Marathi playwright and novelist Makarand Sathe reflects on how he straddles novels and plays, and what he thinks of translations.

Makarand Sathe wears many hats, and wears them well. For over two decades, this architect has been writing plays, novels, articles and films in Marathi, and his extensive work in Marathi theatre has been applauded and acclaimed.

An extremely popular playwright, Sathe’s plays have been performed repeatedly, and now, one of his well known novels, Achyut Athavale Aani Athavan, is being published in translation by Penguin India as The Man Who Tried to Remember. Excerpts from an interview:

You’re an architect by profession, as well as an acclaimed writer. How did the foray into writing happen?

I am interested in many things, from physics to sports, but unfortunately not good at most of them! By the time I joined architecture I realised that these were two vocations that I was not too bad at. Still I took some time before I wrote my first play. Slowly architecture, though I am still interested in it and practised for 25 years, took a backseat and writing became my prime passion. I earned a bit as an architect and spent as a writer, as my kind of writing was not very popular. When my wife got a permanent job, I stopped architecture and can now afford to concentrate on literature. But these two disciplines were mutually helpful.

Any particular people, authors or books that inspired you on this journey?

I have been inspired by too many to name a few, from Marathi as well as English. But I was not really influenced by any one writer. My exposure to novels, philosophy and social sciences is more than to theatre though I have written more plays than novels. My acquaintance with a few people, like Prof. Ram Bapat, at personal level, has been very important for me.

Give us an insight into your views on the current theatre scene in India, particularly Marathi theatre?

It's is too diverse to talk about briefly and neither am I well versed in all of it. In Marathi, as far as experimental or parallel theatre is concerned, the scene is somewhat chaotic; depressing and encouraging at the same time! In the sense that it is quantitatively booming, even as far as experimental theatre is concerned. There is a new wave of writers and workers and some of them are good qualitatively as well. So that is great. The worrying part is, too many of them are engrossed in their limited experience, limited word and self-glorification. Very few are able to transcend these limitations. But the socio-political reality of today is also extremely complex and theatre all over the world, from my limited experience, is struggling to grapple with it. It is good that Marathi theatre too is not lacking in effort.

You’ve written both socially and politically charged plays as well as novels. At the risk of sounding trite I must ask: what is the inspiration for picking the subjects that you do?

Well, it is a really difficult question. Whatever the answer I am bound to sound odd! I can say, in short, I write about issues, or really speaking ‘ideas’, which appeal to me, haunt me, as a ‘social individual’. I am concerned about the historical placement of these concerns. However this is a personal journey of an individual who is part of and rooted in a specific society, not a social duty or anything like it.

How different are the thought processes behind writing a play and a novel?

Both are immensely enjoyable; theatre for its ‘life’ and novels for the space and canvass they provide. It depends really on the subject and how it comes to you. Still I am slightly more comfortable as a writer with novels as a writer, but only slightly; mainly because that gives me more freedom and not too many others — like director and actors — are in a position to divert what you want to say.

It is said that a little of the essence of a book is lost in translation. How do you feel about the translation of your own work, particularly Achyut Athavale’s story?

Yes, it is true that something is always lost in translation. How one wants to read writers like Dostoyevsky in their original language! However much also depends on your style and subject. Somebody like Satish Alekar is nearly impossible to translate, especially in languages not from India. But Achyut Athavale was not difficult. Yes, I worked closely with Shanta. More importantly we are friends for a long period and share many concerns, have interacted on many issues. That helps. More importantly she is a wonderful translator.

Regional writing in India is at a precarious phase, with most authors becoming obscure as English takes centre stage. What are your views?

That is true to a certain extent. A few hundred languages are going into oblivion every year. A language lost is a vision lost, and that is horrible. I have nothing against English and English writing, but at the same time regional writers are not yet becoming all that obscure; they do have regional following. For me this following is equally important. But this indeed is a looming threat. It disturbs me as it would mean so many variant worldviews lost.