Sunday, April 25, 2004

Repository of local truths
Cookie Maini

Inner voices
by Kishori Charan Das
Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages-164. Rs 200

THE sluice gates for literary translations flung open some time go, so the flotsam and jettison have settled down, thus ensuring a smooth outflow. There is now an upsurge of translations as publishers vie with each other to enhance the scope for savouring multi-ethnic flavours. Now translations are well crafted by the matured expertise of bilingual wordsmiths maintaining the potential essence and almost camouflaging the original text. At this juncture, the endeavour of the author, Kishori Charan Das, is to hark the attention of their Oriyas to the inner voices, now, of course Phyllis Granoff has translated these into English for a wider readership. Translation has emerged as the forum for elucidating that despite multinational and multi-ethnic identities, there is a global convergence on human traits.

The writer says that from language to religion to the whiffs of food, though neighbours could be cocooned in diverse spaces, their commonalities are the frailties, the hypocrisy, deception and the yearning for meaning and fullness in existence. Only a creative person can deftly translate, simultaneously capture and exude the extant flavour. Bilingual expertise is the other skill, which Phyllis Granoff reflects in her efficacy of the translation as the reader effortlessly transcends to the Oriya scenario recreated by this American Indologist in the US.

This translation imbues familiar urban oriented themes and so is easier to empathise with. Das traverses the lives of the Indian middle class (probably with snatches from his own life), the disenchantment and anxieties that characterise their lives, their petty foibles and ultimately their great expectations.

Dasí stories evince a sense of dejection and alienation with even the middle class he is slotted within. However, if cultural diversity makes him feel inadequate, it also impels him to pursue an in-depth understanding of his complexed subjects. His themes are the perplexing multiplicity of Indian culture and his expos`E9 of the foibles of his own strata. Perhaps, it is the realistic portrayal of his fictional figments that helps the readers enter his world with ease. Dasí career as a government official sensitised him to different layers of discourse in social situations being out of sync with ground reality. There was a recurrent realisation that "officialese" was a different language, far removed from life. Apart from his skill, as a raconteur it is his sensitivity as a writer that is apparent.

His story, Atonement, is the riveting experience of a woman, who moves into an urban area and how she wants to break away from her rural life to the extent that even reminiscences are suppressed. The arrival of a relative from her "gory" past is unbearable and how she contends with it. His rendition is uncompromising as he exposes the hypocritical urge of the protagonist to expunge her rural past. The story, Mr Absent-minded, His wife & Co., is a multi-layered expos`E9 with pathos and the tragic-comical recapitulations of a retired government official. "This is that time of life when most persons are content to look back and savour memories, but not Durlabha; in a crowing example of his forgetfulness, Durlabha would chase away even the slightest wisp of a memory.

The more forgetful he became, the more restless he seemed to grow, until he could no longer resist an irrational urge to flee from his house." So eventually this couple in the limelight of their lives spar with each other, bickering over shared memories, as they eventually move towards a semblance of understanding. A reader must perceive that the recounting of trivia has punch lines embedded, which must be gleaned. Even in a simple story like Compassion, which is about stray dogs, there are meaningful innuendoes, which convey volumes about the authorís inner voice.

Other stories are about a father who finds comfort in the stillness of a flower in his garden, while he silently battles with his restless son. In another story, a mother and daughter engage in unspoken recriminations and justifications as they strive to bridge years of distances. Translated literature is truly a repository of localised truths, offering insights into individual experiences not just in Orissa, but everywhere.