We need to get Indian literature to the masses: Vikrant Pande | brunch$feature | Hindustan Times
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We need to get Indian literature to the masses: Vikrant Pande

Vikrant Pande, who recently translated Marathi novelist NS Inamdar’s epic saga on Bajirao Mastani, Rau, speaks on the labours of translation, regional nuances, cinematic liberties and more

brunch Updated: Oct 07, 2016 18:25 IST
Rau, the Marathi novel by NS Inamdar that was the basis for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani, was recently translated into English
Rau, the Marathi novel by NS Inamdar that was the basis for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani, was recently translated into English

Mastani, lost in the haze of happiness, murmured, ‘Rau!’

Bajirao, elated at the way she had addressed him, said, ‘Rau! Yes! That is what I am. Mastani’s Rau. Say my name once more.’

The words floated in the air like a delicate fragrance, ‘Rau! Mastani’s Rau! Rau!’

The formal address of Shrimant, Swami, Sarkar… they all dissolved in that one beautiful moment leaving just Rau.

This extract, from late NS Inamdar’s seminal Marathi novel Rau, beautifully captures the impassioned, heedless love that Shrimant Bajirao Peshwa shared with Mastani , a Muslim courtesan. It was this all-consuming love that drove him to defy societal conventions, rebel against his orthodox Brahmin heritage and ultimately, lead to his untimely, hallucinations-induced death. Rau was recently translated into English by Vikrant Pande, whose previous works include Inamdar’s Shahenshah, Milind Bokil’s Shala, and Ranjit Desai’s Raja Ravi Varma amongst others.

Pande’s work on the historical tale is rich in nuance, with a narrative that evocatively captures the politics and drama of a bygone era. As the Marathas ascend to the very top of the power rung in India, defeating the Mughals and the Portuguese to realise their dream of a Hindavi Swaraj, their Peshwa creates enemies within his own durbar with his brazen devotion to Mastani.

“I was impressed with how Inamdar sketches Bajirao’s character. He has complete confidence in himself, and doesn’t give a damn about anyone, including his master Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj. A scene in the book captures this essence so well: Bajirao, sitting astride a horse, surveying a battle in action, as he nibbles casually on a cob of corn. At the same time, he cannot understand the kind of anger and opposition his mother, brother and son show against his marriage to Mastani,” explains Pande, an engineer and IIM grad whose interest in historical fiction and vernacular literature kicked off his journey in translation. “I was lucky to have been introduced to Marathi literature when I was a child, and wanted to convert my passion into something long-lasting.”

While translating Rau, Vikrant Pande’s biggest challenge was to ensure regional nuances were portrayed without being difficult to understand in English

While he had read the original a long time ago, the translation process took Pande almost a year -- the story had to be retold without losing out on local references and the author’s trademark poetic sensibilities. “Idioms and local phrases are easy to translate into another Indian language but not so into English. Bajirao Peshwa is a Marathi Chitpawan Brahmin and it is a story based in Maharashtra. The challenge was to ensure that regional nuances were portrayed without making them difficult for the English reader to understand,” he says.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus on the novel, Bajirao Mastani, was a commercial hit, but also took many cinematic liberties. Mastani (Deepika Padukone) was shown to be the daughter of a Rajput king and his Muslim consort, while there isn’t anything mentioned on the character’s family background in the novel – she’s a mere dancer. The film’s tweaking of certain events, like depicting the two wives Mastani and Kashibai dancing together incensed many members of the Marathi Brahmin community and sparked a controversy. Pande feels differently. “I think the filmmaker has a right to take creative liberties to the point that he does not tamper with the crux of the story. The dance sequence was purely fictional as Bajirao’s wife would never think of dancing with Mastani. The film did a good job of etching out Bajirao’s character though,” he says.

In the last few years, an increase in the volume of translations infusing new life into the Marathi literature, with Jerry Pinto, Sumedha Raikar and others picking up substantial works. Pande adds that even big publishers are now promoting the market, realising that people are keen to read in English works they’ve heard of or even tried to access. “We have some fantastic vernacular literature in the country, which remains elusive to the masses, because it’s not available in English. Unfortunately, while our education makes us very familiar with the English script, the very act of reading in vernacular becomes tiresome and boring,” he says.

Pande is now exploring works in Gujarati and working on translations of Desai’s Shriman Yogi (on Shivaji) and Radheya (the story of Karna), VS Khandekar’s Krauncha Vadh, VP Kale’s short story collection Karmachari, and a project he’s most excited about – Katkon Trikon’s, the play whose Hindi version (Dear Father) had Paresh Rawal, adaptation into a novel. “There is a great need to get Indian literature to the masses. Jose Saramago aptly put it, ‘Writers create national literatures but translators create world literature’,” he says.

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