Natural-born thrillers

NOT LOST IN TRANSLATION: Sudarshan Purohit brings Hindi pulp fiction to English. Photo:V Sreenivasa Murthy

NOT LOST IN TRANSLATION: Sudarshan Purohit brings Hindi pulp fiction to English. Photo:V Sreenivasa Murthy   | Photo Credit: V Sreenivasa Murthy

When Sudarshan Purohit read “The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction” he wondered if a similar exercise could be done for Hindi. Reacting to his blog post, one of the co-founders of Blaft, the Chennai-based publishing house, (, Rakesh Khanna, asked if he would be interested in doing the translation. “And that's how I got into translation,” says Sudarshan.

The next step was deciding which books to translate. “The usual research resource, the Net, was not much help since Hindi pulp fiction is pretty much under the radar. However, I found an Orkut fan club dedicated to Surender Mohan Pathak,”

Sudarshan was sure he wanted to translate thrillers and in that genre, “Pathak was king. He inspires brand loyalty. His novels are real page-turners. The language is chaste Hindi, the plots are realistic and the writing is crisp and sharp. The novels feature serial characters, the two most popular being the investigative journalist, Sunil and the anti-hero Vimal.”

Talking about the genesis of the Vimal series, Sudarshan says: “The first two books did not do too well and Pathak had almost given up on the books. However, he hit his stride with ‘Wanted Criminal', the third book and the fourth, ‘The 65 Lakh Heist', which was first published in 1977, was the breakout novel having sold over three lakh copies so far. And then there was no looking back; there are 38 instalments of the Vimal series and each new instalment is awaited eagerly by fans.”

The first book Sudarshan translated for Blaft was “The 65 Lakh Heist.” The story of a bank robbery, the book features the reluctant criminal, Vimal, being dragged into a bank robbery that goes spectacularly wrong.

The book was out “in March 2009 and Pathak ji was very encouraging of the translation. When we met him in Delhi, he said ‘The 65 Lakh Heist' is one of his favourite books as well.”

The next Vimal book Sudarshan tackled was the eighth in the series, “Daylight Robbery”. The book, another breathless page-turner features Vimal being pulled into an audacious payroll robbery. The novel sees the return of the lovely Neelam who was introduced in “The 65 Lakh Heist.”

Vimal is a criminal on the run and like all serial characters, each book tells a bit about his background. Ask Sudarshan why the books are not brought out in sequence and he smiles saying: “In the debut Vimal novel, ‘Game of Death', Vimal is on the run after his wife framed him. It is only in the eleventh book, there is a flashback which explains all.”

The 34-year-old is now working on a Vimal double bill. ‘“Fortune's Ransom' is a translation of books nine and ten. From now on the translations will be in sequence.”

Sudarshan lists two challenges to translation. “I need to maintain the pace. For instance in ‘Daylight Robbery' Kooka and Gangadhar are not even described till page 125. Also Pathak ji uses a variety of dialects — from Hindi with an Urdu slant to Hindi with a Punjabi flavour for his different characters. To translate these different voices into homogenous English was a challenge.”

The software engineer has had some experience with translating thanks to his mum. “I would help her with the subtitling work she did for a government organisation called C-DAC.”

Explaining the process, Sudarshan says: “I first read the book cover to cover to get a sense of the story and then work page by page. The first cut takes about two months and then the editing takes about three months.”

Sudarshan, who is writing a novel based on black magic in the 20th century, says the translations have helped his writing get smoother.

Working with Intuit, Sudarshan says he enjoys translating Pathak's thrillers. “There is no other reason for doing it is there? I do not want these books to be looked at as a novelty. I would rather they be taken as a genuine crime thriller.”

And going by breathless pace, snappy dialogue and tight plotting of the first two books, one can only look at them as bonafide thrillers.

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Printable version | Aug 6, 2020 7:01:55 PM |

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