THE TRANSLATOR’S (INTER)VIEW: ARUNAVA SINHA ON THE YOGINI
If you haven’t already, check out our Translated Book of the Month in July: The Yogini by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, translated from Bengali by prize-winning Arunava Sinha (Tilted Axis Press). The gripping story of a modern, middle-class woman from Kolkata obsessed with the idea of fate, questioning the boundaries between reality and fantasy.
Today, Arunava Sinha, who has also translated Bandyopadhyay’s previous novels Panty and Abandon for Tilted Axis Press, answers our questions on this prominent figure in feminist literature , this must-read and his experience of translating it.
The translator Arunava Sinha.
What is The Yogini about? What does Bandyopadhyay want to tell us and how? Read about all this and more from the translator’s perspective.
How would you describe The Yogini? What is it really about?
This novel, like most of Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay's works, is located in a unique space somewhere between the objective everyday world and a landscape, with all the appearances of reality, inside the main character's head. If there's a theme, it's the question of whether an individual – specifically, a woman – can defy fate even while she's convinced her life is controlled by it. But that is too reductionist a way of looking at the novel.
What is ‘The Yogini’?
I'm not sure, and I think the reader needs to draw their own conclusion. But it would be best not to relate the title to any specific religion or religious practice.
What would you say are the main features of Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s writing and how does The Yogini fit within her work, from your perspective?
Sangeeta's writing is, to borrow the title of a novel by another author, a 'fever dream'. It is driven by an energy bordering on the manic, and is yet extremely controlled in its choice of words, phrases and sentence structure. All her novels explore central questions of existence facing an individual woman, and The Yogini works along the same lines. However, each of her novels has a distinct form and plays with a unique situation and experience, and to that extent every novel is different from the rest.
What was your journey to becoming a translator, and, in particular, how have you become the translator of Bandyopadhyay’s Panty, Abandon and The Yogini?
I no longer remember how or why I started translating. Initially it was for my own pleasure, but once my work began to be published, I started reading extensively for books to translate. That was how I came across Bandyopadhyay's works. At that time – some six or seven years ago – there weren't many people translating from Bengali into English, and those that were looked mostly at classics rather than modern or contemporary writing. So I got the job easily enough.
What is your experience of translating Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s novels?
I'll quote (roughly) my own tweet here: it is like being in the middle of an extended hallucination.
How has your relationship with the author evolved in these years and how has this influenced you as a translator?
I have always had conversations with Sangeeta about her work. Not about individual details in the text, but about where she's coming from as a writer. Like many good writers, she keeps her author self and personal selfs distinct, so it's not just a matter of understanding her as a person, but more a case of understanding her writing impulses. I use this understanding, such as it is, to gauge the outcome of my translations of her works, rather than letting it affect the process.
Did you have any linguistic and/or cultural difficulties while translating The Yogini?
Not really. The Yogini is, arguably, the most direct and, to that extent, easiest to translate, of the four novels of her that I've translated.
Do you have a favourite line or passage from The Yogini?
This passage is one:
She had often poked her fingers into the pirate’s eyes, asking, ‘How do you get so horny in your sleep?’
Hoisting her on top of himself, the pirate had replied,
‘It’s an automatic machine, not some cosmic consciousness or revolution.’
Who would you particularly recommend this book to and why?
I'd recommend this to anyone who is convinced their lives are in the hands of powers outside of themselves, powers with a purpose, that is. Not for validation, but for a challenge to that assumption, so that the reader is forced to confront the question and arrive at a solution.
We thank the translator Arunava Sinha and Tilted Axis Press for their contribution to this blog.
More about the translator:
Arunava Sinha is the translator of Panty, Abandon and The Yogini. He has translated over fifty books from Bengali. Winner of the Crossword translation award, for both Sankar’s Chowringhee and Anita Agnihotri’s Seventeen, and of the Muse India translation award for Buddhadeva Bose’s When The Time Is Right, his translation of Chowringhee was also shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. His translation for Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay's The Yogini has won an English PEN award. He was born and grew up in Kolkata, and lives and writes in New Delhi.