There’s a Carnival Today by Indra Bahadur Rai
Translated from Nepali to English by Manjushree Thapa
Publication date: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books, India
1) Tell us about this book and its original author.
MT: Indra Bahadur Rai was a living legend of our times: a high artist and public intellectual who led literary discourse in the Nepali language, both in his native Darjeeling and in my native Nepal. In There’s a Carnival Today, he offers a panoramic view of post-Independence Darjeeling through the story of Janak, a local leader caught in a quandary as political unrest brews in the tea estates, and a collective Nepali identity comes into formation. Indra Bahadur Rai’s original, Aaja Ramita Chha, is a modern classic and a perennial favourite among Nepali-language readers.
2) Why were you drawn to choose the book for translation?
MT: I’ve loved the novel ever since I read it in 2000. And, even though it was beyond my skills to translate it at that time, I asked Indra Bahadur Rai for permission to do so one day. Fifteen years passed before I felt up to the task. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has described translation as an act of love, and this was what it was for me. I loved the original so much that I felt the urge to share it with English readers. I want to press it into everyone’s hands and say, “Read this, it’s brilliant,” the way you do with books you absolutely love.
3) What were the key challenges and surprises for you during the translation process/journey?
MT: Darjeeling’s usage of the Nepali language is unique and this is reflected not just in the dialogue in the original novel but also in Indra Bahadur Rai’s narrative voice. I had to seek the help of the author as well as of my editor, Anurag Basnet of Speaking Tiger, who is also a Darjeeling native, to correctly translate some of the more obscure colloquial expressions and idioms in the novel.
In addition, the original text has snippets of Hindi and Bengali, reflecting the everyday voices of the people of Darjeeling. I loved the challenge of translating a multilingual text to a monolingual one without losing the complexity of the original. But this is what makes translation so fun: the problem-solving that goes into it. I had such a good time bringing this novel into English.
4) What’s one thing you wish readers knew or appreciated more about this book?
MT: I particularly wish that readers in India would read the novel to gain a glimpse of the rich, intellectually bracing literature that has come out of Darjeeling, which tends to be understood as a simple, picturesque “hill station.” Indra Bahadur Rai’s oeuvre is as sophisticated as Mahasweta Devi’s or Bhisham Sahni’s. His later work became more abstract and postmodern, but There’s a Carnival Today is entirely approachable.
5) What’s your next translation project that we can look forward to?
MT: I’m a writer-who-translates, rather than a full-time literary translator. I’m working on a novel right now but, as soon as I’m done, there are several writers whose works I want to translate, including Parijat and Aahuti. Nepal’s literature is political, rousing, and linguistically diverse: there are 123 languages in Nepal. There’s much to translate. I feel fortunate to be able to translate some of it.
Author Bio: Darjeeling-based Indra Bahadur Rai (1927-2018) was the author of fourteen books spanning the genres of story, memoir, literary criticism, and drama. He was credited with introducing modernist and postmodernist aesthetics, through critical theory and literary practice, to Nepali literature. He also played a major role in having Nepali officially recognized as one of India’s national languages. He was the recipient of India’s prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award. (Photo Credit: The Darjeeling Times; File Photo)
Translator Bio: Manjushree Thapa is the author of three novels, All Of Us in Our Own Lives, Seasons of Flight, and The Tutor of History; a story collection, Tilled Earth; and three books of nonfiction, A Boy from Siklis: The Life and Death of Chandra Gurung, Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy, and Mustang Bhot in Fragments. She has also translated and edited The Country is Yours, a collection of stories and poems by forty-nine writers from Nepal, as well as A Leaf in a Begging Bowl, a collection of stories by Ramesh Vikal. She has edited special editions of literature from Nepal for Words Without Borders and Manoa. (Photo Credit: Manjushree Thapa)
Jenny Bhatt is a writer, literary translator, and book critic. She is the host of the Desi Books podcast. Her story collection, Each of Us Killers, and her literary translation, Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu, were out in 2020. Her writing has appeared in various venues in the US, UK, and India, including The Atlantic, The Washington Post, NPR, BBC Culture, Literary Hub, Longreads, Poets & Writers, and others. Having worked her way around India, England, Germany, Scotland, and various parts of the US, she now lives in a suburb of Dallas, Texas.