Introducing Marathi-reading audiences to international bestsellers — that was Anil Mehta’s main aim when he began publishing translations in 1985 at Mehta Publishing House, which he founded in Rs 76.
His son Sunil Mehta, who now looks after Mehta Publishing House, has the same view. “We want to introduce our Marathi readers to new stories and new concepts, which are different from Marathi literature,” he says. Till date, they have published over 700 titles altogether, including self-help, fiction and medical literature. “Around 30 to 35 per cent of our titles are translations. The rest being original titles in English and Marathi,” adds Mehta.
“It isn’t easy translating a book. The translator has to keep his/her own ideas, thoughts and value system and inclination aside and actually get into the skin of the author,” says Leena Sohoni, one of the translators on Mehta’s team of 120 translators.
She became a translator quite unintentionally. “I had just read Henry Denker’s Outrage and found the courtroom drama very interesting. I wanted my mother to read it, but she read only Marathi. So I translated the book for her,” narrates Sohoni. “I began to do other translations, including German to Marathi, while in college. Gradually my friends and relatives encouraged me to get these translations published,” she adds.
Back in the mid 1980s, no one was willing to publish translations. It was only when Sohoni met Anil that she found someone to publish her translations. Although other publishing houses now take on translations too, Mehta claims to be the pioneer.
“One day, Anil handed me Not Without My Daughter. As soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to translate it,” says Sohoni. “The character Betty Mehmoody was the same age as I was then. I had a daughter too. Betty’s struggle to leave Iran fascinated me.”
“Anil Mehta gave me some valuable advice. He told me never to translate something until I had a publisher in hand and without taking prior permission,” recalls Sohoni, who taught German at Kolhapur College until she moved to Pune.
“Usually it isn’t difficult to get the rights to a book,” reveals Mehta. “It is just about having good relations with agents and other publishing houses.” But there have been exceptional cases where it has taken them over a year sometimes.
“It took four years for us to get the rights to translate To Kill A Mockingbird. Unfortunately the publishers put us onto the wrong agent and it took us forever to find the right one,” says Mehta, adding that royalties are usually a one-time payment of about Rs 25,000 to Rs 40,000 for 2,000 copies. Sometimes even 2,000 copies aren’t enough. Bestsellers Da Vinci Code and Not Without My Daughter, whose names are kept the same even in Marathi, sold upto 30,000 and 40,000 copies respectively.
“Most people undermine translations,” complains Pramod Joglekar, who has been translating his favourite novels to Marathi since 1996. The Professor of Archaeology, who has translated a total of 30 books until now, says his personal favourite was the Autobiography of Phoolan Devi. “I plan to write a book someday. I have begun work on it — it is about the psyche of the people in the ’70s and ’80s when I was growing up. It is in Marathi,” he adds.