Wisdom of words

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Wisdom of words

A satirist, columnist, feminist, literary critic, translator and media presenter, Mrunalini has 15 published books to her credit. Also a professor of Comparative Literature in Telugu University, Hyderabad, she is well known for her Telugu translations of R K Narayan’s Malgudi Days and Gulzar’s Dhuan. Excerpts from an interview:

You wear many hats — that of a short-story writer, translator, critic, feminist and a radio and television host. Which of these roles do you enjoy most?

Obviously, I enjoy all of the above. But, if I have to make a choice, I would say radio is my first love. I have loved every moment behind the microphone. I feel I communicated best on radio, where I saw no one and no one saw me. Having said that, I also enjoy all the other roles. In fact, some of them overlap with the others. I am a feminist in the sense that I have lived life on my terms, enjoying freedom with all its responsibilities.

Regarding television, I do love the recognition I receive as a television host. Some of my shows on women have, I believe, changed the perspective of women, and on women, too. I have become a counsellor for women mainly as a result of what I say on television.

Your translations of ‘Malgudi Days’ and ‘Dhuan’ have been critically acclaimed. What is your criteria for choosing books for translation?

Frankly speaking, I have not chosen those books; they chose me. I mean, Sahitya Akademi asked me if I can translate Gulzar and I jumped at the idea, having loved his work both as a lyricist and a director all these years. Again, I have always been a fan of R K Narayan, and when a Bengaluru-based publication, after having read my translation of Robin Sharma’s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, asked me to translate Malgudi Days, I was happy. Some renowned short fiction writers in Telugu have told me how much they enjoyed Malgudi Days in Telugu and I was glad I could do justice to it. But, it’s true that I do take up translations only if I like the book. I love fiction and would be happy translating it; right now, I have some offers from NBT, hopefully, I will chose some good ones. 

What are the challenges you face during translation? Does the reputation of the writer of the original work overwhelm you?

Translation, as most people would tell you, is more difficult than original writing. Here, you have to get into the mind of the original writer and recreate it in another language. I love writers who understate; I love writers who are ironical, and irony, as we all know, is not easily translatable. But I do enjoy getting the feel in between the lines that only a fiction writer can offer. I am very particular about getting the ‘tone’ of the writer, not just the words. My main worry, always, is whether the translation is natural or contrived. I try to make it natural. As for being overwhelmed by the original writers, I can’s say I am. But I would like to bring their peculiarities to my readers; hence, though I myself am a writer, I take care that my style does not intrude into my translation. I prefer retaining the original writers’  style in my translation.

What kind of writing are you focusing on now?

At present, I’m concentrating on literary criticism. My latest collection of essays has just come out. I have two more books of literary criticism lined up. I am also attempting a novel.

You are also a short story writer. How is the short story scene in India today?

Short story is one genre which has not had ups and downs or seasons in all Indian languages. Poetry and novel have had their good and bad phases, but short story has been uniformly good. The best thing about today’s short story scene is that there are many new writers from different backgrounds. Their unique sensibilities and life experiences are showing both in their subjects and language. The richness that comes out of this obviously adds to the value of this genre. My only concern is that sordidness and tragedy are dominating the short story scene at the expense of humour and satire.

You were a part of this year’s Jaipur Lit Fest? Do you think lit fests promote reading?

I am not sure. However, I do think that literary festivals do help people, especially today’s youth, realise that a good book is worth more than 10 sessions in a Personality Development class.

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