Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Perplexity of Hariya Hercules


I'm a bit disappointed by Penguin's decision to publish Robert A Hueckstedt's translation of Manohar Shyam Joshi's Hariya Hercules Ki Hairani without any sort of introduction or context. In a way it's nice that they're treating it as they would any other book, without making strange zoo animals of books translated from Indian languages. Still, it is a translation, and I'd like to know more about it than the cover and flaps tell me. I should not have to resort to Wikipedia for information as basic as the original Hindi title.

However, that it exists at all is an excellent thing and Penguin are to be congratulated for this. I had no idea what it was when I bought it a few weeks ago; I vaguely recognised the author's name and thought the title was funny (though the Hindi title is arguably funnier).

The book starts off as the comic tale of Hariya, a dutiful son. The last of his father's five sons his primary occupation is looking after his father, a task which includes (this is an immensely scatological book) helping him to defaecate with the help of rubber gloves. Hariya tolerates his father's constant abuse of him without comment, does not seem to mind being considered an idiot, and is not perplexed at all. Until, due to a strange set of coincidences and possible mishearings he comes to believe that he (and everyone else) has a double in a place called Goomalling in Australia, that Tibetan monks are somehow mixed up in it all, and that his family is cursed because his father stole something from said monks.

So when his father dies, leaving behind a trunk full of treasure, Hariya decides it is his duty to return this to those from whom it was stolen. Fighting off neighbours who think he's insane, a nephew with vested interests, and various others, he embarks upon an epic quest to find the monks to whom the contents of the trunk belong. In this journey he is accompanied by a rather unreliable female family member who had years ago starred in a number of pornographic photographs with Hariya's father.

It's all very silly.

It's also very clever and very postmodern, and absolutely hilarious. Hueckstedt's translation is a good one - while I haven't read the original (and I'm thinking I will soon) the tone is just right, he's captured the elaborate, idiomatic style in a way that seems authentic to me, at least. Marvellous book, and I plan to read T'ta Professor (the other translation of a Manohar Shyam Joshi book that Penguin have published recently) soon.

5 comments:

roswitha said...

Oh I MUST read this. I've had my eye on it for a while, I'm glad you think it's good. Penguin seems to be doing their bit for translations of popular reading into English quite well over the last year - there are a number of other slim books that have come out [which I know mostly because Jai reviews them]? The Blue Bull, that's one. And -- there are others. IKTBOML.

Poonam said...

Hey, I am looking for Hindi classics/novels to read. Thank your for sharing this, it looks interesting. I will pick this book and come back with my opinion!

Aishwarya said...

Ros - I think you'll approve of it! Penguin seem to have some really good ideas, and I'm glad they're doing this. I do wish, as I said in the post, that they'd work a bit harder on the actual product.
Apparently Tranquebar are bringing out some good short-ish fiction as well - I've just boought Syed Muhamman Ashraf's Numberdar Ka Neela (novella length, translated from Urdu as The Beast by Musharraf Ali Farooqi) and it looks very promising.

Poonam - If you're looking for Hindi work in translation, this is a really good time to do it. Quite a few publishers are really invested in finding and translating good work - it's brilliant for those of us who aren't entirely comfortable reading in Hindi (though I'm now really eager to try).

Our World said...

T'tta Professor is hilarious to the core. I am yet to read this title though. Hard to find it in bookshops.

Our World said...

T'ta Professor is a hilarious piece. Yet to read this book though. Manohar Shyam Joshi was a talent whom we couldn't recognize when he actually lived. I am sure there are many unknown hindi writers who were a goldmine of talent.