Listening to the Hindi and Marathi translations was a strange experience for me. I could hear the voices of the characters in their original languages!” relives author Suketu Mehta of the crowded launch of the Hindi and Marathi editions of Maximum City: Bombay Lost And Found, two days ago. Word is that translations are underway in Spanish, German, Italian, French and Hebrew. Mehta is working on an English translation of Mahatma Gandhi’s Aatma Katha, said at the book launch: “My book like Mumbai is full of paradoxes”. Both the Marathi and Hindi translators of this “Best book written about that great ruined metropolis” (courtesy Salman Rushdie) are Delhiites. Beat that paradox Mr Mehta.
“A translator has to be a brilliant in the language he’s translating into,” points out Mehta. Yogendra Kumar, the Hindi translator, is an official translator for the Lok Sabha Secretariat with post-graduate degrees in English literature and translation theory: “After reading the book once, I translate paragraph by paragraph… I visualise the entire situation in the para before writing.” While Kumar’s made a maximum of two short visits to this city, Hemangi Naniwadekar, the Marathi translator, lived here for her first 14 years. “But the middle-class life I lived in Chembur and Bhandup was different from the author’s city in this book,” informs the journalist-cum-translator-cum-inspiring author. So she relied on the book for her references to dialogue as much as for the city.
“Having grown up in Mumbai I knew the different versions of Marathi spoken by different classes,” enumerates Naniwadekar. “But I still treated the author as my guide closely.” “Suketu Mehta’s simple non-flowery rendering made me rely on simple kitaabi Hindi bhaasha,” provides Kumar. He, in turn, resorted to Maharashtrian friends who gave him an idea of what the Marathi in the book meant, and suggestions as to where he could use some more: “For bars, it was rough Mumbaiya Hindi. In Muslim areas, some Urdu. And for the socialites, Elite bhaasha.” That done, what about the writers though. How did they translate that pain of every translator – metaphors. “Well, I’d try to think of an appropriate substitute in Hindi, where literal translation didn’t make sense,” comes the obvious reply from both. “Like I said, Mehta’s rendering is very simple – there wasn’t too much complicated language,” adds Kumar, who’s now translating Amartya Sen’s Identity and Violence.
“I used my experiences with various outsiders from UP and Bihar coming into Delhi to understand Mehta’s processes during translation,” explains Kumar. “After all, India too, like Mumbai, is about unity in diversity.” Naniwadekar was pretty shaken up during translation: “I couldn’t imagine a Mumbai with the riots of ’92 where I’d grown up. Many myths were shattered.” She’d never thought of the Madanpuri gangsters in the book as human beings, for instance. “I’d also never thought of the police as being as atrocious as they were during the riots. The book was scary – because it instilled in me the situation of my own people.” They say a translator (a good one!) understands a writer’s work better at times, because a writer often delivers from his/her sub-consciousness. How would they have written the saga differently? “I would have loved to see more of the Marathi culture we hear so much about,” offers Kumar. Naniwadekar isn’t so pointed: “My maximum city would be a brighter maximum city, but it’d have to be non-fictional.”