Reading in translation has often been likened to kissing a bride through a veil. Kannada writer Prof H S Harisankar agrees: ‘’The sweetness just isn’t there,’’ he says. And that, coming from a writer who has translated Tolstoy and Chekov from the original Russian into Kannada.
Harisankar - writer, translator and teacher from Mysore - on Tuesday won the Esenin Award given by the Russian Cultural Centre in Thiruvananthapuram and Esenin Museum, Moscow, for promoting Russian language and literature in India. The writer - a dapper man in a half-sleeved shirt with greying hair parted neatly in the middle - was in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday to receive the award. ‘’Translations are hard. To convey the feelings expressed in one language in another, different language, is very, very difficult. It’s something like ‘Parakayapravesha’,’’ Harishankar, 76, told City Express.
The son of a Kannada professor and well-known publisher, Harisankar himself taught Kannada at the Mysore University. He encountered Russian - which he would teach part-time - when Russian teachers came down to Mysore under a programme of the Soviet Union. ‘’That was in 1964. And they kept on coming for nearly ten years. They knew neither Kannada nor English. So it was like pushing someone into a pond; you either learned to swim or drowned. I had to learn Russian.’’ He later underwent a three-year course, and subsequently, a nine-month coaching, in Russian language and translation in Moscow in 1972. Though not a member of the Communist party, he again visited Moscow from 1988 to 1990 on the invitation of Raduga Publishers for a translation project.
Harisankar’s direct translations from the Russian into Kannada include novels, short stories, folk tales and children’s stories. A later translation of Anton Chekov’s short stories (Chekov’s ‘Kathegalu’), together with K S Sivaram, won him the Soviet Land Nehru Award.
He has also translated English works such as George W Southgate’s ‘A Textbook of Modern European History,’ and John Reed’s ‘Ten Days that Shook the World,’ a work on the 1917 October Revolution in Russia. Harisankar’s original works in Kannada include biographies, travelogues, short stories and research pieces. But one thing he has never attempted is translating Kannada works into Russian. It’s impossible to get the nuances right, he says. He also rues the fact that good translations of works in Indian languages are hard to come by. ‘’States should show an interest. In fact, the government alone can do it. Private organisations neither have the resources nor the expertise to do it,’’ he says. Harisankar is married to Vasantha, whom he describes as the ‘’first critic’’ of anything that he writes. The couple has two daughters - Lakshmi and Vidya.