This week’s Translation Tuesday features a befuddling slice-of-life translation from the Telugu Writer Tripura. The movement of the dialogue is through a flow of floating statements and people that occurs over an hour in the dinning room of a hotel. As if the hotel itself is listening, snippets of conversation drop readers into mid-century southern India. The effects of modernism inform the layout of this story, and the semi-public space of the hotel demonstrates the use—and imposition—of English in speech, as well as the untranslatable cultural particulars of the Telugu. It is a statement to the density of subjectivity and the messiness of codes. Sparse narration and memorable voices place the reader well within the confines of a time of great change and exploration in this genre-bending piece.
At the Hotel
Eight in the morning. The patter of rain above. Wet inside.
“My pop said he’d bury me if I did shit like this. Brainless.”
“That’s old people, ra. These old hags need to be shot by a firing squad, like Hitler
massacred the Jews.”
Empty cups in front, cigarettes at the ends of lips.
“Have you guys read Dharma Bums?”
“Leave it. These Beatniks are just rootless fellows. The Angry Young Men seem better.”
In the cups, coffee getting cold.
“Fucking idiot. Said there was no touching the file if I didn’t give him a tenner. And a kid, an upstart to boot. Got him to sign it after throwing the ten at his idiot face. What to do. Can’t die, no.”
“Idiots nowadays are like that only. Work’s done only if the money’s in their hands.”
Empty idli plates on the table. The first man’s pockets are searched for a beedi.
In the corner, a young man with a tomato-red, mound-like face is eating a plate of four idlis
without looking away.
“Sarojanamma said to bring two rava dosas, sir. Said her son’ll bring the money when he
“Two rava dosas, parcel!”
“What’s up, Hanumanthu, not even giving us a party for your promotion, and grazing away
like a bomber all by yourself!”
Noisily pulling a chair back (ba-rra-ba-rra), Venkatrao opened his shovel-like teeth wide, and
smiled a horse’s fake smile. Flinching, Hanumantarao—leisurely munching his dosa’s onion
pieces between his teeth (adapa-dhadapa), alone, thinking “This idiot is always like
this”—opened his teeth like a tiger’s jaw and said: “Come, come! What’s permanent,
anyway. Everything is now.” And “Mani! An onion dosa for my brother here!”
“I caught Crawford-dora and pushed my eldest son into becoming a controller. That time was
different. The English have a different way of doing things. ‘What is your boy doing, man?’
he asked me.
“‘He is metric, saar.’ I said.
“‘Why don’t you push him into our bloody railways man?’ He said.
“The next day? The order. The second one’s got a big brain, anyway. He did an MSc and
now he’s in the Atomic Energy Commission. Bombay. The third fellow is causing me some
mischief, you know. Idiot’s gone and joined the communists and flies flags around. Singing
things like we’ll stab you, kill you and all that . . . Don’t want any of that. Just coffee is fine.
Won’t go down well.”
Like a mill.
Slowly . . .
“Not finding an image. There’s no dissociation between feeling and thought. There’s no
poetic weather today.” Thought Bhaskarrao as he ashed his cigarette into his empty coffee
“That Shivaji isn’t giving me a chance in the Ebden Tournament. I hit thirty-four on
Pachayyappa’s bowling. Top score. Three for forty-seven on the university. Tell him to get
out if he doesn’t need all-rounders. Tomorrow when I get selected for the Ranji, his
stubbornness’ll get crushed for sure.”
“I’ve been running circles around the employment exchange for six months, and my legs are
wearing down. Renewals after renewals, but not one donkey who’s called me to an interview.
Maybe I got called once. To a shipyard. Believe me, couldn’t answer one single question. A
single one! First thing he asked me was my name, in English, and I couldn’t understand a
word. Got confused, think of it like that . . . waste of rickshaw money.”
“My pop is like this only. Last summer I wired him asking for six hundred for an All India
excursion and he hit me with ‘Return immediately.’ Doesn’t he need a little common sense?”
“Whatever, have you seen this Tyrolian pant? I said clearly to put six loops, but the idiot put
only four. And then he puts up his big board— ‘Master Cutter’ and all that.”
Even though he was like a turnip, mound-boy has a tomato-face. Putting the idli plate away,
he jumped to the next plate like an eel and began torturing the masala dosas.
“What’s the matinee today, ra?”
“Burt Lancaster, Sophia Loren. Don’t remember the title.”
“Come on, let us go.”
“He missed three catches. And then he talks big.”
“Going to the tehsildar is a big adventure for the idiot.”
“My boy’s in the railway. But he’s a fitter. The second one too. The other one’s in
“I’m dying because I can’t find a house, think of it like that.”
“Decent jobs, ra. Quarters, fees and everything.”
“Have you read Kerouac’s On the Road?”
“Apparently, he got a house built in Apisanal Colony after taking bribe after bribe.”
“We carried her over that night only in a taxi, from a small town. They did an operation
immediately. But . . . there’s no hope.”
“You and your pomp.”
“Orey, Relangi’s in this one!”
Looking like a beetroot, mound-boy, who had grown up in a land of wealth, finished eating
his dosa, and began to compassionately lay his okra-like fingers on the pesarattu that the
server had put on the table, like a butcher about to slaughter a goat—
Ramulu, who had come to get Sarojanamma’s dosas, looked around with empty eyes. Who
would get medicine for her son Simhachalam, back at her house in the hut?
Soft, dark, infant-faces. Secret fox-faces. The faces of a tiger who had just killed a buffalo
and was stripping it to the bone. Wolf-faces. Scared rabbit-faces. Thin, vengeful, snake-faces.
The faces on Marcovich cigarette packets. Detective-faces. Thief-faces.
Nine forty in the morning. The patter of rain above. Wet inside, and sweaty.
Translated from Telugu by Goutam Piduri
Tripura (1928-2013), the pen name of Rayasam Venkata Tripurantakeswara Rao, was a Telugu short story writer and poet from Andhra Pradesh in southern India. After graduating with an MA in English from Banaras Hindu University in 1953, he taught at various universities across India, finally ending up at Tripura University, Agartala in Northeast India. Tripura wrote only thirteen short stories from 1963-73, which appeared as a collection in 1980 as Tripura Kathalu (Tripura’s stories). His collection of poetry, entitled Tripura Kafka Kavithalu (Tripura’s Kafka(esque) Poems) appeared in 1999. Heavily influenced by European modernism, Tripura’s work features forms of narration and dialogue that do not cohere to Telugu story conventions. He has been widely hailed within Telugu literary spheres, garnering acclaim from critics and fans alike. He was awarded the Yagalla Foundation Award for literature, arts, and service in the year 2010.
Goutam Piduri is a PhD student at Brown University. He graduated from Ashoka University, India in 2018. His research focuses on how Shakespeare’s work travels to the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Telugu literature. Currently, he is translating Butchi Babu’s Chivaraku Migiledi, a Telugu novel in which Hamlet makes a ghostly appearance. Besides translating Telugu, his interests include postcolonial studies in literary and cultural theory.
Read more translations from the Asymptote blog:
- Translation Tuesday: “Within the Precincts of the Cliché” by Moyosore Orimoloye
- Translation Tuesday: “Gold Dust’s Sleep (Seven Fragments)” by Yonezawa Nobuko
- Translation Tuesday: “I fell in love with a poet . . . ” by Manuel Tzoc