The challenges of translating KM Munshi’s historical fiction from Gujarati to English
In a new Translating India series, ten noted translators will share their experiences of translating from their respective languages. In the seventh part, Rita and Abhijit Kothari write how they ensured the theatricality of KM Munshi’s Patan Trilogy was not lost in translation.books Updated: Feb 15, 2018 15:49 IST
KM Munshi’s name is familiar to many Indians, largely through the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, which he founded. The more politically aware also remember that he was a member of the Rajya Sabha, the Governor of Uttar Pradesh and special agent to Hyderabad during the turbulent post-Partition period. Historians and political scientists think of him as crucial to the evocative and contestable idea of asmita in Gujarat – regional and cultural pride – that has animated forms of cultural nationalism.
Despite these varying levels of acknowledgement and familiarity, Munshi remains unknown as a litterateur to a majority of Indians outside Gujarat. However, as inhabitants of Gujarat and its close observers, we have seen Munshi’s profound presence in the social memory of Gujarat’s literate sections. The characters of his novels, Munjal Mehta and Minaldevi or Kaak and Manjari, have set, for generations, a template of romance and love. The feudal and martial qualities of this fiction created, in the words of Munshi himself, the glory that was Gujarat.
Although a serious student of history, Munshi was very clear that his historical fiction used history only as a backdrop against which his characters lived, loved and struggled. He made no claim to historical accuracy and often interspersed in his stories real historical characters and events with fictional ones.
For him, perhaps as in the case of many Indian historians of his period, the recovery of a glorious past was also a strategy he adopted when faced with the European conception of history. If the readers and critics of Munshi’s time were willing to overlook historical inaccuracies as artistic liberty, the contemporary reader, far less familiar with history, seems to accept Munshi’s version of 12th century Gujarat as gospel truth.
Despite Munshi’s significance, very little of him is read outside Gujarat. While the Hindi language has had translations of some of Munshi’s works, he remains inaccessible to many constituencies. As far as the English language is concerned, Munshi remains more accessible through some of his historical writings as well as essays that he himself wrote in English. As translators, we were driven by multiple reasons for translating Munshi’s Patan Trilogy, comprising three famous novels, Patan Nee Pratbhuta, Gujarat No Nath and Rajadhiraj. Apart from providing to the English reading public one of Gujarat’s most prominent and canonical writers, we were also driven by the need to communicate how Gujarat’s social memory and history was shaped by Munshi’s fiction.
Located in the Solanki (Chalukya) era of Gujarat’s history (940-1244 CE), the Patan trilogy chronicles the rise of the most famous ruler of this dynasty – Siddhraj Jaysinh. We are introduced to him in the first novel, where he is but a young boy when his father, King Karnadev, dies. His mother, Minaldevi, acts as regent along with the shrewd and wise Prime Minister, Munjal Mehta. The second and the third novels continue the saga of Siddhraj’s reign.
The trilogy is more than a chronicling of a king. It has a racy element with twists and turns that keep the reader gripped – almost like a best-seller. Its memorable characters, high romance and melodrama cannot but leave an impact on the reader. First published in a serialised form, the novels, when they first appeared, captured the imagination of the readers of Gujarat who waited eagerly for each new episode not unlike the popular television serials of today.
As translators, we were deeply aware that we had to preserve this quality. We also had to enter and live in the world of 12th century Gujarat and draw the reader into it. Hence our translation is as attentive to the period as it is to the theatricality that characterises Munshi’s trilogy. It is gratifying to note, at least based on our anecdotal evidence and the reviews, that we seem to have gained some success in achieving this goal.
Rita and Abhijit Kothari translated K.M. Munshi’s Patan Trilogy.
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