Monday, April 06, 2009

"Clouds" in Italian

If you're a writer, it's always a big moment in your life when your work appears in translation for the first time. In part, this is because no writer's sensibility is formed any more (except perhaps writers who work and read in languages with very small catchments) by a monoglot literary culture; much of what we know and love is through translations, and a world without translation would leave every reader and writer alarmingly impoverished. So having one's own work translated feels like an admission ticket into a bigger, more connected, literary universe.

And it's something of a shock, too, looking at all those strange words which are supposed to be yours. Recently a book came for me in the post, and I opened the package quickly, found my name on the contents page, and began to hobble through this paragraph of Italian:


In questa città sembriano tutti stanci, sempre. Sudati, it viso ricoperto di una sottile pellicola di sporcizia. Spesso, nel corridoio di un autobus appiccicoso, ci colpiscono i visi tirati, incattiviti della gente e distogliamo lo sguardo per puntarlo altrove. Siamo così vicini...tanto da vedere i pori sulla pelle della persona accanto, da sentirne l'odore. Ci pestiamo i piedi a vicenda, origliamo conversazioni, sgomitiamo per guadagnare spazio. Siamo praticamente sempre tra i piedi di qualcuno, ciascuno è il motivo di sofferenza dell'altro. "Per favore, preparate it contante," dice un cartello, e un altro "Vietato mettere i piedi sul sedile." None c'è posto nemmeno per tenerli a terra, i piedi.
This is the opening paragraph of my story "Clouds", and it appears in a translation by Gioia Guerzoni in an Italian anthology of new Indian writing called, simply, India, alongside stories and reportage by Altaf Tyrewala, Tishani Doshi, Susan Mridula Koshy, Sarnath Banerjee, Samrat Choudhury, Palash Krishna Mehrotra, Sonia Faleiro, Anindya Roy, Annie Zaidi, and Smriti Nevatia. The English version of the book – I should say the English originals – will appear in India soon in an edition published by Westland Books. "Clouds" is set in Bombay, and is about a man who is losing his grip on life, and who knows it. He spends his days wandering around the city, waiting for something to happen. Here is a bit from the story in (my own) English:
It rained today! I was asleep in the stifling gloom, and never noticed when the breeze picked up outside and the air grew cold. But then the sound of raindrops coming to blows with the earth reached my ears, and I stumbled to the door and threw it open. Rain in March – what a surprise! Everybody else in the building was out in the corridor looking up at the skies, laughing and shouting. Even as dozens on the street were sprinting for cover, the children had already run out and were prancing in the slush outside. A fine spray zipped about and settled on our faces. The trees were greener, the dirty walls of buildings darker and more soulful, and the sky full of low clouds jostling like hasty commuters.

Everything was different. In that luminous grey light, almost available to the touch like fog, I felt like all my circumstances had changed, I felt free of my debts, the penalties I would shortly render. The palm tree at the corner of the compound was swaying, and I too was shivering. It was like being in the presence of something all-embracing, the brahman our ancestors used to speak of, or receiving some great benediction. I washed my face, combed my hair, put on a clean shirt, and went out.

Puddles were everywhere in the holes and slopes of our little city. My porous slippers squelched as I walked, and my feet were soon muddy. The rain had gone and a chastened sun had emerged again, but the air was cool and the sky full of iridescent colours. But the people milling into the bus and pushing for seats had already lost sight of the sky. In the company of such citizens I felt silly admiring from more than the corner of my eye the flaming dome of our little world. There was a hole the size of a coin in the floor of the bus. Through it I could see the grey of the road beneath spinning by very fast. The man next to me got up and left, his jute bag bulging with vegetables. I took my place by the window and watched the world go by.
The rest is in the story, which is in the book, which will be out soon. A set of links to several good essays on different aspects of translation can be found in this old post.


youprat said...

Good words - on the rain washed skies everybody sees and are wowed by, on holes in buses one looks through, sometimes trying to guess where the bus is (of the plenty joys of riding in a bus) - on those experiences which we hardly give voice to. And, India is definitely the place where we celebrate rain. Looking forward to reading the story. Congrats on the translation. (Btw, interesting use of the words: admission ticket)

Vinita said...

I imagine how excited and proud you must have felt viewing the translation of your work. Hearty congrats. Would certainly love to buy the book.

Rohit Chopra said...

Congratulations Chandrahas,

Very much look forward to reading the story. The passage wonderfully captures the magic of the quotidian, which suffuses the intimations of the peculiar sensory experience of being in a bus. Of course, the sky disappears and reappears as buses wend their way through roads and of course we don't think of the strangeness of something till we encounter it in a very finely written piece which shows us that experience anew.
There is something of a marvellous strangeness in this extract as well, stamped with a distinctive voice.

Best regards

Chandrahas said...

You prat, Vinita, and Rohit - Thanks very much for your kind words. I'd be very happy to hear what you think of the whole story when you get a chance to read it.

I am looking forward to June not just because "Clouds" comes out in print then, but so do really beautiful clouds.

Eric Forbes said...

Heartiest congratulations, Chandrahas!

Anonymous said...

I have been regularly following your blog for over a year now and have drawn some motivation to read more books and to make an effort to review them...
Really looking forward to reading your story...

Anjana Talapatra said...

:) How wonderful!