Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Jhumpa Lahiri’s advice to aspiring writers / Translate literature that you love and admire

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri’s advice to aspiring writers: Translate literature that you love and admire

Namita Devidayal | TNN | May 16, 2021, 03:00 IST

From writing about the Indian immigrant experience, Jhumpa Lahiri made a daring leap into writing in Italian, the language in which she has written her latest novel, Whereabouts, which she herself translated into English. Speaking on a video call from Princeton University, where she teaches creative writing, the Pulitzer winning writer spoke to Namita Devidayal about her book, diary writing, and loss
You’ve always written so movingly about loss and grief. Right now, so many in India are confronting this. Do share your thoughts.

Writers think we have language at our disposal to make sense of things. But then there are these moments that defy any kind of articulation, and there is just the feeling, and there is the loss. And it is immense. It is terrifying. It is utterly blinding in its impact. I think all we can do is hold on to each other, hold on to what we have, and recognise that we have to endure. And the thing is it’s happening in India but it’s also happening all over the world because India is all over the world. When I was a child, a few of us were in households where India was very much in the heart but it wasn’t in the everyday consciousness. Now, all these decades later, India is not just in India; it is everywhere. And that’s been one of the things I have been trying to map in many of my works, certainly in my previous works.

In your new novel, your narrator navigates an unnamed city through a series of casual micro encounters bringing alive a world that we otherwise invisibilise. Tell us about this bold new lens.

It’s a new way of looking at a character’s reality. And I do think that this new lens that I’ve created is thanks to the new language, Italian, which dismantled the ways I think through language in English. Looking at it literally with new grammar, new syntax, new vocabulary, new rhythm, and new music. In some interesting way, the vision is actually sharper and I have more direct access to emotions. And that’s what’s kept me on this journey as a writer.
You have translated your books from Bengali and Italian. What is it like to be your own translator?
A translator is many things — an interpreter, a mediator, but also an advocate for the work. Even if the translator doesn’t particularly like the book, you have to say, it’s worth remaking, and worth sending across the border of language. I’m grateful if somebody else does that for me. It was a bit strange to do that for myself…I really had to separate myself from the writer
who wrote the book in Italian, and the writer who was now going to translate it into English.
You recently taught a class in Princeton that intriguingly focuses on ‘the diary’? Tell us more.
For me, the diary was always a crucial space. Technically, it was the first space in which I wrote, as a child, as an adolescent, and I think my development as a writer has had a parallel track. It teaches the writer that one must write for oneself. Even if one is writing for a publisher, for public, for a deadline, that completely interior space has to be acknowledged and cultivated. The most surprising things have come out of my diary — whether it’s my Italian writing, my poetry, which is a totally new thing, and my most important reflections on life. The raw form of all those reflections, which eventually get filtered and shaped and pruned into, say, a fictional space, are all in my diary in their first incarnation. It is my private laboratory. The diary is also a literary device. We can see how, in so many novels, the writer incorporates the fictionalised diary to tell the story in a different way. Like Dracula.
Any other writing tips?
I really think one of the most amazing and direct ways to write is to translate literature that you love and admire. Translation is the most productive and illuminating form of literary apprenticeship because you really get inside the writer’s head and inside a language and you have to then recreate it. It is similar to, say, an artist who is training and copying works that are hanging in a museum. You still have to go into your paint box and use your brushes. It may not work, but you realise the choices that the artist made and that trains you to make your own choices. I feel extra-inspired to say that India has always been such an incredibly plurilingual universe. That’s one of the most beautiful and powerful things about it — so many different people from so many languages living side by side. The awareness of other languages and the mixture that eventually happens is extraordinary. So I hope that will resonate with young aspiring writers in India.
And just one more writerly secret…
The obvious is, of course, developing that relationship with literature and reading. Once I realised that reading was like eating and breathing and sleeping, I felt like I knew I was a writer. The absorption of the reading will produce, over time, the writing. The authors become your sense of order and beauty. You create relationships with them. This needs to happen for the writer.


No comments:

Post a Comment