Wednesday night saw the launch of T’ta Professor, written in Hindi by Manohar Shyam Joshi, and translated by Ira Pande, at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. This was my second book launch since arriving in India, having attended the launch of Bela Lal’s Night of Kaamini last week. The great thing about these events for me as a foreigner is the chance to learn a bit about Indian literature, and the Indian culture and heritage behind these books. I also got to meet and talk to the enthusiasts who attended these launches, so I’ve really enjoyed these opportunities so far.
Following the unwrapping of the book by Manohar Shyam Johi’s wife, Bhagwati Joshi, the assembly was invited to enter into the world of T’ta Professor, before being treated to a fascinating sociological, historical and geographical insight into Kumaon from Pushpesh Pant and Ira Pande.
‘Funny and scatological; erotic and full of pathos; it’s about writers, writing and the art of storytelling; it’s a lampoon that turns dark when you least expect it; it’s crude and stylish all at once; it’s complex and sophisticated, T’ta Professor is a modern classic’, Diya Kar Hazra, editor of the book at Penguin India, enthusiastically divulged, and at this point, during the opening speeches, I for one, sat up and took notice. I was not alone.
Speaking passionately in both Hindi and English about the author, Manohar Shyam Joshi, Pushpesh Pant told a captivated audience that with the release of T’ta Professor in English, one of the finest novels of Indian literature, written by arguably the greatest modern Hindi novelist, had been translated by the best Hindi translator, Ira Pande.
Ira Pande explained that: ‘translating a book is like mothering a foster child; you care for them, nurture them, but at the end of the day they belong to someone else-this is Manohar Shyam Joshi’s book.’
In a remote Kumaoni village, schoolteacher Khashtivallabh Pant carries the Oxford English dictionary under one arm at all times, using it as a weapon of terror to inflict his supposed intellectual superiority over others. The narrator, a young Manohar Shyam Joshi, decides to pit Pant, mockingly referred to as T’ta Professor, against the Principal of the school in a battle of literary one-upmanship.
This comical excerpt of wit and word-play was read aloud by Ira Pande, much to the amusement of the audience. If you think you can tell us the meaning of words such as ‘northing’, ‘intenable’ or ‘logats’, without having to look them up in a dictionary, post your definitions below! (Answers here: northing, intenable, logats)
Unwilling to give too much of the plot away other than to say it was a testament to Joshi’s skill as a writer that this fun, satirical tale suddenly embraces a much darker, tragic tone, Pushpesh Pant and Ira Pande then turned to Kumaon.
I discovered the Kumaoni possessed a rich heritage of storytelling but also an equal amount of eccentricity, resulting in a flowering of imagination, or, as Ira put it: ‘high rates of literacy and lunacy!’ That these people originated from 7 or 8 clans who often inter-married meant these creative, expressive genes were never far away. Kumaoni writers such as Joshi, Sumitra Nandan Pant, Shivani (who happens to be Ira Pande’s mother), Mrinal Pande (Ira’s sister) and Pankaj Bisht were all mentioned in the same breath. In a lighter vein, also under discussion were the facial features of the Kumaoni people--that they either had high cheek bones and pointed noses or very flat features, of which Ira disclosed she belonged to the latter!
Ira mentioned that Mrs Bhagwati Joshi was very keen that Ira also translate the author’s novel Kasap but that she was not sure how she would take that on, considering she found it quite difficult to translating the very phrase ‘kasap’ (a sort of shrug of the shoulders) due to the fact that the Pahari (a range of dialects spoken across the Himalayan mountain range) has an oral tradition; a music of its own with many traits and nuances.
Pushpesh described T’ta Professor as a defining Manohar Shyam Joshi read; ‘spanning generations and also literatures, it takes you back to your lost childhood.’ Pushpesh also explained he wasn’t sure about the label ‘Kumaoni literature’, because to him, the recurring feature of the work was the mountains (pahar), so it could be called Pahari instead, ‘including Garhwal, because you can’t ignore Uttarakhand.’ The rest, he said, the non-Paharis, were all Deshis (of the plains).
As the appreciative audience applauded the evening’s speakers, we were told that when you read T’ta Professor as translated by Ira Pande, you forget what language it is in—the sign of a great collaboration. I for one can’t wait to find out.
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