Yesterday I attended a book event at Saahityikee (a Hindi literature group in Kolkata). It was based on a book that has been published recently — स्याही की गमक (Syaahee Kee Gamak) — a translation of 32 short stories by established and currently active women authors from all over the world. The translation has been done by Yadavendra Pandey, a retired scientist and active translator based in Bihar. One of the good things about the book is that he has chosen authors and stories from nations that are not represented much in the Hindi literature world of translations. So there are stories in the book, by women from Iran, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Estonia, for example.
Before the author himself spoke at the event, three people presented their critical talk on the book at the invitation of Sahityikee. When the first lady spoke, I was slightly disappointed. Firstly she was reading her prepared article, and her eyes were down 99% of the time. She wasn’t talking to the audience. Second, she focused on women’s lib, and that women should be liberated this, this, and this way. She complained about the first story which did not suggest a solution to the problem portrayed, and I was thinking, “Come on. All stories are not meant to suggest solutions and portray characters that evolve from being weak to empowered. Some can also just paint a small picture of how it is and leave it at that.” Of course, all parameters considered, we all operate at any given moment, to the best of our abilities, to the best of our knowledge — so no complaints regarding the first speaker — but as her talk progressed, I got the impression that the book only contains stories of नारी की पीड़ा (the plight of women). I started repenting having purchased the book.
The second speaker, a teacher / professor was speaking directly to the audience, so that was pleasant. Also, the point she was making was more balanced and interesting, so now I was paying more attention.
Then the third speaker, also a teacher / professor I think, highlighted some points that were really interesting. He talked of the technical aspects of the first story in the collection. First, that the story relates a time span of only 10 pm to 11:55 pm of a particular day — this in itself is so interesting. Movies have been made relating events of one day etc., but this story spans only 2 hours!
Second, he highlighted that in this story (and many other stories of the book) the author is not talking. The Iranian author of this particular story, is a script writer anyway. The story is written in the form of a script, and script writers do not have the liberty to speak themselves, i.e. they must only relate what is happening, and only their characters are permitted to talk. As he critiqued the book, this speaker complained that in too many prose writings these days, the writer is talking too much! “लेखक आजकल बहुत वाचाल हो गए हैं। वे हावी हो जाते हैं।”, he said. The story, characters, setting take a backseat and the writer is too intent to put forward his opinion.
This is an oft-given advice for honing our creative writing skills — ‘Show, Not Tell’. The more an author can show (via her words) what is happening, rather than telling, the more effective a piece of writing. So for example, it is much more effective to write ‘She shivered even under the thick coat’, than to say, ‘It was very cold that day’.
As the speaker continued, I realised, this is one of the big reasons why I am not writing these days — to evolve one’s writing from mere telling to actual showing is hard work! Without that, the writing often feels too insipid. The speaker also highlighted some stories in the book that were not about women, such as the story of a small Lama boy who befriends monkeys, written by an author from Sri Lanka. This story had become very successful and soon found its way in textbooks there, but was later withdrawn because the Buddhist community chose to get offended by the story. I started looking forward to reading the copy I had purchased — not because of caretakers of religion taking offence mind you, but because it was good to know that there were stories where the woman and her social plight was not the focus.
The translator himself, Yadavendra Pandey, came next. He shared how he chose the stories for the book and how he read several works by the original authors and saw interviews with them to tune into their thinking and cultural context. He also he shared his process of translation which is essentially a re-creation rather than translation. This explained why all the stories in the book seem to be written by the same author, a point made by the third critic, despite such a wide variety of original authors and countries having been represented. Yadavendra ji also spoke of some of his future projects which all sounded worth looking forward to. I discovered that he first started his translation journey by translating poems. So I have to track down some of those poems and see if I like any for Kaavyaalaya.
It was an evening well-spent and I am glad and grateful that I can stay in touch with Yadavendra ji now (if I put in the effort to do so). As regarding this book — it is to be seen whether I like it (or not), (if I put in the effort to read it). If it turns out to be an effortless read, then great! Right now, thank you to Sahityikee for organising an enjoyable, fulfilling evening — for widening my window to the Hindi world.
Syaahee Kee Gamak by the way, means the aroma of ink. Nice title. I didn’t know gamak means fragrance, aroma.