Thursday, August 29, 2013

The paper flower

Book Review: The Blue Mimosa (English translation of Shirish ko Phool by Parijat)

A collaborative effort of native writers is often successful in translating any work of literature. It is, indeed, a happy tiding for us that Tanka Vilash Varya, a Nepali writer, has undertaken the English translation of Shirish Ko Phool, Blue Mimosa, with the assistance of Sondra Zeindenstein, an American writer. But despite the efforts made by the two native writers, in Nepali and English respectively, the translation is below par; Blue Mimosa is not as appealing as the original text. The most captivating part of the original novel is its poetic flow which the English translation sorely lacks. 
Parijat was awarded the Madan Puraskar in 1965 for Shirish Ko Phool, which remains one of the most widely-read Nepali novels to this day. The novel, with its atypical diction and poetic spontaneity of language delves deep into the existential crisis of men, a quality which makes it highly appealing to Nepali readers. Every line in the original novel is pregnant with profound emotions and meanings. The frustrated expressions of a soldier, Suyogbir, who is haunted by the crimes he committed during war and the nihilist discourse eloquently recounted by the lady protagonist Sakambari have added to the captivating language of the work. But the English translation fails to maintain the eloquence and profundity; the translated language, being simplistic, has reduced the powerful writing into a superficial narrative of two unmarried protagonists. 
In the original version, the personality of the main characters, Sakambari and Suyogbir, is reflected well in their narratives. Suyogbir, when the novel begins, narrates the character of Mujura and gives the impression he has fallen in love with her. But after a while, for no good reason, his ‘love’ is transferred on to Sakambari. A serious reader understands the psychological complexity reticently expressed by the narrator Suyogbir and thus takes Suyogbir’s seemingly irrational fluctuations normally. But the translated version, with its simplistic language, is unsuccessful in convincing readers, and makes them attribute Suyogbir’s irrationality to the writer’s inability to clearly explain the actions narrated in the novel. 
In this novel, a simple kiss, unusually, turns into a weapon of death. This unusual action, significant and decisive, is convincingly expressed in the original writing. How can a kiss be as potent as the bite of a venomous snake? This very valid query is answered by a vivid narration of the psychological impact of Suyogbir’s tryst with three tribal girls in the jungle of Burma, where he was posted during the Second World War. The language which he uses to narrate his ‘Burma-feat’ also reflects the psychological undercurrent of a sexually-potent man who is compelled to fight relentlessly on being denied a conjugal life. In the original version, the complex Freudian urges of Bari (Sakambari’s popular name) is manifested in her conversation with Suyogbir, rather than in her actions. The dialogues between the two clue the readers on their Freudian perspectives. But the dialogues in the translated version are not as strong and hence unable to have the same effect on the readers.    
The banality of the literal translation has bedeviled many translations of Nepali texts into English. Blue Mimosa is no exception. Moreover, silly and inexcusable mistakes (‘shoulder’ for ‘soldier’) have once again highlighted the absence of the culture of serious editing of translated works in Nepal. Given these facts, non-Nepali readers may get wrong impression of the quality of the original work after reading Blue Mimosa, which is likely to ultimately harm the whole gamut of Nepali writing. And it is also possible that readers who have read the original version will feel offended by the lack of rigour in translation.  
Once, Parijat’s Marxist contemporaries had derisively renamed Shirish Ko Phool as Kagaj Ko Phool (a paper flower), deriding its content as worthless. Personally, I believe it to be one of the best writings of Parijat’s time. My biggest worry is that the English translation will again be trashed as Kagaj Ko Phool by the current generation of English readers who are used to relishing the best writings in the world. 
Blue Mimosa compromises on the essence of Parijat’s original
Posted on: 2010-06-26 08:01 (The Kathmandu Post)


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