The Three Rs in Translation: Arunava Sinha

October 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

This week, prolific Bengali>English translator Arunava Sinha answers my questions.

How did you learn your source language?

Bengali, my source language, is what I grew up speaking and reading. It’s my ‘mother tongue’, spoken by the majority of the people in the Indian state of Bengal, where I was born and brought up.

How did you come to translation in general, and literary translation in particular?

Translation began as a parlour game, reaching industrial scale when a magazine I helped bring out began to run Bengali short stories in translation. This in turn led to being commissioned by the popular Bengali author Sankar to translate his best-known novel Chowringhee into English, as a bridge translation for a French edition. That was in 1992. Seventeen years later, Penguin India got its hands on this translation and published it. That was when I resumed translating seriously.

As for literary translation, it was no choice at all, because I only translate what I really savour as a reader. 

What does your day look like while you’re translating a novel?

I have a day job, which pretty much occupies me from about 8 AM to 7 PM. Because it involves managing a 24×7 online news portal, I am never entirely off the job. I usually translate between 10 PM and 1 AM on weekdays, and much of the time on holidays and weekends. I also seize any other minutes I might get during the day.
What are your favourite contemporary books in your source language?

Dozakhnama, and A Mirrored Life, both by Rabisankar Bal. The first (which I have translated) is a novel in the form of a dialogue from their graves between Mirza Ghalib, the famous poet who lived during the final years of the Mughal Empire in India, and Saadat Hasan Manto, the well-known writer of the Indian Partition of 1947. The second is a novel about the life of Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet and mystic, narrated by the traveller Ibn-Batuta. 

What have you read recently in English that you loved?

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland. And, before that, Javier Maras’s The Infatuations (translated).

What novel have you translated most recently?

Bani Basu’s The Mound of Khana and Mihir.

What were its particular interests and challenges?

The novel speaks in several voices. There are the internal monologues of a mother and a daughter, telling the stories of five generations of women in a family. These are interleaved with a recreation of the transition of power from women to men in a  prehistoric society,  as imagined by an archaeologist. Capturing the different registers of narration as well as the cadences of thought was a formidable challenge.


Which is your favourite novel of the ones you’ve translated, and why?

Buddhadeva Bose’s When The Time is Right (‘Tithidore’ in the original Bengali). From a translator’s point of view, this novel was a delight to work on because of the importance of the language, rhythms and sounds, and the way they contribute to telling the story.  

Do you write (fiction or non-fiction)?

I write book reviews and occasional essays on literature and translation. Other than those, I only translate.

What’s your third R, and why?  
Translating poetry. It’s like a rock musician practising classical music. You only need to work on what moves you, without performance pressure.

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