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Updated: August 4, 2012 18:42 IST

Utterly contemporary

RAJI NARASIMHAN
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The Man Who Tried to Remember by Makarand Sathe, translated by Shantha Gokhale.
Special Arrangement The Man Who Tried to Remember by Makarand Sathe, translated by Shantha Gokhale.

Shanta Gokhale’s translation reflects the para-linguistic quality of the novel.

The leaps of style involving backward, forward and lateral motions in time that mark Makarand Sathe’s novel, translated from the Marathi by Shanta Gokhale, are not what give it its particular distinction.

It comes from its effortless quality of modernity that marks its characters, male and female. The hallmark of modernity — in literature if not in life — is the sidelining of family pulls and pressures: the teetering yet doughty, un-nostalgic, grappling by the individual with his pains and problems.

Blurring boundaries

Each one of the host of characters in The Man Who Tried to Remember is a loner, of no prescribed loyalties to family, clan or even country. East and West overlap in the novel. Three Indian villages, off Pune, are called Norway, Sweden and Denmark, because of similarities in their demographic features! It is in this context of blurred geographical boundaries, of a non-nation, psycho-human sensibility comes about by the action of time, that the memory losses afflicting Achyut Athavaley, the central character, are set by the author.

Achyut is an internationally known writer and thinker. Memory, seen from Achyut’s point of view, is more than recall and a sequential recollection of events. It demands a becoming by the self now, of the self that was in action at the time and occurrence of the events being recalled. The one before has to be re-experienced, ingested, by the one now.

It is this feeling of the rebirth of the self that Achyut cannot feel in his recall of the events leading to his murder of Bodhni. Bodhni is a fellow inmate of the old age home, where Achyut is spending his years after retiring from his University job. He does this in a temporary fit of memory loss.

This loss is an acute manifestation of his habitual, intellectual/spiritual preoccupation with the mechanisms of memory, remembrance and recognition which we noted before, and which constitutes quite a big part of the novel.

This acuteness is triggered by the conditions of intrusive closeness between inmates unavoidable in institutional living, but which bring the obsessively private temperament of Achyut to exploding point. He is, thus, quite arguably, not himself when he smothers Bodhni. This is the line of defence put forward by the numerous international organisations of human rights that step in to save Achyut from the gallows.

But can Achyut go along with this life-line being thrown across to him? No! He cannot forget his sheer elation at seeing his victim thresh and fight for breath under his squeezing hands. Achyut had enjoyed the sight, enjoyed murder. It was sadism risen to surface from the depths of his being. And these murky depths were still there below the layers of normalcy. The necessary amalgamation of this killer self with his suave, intellectually articulate self now could not be accomplished by him. The elimination of the one demanded the elimination of the other. Ultimately, the human rights organisations’ view prevails and Achyut is saved from the gallows. This role of organisations and their impersonal humanitarianism is another aspect of the novel’s utter contemporary-ness.

New stature

Translating a work of such transcendental modernity makes language a factor beyond region or nativity. Shanta Gokhale’s translation reflects this para-linguistic quality of the novel.

Some editorial oversights jar. The word, ‘loneliness’ for example, when ‘alone-ness’ is what is implied. (Page 229.) But the theme overrides language, despite lapses like the one mentioned above. The usual curiosity that a reader feels about what the original is or would be like, is not roused. The original performs the feat of giving a new stature to the whole genre of translation.

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