‘Translation is holy, we have to do it to know each other’: Kannada writer Vasudhendra | Azad Times

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Kannada writer Vasudhendra shares his thoughts about translation and the loneliness of queer life.

Kannada writer Vasudhendra’s recent novel Tejo Tungabhadra marks a shift from his earlier writings, which drew heavily from his personal experiences. The book explores the lives of people in the Vijayanagara Empire, the Portuguese empire, and the Bahmani sultanate. In a conversation with  Professor Arul Mani at Meta, the Literary Festival of St Joseph’s University, Bengaluru, Vasudhendra remembers how after Mohanaswamy was published, all the literature festivals included him either in an LGBTQIA+ panel or asked him to talk about his life as a gay man. “This was frustrating for me because that was my thirteenth book. I was much more than that,” he says.

The writer agreed to be interviewed by a student, Pranav VS over tea at the University. Excerpts from the interview:

P: You speak about literature as a way of escaping the loneliness of queer life. Could you tell us a little about how reading and writing helped make that loneliness bearable for you?

V: After I began working in the IT industry, every year one friend or another would start talking about their girlfriends, marriage, or honeymoon. I realised I was alone. I hadn’t come out to myself yet, so I searched for something to do. The only thing I had was reading. I was a voracious reader as a child. So I tried writing stories and began sending them to other Kannada writers. Interestingly, my first story was very well received. This began healing me. Now if my friends spoke about marriage, it didn’t matter because I had my writing. It’s my lifestyle now. I can look back and see clearly that my queer loneliness was the reason I began writing.

P: Does this idea inform your practice as a counsellor?

V: Not at all, counselling is an act of careful listening. It has nothing to do with preaching. Literature worked for me, but it need not for others.

P: You’ve translated Sriramana’s Mithunam and Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. How does translating compare to creative writing? Which language do you prefer to translate in?

V: Translating from Telugu to Kannada is much easier. They are Dravidian languages, so you even have references for proverbs, but English is not like that. The culture and lingo are different. There are many words that aren’t translatable into Kannada, so it’s extremely challenging. But if a story moves you irrespective of where you come from, then you must translate it.

Translating is like taking a glass of water from the Thames and putting it in our Cauvery. And I also can only take a glass of water from the Cauvery and put it in the Thames. It is not perfect. It's like those soap ads, they will say 'kills 99.99% germs' never 100%. It is the same with translation. But it’s a societal duty for any creative writer. Translation is holy, we have to do it to know each other. If a story moves you, you must bring it to your language.

P: So is there no such thing as a monolingual writer for you?

V: Monolingual writer is a western view. For me, every writer is a translator.

P: You’ve written a lot of your books in Bengaluru traffic. When you stopped going to the office, did it affect your discipline as a writer? Do you miss writing in the car?

V: No, it didn’t. If you want to be an author, you have to find the time. How you find it is left to you. I needed money, but I also wanted to write. So I used those three hours, and I got a fair bit of work done during those times. When I stopped, I had an abundance of time. So I made a schedule.

Once you leave work, you have a lot of time to look after your health. So I give two hours for physical exercise. I eat on time. I read the whole newspaper. And try to read and write for four hours a day. You have to know your priorities well, or it doesn’t work.

P: How has the Kannada literary scene changed after the publication of Mohanaswamy?

V: When Mohanaswamy was published, it created chaos. Many of them got scared because nobody had dared to write so openly about gay life. Even in the English translation, they tried to romanticise it. They were so scared of polyamory. But that was our reality. Why couldn’t I write about it?

It was received poorly at first. Nobody wanted to call me to their events, especially colleges, as they worried that their students might become like me. But now there are more authors writing gay literature every day. Many trans authors have also begun sharing their experiences. 

But interestingly, after Mohanaswamy, straight authors have also begun sharing their experiences. Most people have queer experiences, and it's coming out now. I don’t know how I managed the courage, but when I see other authors suffering from the burden of hiding, I’m very happy that I managed it.

One story I always like telling is about this mother-son duo who are my readers. The mother called me once and said “Vasu, I spoke to my son today and I asked straight away, ‘Are you like Mohanaswamy?’ and he said, ‘No, no, I’m not like Mohanaswamy’”. He’s 30 and unmarried, so she wondered [about his sexuality] after reading my book. But in a traditional family, a mother asks her son if he is gay. Isn’t that revolutionary?

P: We heard that you were working on a new historical novel on the Silk route, could you tell us a little about that?

V: Yes, I’m reading about the Silk route. See, China is projected as an enemy now but that wasn’t so. We had such a tender relationship. We respected each other. A lot of things were exchanged between the two countries. It saddens me to see where we are now. It was not just China, but Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. We all shared such love for each other. This mesmerises me. I don’t know if I can write a novel, but I’m reading about it. If it comes out as a novel...great, if not, I’ll move on to the next thing that fascinates me.

Tejo Tungabhadra and its translations are available across bookstores in Bangalore. 

Pranav is currently pursuing their Masters in English at St Joseph's University, Bengaluru. They like to read and write when they manage to look away from their phone. You can find more of their writing at psychmatteru.wordpress.com

Read: ‘Society is perfect when mothers look for partners for gay sons’: Kannada writer Vasudhendra

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