Translation Books

The man, the country, the community: Deepa Ganesh reviews U.R. Ananthamurthy’s ‘Avasthe’, translated by Narayan Hegde

Narayan Hegde’s recent translation of U.R. Ananthamurthy’s novel, Avasthe, gives us the opportunity to revisit the work, easily among the finest in Kannada. An earlier translation of the novel — Awasthe: The Condition (Allied Publishers, 1995) — was by Kannada writer Shantinath Desai, URA’s contemporary.

Avasthe is often categorised as a political novel. Playwright and thinker K.V. Subbanna sees Avasthe as the third instalment in what he calls a trilogy written in a period of 13 years: Samskara, Bharathipura and Avasthe. The novels capture the life of India between 1945 and 1975.

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Set in post-independent, post-Emergency India, Avasthe is informed by the political climate of the times. It discusses various shades of politics — ideological to opportunistic — and, in the process, sets up a confrontation among Gandhi, Marx and Ram Manohar Lohia, the three abiding forces of URA’s intellectual life. The novel is at once poetic, passionate and searing — a piece of writing that outlives its time and surpasses its historical setting.

The story involves the journey of a political leader, the novel’s protagonist, Krishnappa. Much of the novel takes place in his mind, explaining its non-linearity. It is reminiscent of Tolstoy’s novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, where the protagonist recasts his entire life as he lies ill in bed.

Dichotomies dissolve

URA, with his extraordinary creative vision, transforms what could have been a mere biography or a newspaper report into a great work of art. The real, the allegorical and the

The man, the country, the community: Deepa Ganesh reviews U.R. Ananthamurthy’s ‘Avasthe’, translated by Narayan Hegde

metaphysical are blended into a story of individuals and communities. Using the theory of sadharanikarana (social universalisation) of Sanskrit poetics, URA turns an individual quest into an eternal quest of the self, examining apparent contradictions such as tradition-modernity, social-personal, happiness-misery, love-lust, decadent-subliminal, body-soul, antaranga-bahiranga, and more. These dichotomies dissolve, merge, separate — URA writes a novel of complex textures.

Avasthe is the human condition, which is layered and constantly in a state of flux. URA seems to suggest that we are determined by our ecosystem or social forces. (He said in an interview that individuals hardly matter to the flow of history.) This is depicted in the life of the deeply ethical Krishnappa, who moves from sensations of love and warmth as a village boy to pain-anger-resilience in his growing-up years to opportunism-hedonism as he gains in strength and power.

URA is interested not only in the transformations of his personal-political self but also in the evolution of Krishnappa’s gendered identity as a man in relationship with women.

Missing power

In his essay, ‘Five Decades of My Writing,’ URA says that it was women who taught him the art of storytelling. He writes about the women who congregated in the backyard of his home for a chat with his mother, saying that they taught him the difference between appearance and reality.

How do the identities of women come into being in Avasthe, or in any of his novels? Only, ironically, the signs of change are more apparent than real.

A note on the translation. A good translation, as Chomsky says, needs to grasp both the surface structure and the deep structure of the original (akam and puram, in A.K. Ramanujan’s terminology). Sadly, this one pays attention neither to the linguistic power nor to the soul power of the original novel. Replete with clumsy summaries and glaring errors, the translation is a lost opportunity.

Avasthe; U.R. Ananthamurthy, trs Narayan Hegde, Harper Perennial India, ₹499

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Printable version | May 19, 2021 9:26:11 AM |

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