A Conversation with Uday Prakash
Arnab Chakladar: If I may change directions a little: as you know, Aaj in Karachi has widely published you in Pakistan, and made your work very accessible to Urdu readers. Are you aware of the response to your writing from Pakistani readers?.
Uday Prakash: Yes, I am aware, and I am very touched by it. And I think it shows that if a writer is not influenced by an artificial and politically designed structure of intellect, if he is writing honestly about what he sees around him, he will be read--not just in the subcontinent, but anywhere. You know, Jason [Grunebaum], who is here right now from America, he is translating some of my stories. He has already translated Peeli Chhatri Wali Ladki in English and was awarded a PEN grant, thatís why he is here. Anyway, he did a separate translation of "Paul Gomra ka Scooter" and when he was going to read it for an audience in California, I had some doubts. I told him, this is a story about changes in 1990s India, so I think people in California will find it difficult to relate to it. But he disagreed, and after he did the reading he was so happy, he said the audience could understand what I was trying to say. And similar things happened with his readings of A Girl With Golden Parasol in New York, Chicago and other cities. So this privilege I have. When I was writing Peeli Chhatri Wali Ladki I had no idea it would ever be read in Pakistan. It came out in serialized form, and after three sections had been published I heard from Ajmal Kamal at Aaj and they published it in Pakistan. And do you know, in Pakistan and in India there are three separate Urdu translations of Peeli Chhatri Wali Ladki!
now when we talk about secularism and globalization and all that, these two languages have fallen apart!
Arnab Chakladar: Whether in India or Pakistan, is there any sort of dialog between Hindi and Urdu writers these days?
Uday Prakash: No, it doesn't exist. The most recent example I can give you: the Dean of the Faculty of Arts of Multan University wrote to me, and he wanted to know about the work and the life of the writer Surendra Prakash. He is a Sahitya Akademi winning Urdu writer. And I had a problem because I had not read his short stories. So I called many of the Hindi writers and said, tell me about Surendra Prakash--nobody could give me any information. Then I contacted some Urdu writers, and finally I got the information--he was a poor fellow, living in Bombay, writing for films like I also do, and he was a wonderful short story writer. So I got the information and then I read two of his short stories, and they were wonderful.
You see a big change has happened. Till at least the fifties, every Hindi writer was a part of Urdu tradition as well and vice versa--whether it is Manto or Krishan Chander or Rajinder Bedi--they were reading each other. But now when we talk about secularism and globalization and all that, these two languages have fallen apart!
Arnab Chakladar: Whereas with someone like Premchand it was difficult to say whether he was a Hindi writer or an Urdu writer...
Uday Prakash: Yes, and the same thing was true of many--Krishan Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, even Joginder Pal these days, it is very hard to say whether he is a Hindi writer or an Urdu writer. Because the language is the same. It is only the problem of some Persianized words that are deliberately used by some Urdu critics mostly, and some Sanskritized words that are used by Hindi critics and academics--it is used to keep people out. But if you go for the popular language, it is the same language. See, if I ask you about Bollywood cinema, which language is it in? (laughs).... Let me quote you some wonderful lines of a poem by Bhavani Prashad Mishra--he was a Gandhian, a Hindi poet...he wrote: "Jis tarah sab bolte hain/Uss tarah tu likh/Aur isske baad bhi humse bada tu dikh". So, you have to make a distinct identity writing in a very common language. Just by writing in a very difficult, high language it does not mean that you become a great writer--it is not like that. We should use the living language.
Just by writing in a very difficult, high language it does not mean that you become a great writer--it is not like that. We should use the living language
Arnab Chakladar: Speaking of languages, you have been translated into other languages as well. And now with the Penguin project and the translation from Katha you are increasingly going to be available to English language readers as well. How do you respond to that?
Uday Prakash: I am very happy, very happy--I cannot hide it. It is not something I ever dreamed of.
Arnab Chakladar: But with Penguin, they are not just going to publish English translations...
Uday Prakash: The deal I am signing with Penguin, it is for three books. One is an anthology of my short stories, one is a collection I am editing of Indian love stories, not simple, romantic stories, but complex ones, and the third is a novel on a subject that I have been wanting to write on for almost 15-20 years. I have already bought a laptop, and I am going to go to my village and there I am going to sit by the banks of the river and I will have the time to write. It is the first time it is happening to me that I am being given something in advance to make me feel comfortable for 2-3 months at least to go and work completely without distraction and then come back.
[Penguin India has already come out with two books of collections of my short stories, Areba Pareba and Mangosil. Areba Pareba is also published in Marathi translation. Penguin has also signed for A Girl With Golden Parasol to be published soon]...and this all is a dream-like situation for an author like me who was reprimanded, criticized, lampooned by Hindi power centres...who was kept away from getting his daal-roti through his degrees and writings--unfortunately both in Hindi. I feel emotional and have a feeling of deep gratitude for the readers and my translators in other languages and for the people like Namita Gokhale and Ravi Singh and Neeta Gupta....They are great people with larger hearts and fair mind....
Arnab Chakladar: Speaking of translations, some people make the argument that English is the one Indian language that is the furthest from all other Indian languages, that it is not the best language to translate Hindi literature into--what is your view of that?
I don't know how to solve this problem. Because the way bilingualism is progressing, the second language of any Tamil or Malayalam or Hindi writer if he becomes bilingual will be English.
Uday Prakash: I absolutely disagree. Where I think there is a problem with English is that it is too dominating in terms of readers' awareness. All readers know the names of Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri and Salman Rushdie--even Hindi readers--but if I ask you if you know Milorad Pavic or or Elias Khoury or someone like that, they are still not well-known to Indian readers, especially in other languages. Here I feel little perturbed. For instance, the novel I am translating into Hindi for Katha, Pavic's Landscape Painted with Tea--it is a wonderful novel, I tell you, every sentence is loaded with poetry and magic. He is a Serbian writer and you ask any creative writer and they will tell you they would be proud to translate him...though it is a bit difficult. But not so many people know about him.
Arnab Chakladar: How much of a dialog do you think there is directly between writers in Hindi and what is happening in literature at a more global level?
Uday Prakash: It was the individual effort of a few writers. For instance, there was Nirmal Verma--he went to Prague and was there for many years as a translator. And he translated some very good Czech writers.
Arnab Chakladar: And Krishna Baldev Vaid...
Uday Prakash: Yes, Krishna Baldev Vaid also. But those were some individual accomplishments. But there has not been a large phenomenon of interaction. Even among Indian writers in different languages. You ask any Hindi writer--Tamil or Malayalam is more foreign to Hindi writers than English. So Hindi has more interactions with English than say, with Tamil. I don't know how to solve this problem. Because the way bilingualism is progressing, the second language of any Tamil or Malayalam or Hindi writer if he becomes bilingual will be English.
Arnab Chakladar: So, English becomes the vehicle for literary communication...
Uday Prakash: It is unavoidable. Paul Zacharia is a friend of mine, but I cannot read Malayalam, so I have read him in English. Same with UR Ananthamurthy, Ramanujan, or Subramanyam Bharati and so on.
Arnab Chakladar: Do you think there needs to be a stronger translation program directly between other Indian languages, or do you think it is not a problem to be going through the intermediary of English?
Sometimes I worry that I may be uprooted from my language roots.
Uday Prakash: That would be a very nice development. If you want to create a class of bilinguals who can read in one language and translate into another, it can be done. They have done it with Hindi, which is the RajBhasha--so in banks everywhere they have Hindi words for everything, and those are some funny words...(laughs). So, I think it should be a natural social process. But you know it used to be that people would learn a language to be able to read the original. The days of Sarat Chandra or even Tagore or Bankim, people were learning Bangla. Even in my part of Chhatisgarh or Madhya Pradesh people were learning Bangla to read the originals. Even I can read Bangla script and read a bit. And do you know, the people who translated these writers into Hindi were not professionals or recruited translators--they were regular readers! Small grocery shopkeepers from small cities and towns...and primary school teachers...and such people. The grassroots Hindi belongs to these kinds of people. Sometimes I worry that I may be uprooted from my language roots.
Arnab Chakladar: Can you say more about that? Why would you worry you might be uprooted from your language roots?
Uday Prakash: The reason is it has happened to many authors--later on in their careers if their memories are exhausted and they no longer have a connection...the same thing is happening with V.S Naipaul, I tell you. At first with novels like A House for Mr. Biswas he wrote about his father, and then later about his sense of identity in England. But now I think he has stopped having any different experiences there, and I think this is possibly the reason he is running out of themes and subjects and experiences to write something new...and so he thinks the problem is with the genre, the novel, but I don't think it is that.