“Faatsung”, a novel in Nepali written by Chuden Kabimo and translated into English as Song of the Soil by Ajit ParallNominated for this year’s JCB Prize for Literature. An award of 2.5 million Indian rupees (4 million NRS) is given annually to an outstanding work of fiction by an Indian author. Authors shortlisted for the award receive INR 100,000 and their translators INR 50,000. If the winning work is a translation, the translator receives an additional INR 1,000,000. All five books nominated for this year’s award are translations – a watershed moment for Indian literature.
Apart from the soil song, the shortlist includes Khalid Javid’s “Food Paradise”, translated by Baran Farooqi from Urdu. “Sand Tomb” by Gitanjali Shri, translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell; Sheila Tomei “Valley”, translated by Jayasri Kalathil from Malayalam; and “Faith” by Manurangan Pyabari, translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha.
Baral, co-founder of FinePrint Books and Director of the Nepal Literature Festival, spoke with Post’s Arate Praal About his craft and the future of translated Nepalese literature.
Your translation of “Song of the Soil” has been shortlisted for the JCB Prize for the novel “Faatsung”. how do you feel? What is the significance of this achievement for Nepalese literature?
IM so happy. I never imagined “Song of the Soil” was in the process of winning a major literary award when I decided to translate “Faatsung” for the first time. Now that he’s made the shortlist, it seems surreal.
When Geetanjali Shree won the International Booker Award earlier this year for Ret Samadhi, many said it would do a world of good for literature from the Indian subcontinent. I agree with this view. A prestigious award highlights not only the winning book but also the region’s literature.
It is hoped that the shortlist for “Song of the Soil” will attract international publishing houses and literary agencies for books from our part of the world.
How did you come up with the idea of translating “Faatsung”? What about the book that piqued your interest, and what do you think caught the jury’s attention?
I first read the novel in manuscript form when Chuden Kabimo sent it to us for consideration. I loved it and decided to post it in a jiffy. But the idea of translating it came much later when I edited it, and I came to appreciate the novel better in the process.
The lyricism of Capimo’s writing, and perhaps the knitting of the Darjeeling dialect, was a seal to me. Her story of the struggle for the identity of the Nepali-speaking people in Darjeeling, popularly known as the Gorkhaland movement, resonated with me. This movement is not unlike the Maoist movement in Nepal, which began with lofty hopes for the country, but ended, after ten years of bloodbath, in a compromise that only a few benefited from.
The jury was impressed by how Capimo wrote about a violent movement without resorting to violence. The book, as they put it, “[made] Poetry of brutal situations, but with sincerity, humor and gentleness.”
What was the biggest challenge you faced while translating the book?
Capimo writes short, simple sentences. So it was not difficult to convey its essence in English. But maintaining the lyricism of the writing and the content of the dialogues was difficult. So was finding English synonyms for regional words like sikuwa, jhyampal, etc. In such cases, I had to choose the most approximate terms.
What should we do to increase Nepal’s presence in the literary world beyond Nepal? What about books written in languages other than Nepali?
There is no other way but to write more books. And not just any book, but great books. We need to give impetus to translation and encourage people with literary skills to take up translation as well. It’s also a good time to make translations. Publishing houses around the world are now more open to publishing translations to diversify their listings.
I may sound pessimistic, but I don’t see much hope in local languages. They are dying, and little is written in languages other than Nepali and English. There is no market for books written in local languages for publishing houses to be interested in either. I am afraid that the revival of local languages is a lost cause.
As a publisher, what have you been doing to improve the quality and quantity of translation in Nepal? What do we need to do to create a suitable environment for translators?
A publisher can only do so much. However, we can play our part by being wise about the books we translate, finding the right people to translate and carefully proofreading translations, due to the lack of scrutiny in most translations. We’ve done just that over the years. Some of our translations – such as “Microsoft dekhi Bahundandasamma” and “Khabuj” – have been highly regarded for the quality of the translation.
I see hope in translation for Nepalese writers who write in English. Manjushri Thapa, Munna Gurung, Prawin Adhikari, etc. have impressively translated the works of Nepali literature into English. I’ve heard that a number of other writers in English – with MA in Creative Writing – are showing an interest in translation. If they could be encouraged to make translations with a little bit of motivation, things would look for translations.
However, we need coordinated governmental and institutional support for translation to bring about significant changes in Nepal’s translation landscape. There is no incentive for translators, so we need to create grants and residencies to inspire them to dedicate themselves to translation.
What skills do people need to become good translators? When and how did you start translating texts?
You cannot hope to be a good translator without a flawless understanding of the source language and perfect mastery of the target language. If you have an ear for the rhythm of the original language and the writer’s style, that’s even better.
It helps to have patience and self-control too. After all, translation is hard and time-consuming work, and you can’t get away from the text.
Apart from being a writer and translator, you are also an avid reader. What type of books do you like the most? what is your favourite?
Although I’m big on travel writing, I’ve read books across genres. I especially like the long-running accounts of people in the midst of political turmoil, such as Rohinton Mistry’s “Good Balance.” I’m a huge fan of VS Naipaul and Paul Theroux. I’ve read all of Naipaul’s books except for the last one, The Mask of Africa, which I found hard to read. I’ve read most of Theroux’s books, including “The Great Railway Bazaar,” which, along with Naipaul’s “Zone of Darkness,” deepened my interest in travel stories.
The most recent books I’ve liked so much are “Men in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of the New Yorker” by Thomas Konkel, “Swimming in the Pond in the Rain” by George Saunders, and “Washington Black” by Essie Edogian.
Many books in Nepal are awaiting translation. What books do you want to translate in the future or do you want to be translated?
Very few Nepalese literary works have been translated into English. So a translator working from Nepali to English has the luxury of choice and choice – from BP Koirala to Bhupi to Buddhisagar. I’d like to see someone hair-adapted eating Bobbi’s hair. A creative poet who needs to be read outside of Nepal. I’d like to see some BP Koirala’s books in English as well.
We need to translate books by younger contemporary writers like Nayan Raj Pandey, Upendra Subba and Amar Nyaupane. I would like to translate “Kathmandoma Ek Din” by Shivani Singh Tharu. Although harsh in some places, it is one of the most rigorous written novels from Nepal.
What message would you like to convey to young people who love to read and write?
Read everything you can get your hands on – newspapers, magazines, guilt pleasures, serious fiction and non-fiction. Sooner or later you will find your way around the books, and eventually you will develop a taste for a particular genre. If not, you better have developed an eclectic taste! And write as much as you can. Start with a magazine. Always carry a notebook. Write down the thoughts and impressions you have about people and places. Study people, notice how they talk and look, and describe salient features. Read closely to find out the writer’s style. Be part of the reading and writing community.