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University of Oklahoma

Refusing the Gaze: Identity and Translation in Nirmal Verma's Fiction

Author(s): Prasenjit Gupta
Source: World Literature Today, Vol. 74, No. 1 (Winter, 2000), pp. 53-59
Published by: Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma
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Accessed: 04/10/2010 05:22

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Literature Today.
mannerabout transplantedmen. Given this, what are
Refusing the Gaze: the implicationsfor renderingVerma'swork from Hindi
("back,"in some sense) into English?
Identity and However, the "translation"of Europeanmodes of
Translation writing is more than simple borrowing.By applying an
existentialistmannerto Hindi fiction (and I returnto the
in Nirmal Verma's question of this "borrowing"later),Vermaredefinesthe
mode by writingin Hindi:his writing now takes on a
Fiction postcolonialedge; one patternof identity problemsis
convertedinto a quite differentpattern.3Given that
PRASENJIT GUPTA some of the politicalvalue of his writing thus derives
from its being written in Hindi,what is the political
effect of translatingit into English?Does this defuse its
propose to examine issues of identity raised in liter- I first considersome notions of identity as suggested
ary works when a postcolonial,'Third World"pro- by one of Verma'sshort stories, "JaltiJhari."
tagonist travelsin the "FirstWorld."Nirmal
Verma'sshort stories often revolve around an Indian1
"Jalti Jhari." The two questions of identity and trans-
protagonistin Europe,sometimes in London,sometimes lation in Verma'sfiction converge in one of his best-
in Czechoslovakia,sometimes in an unnamed continen-
known short stories, "JaltiJhari."The title of this story
tal city. Verma(b. 1929)spent many years in Europe,
means (or is a translationof) "TheBurningBush."The
figureof the burningbush appearsin chapter3 of Exodus:
1:Now Moses kept the flock of Jethrohis fatherin law, the
priest of Midian:and he led the flock to the backsideof the
desert,and came to the mountainof God, even to Horeb.
2:And the angel of the LORDappearedunto him in a flame
of fire out of the midst of a bush:and he looked,and, behold,
the bush burnedwith fire,and the bush was not consumed.
3:And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great
sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4: And when the LORDsaw that he turnedaside to see,
God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said,
Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
5:And he said, Draw not nigh hither:put off thy shoes
from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standestis
holy ground.4
The biblicalreferenceis made explicit in the action of
the story, where the metaphorof the place where one
stands - as well as the "burningbush"- is used to
explore the question of identity. The anonymous setting
and the narrator'slack of purpose at the beginning of
Nirmal Verma, circa 1985 the story introducethe rootlessnessthat is to pervade it.
I had come to that city for the first time. I thoughtI'd stay
mostly in Czechoslovakiaduring the 1960s,where he
translatedCzech literaryworks into Hindi. therea few days and then go on, but some unexpectedbusi-
ness forcedme to stay longer.I remainedat the hotel all day
My essay will also touch on issues of translationwith
and every time I felt boredI wanderedover towardsthatspot.
regardto Verma'sfiction.Vermais held to be significantly Evenin a strangecity travellersseek out a favouritecorner.. .5
influencedby Europeanand U.S. fiction,2and his Indian
characters,mostly male, are often located in the West; It is on an autumn day that the narratorleaves the
thus, it might be argued that he writes in a translated hotel to mail some letters,and on his way back he goes


to an island:"Likethe blades of a pair of scissors,the he has caught anything,he denies that he is the fisher-
two branchesof the river had cut it out between them" man;then he denies it again,but "thistime my voice,
(63).Therehe sees some boys playing under a bridge curiously,was not as firm as before"(69).A child's
(who "probablydidn't even see me") and an old fisher- questioningcauses him to suspect his own identity
man gazing off into the distance.The fisherman,too, that is how fragileit is. The smallerboy points out the
participatesin the preliminaryerasureof the narrator's footprintas if it is proof of the narrator'sidentity.The
identity:"He had looked at me and laughed . . . but I narratorprotests "in a weak and unsteady voice."The
wondered if even then narrator,feeling that the boy was waiting for him to step
he had really seen me" into the footprint,resists:"Withall the strengthI had I
As long as we have our sense of
(65).The narrator kept my feet hidden in the grass."
solitude, we are not alone. It is begins to feel "strange- Soon the boys seem to lose interest,but before they
and when leave, the narratoris "stunned"to see the largerboy
when we lose this solitude that ly uneasy,"
he sees the fisherman standing exactlywhere the old man had stood beforehe
we lose everything;and then we rise to leave, he feels he left, staringat the same "unknownpoint" at which the
himself is "in some old man had stared.The boy has taken on the role of the
are utterly, irrevocablyalone: intricateand old man;he is the other,disconnectedfrom the narrator.
" ous And once again, when the boys leave, they "hadrobbed
"Now I was only with myself. way dependent
upon [the fisherman] me of somethingwhich had been a part of me" (70).
- as if by his leaving I It is in this paragraphthat Vermaunderlinesour per-
would lose somethingwhich had been living in me for a manent state of being alone and the importanceof our
long time" (66).The narratorthus attemptsto establisha solitude.
connectionbetween his own identity and the fisher- Once again thereI was, alone;but afterthey'd left that for-
man's,but the connectionis only realized- too late - mer feeling of solitude didn't come back.As long as we have
in the moment of its rupture. that solitude to communewith, even when we're with oth-
A few minutes later,the narratordecides to change ers, then, in any real sense, we're not alone. Butnow I had
his position, and he, "going over to precisely the spot only myself, alone, and I was frightenedby the thoughtthat
where the old fishermanhad been sitting, sat down." Is those two had robbedme of somethingwhich had been a
this a merging of identities?No, it becomes clearlater. part of me. (70)^
This is when he first notices the footprintsin the mud: As long as we have our sense of solitude, we are not
"Theimpressionsof his shoes were still visible in the alone. It is when we lose this solitude that we lose
mud - they were not very long but ratherwide and a
everything;and then we are utterly,irrevocablyalone:
little crookedin the front.They seemed quite ordinaryto "Now I was only with myself."This is a key notion in
me and I did not look at them much longer"(66-67).6 A Verma's fiction,and it is the reason,it seems to me, why
little later,he begins to feel "confused";his sense of dis- solitude is so importantto Verma'scharacters,why they
locationis made even more explicit. often seek solitude, why even in the midst of a crowd
No one could know . . . that only a shortwhile ago the old they often seem to be by themselves.
man had been sittinghere, right at this very spot. I found The narratoris about to leave when he realizesthat
some comfortin the thoughtthat I was free of him. It was once again he has company.Near the bush next to him,
entirelypossible that the whole thing had been my mistake, barely three yards away, are two figures,a man and a
a delusion such as often ariseswhile wanderingabout a
woman, who then disappearinto the bush. Soon, the
strangecity. (67) noises of passion reachhim, and "aburningheat poured
Now the boys, "the smaller"and "the larger,"walk from the bush . . . twisting like a spellboundsnake,it
toward him, and aftera while they stand and look at coiled around me" (72).8 A little laterthey emerge
him, "thegaze transfixingme just as a needle transfixes (thoughhe can only see the girl clearly),and she sits
a worm which . . . finally quietens down, hypnotized, down "on the very spot where first the old man and
unconscious.It was like that;yes, exactly like that"(68). laterI had sat" (73).
The narratorhas lost consciousnessof himself;he has "Did you see?"she asks him, staringoff at the same
lost, it will become clearlater,his "solitude."When one spot where the fishermanand the boy had looked earli-
of the boys, mistakinghim for the fisherman,asks him if er, "beyondthe bridges and the churchspires where the


lights of the city stopped and the darknessbegan" (73). whatever truth or falsehood lies within the bush.
Then she asks whetherhe was "there"before,pointing Verma'sunnamednarratorrefusesthe fixingand identity-
at the bush. He asks about her companion- who can shaping gaze; he refuses to step into the footprintsthat
no longerbe seen - but she implies thatit is the narrator await him (and it's not easy to resist:even a child's gaze
who was in the bush with her. This is the second moment takes all his strengthto withstand);he refuses to enter
of interpellationwhere his interlocutorsseek to force an the burningbush; he struggles to throw off the interpel-
identityupon him thatis not his. Then"thebush trembled, lation;he moves on. His charactermay be read, in a
as if somethingdeep inside it were burning.... I felt this postcolonialcontext,as the uncolonized,the uncoloniz-
was the secondtime thateveningsomeonehad demanded able. This, then, is the substantialpostcolonialcharge
that I prove my 'truth'"(74-75).It seems that his "truth," that Verma'swork adds to the Europeanconcept of exis-
like God, is in the midst of the bush.9 Buthe cannottake tential angst, and even if some of his themes are viewed
the few steps necessary;and all the time she is looking at as derivative,this highly significantaspect of his work
him:"Whileshe looks,she is pushingme away, separating cannotbe ignored.
me from her"(75)as if they had been joined before,in The refusal to meet the gaze has been interpretedas
the bush. Thejoining is, of course, illusory:once again, an "existentialchoice":"Feelingthat he is being called
the momentof separationis doublyemphasizedby sug- upon to prove his 'truth,'the narratordecides to open
gestinga connectionthatneverwas. And thenhe runs,fol- his eyes, to see what he wants to see, to be accountable
lowed by her "cruelghostlylaughter."He is so disturbed to no one. Thatis his existentialchoice;the result is
thathe cannotgo backto the hotel;he spendsthe nightin inconsequential."12 Inconsequential?Surelynot. Verma's
barsand on the streets,and finally,the next morning,"I characterhas assertedhis right to determinehis own
left the city for good and moved on" {76). identity, to seek it elsewhere, other than where these
The first look - the boys' - transfixeshim "justas a gazes directhim.
needle transfixesa worm."In fact, a more literaltransla- In the first encounter,it is his solitude that the narra-
tion of the original"sui ki nok tale jaise koi kira dab jata tor loses. But that is not all; along with his solitude he
hai"10is "in the way some insect is pressed under the comes close to losing himself, his identity. In his refus-
point of a pin." This is surely a literalreferenceto the ing the imposition of anotheridentity, his voice turns
entomologist'sfixing and categorizing- locatingand weak and uncertain;he wonders, it is implied, whether
identifying- act. The first look leaves him bereftof soli- he might in fact be the old fisherman.It is his solitude,
tude; the second look, the woman's, drives him away, Vermaseems to suggest, that is the nucleus of his self-
away fromher, away from his "favoritecorner,"away knowledge, and the loss of the first cannotbut affectthe
from the city itself. second. Solitude is part of one's identity;identity is
The charactersin "TheBurningBush"have been read formed (at least in part) in relationto solitude.
as "simultaneouslyrepresentingreal and imaginaryfig- This contradictsmuch psychoanalytictheory,which
ures, consciousand subconsciousprojectionsof the pro- holds that identity is formed in response to an Other.
tagonist."11 The "cruelghostly laughter"of the woman Perhaps,Vermamight say, both solitude and the Other
might indeed betoken a ghost. However, the characters are determinantsof identity;^and this story suggests
could also be read as various faces of the "Other,"as that some individuals are (sometimes)free to refuse the
various gazes of the Otherthat seek to define the narra- fixing power of the Other'sgaze and to move on, to seek
tor's identity in the moment of, and by the act of, its dis- their identity in solitude.
location,its distortion.Justas the Lord'svoice, emerging
from the burningbush, chargesMoses with his mission, I turn now to a brief considerationof the role of land-
to go to Pharaohand lead the childrenof Israelout of scape and geographyin Verma'sfiction.As a founder
Egypt,so too does the woman, emerging from the and leading practitionerof the "New Story"movement
"burningbush,"seek to force upon the narratorhis in Hindi, Vermais one of a set of writersconcernedwith
"momentof accountability"(75).But unlike Moses, the the problemsof dislocation.
narratorhere declines the charge- he does not enter It is in this last story [Verma's"Parinde"]that one can find
the bush, since that would fix the "truth"the woman the clearestexpressionof the existentialistproblemswhich
seeks to impose upon him, just as earlierhe did not step seem to preoccupythe new generationof Hindi story-writ-
into the footprintin the mud; he does not say, as Moses ers. Some of the recurrentthemes of this new writing are the
does, "Heream I,"and chooses instead to run, rejecting meaninglessnessof life, solitude, exile, death and the aware-

ness of nothingness.. . . NirmalVermahas raisedthe out- 'Sorry,'I said and turnedto leave.
sider'sproblemto its metaphysicallevel, giving it its real 'No, no ... you can'tgo,' the little girl stood barringmy
dimensions.... It is the eternalproblemof man faced alone way. Her eyes were shining. 'Theywon't let you go.'
with the unknown,desperatelyquestioningeverythingand 'Whowon't let me go?' I asked.
himself for an answer to his anguish,searchingfor a way out She pointedto the trees,which now took on the appearance
of the dark.H of tall and sturdy guards.UnwittinglyI had falleninto their
As in 'The BurningBush/' Vermarsprotagonistsare
almost always disconnectedfrom other charactersin the This sense of being trappedin an alien landscape,
text, failing to make the though not always stated so explicitly,is a familiarone
The charactersin Vermas
human connectionthat in Verma'sfiction.I read this as the protagonist'sresis-
stories often seem distantfrom will bring them mean- tance to being locatedgeographically:a refusalto be tied
ing:1^"Nirmarscharac- to his landscape,to be spread-eagledand pinned down
the landscapein spite of being ters remain
completely on the collector'smountingboard.This is relatedto the
framed within it. There is alien to each other. refusalof the Otheringgaze; it is the slipping out of the
They remain distant
almost a sense that they are landscape'sgrasp. Many times, as in "TheBurning
from one another.No Bush,"the protagonistchooses to run. The short story
one has any ties to any-
imprisonedin the landscape. "Exile"ends like this:
one else."16What is
more interesting,however, is their disconnectionfrom Fearseized me as I left the house and I brokeinto a run.
When I finallypulled myself togetherI had a good silent
the landscape,especially consideringthat Vermaoften
describesit in lyricalterms. laugh at myself, standingstill in the darkstreet.Therewas
no one around,in frontor behind. Indiawas a long way
Outsideone could see the forestsenveloped in a blue haze, ahead and he a long way behind.
and lofty mountains,rangeupon range.When the curtain I began walking on steady feet towardsthe tramstand.21
flutteredin the breeze the room was drenchedwith a dream-
like fragrance,wafted from afar.1? Not only is identity not formed throughinterpellation
They could see the lights over the dam in the distance.The by the Other;it is also not formedby the character's
riverglimmeredwith the misted puddles of light. . . . The relationshipto the landscape,by his position on the
statuesof the saintswere concealedby the dark.Tramlight
mountingboard.The characterwishes to place himself
wavered on theirheads, bent perpetuallyin prayer.18
away from the twin forces of the land and the people:
The last rays of the sun falling on the tall grass were merg- India is a long way ahead, "he"(an acquaintance)a long
ing into early darknessof the evening. Sometimeswe spot-
ted an animalin flight - an antelopeor a herd of deer. . . . way behind;and the narratoris steady as he goes. Once
Graybirds took off in swarmsfrom ponds coveredwith blue again,it seems,it is solitudethatwill give him his identity.
moss and then swooped down togetherlike expertdivers I turn finally to the matterof the "translated"nature
and disappearedinto the tall grass.*9 of Verma'swriting and its implicationsfor translating
his work into English.Two questions arise,one from the
The charactersin the stories often seem distant from the
readerfamiliarwith Westernwriting, the other from the
landscapein spite of being framedwithin it. Thereis
Indianreaderof NirmalVerma.The firstquestionis this:
almost the sense that they are imprisoned in the land-
if Verma'swork is ("merely")a rehearsalof European
scape;this is even expressed literallyin the story "The
existentialismwith non-Europeanprotagonists,why
WorldElsewhere,"where the protagonistis accostedby
botherto translateit into English?Thereis plenty of such
a child in the park:
fiction alreadyavailablein English;why add Verma?
'Youare caught!'She was all excitement.'Youcannot When the "original"alreadyexists, why botherwith the
escape now.' translationof an "imitation"?why translateVerma?
I didn't understand.I stood still where I was.
The second question follows from the fact that the
'You'vebeen caught . . .', she repeated,'you are standing
choice of Hindi as the language of his work is a signifi-
on my land.'
I looked around.Therewas the grass, the flowers,empty cant one for Verma.He says:
bencheson one side, threeevergreentrees and an oak tree This choice of Hindi has been a terrificblessing to me - it
with a heavy trunkin the centre.Therewas no traceof her has connectedme to variousvital movementsof my times.. . .
land anywhere. In one word, I can say that Hindi relatedme to my social sit-

56 • TODAY •
uation. . . . Hindi, as a sufferinglanguage,broughtme into tance in the postcolonialIndiancontext,it is essentialto
contactwith sufferinghumanity:a languagewhich itself was complicate the (Western)targetculture'simage of the
deprivedof any officialpatronagebroughtme into contact source culture,to provide some representationof the
with the people deprived of so many rights.22
complex natureof the source culture.
Given this clear awarenesson Verma'spart of Hindi's Such works by Vermaas "JaltiJhari"might be consid-
" ered, if they are viewed as similarto Europeanexisten-
position as a sufferinglanguage/' and the consequent
tialist writing, to fall under the second categoryabove.
politicalvalue of his choice of Hindi, it is no doubt true
that to translatehis work into Englishwithoutcomment Thus the translationof Verma'sfiction into Englishfor a
would indeed defuse some of its postcolonialcharge.
The translatormust explicitlyconsider (in an introduc-
tion, for example)the implicationsof Verma'schoice of
Hindi. And perhaps translationinto Englishwould in
any case deprive the work of some of its politicalvalue,
but it might be possible in the act of translationto find
strategiesthat compensatedfor such loss by enabling (or
forcing!)an increasedawarenessof the source culturein
the Westernreaderof Verma'swork in translation.This
brings me back to the first question:why translate
Vermafor the Westernreader?

Political Resistance in Translation. As I argue at

greaterlength elsewhere,23the act of translationof Indi-
an regional-languageworks into English (the colonial as
well as a postcoloniallanguage in the Indiancontext)is
a politicalact as much as it is a literaryone. It is impor-
tant to resist the assimilationof the Englishtranslation
of an Indianliterature(Hindi, for example)- and by
extensionthe assimilationof the Indianliteratureitself Westernaudience would resist expectationsof Hindi fic-
- into a Westerntraditionof Englishliterature.One
tion as only depicting the "exoticIndian"face of the
kind of resistanceI call "politicalresistance/' which may source cultureand therebyunderlinesome similarities
be expressedby the choice of text to be translated(as of experienceand existencein source and targetcul-
well as by the intended audience and by the identity of tures. This, then (apartfrom all considerationof Verma's
the translator,aspects that I considerat length else- eminent position in Hindi, and Indian,literatureand his
where).24 consequentclaim to representationin translation),is a
In choosing the text to be translatedout of a politically politicalreason for translatingVermainto English.
weak language (such as Hindi) into a strong language To go a step further:given the thematicoverlap
(such as English),politicalresistanceshould seek to between some of Verma'sfiction and alreadyfamiliar
challengeeasy stereotyping,should seek to resistexpecta- Europeanmodes, is it possible, even so, to markit as
tionson the part of the Westernreader.This may be belonging distinctlyto anotherculture?Were this possi-
done by selecting for translationi) texts that underline ble, it would be an example of highly effectivepolitical
the differences between the source cultureand the target resistancein translation,a translationthat inscribedits
culture(and translatingthem in a mannerthat empha- differenceeven as it demonstratedits similarityto
sizes these differences,for example by "foreignizing" familiarmodes, inscribedits differenceeven though it
the targetlanguage,25while still resisting stereotypical, belonged to the "similar"ratherthan the "different"
receivednotions of differenceby emphasizing unexpected class of culturalproducts- therebycomplicatingthe
differences),as wellas 2) texts that underlinethe similari- image of the text and of the source culturewhence it
tiesbetween the two cultures.Following either of these came. We must look, therefore,for possibilitiesof stylis-
two strategiesin isolation results in a simplified, distort- tic and other linguistic innovation (what I call "linguistic
ed view of the source culture;for effective political resis- resistance")in translatingsuch work, innovationssuch


that the translationmay carrythe distinctiveimpress of 1Oftenthe
the source cultureeven as it displays the common con- in the storiesset outside Indiait is clearthathe is a foreigner.
cerns of the two cultures.In Verma'sfiction,one might Given that the narrativevoice is in Hindi, the Hindi reader
look for cases where, for example, an "Indianness"(or might be expectedto assume that the protagonistis Indian.In
some stories,the protagonist'snationalityis explicitlystated.In
non-Westernness)of a principalcharacteris somehow
"Exile,"for example,he is accostedby an Indianin a bar,who
broughtto light in a story that might otherwisebe simi-
lar to a Westernstory.26 recognizeshim as a compatriot:"'Aren'tyou an Indian?'... 'It
isn't every day you come acrossan Indianhere!I couldn't
In the case of Vermaand the existentialisttradition,it
believe it when I saw you!'" ("Exile,"tr. KuldipSingh,in
can also be argued that Verma'sthemes and concerns NirmalVerma,TheWorldElsewhere andOtherStories,London,
are not simply borrowedfrom the West, that they have ReadersInternational,1988,p. 135).
long been a centralconcernof some Indianphilosophic 2 See, for
example,the introductionand chapter1,"Inthe
systems. Neighborhoodof Pastiche:NirmalVerma'sEkChithdaSukh,"in
The urge towardsinwardness. . . marksall existential Jaidev, The Culture of Pastiche:ExistentialAestheticism in the
Contemporary HindiNovel(Shimla,IndianInstituteof Advanced
thoughtfrom Pascalto Sartre.The same is seen also as the
main concernin Indianthought. . . . The forlornness,the Study, 1993),for a discussionof the novel's "commitmentto
aloofnessof the self, and the experienceof anguish and High Modernismand existentialism"(49).Of Verma'sfirst
novel, VeDin (1964),laidev says: "Verma'sambitionis to out-
despairoften presentedas the prominentfeaturesof the
human conditionin existentialliterature,are conditionspre- HemingwayHemingway'sTheSunAlsoRises"(48).
3 Forthis insight,as well as severalothervaluableconnections
ceding to any spiritualrealizationin Vedantaas well as in and suggestions,I am greatlyindebtedto PhilipLutgendorf.
Buddhism.So, in effect,the Europeanthought-currentof the 4 The Bible:AuthorizedKing James Version, eds. Robert Carroll
early twentieth-centuryreally found a kindredtemperon the & StephenPrickett,Oxford(Eng.),OxfordUniversityPress,
1997/P- 67-
5 "TheBurningBush,"tr. SusanNeild, in NirmalVerma,The
Thus, thematiccongruencesbetween Verma'swork
and modern Europeanwritings may have deeper roots; WorldElsewhereand Other Stories, p. 62. Subsequent page
referencesare to this edition.
the one may not be directlyderived from the other.28In 6 The
this particularcase the congruencesmay stretchback in footprintis an importantsymbol in Buddhistand
Hindu religiousrepresentation.In early Buddhistart (2d~3d
time for centuriesratherthan decades,but even if this
centuryB.C.),for example,Buddhais representedby the tree of
were not so, and concerns,forms, or techniqueshad
enlightenment,by his throne,and by his footprints.This is the
indeed been taken more clearlyand directlyfrom West- "absentpresence"that seems also to run through"JaltiJhari."
ern literatures,translationsof such texts would in either The Hindu gods Ramand Vishnu,too, are often representedby
case help emphasize these common themes and con- theirfootprints.
cerns and thus act as resistantto the easy exoticization 7 ThesourcetextI have (inNirmalVerma,Meripriyakahaniyan
of Indianculture.In the same way that Verma'sprotag- [MyFavoriteStories],Dilli,Rajpal& Sons,1995)allowsa somewhat
onist in "TheBurningBush"resists the identity-shaping differentrendering.Thefollowingis my own translation andis a
gaze of his Westerninterlocutors,so too might Verma's hadbeenleftalonethereagain,but aftertheirdeparturethesoli-
translatorhelp refuse the "Othering"gaze of a Western
tudeas it hadbeenbeforedidn'tcomeback.As long as solitudeis
reader.29 with us, thenreallywe arenot alone.Now I was onlywith myself,
and the thoughtseemed quite frighteningto me that those two
Thus,while the politicalchargecarriedby the Hindi- had snatchedsomethingaway fromme that had until then
ness of Verma'sfiction may, for the Indianreader,be been with me." The translator'sseeming interpolation- "even
defused by the act of translation,it can be argued that when we're with others"- may be an explanatorymove.
8 Thiscould be readas a Tantric
the Westernreader'sincreasedawarenessof the com- reworkingof the biblical
plex variety of Hindi writing (providingtherebyan burningbush:the fire of the Lord'svoice transmutedinto sexual
increasedresistanceto the easy exoticizingof Indiancul- energy.Can the coiled, "spellboundsnake"be readas the ser-
ture) is a not insignificantbenefit arisingfrom the trans- pent of Genesisor the snakeof kundalini- or both?"[The
lation of Nirmal Verma'sworks into English. WLT energyprinciple]is expressedin Tantriceroticmetaphoras kun-
dalini,the latentenergystoredat the base of the spinalcolumn,
which like a coiled serpentuncoilsthroughthe severalparts
University of Iowa (cakras)of the spine and finallyreachesthe nerve centresof the

58 • TODAY •
upperbrain(sahasrara)." See Margaretand JamesStutley,Harp- *9"TheDrought,"tr. JaiRatan,in NirmalVerma,Sucha Big
er'sDictionary of Hinduism: ItsMythology, Folklore,Philosophy, Lit-
YearningandOtherStories,New Delhi, Indus, 1995,p. 185.
erature,andHistory,SanFrancisco,Harper& Row, 1984,p. 299. 20 "TheWorldElsewhere,"tr. GirdharRathi,in Nirmal
9 In one of his essays on the short story,Vermasays: "When-
Verma,TheWorldElsewhere andOtherStories,pp. 88-89.
ever 'reality'appearsin a story,it is always an enigma.Likea 21"Exile,"tr.
KuldipSingh,in NirmalVerma,TheWorldElse-
bird, it remainshidden in the bush. ... In Englishthereis an whereandOtherStories,p. 160.
expression- 'beatingaroundthe bush.' The story writercan 22SmituKothari,"The
Challengeof an Outsider(TheWeekly
do only this;it is impossiblefor him to do anythingmore. If too Interview:NirmalVerma),"Illustrated
Weeklyof India,20
much pressureis put on the bush, then the bird will die or fly November1983,p. 59.
away. . . . Forthe one who is a realistin a true sense, realityis 23"Post-or Neo-ColonialTranslation?:LinguisticInequality
always hidden in the bush."NirmalVerma,"ShortStory and Translator'sResistance,"Translation andLiterature, 7:2
Today,"in Contemporary HindiShortStories,eds. Mahendra (1998).
Kulasresthaet al., New Delhi, Amrit,1984,p. 226. 24Ibid.
priyakahaniyan, p. 158. 25See LawrenceVenuti, TheTranslator's Invisibility,London/
11JoanF. Adkins, "An
Analysis of ThreeShortStories,"Indi- New York,Routledge,1995.
an Literature, 21:1(January-February 1978),p. 63. 26Or for another
12Adkins, 65. example,see note 28.Of courseit might not
p. be possible to achieve this difference-within-similarity in a
:3Thishas been suggestedby otherwritersas well: "Iwent
given work, and strategicallyit might even be best not to con-
backeven deeper into my profoundinnerexile, into journeying fuse the two kinds of text;in
tryingto makeboth points in the
inside myself. The most importantthing is what happens inside same text we
may end up with none. The particularitiesof any
us, not to us." This is fromFadwaTuqan'sautobiography,A given text will help the translatordecide an appropriatestrategy.
Mountainous Journey:An Autobiography, tr. Olive Kenny,St. Paul 27SukritaPaul Kumar,"Traditionand the Emergenceof the
(Mn.),Graywolf,1990,p. 105,as quotedby Tetz Rooke,who ModernistTemperin Post-IndependenceHindi and Urdu Short
adds:"Thepurely personalapproachnever precludesan Fiction,"in On Literature, ed. Jaidev,Shimla,IndianInstituteof
inquiryinto otheraspectsof the identity. . . . Whathappens AdvancedStudy, 1990,pp. 81-82.
inside us is dependenton what happensto us. ... The relation- 28And if therewere some
way in a particulartranslation
ship is a dialectical
one, and personalidentitymay best be
(perhapsin an introductionor a footnote)to underlinethe
understoodas the synthesisof 'happensinside' and 'happens ancientIndianrelationshipto modernWesternexistentialism-
to,' a kind of balancethat the individualhas to achieve in order the two kinds of existentialism,their similaritiesand differences
to arriveat a sense of selfhood,as the Swedish psychologistB. - it would be an exampleof the
Borjesson argued." See Tetz Rooke, "The Most Important strategyof resistancedescribedearlier.In this essay I have
ThingIs WhatHappensInsideUs': PersonalIdentityin Pales- traceda couple of the Indianconnections:the footprintsas an
tinianAutobiography,"in Identityin AsianLiterature, ed. Lis- "absentpresence"and the coiled snake of kundalinithat sets
beth Littrup,Richmond(U.K.),Curzon,1996,pp. 236-37. fire to the burningbush. Othersuch connectionsin the text
X4CatherineWeinberger,"TheOutsiderin New Hindi
surely await the sensitive translator.
Stories,"IndianLiterature, 11:2(April-July1968),p. 72. 29And, in fact,in the same way, Vermaas a writerrefuses
*5As for examplein the stories "TheDead and the Dying," the reader'sidentifyinggaze that seeks to locatehim solely in
"A Splinterof the Sun,""MayaDarpan,""Weekend,""TheDif- eithera traditionof Indian
writing or a traditionof European
ference,"and "TheMan and the Girl"- in fact,most, if not all, existentialistwriting.
of the storiesin the collectionTheWorldElsewhere andOther
Stories,as well as in othercollections.
patraek dusre ke liye bilkul begane se rahte
hain. Ek dusre se alag-alagse rahtehain. Koi kisi se sambandh Prasenjit Guptais a doctoralcandidatein Comparative Literature
nahin rakhta."SaritaVashishth,NirmalVarmaki kahaniyon ka theUniversityof Iowa.In additionto his scholarlywork,he writes
videshiparivesh(TheForeignEnvironmentin NirmalVerma's
fictionandtranslates fromHindiandBengaliintoEnglish.His work
Stories),Dilli, NirmalPablikeshans,1993,p. 86. hasappeared in Translation& Literature,Exchanges,Asian Pacif-
l7 "UnderCoverof Darkness,"tr. JaiRatan,in Nirmal ic AmericanJournal,ContemporarySouth Asia, ModernPoetry
Verma,TheWorldElsewhere andOtherStories,pp. 1-2. in Translation,andelsewhere. In 1998-99he spenta yearin Indiaon
18"A Roomof TheirOwn,"tr.
KuldipSingh,in Nirmal a Fulbright-Hays grant,workingwithNirmalVermaon translations
Verma,TheWorldElsewhere andOtherStories,p. 236.
of a selectionof his shortstories.


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