These translations are a meditation on the notion of translatability. Written by a young poet and assistant editor, they offer a humorous leftist political critique of bigotry, conservatism, and small-mindedness through a lens of orthography and syntax. In “Ooh, Oooh!” the poet explains the difference between the long and short vowel “u” in Hindi, as a critique of ignorance and conservatism slowly shimmers into view. For “Ooh, Oooh!” I have offered three possible translations and an illustration of an owl (my own), an ullū, a word which contains both the short and long “u” in Hindi. In Hindi and Urdu, owls are symbols of foolishness, rather than wisdom, and this owl is pointing to the foolishness of the task the translator has set out to accomplish. For the other three poems, I have gone with the “freestyle” approach suggested by the third translation of “Ooh, Oooh!”. In “Sub-Editrix,” the poet expresses his annoyance at an editor who does not know how to spell. In “News Editor,” another editor’s confusion over the difference between the spellings of Iran and Iraq (in Hindi, “Iran” starts with a long “ī”, and “Iraq” with a short “i”) unfurls into a thought on the constant state of war in the Middle East, and in “Communalist Statement,” the poet plays with syntax to critique bigoted statements (in India, the term “communalism” refers to bigotry toward members of other religious communities).
– Daisy Rockwell
As a lifelong Indian civil servant, Shrilal Shukla was intimately familiar with every aspect of government in his native state of Uttar Pradesh in North India. This story showcases not only his often very subtle satire—he was not the sort to look for belly laughs, inspiring something more along the lines of wry smiles—but also his detailed knowledge of the daily life of the Chief Minister of a state (the equivalent of an American governor). Here he leads us into the mind of an extremely powerful man surrounded by sycophants, who is really no better than the members of his entourage. The title of the story ‘A Few News Items’ suggests that each incident that occurs in the story might be something one would read the next day in the morning paper. One of these, the inspection of an enormous natural disaster, leads the Chief Minister to a moment of true humanity, as he remembers a similar flood in his own childhood. As he becomes overwhelmed by what he sees, he suddenly loses his ability to think like a politician, an ability that he is sure to recover soon enough.
Many thanks to Aftab Ahmad for his help on this translation, and to Sadhna Shukla for granting permission to publish it.
– Daisy Rockwell
Poor children witness the destruction of their neighborhood. While playing, they build their own small replica of what had been destroyed and guard it from destruction.
Based in Bombay, Suryabala is originally from Varanasi in the northern part of India. She completed her Ph.D. in Hindi Literature at Benares Hindu University. She has been a prolific writer for more than three decades, publishing in all the major Hindi-language magazines and newspapers in the country. Besides satire, she has written novels and short stories, some of which have been adapted for television.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Launched in April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).