Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Stories

The early stories in Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Stories present tales of ideas more than characters or location.

I’m thinking particularly of the nameless killers of The Wooden Bridge (Sanko) or the pursuers, referred to only as numbers one, two and three, of A Fugitive And A Follower (Palatak O Amusarankari), which have a Camus-like simplicity and dread to them.

Later stories in the collection add in unusual and memorable characters and situations.

But the casual caste violence is a shock, despite ringing true, as is the acceptance by some of the characters of their lot.

However, this is all very much despite the clunky translation, which continually threatened to derail the book.

It’s curious, that the same translator, Shelia Sengupta, worked on Gangopadhyay’s poetry collection Murmur in the Woods, which I greatly enjoyed and didn’t stop to consider her hand in that translation, perhaps the best complent you can pay a translator.

So it was a surprise that Stories should jar so much. Certainly the use of its and its’ when it’s is meant is always going to bring out my inner proof reader. This is particularly true when both incorrect uses appear in the same paragraph.

Moreover, mistakes like the full stop that appears half way through the sentence instead of at its end were commonplace in the version of the book I have, along with awkward turns of phrase that test the reader’s patience.

But, whether translator or editor is to blame, it’s a shame this book should remind me of cheap Indian translations whose authors don’t seem to have a particularly strong grasp of English.

While not quite as bad as some examples I have, the version of the Panchatantra or the volumes of Bengali folk tales that you literally have to subedit as you read for example, it does let the book down. Nevertheless the originality of the ideas behind the stories still shines through.

2 responses to “Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Stories

  1. It’s interesting how critical the translator is. We talk about the work of author x but unless we read the author’s language we’re really talking about the work of author x and translator y. I’m always taken aback to read alternative translations of favourite poems for instance. Sometimes it feels as if all the magic’s been drained out; but it could equally be that it was the translator who put the magic in.

    • Absolutely. Most of the time they’re the unsung heroes of foreign literature. I mean, how many translators can you name off the top of your head?
      The only ones that spring to my mind are those who were already famous in their own right. Tagore, who translated himself, for instance.
      Then there’s Haruki Murakami, who rendered Raymond Carver into Japanese. I’ve read some of Murakami’s novels but translated from Japanese into English of course.

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