Arguing that India’s middle class has dealt with globalisation in paradoxical ways, popular Kannada author Vivek Shanbag said Friday that masculinity plays an important role in that flux of “money and culture”, in his latest novel, Sakina’s Kiss (Rs 499, Penguin) translated to English by Srinath Perur.
“Masculinity is like water. A hairline crack is enough for it to seep in and be all over the place. In this book, one act of affection is enough for the water to seep in. The generation [that is explored here] benefitted from globalisation — with all this money and culture coming in — but not all of it was accepted. Even when a woman was working and bringing income into the household, her inner world was unacceptable – she was still expected to be sanskari,” he said.
The book was launched at Jawahar Bhawan in a discussion with Perur, moderated by economist Shrayana Bhattacharya, who said that readers will not look at “mangalsutra, men, marriage and a kiss, the same way again after reading this book.”
On experiences which inspired the book, Shanbag recounted learning Kannada, the language he writes in, from his grandfather as a child. “Kannada is a phonetic language so you can read but may not understand it [as a child]. I would wait for my grandfather to come tell me the meaning of a word. That magic and thrill of seeking the word that makes a sentence come together has stayed with me, and contributed to this book,” he said.
Shanbag commented on disappearance as a common theme in this book, as well as previous ones. “Maybe it came from people always running away from my hometown, or maybe it was the quality of the soil,” he said. “The void left behind by someone who has disappeared allows you to examine them with a lot of understanding – one without the finality of death.”
On the process of translation, Shanbag talked about the benefits of being challenged by a translator. “Srinath questioned me on what’s beneath every word. A creative writer should always experience the translation process, because you realise that you take so much for granted when you write in your own language. The process has benefitted me, and I’ve understood what’s underneath my own writing better. And [that knowledge] is important for articulation.”
Perur took the example of the protagonist’s name, Venkataramana, to express the challenge of transferring its natural retroflex sound in Kannada to English. “I had to add an extra sentence – how the name ‘lost the flick of the tongue at its end in the mouths of my north Indian friends’ – in the English text for that effect,” he said.
Elaborating different translation techniques, he said, “There’s a spectrum. One end is translating with detailed descriptions – like how Gayatri Spivak translated Mahasweta Devi, by italicising Bengali words. The other end is more of what I aspire to, like what I read [in the French-to-English translations of] my Asterix comics from childhood.”