Book House The Lead

Meet the Translator. Part Three, Priyanka Sarkar. (Hindi-English)

Priyanka Sarkar (Photo Credit: Dibyajyoti Sarma)

Priyanka Sarkar is a translator and an editor. She has translated Chitra Mudgal’s “Giligadu” (Niyogi Books, 2019) and Shivani’s “Bhairavi” (Yoda Press-Simon & Schuster India, 2020) into English. Her translations of short stories from Hindi to English have been published by OUP, South Asian Review and Women Unlimited. She has also translated from English to Hindi and Bengali to English. She has previously worked with OUP India, Random House India and was the Editorial Head at Konark Publishers. As a publishing consultant, she works with various organizations including Sangam House and Labyrinth Literary Agency.

Chirdeep Malhotra connected with her for an exclusive interview, in which she talks about translating into English the Hindi novel “Bhairavi” by pioneering Hindi-language writer Gaura Pant (who wrote under the pen name Shivani), how she started in translation, and the joys and challenges of translating the novel’s evocative and gothic prose.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a translator and an editor, and grew up in Rajasthan with my single mother who inculcated in me a love for the written word and the stories that women tell.

First off, what languages are you fluent in?

English, Hindi, Bangla and I’d like to believe I understand Mewari.

How did you first become interested in translation?

I translated my first ever short story for money. I was doing my Masters and Ma told me that though my tuition and hostel fee were paid, she couldn’t give me any pocket money for the next few months. I asked one of my professors, Professor Ira Raja, for work and she told me to translate a short story by Premchand. It got published by OUP in a book edited by John Rubin, The Illustrated Premchand. I realized that I enjoyed the process.

What was your first introduction to the writer Gaura Pant (Shivani)?

I was around 14, it was a hot summer, we weren’t going anywhere and I was bothering my mother about it. So, for the sake of her peace of mind, she gave me her copy of Shivani’s Surangama. Her strategy worked really well because I was hooked and not only did I finish reading Surangama at breakneck speed, I read whichever story of Shivani’s I could find in our house. It was a busy summer.

“Bhairavi” by Shivani, translated from the Hindi by Priyanka Sarkar

What was it, exactly, that attracted you to translating the book “Bhairavi: The Runaway”?

First and foremost, the fact that it has been written by Shivani. You know the writing will be great, the female characters well etched and fiery. I am also very interested in the genres of fantasy and gothic novels, and the gothic elements in this one really called to me. For me, Bhairavi is not just a story that’s there on the page but one about possibilities and what can be and what could have been. The mother-daughter relationship is also very interesting here; Rajeshwari is not exactly the best mommy in the world. All in all, a very exciting book.

The author Shivani is widely regarded as a pioneer of Indian women-based fiction. Could you talk about her oeuvre?

Her stories are about strong, beautiful, slightly ‘imperfect’ women, men who are equally handsome but don’t match up in the strength-of-character department, the setting is usually the Kumaon hills. But there’s so much more that can’t be captured in a gist and can only be discovered by reading her books. They might seem similar but they are all very different and each as powerful as the next.

In this book, Shivani’s prose is incandescent, evocative and full of imagery. How did you go about translating this text?

I focused on capturing the imagery and the emotion as much as I could in the story. When it came to translating the description of places, meticulousness was key.

Can you take the readers through a line or passage from the book that you particularly enjoyed translating?

The first paragraph has always been special for me. I still remember wondering if I could even do it.

What were some of the most rewarding aspects of translating this book? What were some of the challenges?

The biggest challenge was the Sanskritized language; there were times when I was just stumped by some of the words. Then again, her writing is so beautiful that sometimes, I would just feel lost in them and keep reading the text and savouring it, forgetting to translate, but being on a schedule and knowing that my publisher was waiting for the pages pulled me back to the work at hand.

What’s exciting about Literature in translation right now?

The fact that there are stories you could have never been able to read otherwise. More stories, more books, more worlds opening up to you.

And what are some works in translation you’ve read and loved recently – or ones you’re looking forward to reading this year?

Really really curious about Arunava Sinha’s translation of Manada Devi’s An Educated Woman in Prostitution.

Finally, tell us about your future literary projects?

I am looking at a few stories, let’s see.

This article is the third in a series of interviews featuring literary translators translating from and into different languages.


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About the author

Chirdeep Malhotra

Dr Malhotra is Editor, Books and Features at The Dispatch. A medical practitioner, a bibliophile, he calls Jammu home. He has an interest in International Relations and World affairs. He enjoys writing, watching documentaries, and exploring the culture and local cuisines of Jammu & Kashmir.

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