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Professor of English, Tribhuwan University, Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal

Friday, June 1, 2012

Editor’s Note: A story of untold suffering and struggle for freedom

I have recorded in my Journal my meeting with Biswasdip and Jhamak in July 2008 as a great event in my life. They trusted me and requested me to write a Foreword to Jeevan Kaandaa Ki Phool (literally, Life: Thorn or Flower). I spent three years in its processing and development which I have detailed in the Introduction to the first (Nepali) edition. (Please refer to the Appendix section of the present publication for further details).
The original (Nepali) version of the book first appeared two years later in May 2010.
I had made a sincere appeal in my Foreword—let every student and teacher, every police and military personnel, human rights activist, social worker, doctor, politician and people from every walk of life read this book—a precious gem, an unprecedented record of suffering and struggle and achievement in a hundred years’ history of Nepali literature.
I also made another appeal: this book needs to be translated into English first of all, and gradually into French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and many more languages of the world.
After only six months of its publication, it broke all records of sales, and within one year, this won all the prestigious awards and prizes in Nepali literature at home and abroad.

• • •

After only three months of its publication an octogenarian scholar gave me a phone call and a surprise:  We have translated Jhamak’s Jeevan Kaandaa Ki Phool, said he.
Who is we dai[1] ?
Me and Safal.
That’s great dai. It’s wonderful and unbelievable. I spoke. (Translation is understood as an act between English and Nepali.)
But they had done it—Nagendra Sharma and Safal. Within three months of its publication, they had completed translating, typing and editing.
Then dai invited me to his place. He was fighting many diseases, grieving the sad demise of his wife two years ago. All alone, but his heart was filled with fire and zeal as well.
Out of love and out of generosity he had accomplished this task. Safal was there too. Without being asked for, without being paid for, all voluntarily, magnanimously. Should we evaluate the task, it is worth two thousand dollars now.
In the capacity of the Kathmandu Valley co-ordinator for Jhamak Ghimire Literaure and Art Foundation, I was taking care of Jhamak’s publication from here (Kathmandu). She lives in Dhankuta, some 500 kms away in the eastern hills of Nepal. So they considered me rightly a contact person.
I was very happy to see a reputed scholar’s contribution for Jhamak.
By this time, readers had begun to acclaim Jhamak’s masterpiece. She had started receiving great prizes, awards and felicitations. Gradually it reached all those corners of the world where Nepali diaspora are distributed.
• • •
One day I received an e-mail from Hasta Gautam (now in Texas). I didn’t know him personally, though I was familiar with his creative zeal. By going through Jhamak’s work, he was moved to tears. He wrote a long letter, was surprised and wonderstruck to estimate Jhamak’s tremendous efforts, courage and contribution to humanity. Human beings owe her much for what she has revealed.
Having seen my appeal, Hasta was very much inspired and he proposed that this book be translated immediately into English and he would manage the finances for it.
I already had a surprise in store and revealed to him that this has already been translated by a famed scholar, writer, and translator, who has command over “Victorian English” as he puts it, because he was educated in Darjeeling and Calcutta during British India days. And his son. He led the project; his son assisted.
“Who is he?”
 “He is Nagendra Sharma in his early 80’s and his son Safal Dhungana”.
“Then sir, let us try to publish the work ASAP. We would like to introduce Jhamak, the glory of Nepal, to the wider world.”
“We are looking for resources, brother,” I said.
“How much will it cost?”
“Almost two thousand dollars.”
“I will bear its publication cost then.”
Hasta sent me fifty thousand Rupees immediately.
I had undertaken the responsibility of editing the manuscript.
Nagendra dai had suggested An Ode to the Toes as the title for the book. He wanted to give importance to Jhamak’s struggle, the way she wrote with her toes. Later on, with my conscience and his consent, we made it A FLOWER in the midst of thorns, more figuratively.
Unfortunately, he lost the electronic version of the typescript so I had to get it retyped from the hard copy he had ready, checked, and proofread. This took me another two months.
When I started revising the text, I found that dai had left behind many paragraphs that are much culture-bound and posed translation difficulty and might be quite difficult to understand for the target readers, although they contained great importance in imparting special meaning of the contents for them. That was one reason he had subtitled the book—An abridged version of Jeevan Kaandaa Ki Phool.
I, however, talked to dai and said—we must reproduce the full text, all texts and words and concepts, the writer wished so, too. In cases of difficulty, we can create a new concept, or paraphrase or add a glossary to it. Theory provides us with a wide range of techniques.
He agreed to my proposal and I began to do the job since January last year. I had to compare every word and expression; sentence and paragraph before judging its meaning in the target text. It was a ‘double bind’ responsibility—of releasing the meaning judiciously from the source text, and of arresting the same into the target text. I came across innumerable obstacles; sometimes my knowledge of translation theory and practice failing me. But I didn’t yield.
It required me some six months of attention; I did it meticulously. Got it retyped, proofread and ready for printing.
• • •
Now I wanted the Translators’ Note to appear in the book, but could not request dai simply because he was visiting different doctors and hospitals for months then—from Kathmandu he flew to Delhi and then to Bombay and again to Calcutta. Suffering from cancer, at the age of 81, all alone, only his courage moved him to places. For months he was like that.
The edited version from my part was ready by January 2012. But dai was still in hospital bed undergoing treatment in Calcutta. I too was bed-ridden, though not in hospital, for the longest period (about four months) so far. Despite our immovability, Hari Gautam of Oriental Publication contacted dai in Calcutta and communicated everything. But dai was not satisfied with the editing we had done last year so he wanted to check the typescript thoroughly, once more before it was given to press. Then I sent him the edited typescript to Calcutta through his nephew Narottam Sharma.
After three months, the typescript reached Kathmandu, by the last week of April 2012.
The translator had checked every sentence, even every word, every bit of mechanics and interplay of sense and expression. He had compared his abridged version with my full form—and suggested, marked, showed his doubt and disapproval, struck off, and added page after page in blue ink. (He wrote—I wish I could use red ink, but it is not handy now.) One can see how his fingers must have trembled, and the old style cursive writing sometimes has twisted illegibly. All the margins are full of his corrections, additions, comments and editing, etc.
One can estimate his vigour and courage and dedication despite his severe illness. At one point he has expressed his sincere desire—“I could not write now from the hospital bed, let us Translators be mentioned in passing in your Introduction”. He has reminded me twice—How about the translators? While carrying out corrections, he has written a paragraph at the end of Jhamak’s Preface. His trembling fingers scribbled in blue ink, these read as if on behalf of Jhamak as: 

The corrected copy, along with his letter in an envelope with a logo of The Mission Hospital Durgapur, Calcutta reached me in Kathmandu. I became quite desperate to read his letter.*
Dear bhai[2] Dr. Govinda,
I received your affectionate letter. Thank you so much.
Long back, I had written a letter to Hari bhai as well. It could not reach him, I heard, though it will. I am not going to remind you of the contents of that letter, he will convey to you.
I know the publication of the book is being delayed, I am worried too. You too have worked hard despite your illness, there is no doubt. However it is a question of prestige, let it not be ‘hataarko kaam lataar’, we should not hurry and spoil the thing.
When I proofread, I found some instances that need to be made clear. I hope you will correct them meticulously. Especially in cases where new portions were translated later.
I checked it as much as I could, sitting on the hospital bed, stealing those moments when the doctors were not around. Though I could not do it perfectly, I rely on you, my brother.
You have shown deep concern on whether I need financial support in order to undergo treatment, at this moment. Thank you so much, your affectionate words are enough for me and please don’t take any trouble of visiting me at this time. Who else has ever shown such affection other than a brother like you! This is enough for me. ‘A brother in need is a brother indeed’—it’s truly said.
My treatment process is lengthening—it is in the fourth stage, they say, fifth may be beyond repair. The Doctors are trying their best. This requires another two months.
But please don’t worry, I am in safe hands. Try to accomplish the task as quickly as possible, as  perfectly as possible.
I wish you all the best.
Dai Nagendra
25th March 2012
This is what we did.
Nagendra dai’s worries are touching.
We all wish him the quickest recovery. Now he is convalescing in Darjeeling. We feel a great silence in Kathmandu. In the absence of an energetic guardian and scholar; we feel so.
We are waiting for his return to Kathmandu.
Hasta bhai is so enthusiastic about Jhamak’s works. He offered to publish this edition. He has sent us money. And Oriental has coordinated everything on behalf of the publisher.
Nagendra dai checked and edited the text more than three times. Likewise, Tek Narayan Dhakal, a meticulous person, proofread it thoroughly. I did three times, and finally Bal Ram Adhikari’s perfect hands gave a final touch to this. Bal Ram, himself a perfect translator, is a budding scholar. I made some final changes based on their suggestions.
• • •
It is extremely difficult to strike a balanced point of equivalence avoiding overtranslation, undertranslation and mistranslation. Beyond such surface level criteria, quality of translation, the use of language as such and the readability of the target text is of highest importance. It is not simply a mechanical task; it is rather a quite serious and delicate thing to handle. We have tried our best.
My experience is that transcreation is hundred times more challenging, absorbing and risky job than creation. But how can we come to each other in this world save for translation? Despite our sincere efforts, we can’t guarantee everything. We are doing it with our knowledge and experience of translation theory and practice in  mind. I don’t know what the target readers will feel. Sense transfer is of utmost importance. Dai has focused on sense primarily. I humbly request the readers to trust our sincere efforts, that’s all.
At this moment I am thankful to Jhamak Ghimire for her kind permission to bring out this version, to Nagendra dai, Safal for their hard work and devotion, to Gopal Guragain for co-ordinating these activities on behalf on Jhamak Ghimire Literature and Art Foundation, to Hasta Gautam for sponsoring the publication of this edition, to Bal Ram Adhikari and Tek Narayan Dhakal, for assisting me in editing, to Sewa Bhattarai for translating all of the texts in Appendix section, to Kaushal Khaki for layout design, Sundar Basnet of Times Creation for a beautiful cover design and to Hari Gautam for coordinating its printing/publication on behalf of Oriental Publication.
There is no final point in perfection.

3rd May 2012   Govinda Raj Bhattarai
Kathmandu, Nepal

*Dai’s letter from Calcutta

[1]. elderly, senior brother

[2]. a junior or younger brother, a term of address


  1. I am really amazed and inspired reading about the formidable task of translating Jhamak Ghimire's Madan Puraskar-winning autobiographical creation 'Jeevan Kaanda ki Phool', one of the most-widely discussed and appreciated, awe-inspiring novel by a physically disabled girl with cerebral palsy. I salute this meticulous job of the translator-trios! And I am specially thankful to Prof. Dr. Bhattarai for allowing his wit and erudition in the task and for sharing with us all his experiences behind this. Kudos and accolades!

  2. I heard Hasta Gautam involved in some kind of illegal thing !!!!