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BW Businessworld

"The Mahabharata Gives Meaning To Life"

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Another translation of the Mahabharata?
Contrary to what we often think, unabridged translations of the Mahabharata in English are almost non-existent. The last two completed ones were in the late 19th century. There were others that were started, but not completed. Any abridged translation simplifies and misses the nuances. Abridged translations have a role, especially in stimulating interest, but there is a role for unabridged translations too. There are such translations in the vernacular, but increasingly, there is a generation that is more attuned to English.

Simultaneously, familiarity with Sanskrit is dying out. The Critical Edition by Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Sanskrit was completed between 1916 and 1966. The existing unabridged translations in English, dating to late 19th century, did not have access to the Critical Edition. The language is now archaic. And in a few instances, they didn't translate parts they thought were unacceptable.

Why should a reader pick up this book?
Because a reader is interested in the Mahabharata in English and looks beyond the simplified versions, where everything is in black and white. And because my translation is better. Others have said this and I am endorsing their point of view.

What does the book mean to you?
The Mahabharata gives meaning to life, while the translation is life, more important than economics and business.

How difficult was it to put the book together? You have more volumes to go...
It took some time to fix the template and get the translation process going. Once that was done and one became familiar with the language and the structure, it was easier. Five volumes have been published, but from my end, the 6th has been completed too. On an average, each volume takes 6 months to complete. There will be about 2 million words eventually. I am roughly 1.2 million through.

What makes a translation a really good read?
A good translation should be as faithful as possible to the original and make everything clear to the reader. I have tried to do the last through footnotes, without making it too heavy or academic. Beyond that, the English has to be smooth.

Where all did this book take you?
In terms of geographical travels? Nowhere. This is fundamentally desk-based. There is a vague idea about doing a book on geographical places in the Mahabharata. If that materialises, the idea is to travel around and take pictures. But that is in the future.

When and where do you write?
At home. Usually in the evenings. 1,500-2,000 words per day on an average, roughly one chapter say. If I have to travel, I compensate on days when I don't travel. I essentially find the time by cutting down on social engagements. A little bit over the weekend, too.

What's your energy drink?
I don't think there is one. Perhaps, it's the dismal state of the economy, so you look for things that are more permanent and less transient. In the last resort, the impetus has to come from inside.

What's the hardest thing about being a translator?
To try and convey the flavour of the original. This is a bit more difficult if one is doing Sanskrit to English. Sanskrit to any vernacular language would have been easier. For example, there are words that are difficult to satisfactorily translate into English.

What are you reading now?
Typically, books that come for review. Unfortunately, I am usually sent books on economics and business. Other than books sent for review, I am reading Bali And The Ocean Of Milk by Nilanjan Choudhury.

So, what's next?
The Critical Edition excises some familiar stories. So, a companion volume with these missing stories. Once that is out of the way, The Valmiki Ramayana.

(Compiled by Jinoy Jose P.)