Editor Ram Sadasiv spoke to translator Daisy Rockwell.
Your translation of Shrilal Shukla's Among The Hunters is featured in Out of Print 15. What drew you to this story?
Shukla died in October 2011. At the time, an editor in India asked me to write a piece on him. I asked for some time, as I felt I hadn't read enough of his work. It's now two and a half years later, and I've yet to write the piece. Instead, I've been diligently reading Shukla ever since; I still don't feel like enough of an expert to write an article about him, but I've been enjoying every minute of it. This story in particular I enjoyed for the beautiful imagery and for the violence. I felt the parallel between the hunters and the villagers in search of the bride was neatly drawn, as was the complicity of the narrator in the violence, as a participant observer. Shukla is good at that: there are rarely any perfect good guys in his writing and this device has a nice way of drawing the reader in and making her feel complicit as well. Progressivist writing at its finest!
This is not your first work of translation. Previously, you have published Hats And Doctors, a translation of Upendranath Ashk stories. As a translator, how would you compare the two authors?
Ashk is from Punjab, although he later settled in UP, where Shukla spent his life. Ashk was fifteen years older than Shukla, and is considered to be from a different generation. I've never seen anything by either of them commenting on the other, but what they do have in common is a wry sense of humor. Ashk loathed clerks and bureaucrats, and Shukla was a bureaucrat, so I assume this means he'd have loathed him as well. Shukla, for his part, doesn't seem to have had much time for narcissism, a prominent trait of Ashk's, so I could imagine this would have turned him off as well. Ultimately, however, I think the two have much in common and should be studied side by side for their satire and humorous ways of pursuing progressivist ideals.
Recently you have been promoting a novel, Taste. Do you have any upcoming readings/events we should know about?
Nothing outside of New England, although I will be reading from Taste at the Goa Festival of Arts and Literature in December.
I just finished reading Taste – it is a wonderful novel and I do want to discuss it some more, but before we get into that I wanted to ask you about the video trailer. That was my first exposure to the novel and I thought it was very interesting that you chose to use a different medium to introduce the book. Can you tell us a little bit about how the video came to be?
Since I am mostly known as a painter and a Hindi scholar/translator, I felt like I needed to do something for publicity for my novel that would make it clear what this book was like. There's so much competing noise on the internet. It needed to be something attention-grabbing, and it also needed to make clear that this novel was coming from a different place from my other work. The trailer was made by friends and family, so I was very lucky to be able to see this idea come to fruition.
Daniel, the protagonist of Taste, has a highly developed aesthetic sense that is in many ways at odds with the modern world. Many of the funniest parts of the book are the ‘fish out of water’ riffs where Daniel is dropped into the maelstrom of contemporary culture and has to figure out how to cope with the world (and vice versa). A visit to Graceland is a crucial plot point, which also made me laugh out loud. Were there any other places you thought of dropping him into? At a certain point I was hoping that Pottery Barn would come out with a model of his fruit table and that he would have to go into the store and argue with the store manager.
Hah-- Pottery Barn: the sequel, what a good idea! For some people, leaving one's comfort zone can lead to greater understanding of the world, more tolerance, etc. For Daniel, that way lies madness, and each subsequent encounter drives him closer to the edge. I was less thinking of where I could place him to prove that point, and more imagining each point on his journeys that he would have to interact with unfamiliar people and cultural phenomena. I realized when I was looking at Amtrak schedules that he would have to spend the entire day in Chicago, both ways, and that's how those sections were born.
You are also an artist. I thought the little sketches at the beginning of each chapter were quite charming. You have a book of artwork, The Little Book Of Terror. Have you been doing any painting recently?
I've been working more on translation lately (Upendranath Ashk's Hindi novel Falling Walls, which will be out from Penguin India in 2015), but I'm gearing up to work on a new painting project called Odalisque. (*smiles mysteriously*)