia: You know that is the initiative that really interests me - bringing regional Indian writing to mainstream English readers through translations. So many languages are spoken in India and every State has its own individual and distinct culture, and literature is an integral part of that. Whether Malayalam, Bengali, Hindi, Marathi or Tamil, there is such a wealth of religional literature that I feel we are missing out on due to lack of translations.

Specifically about Marathi, I should tell you that the average middle-class Maharashtrian is extremely well-read and culturally inclined. I have only listened to Pu La Deshpande who was master satirist. But I have read the autobiography of his highly talented but feared better half, Sunita Deshpande, called 'Ahe Manohar Tari'
I doubt there is a English translation. It probably doesn't make that much sense to translate a Pu La for a mainstream reader, because his wit and idioms are so closely tied to its regional tongue and context. But I am sure there is a lot of fiction that can be translated.

Silvia Merialdo said...

I found excellent translations from Bengali, Malayalam and Tamil, but I could not find any Marathi one. For the moment at least! I hope some translation will come.
Pls let me know if you find some...
I searched for Pu La Deshpande, but all I found is in Marathi.

I also think that this huge wealth of literature is worth to be translated.
Also in the West, where we get mainly English Indian books by international writers, but we miss the "real" flavour of Indian languages and literatures!

sandhya said...

You said is well. Regional literature, much like regional films tap into a more authentic, realistic India.

Good to know you have read a fair deal of regional literature. I don't think a lot of urban Indian readers themselves can boast of that. I can't. I think much of my reading is heavily influenced by my love for the English language. I know that is a narrow approach, but that's how it has been.

Silvia Merialdo said...

Yes, I do understand you.
About me, I think much of my reading is heavily influenced by my love for India, so I would like to read in more and more Indian languages!

saurabh shah said...

Very useful information in lucid style. I liked this post especially because I am in the midst of officially translating Mario Puzo's blockbuster 'The Godfather' in Gujarati.

buy rift account said...

Great! such a wonderful blog.

drhadi.masoom said...

Sorry to join in late ( as late as 6 years ) because I gatecrashed here looking for a review on some other book . I think you should read Baluta by daya Pawar translated in English and also cobalt blue by Sachin Kundalkar translated in English by jerry pinto and a very good story collection ..windows half open written by Ganesh matkari translated again by jerry pinto .. hope it helps ( even after so many years ) mind you these are recent translations done couple of years back . 😊

drhadi.masoom said...

Hi Sandhya kudos for a very good bookwormish blog ... I crawled and creeped through some other review link and finding my tiny mind food here .. as already commented earlier as replay to Silvia the translation scene is happening vice versa i e .. Marathi to English ..I read a translation of g a Kulkarni's book and a book by Vishwas Patil called zadaazadati both from Marathi to English by some lesser known publishers and amateur hobbyist translators .and yes aahe Manohar Tari is a brilliant book which I finished in Marathi and I really enjoyed it and really feel it's essence lies in being untranslated .😊 Keep writing about books .loved being here