Ghalib to Shrilal Shukla,author,translator and journalist Gillian Wright had the audience absorbed with her flow of words and command over Urdu and Hindi. Holding a session ‘Translations from the Hindi Heartland’ at the recently concluded Khushwant Singh Literature Festival,Wright,who hails from the UK,read out excerpts from her English translations of the Hindi classic Shuklas ‘Raag Darbari’ and Rahi Masoom Razas ‘Adha Gaon’.
“We would have lost out on such brilliant writings,if it were not for translations. And yes,I am committed to translating regional literature,since it doesn’t reach the mainstream reader,” reflects Wright,who has also translated Bhisham Sahni’s selective stories into English.
At present,working on new translations,Wright’s other books cover a range of subjects,including nature of the modern Indian state,Indian birds and story of Darjeeling tea. Having studied both Hindi and Urdu at London University,Wright has collaborated with author Mark Tully on all of his books,and agrees that translation is a creative area that is replete with agony and ecstasy,but the effort is worth it.
Not just the language,as a translator,she crosses many areas and barriers to not just keep the essence and soul of the original intact,but also to bring alive the setting of the novel. Adha Gaon,Raza’s honest and controversial novel,unfolds during the latter years of Raj and the first decade of Independence,and portrays the rival halves of a zamindar family,their love,fights and litigations. It attacks the creation of Pakistan,and explores the abolition of zamindari system and its impact at village level. It is a semi-autobiographical work set in the author’s village of Gangauli,in Ghazipur district on the fringes of Avadh. “For two years,I lived there,studied the terrain,language,people and customs which are fast changing. It was in-depth work to ensure that nothing got lost in translation,” stated Wright. To understand the culture of a place,believes the author,it is imperative to know its literature.
Choosing to translate two novels that are from the Hindi Heartland,Wright said for Raag Darbari she was in constant touch with Shukla to get his inputs,comments and support to capture the spirit of the book. “It is a novel,which had to be written in Hindi,for no novel I have ever read in English comes close to capturing life in an ordinary north Indian village,with the smell of the earth of Uttar Pradesh emanating from every page of Raag Darbari,” Wright added that she shifted to Lucknow to understand the Muslim culture,and did choose to translate some portions,to retain the soul and keep the style intact.
Shukla spent a lifetime in Uttar Pradesh and his accurate observations of society and keen sense of humour made Raag Darbari a bestseller. Wright hopes the English translation (published by Penguin) will absorb new readers. As far as what is next in the pipeline,it is another huge project that Wright is looking forward to translating Phanishwar Nath Renu’s ‘Maila Aanchal’ into English. “There is so much work that needs to be done,” she smiles.