Translation Books

The poster girl from Dhanbad: Jinoy Jose P. reviews Sarah Joseph’s ‘Budhini’

Way ahead: Budhini inaugurating the power station at Panchet dam with Nehru in December 1959.   | Photo Credit: NEHRU MEMORIAL MUSEUM AND LIBRARY, NEW DELH

Translation, said Günter Grass, is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes. While we encounter enough examples of the first part of the comment, rarely do we come across a translation that transforms the original in such a way that nothing changes. Most translations end up taking away the essence of the original, producing an emaciated clone.

Sangeetha Sreenivasan’s translation of Budhini, the latest novel from Malayalam writer Sarah Joseph, is a happy exception. It is a translation that dutifully sticks to the original in its tone, tenor and texture, but is also able to stand on its own as a novel in English. Joseph is not an easy writer to translate. Her prose is complex, courtesy the curious variant of mid-Kerala Malayalam she employs in most of her works, especially in novels such as Aalahayude Penmakkal, Maattaathi and Othappu.

Portrait of modern India

History meets mystery in Budhini. This is the story of a Santhal teenager who became the poster

The poster girl from Dhanbad: Jinoy Jose P. reviews Sarah Joseph’s ‘Budhini’

girl of modernising India in the 1960s. Budhini Mejhan was banished by her community for ‘marrying’ Jawaharlal Nehru, whom she welcomed with a garland when he went to Dhanbad to inaugurate the Panchet dam across Damodar river. Joseph travels with Rupi Murmu, a journalist, to record Budhini’s story, and paints an enchantingly enigmatic portrait of modern India in the process.

This India is a study in contrasts, where myriad social realities clash. In that sense, Budhiniis a pan-Indian novel, one that could have been written in English in the first place.

Another original

Sreenivasan, a bilingual writer of repute, and Joseph’s daughter, told me in a recent interview that since she accompanied her mother in her research sojourns for the novel, she was able to get the feel of the story even while it was being written. This evidently helped her with the translation.

In Budhini, the translation, while being an honest reflection of the original, is another original. It is a parallel universe. We can say that with Budhini, Malayalam translation has finally come of age.

Budhini; Sarah Joseph, trs Sangeetha Sreenivasan, India Hamish Hamilton, ₹599

The reviewer is the editor of

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 1:53:55 AM |

Next Story