Harimohan Jha’s Maithili novel is now available in an English translation – The Dispatch

  • The book “The Bride” by Harimohan Jha has been translated from the Maithili by Lalit Kumar. It was published originally as “Kanyadan”.

  • When it was first published in 1930, Harimohan Jha’s “Kanyadan” blazed through the Maithili reading world and became the inspiration for numerous Indian novels and films.

  • Translated into English for the first time, this delectable story about Indian matchmaking will charm readers with its cast of imperfect but unforgettable characters.

  • Read an excerpt from the book below.

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from the Translator’s Introduction in the book.

Multilingualism, a hallmark of Indian literary culture, is an important feature of Kanyadan wherein conversations take place in Maithili, Hindi and English. The novel is interspersed with Sanskrit shlokas and Urdu words. Proverbs and songs have been mostly used in Maithili. Characters living in the village speak Maithili, whereas city dwellers use Hindi or English. In a section of chapter six, when the two English-educated young men—Revatiraman and Chandicharan Mishra—meet at a restaurant, they choose English to communicate with each other. The novelist here assumes the role of the translator as he writes down the English dialogues in Devanagari, rendering Mishra’s utterances into Hindi and Revatiraman’s into Maithili. Chandicharan, who likes to be addressed by his anglicized name, C.C. Mishra, has little knowledge of Maithili. His dialogues, therefore, are translated into Hindi. I have retained Harimohan’s English version of some of these dialogues in the aforementioned section, with some changes to make the sentences more accessible to contemporary readers. Ironically, most of the characters in the novel refer to the male protagonist as Misar—a localized version of the protagonist’s surname, Mishra. The narrator, however, calls him Mishra. I have retained both Misar and Mishra as mentioned in the novel to maintain its regional flavour.

The creation of this multilingual world does not merely capture the changing linguistic realities but also helps us make sense of the language politics in Bihar where Hindi was promoted during the colonial era at the expense of local languages, like Maithili, Bhojpuri and Magahi. Several episodes in the novel foreground the multilingual complexities of Bihar.

Despite having a distinctive script, literary heritage and regional consciousness, Maithili was reduced to a dialect of Hindi during British rule. Consequently, most of its literary icons were marginalized and forgotten. Harimohan was one such prominent Maithili author. At present, his Kanyadan is not available in any other language except Hindi. Bibha Rani did the commendable job of bringing out its Hindi translation in 1993. But since she retained several Maithili words and expressions in her translation, it could be difficult for non-Maithili readers to follow them, without taking resort to a Maithili–Hindi dictionary. Numerous English translations of literary works from Bengali, Odia and Hindi that capture the story of colonial modernity exist in the public domain. But not a single Maithili novel from colonial times, to the best of my knowledge, is available in English. This translation is a humble attempt to address such lacunae and enrich Indian literature by bringing Harimohan Jha back to the centre of literary and scholarly attention, and by offering the text to a wider readership.

While translating the novel, one of my main concerns was to capture the nuances of the original without sacrificing the readability of the text. To strike this delicate balance, I have taken, on the one hand, a few liberties with the original; and on the other, I have retained some Maithili words in italics without cluttering the pages with footnotes, in lieu of which a glossary of culture-specific words is provided. As regards the name of the author, I have chosen to use his first name Harimohan, instead of the surname, deviating from the standard practice. I have done so in order to avoid the confusion that might result from the fact that several authors from Mithila share the surname Jha. For all my efforts, this work leaves a lot to be desired. Tai T’ung’s words from his thirteenth century text, History of Chinese Writing—‘Were I to await perfection, my book would never be finished’—gave me the fillip to bring out this translation despite its imperfections.

Excerpted with permission from The Bride: The Maithili Classic Kanyadan, Harimohan Jha, translated by Lalit Kumar, HarperCollins India. Read more about the book here and buy it here.