Karnataka’s kinship web, with nothing lost in translation

Published: 13th January 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th January 2013 12:51 PM   |  A+A-


Vasudeva’s Family is the translation of Vaidehi’s Kannada novel Aspruhyaru which means ‘untouchables’. A literal translation of the original title would invoke the title of Mulkraj Anand’s novel Untouchable. Also, as Susheela Punitha, the translator observes, ‘Vaidehi’s novel is a different take on the problem, implicating intra-caste hierarchies as much as inter-caste politics based on touch and untouch. To the question, ‘who is untouchable?’ the book replies, ‘everyone!’ A significant feature of Vaidehi’s novel is that it shows how every woman, irrespective of her caste hierarchy, is treated as an untouchable during different phases of her life. A menstruous woman is considered to be impure. Untouchable, though she may belong to upper caste and class. Thus the difference between the two titles Untouchable (Anand) and Untouchables (Vaidehi) is not just numerical. Vaidehi’s novel has broadened the very concept of untouchability. The protagonist of this novel is Vasudevaraya. He tries to live the ideal ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbam’(the earth is one family) in his home.

Vaidehi is one of the finest writers in Kannada. A Sahitya Akademi Award winner, she has been conferred with the prestigious Attimabbe Award by the government of Karnataka. She has won the Katha Award as well. Girish Kasaravalli’s famous film Gulabi Talkies is based on a story by Vaidehi. She has authored six collections of short stories, three of poems and four of prose. Her work Jathre (the temple fair) has been published by OUP. Asprushyaru is her only novel. It was first published in a Kannada weekly in 1982.

Her writings are rooted in the cultural milieu of Kundapur in Coastal Karnataka. Her narratives are characterised by a judicious mix of urban and local speech varieties. But her stories, including Asprushyaru are steeped in local culture, linguistic patterns and gestures. The stories create a micro universe and the tales cannot be separated from these. Vaidehi’s characters have no existence without the unique speech patterns and gestures. This, indeed, is the major challenge for any translator. Susheela Punitha has been quite successful in recreating the ambience of the original in English. She has also been able to maintain the tempo and the flow of the original text. The syntactical patterns of English and Kannada are so different and any mechanical and literal translation would have killed the beauty and flow of the Kannada narrative. But the translator has negotiated with the original in a creative way and has come out with its English version keeping intact the spirit of Vadehi’s novel. She has also provided a list of kinship terms and a glossary which is useful for non-Kannada readers.

Vaidehi’s novel is a colourful and complex tapestry made out of two main plots and many sub-plots. At a macro level, the novel probes into the intricacies of caste (here, Brahmin-Koraga) relationships. At a micro level, it explores the tensions between man-woman relationships. Both are characterised by power equations.

However the novelist does not portray them as static, never changeable human condition. There are conservatives, statusquoists, moderates, moderns, reformists and even revolutionaries in the tiny world created in this novel.


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