South Asian Literature in Translation: Mahanayak

Mahanayak by Vishwas Patil; translated from Marathi into English by Keerti Ramachandra

Publication date: 24 June 2019
Publisher: Amazon Westland India (Eka)
ISBN-13: 978-9388689960

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

KR: The author is Vishwas Patil, one of the foremost writers in Marathi today. Mahanayak (meaning: great actor or person) is a fictionalized biography of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, whom Patil has always admired. The book has been extensively researched and the work took Patil to different parts of the world. Most of the primary texts he referred to were in English and much of the factual information taken from these sources were translated into Marathi.

[More from the publisher’s website: This iconic Marathi novel by Vishwas Patil brings originality and new ideas to the most storied of lives: Subhas Chandra Bose. Possibly the most enigmatic figure in the history of India’s freedom struggle, Bose’s ideological differences with the two stalwarts of the Independence movement, Gandhi and Nehru, split the Congress down the middle. And yet he held them in high esteem, just as they admired him. While Bose asserted the independence of his own values even as he sought help from the Axis powers—Nazi Germany, Italy, and later Japan—during World War II, for the cause of a free India, it was seen as treasonous and dangerous by many. Vishwas Patil recreates the life of a man who was twice elected president of the Congress, and quit to follow his own vision, forming the Indian National Army. His defiant nationalism provoked anger and distrust. Mahanayak traces Netaji’s steps from India to Germany, Italy, Singapore, Japan, and Burma, to paint a complex portrait of a man of immense strengths and fatal failings. Rich with details drawn from the colossal canvas of the Indian revolution, this is an immersive historical novel that reads like a fast-paced thriller. First published in Marathi in 1998, the novel has remained a consistent bestseller and has been translated into fourteen Indian and foreign languages.]

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

KR: I knew very little about Netaji and I thought this was a great opportunity to read about one of the most unforgettable personalities in the history of India’s freedom struggle. Also, I wanted to get some new and fresh insights into the whole story of India’s freedom movement. 

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

KR: First of all, I had to read many of the books Patil had referred to so that I could get into the spirit of the time. Then came the tough part: dissociating myself from all that I had read to avoid echoing the author’s voice.

The dilemma which all of us translators face: how does one make the Japanese, German, Italian characters sound different from each other when, in Patil’s novel, they all speak the same chaste Marathi? How to make them sound different from Nehru or Gandhi and other leaders who had their own distinctive voices? How does one convey the very Maharashtrian ethos or sensibility in the conversations between Netaji and his wife without sounding sentimental, maudlin, and unrealistic? If I have managed to make the translation credible and enjoyable, it is because the protagonist was such a strong character, the circumstances of his life so powerful, and Patil’s projection of it all so convincing. My biggest concern was to get the facts absolutely right and, fortunately for me, the author was always at hand to clarify and explain. 

That Netaji’s daughter complimented me on the translation when I met her in Pune at the launch of the book was the biggest reward I could have received. I’d like to think she was not simply being polite!

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

KR: There is so much mystery and speculation around Subhash Chandra Bose’s life and his end. I think this book adds more poignant dimensions or perspectives to it. And, yes, there is much food for thought regarding his compulsions, which help one understand him better.

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

KR: Right now, I am working on several short stories for different anthologies in three languages.

Author Bio: Vishwas Patil is one of the foremost writers in Marathi today. He’s been honored with several prestigious awards, the most recent being the  Indira Goswami award. He is adept at reconstructing historical personalities and situations for modern-day readers with books like Mahanayak about Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Panipat, and Sambhaji.  The same authenticity is found in his novels dealing with the predicaments brought about by development, be it through the construction of large dams (A Dirge for the Dammed), the closing down of the cotton mills in Bombay and the plight of thousands of mill workers (Lust for Lalbaug), the decay and death of a prosperous traditional village (Pangira), and the most recent, Nagkeshar, inspired by the flourishing and influential sugar industry and the politics therein.  Patil has also written books on famous characters in Hollywood and Bollywood cinema: Not Gone with the Wind and Chandramukhi (made into a movie). He has written the film script for Ranangan, which was adapted from his novel, Panipat. Vishwas Patil lives in Mumbai, India. [Image Source:]

Translator Bio: Keerti Ramachandra is a teacher, editor, and translator. She has taught English language and literature in Delhi, Mumbai, Dubai, Kolkata, and is now guest faculty at Mount Carmel College Bangalore. Keerti translates from Marathi, Kannada, and Hindi into English and conducts translation workshops for aspiring translators. As a freelance editor, she has worked with almost all the leading publishing houses. Among her published translations are A Dirge for the Dammed (shortlisted for the Crossword award), MahanayakA Faceless Evening and Other StoriesThe Song of Life and Other StoriesOf Closures and New Beginnings, all translated from Marathi. Hindutva or Hind Swaraj, translated from Kannada, is a nonfiction work. Besides these, many of her translated short stories from all three languages have appeared in anthologies, journals, and magazines in India and abroad. [Image Source: Keerti Ramachandra]

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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