Author & translator Bhaskar Chattopadhyay speaks to Sapna Sarfare about translating Moti Nandy’s classic novel Shiva in English, his own debut novel & more
Translations are the best way of getting introduced to different cultures & mindsets. Bengali literature has always wowed non-Bengali, thanks to the content and of course, some superb translations. The latest Bengali classic translated into English Shiva, a book by reputed Bengali writer & sports journalist Moti Nandy. The story is about a poor seventeen-year-old Shiva who finds fame as boxer, faces hard times and returns as a true hero. Translation is done by author & translator Bhaskar Chattopadhyay and published by Penguin India. He speaks about translating Shiva, his connection with Nandy’s works, translations, his own book and more.
What is it about Shiva that made you want to translate it for a larger readership?
Shiva is a beautiful story of resilience, you see? That was what drew me to it. It is easy to write a story about a hero who rises from extreme poverty to infinite glory. But success can be very blinding and very tricky for those who don’t know how to handle it. To paint a hero in shades of grey is something that our fiction rarely does. I’d like to read a story about someone who does not know how to handle new-found success. Shiva is exactly that story, and more. It is about a boy who rises, falls, and rises again. That, to me, was a very interesting premise. Also, sports fiction has always been a much-neglected genre in our literature. As a writer, I would like to work with a wide range of subjects – and sports were something that I wanted to do pretty early on. Hence, Shiva!
What were the things you had to be careful while translating this book?
As you may be aware, ‘Shiva’ is actually a translation of not one, but two novellas written by Moti Nandy. Right from the beginning, when I was planning the project, I wanted to not only translate them, but to merge them into one wholesome novel. This was important because I wanted readers to know Shiva’s entire journey without a break. To do that, I had to make a lot of changes in the second novella, to ensure that the story moves seamlessly between the two halves. That was a very difficult process, and I had to be careful that I do not repeat or overstate anything. Also, the use of jargons from the world of boxing also called for a lot of careful consideration. It had to be an immersive experience, without sounding didactic. It had to flow from the inside out.
As a Bengali, have your read Moti Nandy’s works? What has been your experience?
Nandy used to be one of my favourite authors during my growing up years. His work in sports fiction is a unique contribution and has perhaps not been replicated anywhere else in India. At a time when most Bengali novels for young adults were busy taking them on fantastic adventures, Nandy came with a more grounded offering. He started writing about sports and ordinary boys & girls who made it big in sports through sheer hard work, determination & perseverance. He had some advantage, of course, because he was a sports journalist for several years. His language was beautiful and easy to understand, his ‘call to action’ impeccably effective and he taught a lot of youngsters to dream big and work hard. I, for one, have enjoyed his novels thoroughly, and not just his sports fiction. Even his other novels left an indelible impression in my mind with their richness. The first Moti Nandy novella I read was ‘Jiban-Ananta’, and my favourite novellas were of course the two Shiva novellas.
What is the toughest part of translating any book?
I’d say the toughest part is to retain the essence & message of the original. I need to be so much in love with the original story, that it becomes a part of me. Once that happens, translation is merely a process of penning it down in another language. As I always say, translation is a two-step process. In the first step, you make the original story your own. In the second, you tell the story in your own words. It’s a long, sometimes very painful process, and it’s just like falling in love – it happens to you. You can’t make it happen. If you force it, it will show, and the effects will be disastrous.
Your debut novel, Patang, was recently launched. Tell us about it & the reason behind writing a thriller as your debut book.
Well, it wasn’t a choice that I had, really. I was asked to write a story for a film by a producer in Mumbai, and was told that it had to be a thriller. My second novel ‘Penumbra’, for instance, was a cosy crime mystery – a tribute to the golden days of detective fiction, featuring a ‘thinking detective’ rather than a gunslinger. My translations are from varied genres. But that is not to say that I do not like thrillers, though. ‘Patang’ is a thriller – a serial killer mystery based in Mumbai. And like any good thriller involving a killer and a cop, it is essentially a hunting story – a tale of a predator and a prey. The urban setting is merely happenstance.
How has the response been like?
‘Patang’ has been received very well; in fact, I wasn’t expecting this kind of reaction from my readers. It has been widely described as an intelligent thriller, an unputdownable book, a visual treat where you can not only see the vivid descriptions of the gritty locales in front of your eyes, but can even smell them! Another often repeated reaction that I have received is that they were completely dumbfounded by the way the mystery unravels at the end. For a writer of a mystery novel, there’s nothing more satisfying than that compliment.
Most writers have favourites in the genre they love. Tell us about yours.
I love the good old detective stories. Poirot, Holmes, Father Brown, Nigel Strangeways, our very own Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshi... I love the puzzles these stories pose, and I love solving them with the help of the clues the authors provide. My favourite detective story is Agatha Christie’s ‘The ABC Murders’. Outside the genre, I love adventure stories, hunting stories, and stories about expeditions.
You translated 14: Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray. Any particular reason why you chose it?
Two reasons, in fact! First, the stories themselves are extremely powerful. Second, as a lover of cinema, I’m very interested in the art of cinematic adaptation. I love thinking about the ways a work of literature can & should be taken to the screen, and the many difficulties that this transfer would present. The two media are totally different, and yet Ray had taken such beautiful stories, and made such beautiful films out of them. If you think about it, it’s a very difficult feat to pull off. What may look good on the pages of a book may not necessarily look good on screen. How did he do that? How did he manage to retain – and sometimes enhance – the beauty in the stories? That was something that I wanted to spend some time on. That’s how ’14: Stories…’ was conceived and written.
What next from your pen?
In ‘Penumbra’, I created a detective of my own, and I’d like to tell a few more of his stories. Which is why, I decided to create a series with him. My next book would be the second book in the series. Readers can expect another baffling puzzle, with all the clues right in front of their eyes. Then comes ‘Nayak’, my novelization of Satyajit Ray’s famous film of the same name. It’s a project that is very close to my heart. I’m also planning to write another high octane urban thriller like ‘Patang’, and that should come out sometime next year.
AUTHOR: Moti Nandy
TRANSLATOR: Bhaskar Chattopadhyay
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House India
PRICE: Rs. 399