A lucid translation of a novella retains every bit of local colour and flavour.
What’s common to Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men, Heart of Darkness and The Old Man and the Sea apart from the fact that they are all acknowledged classics? They all happen to be novellas that have made the genre more worthy of critical attention. OUP has launched a new series on the English translation of novellas in Indian languages. As series editor Mini Krishnan explains, these Oxford Novellas, which combine substance and brevity, are selected for their social relevance and literary excellence.
Dweepa (Island), written by the prolific and talented Kannada writer Na. D’Souza and ably translated into English by Susheela Punitha, is the sixth in the series of translated texts from Indian languages.
While Dweepa is a significant work in its own right, it is not one of those acknowledged ‘classics’ in Kannada. This Kannada novella was first published in a weekly in 1970 and came out in book form only in 1978. While a film version by eminent filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli came out in 2001, the English translation has been just published in 2013. The Kannada text became better-known only after the award-winning film was made. This displacement narrative in translation — into film and into English — is truly a case of translation/s providing a rich ‘afterlife’ to the original!
Dweepa recounts the dilemma of a family of three living in a remote hamlet near the Sharavathi basin in Karnataka — a dying old man, his son Ganapayya and daughter-in-law Nagaveni — faced with the prospect of submersion of their home and their land, their very means of sustenance. The rising waters, created by the construction of the dam, not only begin to engulf their land making it an island, but also start rushing inward affecting their marital relationship and driving them into islands of loneliness.
As V.S. Sridhara writes perceptively in his critical introduction, Dweepa is one of the few novels in Kannada that delineate the travails of displacement created by the construction of dams much before critiques of ‘development’ started to emerge on the national scene through struggles such as the Narmada andolan. Thus the value of this local account is that it voices the experience of the dispossessed of the Sharavathi region in their own idiom, as it happened 50 years ago, even as it joins in the larger struggle of people similarly affected elsewhere, in a powerful gesture of solidarity.
More than its inherent literary merit or its genre-specific advantages of compression and intensity, it is the political edge of this heart-rending narrative of dispossession, which speaks to the current concerns of several social struggles in India today, imbuing the translated work with a contemporary relevance. The lucid style of the English translation helps in this process of the region ‘writing back’ to the nation, retaining every bit of local colour and flavour.
The translation is complete with a rich ‘outwork’, which carries the author’s note, the translator’s note, a critical introduction along with a brief glossary and kinship terms — all of which provide the necessary bridge for the cultural crossing of the text. If the lyrical film version, which elaborates the theme of displacement powerfully, had been a part of this translation initiative, it could have added further value to this venture. Who knows, the next translation series from Oxford could well be about ‘literary texts-into-films’ which will especially attract the new generation of reader-viewers!