I loved this memoir a lot. It's an interesting who's who of theatre and cinema personalities. It's also on Mumbai, my favourite city, which was once upon a time an inclusive city.
Translated by Jerry Pinto from the Marathi original — Mee Mithachi Bahuli — it captures Mumbai of the yore and journey of the author without any dramatic flourishes. Over to Pinto:
You read the original repeatedly because you connected with Mumbai, the city that was inclusive. Is there something else that you learnt about the city through the book, which you didn’t know earlier?
Each person we meet, each person we interact with, each book we read brings us something new and fresh. Mee Meethachi Bahuli brought me a world I knew only hazily.
Vandana Mishra’s book threw such a clear light on how Bhangwadi theatre was organised, where people lived, where the owner sat and watched, what kinds of plays were done, who Chhagan Romeo was and what his speciality was...This was wonderful and reminded me again of how inclusive the city can be when it wants.
For here was a girl from the Konkan coast, living in Girgaum, acting in Gujarati theatre and then going on to become a star in Marwadi theatre before marrying a Champaneri Mishra and settling down in Borivali.
Did you also travel around the areas to gather impressions about the old areas of the city?
I have always walked my city. I don’t own a car and I think that helps. It means I have to find my way about and since I often get lost, I see much more of Mumbai than most other people who see the city from behind glass. So yes, I have walked the old areas but also the new suburbs and I have found that this is the city of endless surprises.
Can you tell us something about translating abhangs, ovis, poems in the book? They sound and mean so much like the original.
Thank you. That is a compliment and I treasure it. Even before I started reading this book I had spent much time working on translating, with Neela Bhagwat, some of the women Marathi Bhakti poet-saints including Muktabai, Bahinabai, Janabai, Kanhopatra, Soyarabai and others. That stood me in good stead here.
But I also had some help. Ambarish Mishra, Vandana Mishra’s son, has spent many years working in the English-language press but he has not lost touch with the many tongues of his family home; he speaks Hindi and Marathi and probably many other languages, with great fluency. He also sings beautifully and he was very generous with his time. So when he had hummed the tunes to me, I tried to work the translations to fit the tunes. I sing very badly but I could at least see if the metre worked.
You have been taking formal Marathi lessons from Neela Bhagwat. Did it help you with the translation?
I think every language presents unique and different challenges to the non-native speaker and I can only say that I am lucky in my teachers. I started by studying Marathi with Neela Bhagwat because I wanted to learn the language formally. She is the first person to whom I read a translation. When it has passed her scrutiny, my translation guru, Shanta Gokhale listens to it and I edit it again. Then I work on it myself, smoothing a few things over, making sure the lines read well in English. In the case of this book, only then did I give it to Ambarish, who gave his imprimatur, and then it went to the press.
Did you have to leave out something from the original?
I have not edited anything out. I believe that when you fall in love with a book — and that can be the only reason for wanting to translate it — you do so because you like it for what it is, not what you can do to it. And so I try to be as faithful as possible.
At Pune International Literary Festival, you had said that you avoided meeting Sachin Kundalkar until you finished translating his Cobalt Blue. When did you meet Vandana Mishra?
I met Vandana Mishra when the translation was done. She was delightful, sitting up in her bed in her Borivali house, and supervising the cooking of a wonderful lunch.