By Admin

A Q&A with Manoranjan Byapari and V. Ramaswamy, author and translator of The Nemesis

12 October, 2023

The Nemesis is part of Manoranjan Byapari’s Chandal Jibon Trilogy. The second in the series, this novel like the first is translated by V. Ramaswamy. In this conversation the duo talk about the book, what influenced the writing and the translation, and bring forth some reading recommendations that are a must add to your TBR.

1.The Nemesis, like its prequel, is autobiographical in nature, ridden with episodes of social injustice and structural manifestations of caste, making it an important yet difficult book to read. Was writing it as difficult since it is inspired by your own life experiences as well?

I had never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that my books would become so important for the common man. Whatever happened in my life, the sorrow and pain that I or people like me had to suffer, the insults we had to endure, the atrocities we were subjected to—it struck me that I should write about it. I didn’t think then that people would pick up my books and talk about them, praise them or translate them. But it happened. Whatever I witnessed, the events I lived, and everything I learned from life has been described in The Runaway Boy and The Nemesis, the second volume in the Chandal Jibon Trilogy, which is entirely autobiographical. If people have liked it, I express deep gratitude towards them. I feel humbled that they have become a participant in my story.

2.  Who are some of the literary influences in your life?

Although I have read one or two books by most Indian writers of our time, I feel one must read the works of Mahasweta Devi and Munshi Premchand.

I also read this powerful Bengali writer, Adwaita Mallabarman, who wrote only one novel: Titas Ekti Nadir Naam. The book documents the atrocities and injustice against Dalits that are still prevalent even after 75 years of Independence. People outside of our world are oblivious to Dalit lives.

I also admire Raag Durbari by Hindi writer Srilal Shukla. His writing style is unique, different from anything I had read before I came across the novel. I can’t count how many times I have read the novel. It’s important to read this novel to understand our country. It's a delight for the reader, but one should also read it to understand the art of writing. There is a lot to learn from Shukla’s worldview and prose style.

3. If you have to recommend 3 books one must read at least once in their lifetime, what would they be?

Mahasweta Devi's Aranyer Adhikar and Chotti Munda Ebong Tar Teer, Manik Bandopadhyay's Padma Nadir Majhi, Premchand's Godaan, all these should be read in order to understand India and its literary tradition.

4. As far as your writing goes, what's next?

Now I have joined politics, I hardly find any time to sit down and write. But being an MLA and seeing events and people in my constituency is teaching me a lot. I am gathering facts, you can say. I am collecting material right now through my work. When after 2.5 years, my term as Member of Legislative Assembly ends, I will write a book using the research material I’m storing in my memory now.

5. What do you think is the relevance of literary prizes both for you as a writer as well as for readership in India?

Whoever writes—leave aside my books, I have received many awards; my books also appeared on the shortlist of the JCB Prize several times, and more recently also on the shortlist of the Bank of Baroda Rashtrabhasha Samman—whoever writes receives a validation that yes, you are doing good work, when they receive an award. It’s a very concrete form of acknowledgment. You write well, you should write more. It’s a validation, if I may use the word. An award encourages the writer to write more, to write better and better, because serious readers and thinkers on the jury have liked and endorsed their work through their judgement.

An award announcement is a medium for spreading the word about books. We hope it attracts more new readers from newer territories, both linguistic and geographical.

In conversation with V. Ramaswamy
1. What is your process of selecting what you translate? Is it often the kind of literature that you tend to lean on as a reader?

I select works that I think are important. Someone whose judgement I trust may have recommended the author, or the book. Or I may have heard or read about a work, or heard the author speak, and then approached the author. Or the author may have requested me to translate. I began translating out of the blue with Subimal Misra, recommended by a friend, and thereafter saw myself as a translator of voices from the margins. That defines my choice of titles. You could say that I am curating selected work in Bangla for the wider world of literature.

2. This is your second translation of Byapari's work, you also translated The Runaway Boy, the first book in the trilogy, is there any particular bit that stands out to you in his writing? Or any particular bit that you feel is difficult to translate for an English reading audience?

Translating Manoranjan Byapari’s Chandal Jiibon Trilogy was an important landmark in my translation career because of the sheer length of the work. Translation is primarily labour, and so the experience of translating about 375,000 words was an important part of my growth as a translator. I was fortunate to receive the Literature Across Frontiers fellowship to translate this, and I was able to use my three months stay in Aberystwyth, Wales, to do an immense amount of work. There are sections that left a deep impression on my mind. For instance, the chapter titled “Flight” in The Runaway Boy,  and the one  titled "The Eatery and the Pit by the Pond" in The Nemesis.  Also bits of dialogue, like one where Jibon wonders how his father could have complete faith in God even when they were assailed so cruelly by life. I did not have any difficulty translating this for an English reading audience; rather, translating it into English was the means to get this voice and this worldview read by people who inhabit another cognitive and experiential universe.

3. If you had to recommend three translations that one must read at least once in their lifetime, what would they be? 

That is such a difficult question! I don't think I can answer that. Because it is in translation that one would have read so many great works of literature from around the world. Let’s begin with the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Or Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain,  Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum, Yasser Kemal’s Memed, My Hawk, Graciliano Ramos’ Barren Lives, and authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kenzaburo Oe, Jose Saramago, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Roberto Bolano, to name just a few.

4. When are we getting our hands on your next translation, and what is it going to be?

I translate one book after another, I have a long list on my table, and it keeps getting longer!  Among the books that are in the pipeline are the 4th collection of Subimal Misra’s anti-stories, Ansaruddin’s The Song of the Faraway Village, which is a rural memoir, and the final part of Byapari’s Chandal Jibon trilogy of novels, all of which are with the publishers. Right now, I am doing the final edit on the novel Talashnama by Ismail Darbesh.