KRISHNA SOBTI is tough to translate. The celebrated grande dame of Hindi letters is very individual, very stylised, very hard to replicate in another language.
Within her eclectic oeuvre, she has innovated with literary forms and dramatic characters, framed within a broadly humanistic vision.
However Katha, true to its reputation as a pioneering Indian translation house of quality, has risen to the challenge. Sobti's literary craftsmanship surges to the fore in this rendition.
Even in English, the narrative captures the fluid intricacies, the well-wrought turns of phrase that distinguish Hindi, whether within the courtly idiom of the haveli families or the more colloquial bazaar exchanges of 1920s Dilli.
Interpreting the love triangle
Building on the quintessential love triangle, Sobti demonstrates how uniquely a skilled practitioner can interpret it. Recreating the waves of love between Mehak Bano and Kripanarayan, and its impact on the home shores through his wife Kutumb, the writer summons up the troubled waters beneath a seething calm.
Is Mehak a roaring sea under her quiet, beautiful exterior? Is Kripa a restless wave that will answer the call of duty? How will Kutumb avenge the anguish of years caused by a straying husband? Sobti avoids the pitfalls of the conventional by etching three distinctive characters, whose lives course through the novel as surely as the ebbing tides.
The twists and turns in their fates. The social impact of their desires. The creation of outcasts by duty-bound familial hierarchy. The role of the radical individual within the societal framework. The impact of passion within the confines of an arranged marriage, defined by social benefit. These are among the myriad themes lyrically explored on Sobti's pages. Through three distinct narrators, who evoke an unforgettable time, a distinct milieu, a cultured space.
Through a lean, taut structure that serves her plot brilliantly, Sobti transports the reader into the Delhi of generations ago. A city of commingled religions. Of a bustling bazaar where distinctive sweets and namkeens, fine quilts and wedding garments, celebrate everyday creativity. Of a male chauvinistic preserve, encouraging open forays into forbidden turf. Of cloistered women who occasionally bypass shackles, often amidst intense turbulence.
Sobti's canvas is the human heart. Its shimmering shades and unfathomable depths are captured through social interfaces, layered dialogue and dynamic characters who evolve into new beings as time wields its unyielding whip.
The dialogue is especially distinctive, each oddly couched English phrase optimally capturing a characteristic Hindi expression without appearing unwieldy or misplaced.
And so, wooed by Sobti's authorial authority, we watch each individual voice intersect on the fabric of the whole. We marvel at the engaging web she weaves, shimmering with poetry through discord, illuminating us historically and culturally through crosscurrents.
We remain stunned at the sensitivity with which Sobti handles her male protagonist, allowing Kripa adequate dignity even as he falls from grace — thanks to her humanistic overview.
But then, Sobti fans, who recognise her as an honoured custodian of the best of contemporary Indian literature, are little surprised by the virtues of The Heart Has Its Reasons, even in translation.
For didn't she cast Daar Se Bichchudi with a Punjabi flavour, while engaging with Rajasthani culture through Mitro Marjani? Wasn't she the first Hindi woman litterateur to receive the Sahitya Akademi award? Besides being the recipient of the Katha Chudamani award for a lifetime's literary achievement?
This translation, for which Anand and Swami deserve due credit, ensures Sobti's pre-eminence by reaching out to non-Hindi readers. How else would they recognise the sterling qualities that mark her as a unique writer?
We hope Katha will, over time, translate all her works for our benefit. Besides this one, and Ei Lakdi, which they rendered earlier. Because a taste of Sobti, either in Hindi or in translation, leaves us yearning for more, much more.
- Aditi De
Category: Katha Hindi Library
Cover Concept: Krishna Sobti
Cover Photograph: Allan Langdale
Price: Rs 250 (in India and the subcontinent)