South Asian Literature in Translation: Shameless

Shameless by Taslima Nasrin; translated from Bengali into English by Arunava Sinha

Publication date: 22 June 2020
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN-13: 978-9353577995

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

AS: Shameless, originally titled Besharam in Bangla but later published as Ekool Okool, is the sequel to the author Taslima Nasreen’s bestselling Shame (Lojja), which explored fundamentalism in her country of birth, Bangladesh, and eventually led to her being exiled from the country where she was born and had grown up.
In Shameless, published more than 30 years later, the author appears as a character in her own novel and is confronted by the lead character of Shame in Calcutta, where she lives after leaving Bangladesh. Their interactions and the events that follow continue not only with the theme of religious fundamentalism, this time in India, but also with women’s rights. Through its female characters, the novel takes an aggressive stand on feminism and the need for it in patriarchal South Asian societies.

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

AS: Shameless is written in a charged but deliberately confused voice, where the author herself appears as a somewhat unreliable narrator in her own book and unravels the lives of the women and men in it through elliptical and energetic narratives that are wound around one another. The prose matches the urgency as well as the complexity of the narrative and presents an exciting challenge in terms of translation. There is much that one could hear–besides reading with the eyes–in the original Bangla text that had to be carried over into English.  

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

AS: I had to abandon an urge that every translator has to find clarity from the text they’re translating. Here, it isn’t clear whether all that is described in the book has indeed taken place, or is being imagined individually or collaboratively by the characters. This mystery had to be maintained. And this had to be balanced with the sharp, ice-cold views on gender that permeate the novel. It was an immersive experience, the very best kind for a translator.  

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

AS: I’d like them to read it, if at all possible, without foregrounding their own views on all that is dealt with in this novel. Even while being located in the imagination, it is an undeniably strong commentary on religion, gender, politics, and violence, which are subjects on which readers are bound to have well-formed views already. It is, of course, possible to read this novel while allowing one’s entrenched views to collide with those in the book in case they are opposed to each other. But, to do justice to Shameless, it would be wonderful if the reader could suspend judgment while reading.

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

AS: The novel in translation likely to published next is titled Kasté (The Sickle) by Anita Agnihotri. This is a remarkable novel without a set of central characters or events. Set against the backdrop of drought, famine, farming, and female foeticide, it culminates in the Long March of Farmers in Maharashtra in 2018 and is told through a series of short and long vignettes, incidents, moods, and descriptions that add up to a work of fiction which has little to do with form and structure of the conventional novel and yet paints an epic picture despite its relative brevity.  

Author Bio: Taslima Nasrin is a secular humanist, a human rights activist, and a prolific and bestselling author, who has faced multiple fatwas calling for her death. She was forced to leave Bangladesh by the government in the mid-1990s and has lived in exile since then. She now lives in New Delhi. She is the author of over forty works of fiction and non-fiction in Bengali, which have been published in over thirty languages worldwide. [Image Source: Wikipedia]

Translator Bio: Arunava Sinha translates fiction, non-fiction, and poetry from Bangla to English and from English to Bangla. More than 60 of his translations have been published so far. He teaches translation and creative writing at Ashoka University in India. He has won several translation awards. [Image Source: Goodreads]

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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