This year, I have not been able to read properly.
I am reading, but in fits and starts, as if I have lost the art of being absorbed. Or at least, of being absorbed in a linear, narrative fashion… I get fascinated by an idea, then I let go. I grasp again, cling, flounder, tentatively touch, but then, float away.
I go away from a book, but return a month later. I run beside one author, but abruptly abandon him/her, change tracks and start running with another. This is guilt-inducing – because I usually don’t leave authors in the lurch; I’m a faithful reader. Or was, until now.
Now, it is impossible to become one with a book; my whole brain refuses to be dragged into the experience of reading. Part of the problem is being bilingual.
It all started when I began to read Hindi literature seriously again, some time last year.
As a result of being more or less equally fluent in both English and Hindustani (my real mother-tongue is Hindustani, which is neither pure Hindi nor pure Urdu, but a colloquial mixture of the two), there’s this corner of my mind that begins to translate it back to me. Hindi to English.
This corner of my mind is busy translating simultaneously. Each word, each sentence - this corner pokes at it, picks it up as if it was a curio and then translates it into another language, to make it a souvenir.
This corner wants to feel the intricacies, the fine-ness of the ideas, in another tongue. I like to wrap my mind around the words and turn them over and over until they’re something else, and yet, the same.
Sometimes, I even go from English to Hindi. Especially when the book has an Indian context. The bilingual corner of my brain immediately begins to wonder how this would sound in Hindustani: would it sound better? Worse? More natural? Would this narrative sound as if this could be any place, in any other nation, if I put these thoughts into English? Would the flow be more delicate, the language more impactful, in Hindustani? Suppose you mixed up the two?
Most recently, this habit has transcended books with an Indian context. I find myself trying to translate Orhan Pamuk and Murakami into Hindustani – just to see if it works.
Unfortunately, this means that there’s a one-second time lag between one part of my brain and the other. Sometimes, I get stuck, because the part of my brain that is translating is stuck for a word or appropriate idiomatic transformation. It gets larger and more assertive and refuses to let me read further, until I can solve its bilingual dilemma.
Sometimes, I must take a firm stand and yell at the corner – ‘I don’t care what this means in English, okay? I want to finish the damn story!’
Sometimes, I go and google up the word in an online dictionary. Sometimes, I run down my address book, to check if there’s somebody whom I could randomly call or email, to see if they’d help me with word-meanings.
And sometimes, I just content myself by telling unsuspecting bibliophiles - ‘Read this, read this; get a translation. Is there a translation? There should be a translation; why doesn’t somebody do a translation?’
All the same, it has become impossible to read with the old fluency of thought. Maybe I should just translate something and exorcise the ghost, once and for all.