South Asian Literature in Translation: The Stepchild

The Stepchild by Joseph Macwan; translated from Gujarati into English by Rita Kothari

Publication date: April 19, 2013
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN-13: 978-0198090304

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

RK: How do I even begin to tell you the story of Angaliyat? The title is strange, isn’t it? When a peon named Peter Macwan mentioned this book to me, and said, “Ritaben, you must read about our community”, and gave me this book, I didn’t know what to expect. I was at St. Xavier’s College then and its deep relationship with the Dalits of Gujarat became a part of my life too. The author, Joseph Macwan, turned out to be such a charming and indulgent man. He just took to me and I stayed in his village on and off and translated this book. So it means such a lot. 

[More from the publisher’s website: Angaliyat tells the story of oppression and exclusion by transforming the vanquished into the victor, by turning the periphery into the core. The portrayal of Methi and Kanku as ‘pure’ women challenges the age-old perceptions of higher castes which denigrate the practice of remarriage among ‘backward’ communities. The stepchild who follows the mother to a new home holding her finger, or angali, remains on the periphery of the stepfather’s family. Significant from several points of view, the novel provides a view of the ‘history from below’. Caught in external and internal forms of colonization, the community of weavers, the Vankars, is subject to oppression from the more powerful upper caste of the Patels. The book won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1988.]

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

RK: This book made me cry. And this is despite it being in a dialect I wasn’t used to reading: Charotari. With that effect, how could I not try my hand?

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

RK: The force of the colloquialisms, the idioms that the ordinary Vankars use to understand life—these left me shaken. The poignancy of the story. And, also, the wisdom of Bhavaan Bhagat in this novel—he’s my favorite character. I think about him a lot in various life situations.

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

RK: The fact that it is, arguably, India’s first Dalit novel and comes from Gujarat, not Maharashtra; that it has been translated from a dialect; that it tells an unusual story within the Dalit world. So many things have gone unnoticed, but that’s my story!

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

RK: Aleph Book Company (India) is bringing out The Greatest Gujarati Stories Ever Told (selected, edited, and translated by me) in 2021.

Author Bio: Joseph Macwan (1935-2010) lived and taught in Anand, Gujarat. He told the stories of Dalit lives in the region as vivid narratives in the Charotari dialect. Angaliyat is his most acclaimed novel and he is Gujarat’s well-known Dalit writer. He won several state and national awards for literature. [Image Source: Wikipedia]

Translator Bio: Rita Kothari is a Professor of English and the Director of the Masters in English Program at Ashoka University. She is a multilingual scholar and translator whose work spans across different disciplines such as literature, cultural studies, anthropology, sociology and history. Professor Kothari has translated extensively from Gujarati and Sindhi into English, and occasionally vice versa. Her teaching interests include language politics, caste and communalism, Bollywood, Indian literature, Translation Studies, Partition, Border Studies, Gujarat studies, and Sindh studies. Movement across languages, contexts, and cultures form the fulcrum of her interests, making translation the prism through which she sees the Indian context. [Image Source: Wikipedia]

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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