South Asian Literature in Translation: Hijab

Hijab by Guruprasad Kaginele; translated from Kannada to English by Pavan N. Rao

Publication date: 22 February, 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster India
ISBN-10: 9386797798
ISBN-13: 978-9386797797

1) Tell us about this book and its original author.

PNR: Three Indian doctors find themselves practicing at a hospital in Amoka, a nondescript town in Minnesota, while waiting for their green cards. What is expected to be an easy practice in a backwater town soon turns into a difficult question about identity, immigration, and belonging in this award-winning novel first published in Kannada.  

When a Sanghaali refugee woman refuses to deliver her baby via the Caesarean section despite the doctors’ advice, her act snowballs into a larger conundrum that brings to light cultural differences that may not be necessarily resolved with reason. As the doctors try to break down whether migrants can leave behind their culture in a new land, the conflict with the Sanghaalis reaches new heights. Reality TV, immigration issues, and racial profiling all converge in this little town that is struggling to adapt to the demographic shifts around it. 

A story about the dystopias that migration induces, Hijab is a powerful fable about one of the most burning issues of our time. How does one conform in a culture that is itself made of remnants from other cultures? Is identity skin-deep, or does it go beyond one’s color? And, finally, what does being a migrant truly mean? 

Our contemporary world is distinguished by its porous borders and intermingling of cultural and religious identities. America is a poster child of this calculus of migration and displacement. Hijab is a fable rooted in America and taking place amongst displaced immigrants, the resulting cultural dystopia, and the problems all of that can lead to. This gives the book the compelling voice it deserves. That a work of such ambition is written in a regional language of what’s considered a “developing country” makes it a special work. It is no coincidence that it has been well received by readers in Kannada and has been recognized universally. In my opinion, it is a singular work that needs to be on every discerning booklover’s bookshelf.

2) Why were you drawn to choose the book for translation?

PNR: There is a well-known quote from the iconic Black American writer, Toni Morrison, where she says: “Americans, in America, means white Americans. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” In that sense, Hijab is a novel of hyphens. There are Asian-Indian-Americans, Sanghaala-Americans, African-Americans, Caucasians, and so on. Upon reading the book, it immediately became apparent to me that, as a translator, I have to address these hyphenated voices and the interests they represent. Guruprasad’s languid, elliptical prose lends a lot of credibility to this landscape of shared cacophony and second-guessing. Having known his writing for a long time, this book challenged me to bring out the nuances of his narration. It has been a labor of joy for me.

3) What were the key challenges and surprises for you during the translation process/journey?

PNR: The main challenge was negotiating the grammar and the structure of Kannada and English without compromising on the experience of reading the original for a non-Kannadiga reader.

The surprise was the sweep of the English language and the ease of bringing idioms from Kannada to English.

4) What’s one thing you wish readers knew or appreciated more about this book?

PNR: Readers who can read both the Kannada original and the translated work have appreciated that the translated work has not deviated from the original and provides a similar reading experience. I hope that non-Kannadiga readers will have a similar appreciation when reading the translation because good writing cuts across linguistic and cultural barriers and its prime function is to enhance our awareness of the human condition.

5) What’s your next translation project that we can look forward to?

PNR: Nothing in the pipeline yet.

Author Bio: A medical doctor by profession, Guruprasad Kaginele has been a prominent voice in contemporary Kannada literature. He has published three short story collections, three novels, and two essay collections. His works have received several awards. Many of his short stories have appeared in anthologies published by the Karnataka Saahithya Academy. He has also been the primary editor for two books published by the US-based, ‘Kannada Saahithya Ranga’. Some of his short stories have been translated into Telugu, Konkani, Malayalam, and English. His recent novel Hijab (2017) garnered both popular and critical acclaim. Kaginele lives in Rochester, Minnesota with his family. He works as an Emergency Physician at Olmsted Medical Center in St. Charles, Minnesota. (Image Source: Guruprasad Kaginele)

Translator Bio: Pavan N. Rao is an engineer based in Wisconsin, US, with broad interests in Kannada and English Literature. He has translated many Kannada stories to English, His translation of Kannada short stories from Jayanth Kaikini’s award-winning book, Amritha Balli Kashaya, was published in the collection, Dots and Lines. He has also translated Poornachandra Tejaswi’s Tabarana Kathe (unpublished) and Guruprasad Kaginele’s Nobody’s Business (published in the anthology, A Little Taste of Kannada, published by Kannada Sahithya Ranga, USA). Pavan is a leader in the literary and arts activities of the Kannada community in the city of Milwaukee, where he lives with his family. (Image Source: Pavan N Rao)

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.

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