Literary Review

Crossing borders

S. Ramaswamy  

S.L. Bhyrappa is one of the most widely read and highly regarded contemporary Kannada novelists. He can invest his novels with complex metaphysical thought, and knit together romance and spiritual quest in a magnificent sweep. His latest novel Yaana, was published recently by Sahitya Bandar.

Through his translations, S. Ramaswamy, a retired professor of English Literature at the Central College, Bangalore, provides a conduit to the non-Kannada reader to some of Bhyrappa’s well-known works. The founder-secretary of the Bangalore Little Theatre, a Fulbright scholar and an expert in Sanskrit, Ramaswamy, at 82, continues to pursue his literary passion. He has translated four novels of Bhyrappa from Kannada into English — Sartha, Tantu, Mandra and Bhitti. Sartha (The Caravan) translated by Ramaswamy was reprinted by the Oxford University Press recently. Prof. Ramaswamy talks about Bhyrappa’s novels, and his love for translation.

What attracted you to taking up translation?

I believe translation is important for both national integration and international recognition. I am sure that many of our regional language writers are not inferior in any way to some of the Western writers who have won the Nobel. I feel there are not a sufficient number of good translations into English.

You have turned again and again to Bhyrappa. What qualities attract you to his works?

Bhyrappa’s novels are an inexhaustible source of philosophical wisdom and deep understanding of life. His experimentation with form with the basis of Hindustani classical music — of which he is a connoisseur — makes his novels as aesthetically alluring as music itself.

What is especially appealing about Sartha?

Indians are often criticised for not having a historical sense.  Sartha disproves this accusation. The gripping narration of Sartha deals with the spiritual journey of the protagonist.

When you take up the works of a writer of such stature, what is the response from English readers and those who have read the original work in Kannada?

With two dozen novels of epic proportions, Bhyrappa has been a colossus for more than half a century. Not only have his novels been translated into all the official languages of India but the response also has been stunning. Recently, Aavarana, his second historical novel, had 28 reprints in just four years. Yaana. Bhyrappa is perhaps the only novelist whose novels (six of them) have been translated into Sanskrit. The response for his novels is tremendous from readers belonging to all walks of life.

When you translate a work from a regional language to English, what are the problems you face? You often opt for indirect speech.

My opting for indirect speech has to do with two factors. One is culture specificity and the other is grammatical structure… Our languages are inflected, whereas there are no inflections in modern English. This affects the sentence structure. For example, ‘Rama ate the fruit’ can be expressed in any word order in Kannada (whereas in English if you change the word-order it becomes nonsense!).

What are the other problems of undertaking such a mammoth task?

The problem of making the local universal is difficult indeed. Culture-specific words sometimes have to be paraphrased and built into the text. It is next to impossible to make it ‘universal’. Bhyrappa deals with fundamental human emotions and the themes are of universal significance. However, the problems that face the translator are his involved, long, periodic sentences, classical music parallels, Joycean interior monologues, soliloquies and dialectal variations in the use of Kannada. However, there is great satisfaction in tackling these ‘problems’.

Is there any basis for the charges that the writer has a religious bias?

Not true.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 8:55:48 PM |

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