The Road to a Classic

Bombay Quartet,the English translation of Chaturang,Dilip Chitre’s collection of four novellas,hopes to take its rightful place in India’s contemporary literature

Written by Kevin Lobo | Published: September 19, 2013 4:13 am

Even a regular Marathi reader would have a tough time reading Bombay Quartet,” says Jayant Deshpande,the translator of Dilip Chitre’s Chaturang. The English translation is the first book to be published since the legendary writer passed awayin 2009.

A collection of four novellas,Bombay Quartet is a reflection of Chitre’s myriad influences. Modernist writing styles have been couched in idioms of Marathi. “In that sense,the book is groundbreaking,” says Deshpande. “I don’t think there is any Marathi writing out there that is quite like Bombay Quartet. Chitre was as influenced by Marathi writers,as he was by Latin American and European ones. Also though this work is in prose,it has strong poetic elements and rich in imagery.” The four stories are all based in Mumbai,the city that Chitre loved and hated,and have a mytho-poetic quality to them. Sapphire explores the writer’s obsession with the legend of the gemstone; Rudhiraksha (Despande’s personal favourite) has a being who feeds off the city’s excreta,a comment on the human condition; The Full Moon in Winter features a ghost of a Jewish man in a drawing room drama; and Abraham’s Notebook explores the relationship of a hidden cult and the underworld.

The translation was a personal affair for Chitre,who other than being a leading voice of Marathi literature,is also known for his English renditions of Namdeo Dhasal and Tukaram’s works. “Chitre has that traditional Marathi style of writing called rokthok prakruti,loosely translating to ‘saying what you think and saying it clearly’. To translate the poetic style and his narrative which is based in Marathi idioms into English was more challenging than anything I have done before,” says Deshpande.

He has been translating works by Chitre,Bhau Padhye,Baburao Bagul and playwright Makrand Sathe,and his translations have been published by various journals and publishing houses. He has been a discursive writer for the past 15 years. He has worked under Chitre at New Quest,a quarterly journal.

Chaturang was published in 1995 and Deshpande took about three years to translate it. A German translation of the book was released a few years ago. Bombay Quartet is published by Paperwall,an imprint of Paperwall Media & Publishing Pvt Ltd.

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