Meet the translator who gave the novel to Kannada

In 1876, the first novel translated by Bindiganavile Venkatacharya from Bengali into Kannada was published. The novel was Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s ‘Bhrantivilasa,’ a novelised adaptation of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.

The novelty of Bhrantivilasa immediately caught the attention of the Kannada reading public and it was soon prescribed as a textbook by the Madras and Mysore Universities. Encouraged by this recognition, Venkatacharya translated two more of Vidyasagar’s novels — Shakuntala (1882) and Sitavanavasa (1884).

Venkatacharya came in contact with the Bengali language by chance. In an essay on Venkatacharya, Venkatesha Sangli says, “Venkatacharya had arranged for some medicines to be sent from Calcutta and they came wrapped in an old Bengali newspaper. The Bengali script attracted his attention and the desire to learn Bengali was awakened in him.”

In another essay, B Garudacharya adds to this story, saying that when Venkatacharya was head munshi in Shimoga during 1874-75, a colleague noticed Venkatacharya’s interest in Bengali and procured some Bengali books for him. Venkatacharya subsequently wrote to Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, who began to teach him Bengali. This ‘correspondence course’ helped Venkatacharya learn Bengali in six months. Pleased with his student’s efforts, Vidyasagar sent him a copy of his novel Bhrantivilasa.

Venkatacharya’s entire corpus of translated works can be considered to constitute a single body of literature solely on the basis of the number of novels he translated. According to available evidence, Venkatacharya wrote about 80 books in his lifetime. Of these, a staggering 40 books are translations from Bengali.

He translated most of the novels of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay and other contemporary Bengali authors from a variety of genres like essays, religious-spiritual stories, histories, historical and social novels and even detective novels.

In the mid-19th century, the novel as a genre, was largely absent in Kannada till translations of a few English novels came out. When Venkatacharya entered the scene in 1876 with Bhrantivilasa, the conditions were fertile for the growth of Kannada novels. By that time, the Bengali novel had established itself as a popular genre and provided a template. Features like use of spoken language, prose narrative, depiction of lives and activities of common people, colloquialisms, humour, adventure, and suspense were introduced through Venkatacharya’s translations.

Perhaps the most important novel that Venkatacharya translated was Bankimchandra’s Durgeshanandini, in 1885.

In spite of the huge popularity they enjoyed, neither Venkatacharya nor his novels are known to the larger Kannada literary world today. The Internet Archive project has managed to salvage and digitise some of his novels from the Osmania University library in Hyderabad, of which 13 are available for free download on their website.

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 3:57:29 AM |

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