The Hindi translation of the Paris-based Indian author and filmmaker Vijay Singh’s critically novel ‘Jaya Ganga’ by Rajkamal Prakashan, as well as the reprint in English by Rupa Publications, was recently launched by the Ambassador of France to India, Emmanuel Lenain, at the Embassy of France, New Delhi along with Ashok Maheshwari, the Managing Director of Rajkamal Prakashan, Nishtha Kapil, the Deputy Managing Editor at Rupa Publications, and the author himself. The Hindi translation of the novel has been done by the late renowned Hindi poet and writer, Mangalesh Dabral.
‘Jaya Ganga’ tells the story of Nishant, a young Indian writer from Paris, who undertakes a journey along the river Ganges, right from its source in the Himalayas. Haunted by the memory of a beautiful girl named Jaya from Paris, he plans to write a book around this voyage. On the banks of the Ganges, he meets Zehra, an irresistible nautch girl, who resurrects the memory of Jaya. The novel was later adapted into a film of the same name, starring Smriti Mishra and Asil Rais in the lead roles, by Vijay Singh himself. The film originally ran for a record 49 weeks in Paris and the UK cinemas after being screened in 40 countries. It was also shown on over 100 television channels worldwide.
In this interview, Vijay Singh talks about the newly released Hindi translation of ‘Jaya Ganga’ and the interactions he had with Mangalesh Dabral while working on the translation, his reflections upon the difficult journey along the Ganges which he undertook three and a half decades ago, his spontaneous approach to writing as well as his upcoming film projects. Excerpts
Q. What prompted you to come out with the Hindi translation of your novel ‘Jaya Ganga’ almost three and a half decades after it was first published?
A. Well, a lot of it actually has to do with chance. You see, when the book came out, Vani Prakashan had got in touch with me but for some reason the things couldn’t get materialized. Perhaps, there was a dearth of funds. So the chance is that I was sitting with Christine Cornet, who heads the books department at the French Embassy, and she suggested that they can bear the cost of the Hindi translation. That’s when Rajkamal Prakashan came into the picture. Now, I think the translation has come out really well. The late poet Mangalesh Dabral, who translated the book in Hindi, and Rajkamal Prakashan have done a great job.
Q. How did you go about it? What kind of interactions did you have with Mangalesh Dabral?
A. We talked to each other on telephone for hours and hours. He came into my life just before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. We spoke of virtually everything under the sun. Sadly, I never really got the opportunity to meet him in person. One of the last things he told me was, “Don’t worry about Hindi ka prakashan, main usse sambhal lunga.” I will forever be grateful to him for the painstaking dedication with which he translated ‘Jaya Ganga’ into Hindi.
Q. Also tell us about how the original novel was written?
A. The original French edition was written in seven and half weeks and it was written spontaneously. Travelling along the Ganges was a difficult journey. On my way to Gomukh, the source of the Bhagirathi River, one of the primary headstreams of the Ganges, I literally had to walk on ice and there was no one around. So, at times, it was a very lonely journey and it cannot be completed in one go because parts of the river are not navigable. For, there was very little water in the river for most upstream parts, there were no boats, and there was rampant crime. Now, the endeavour of my works is to bring surrealism and spirituality together and that what I have tried to achieve in ‘Jaya Ganga’ through the story of Nishant and his entrancing journey down the Ganges which is replete with unexpected encounters with Sadhus, boatmen, local journalists, tawaiffs, pimps, administrators, and the omnipresent pandas.
Q. You have talked about spontaneity in your writing and yet there is a certain lyrical quality in the manner you write. What do you attribute it to?
A. Well, the way I see it, you cannot write a good if the language is above everything else. I personally believe that put in its most extreme and provocative form literature has very little to do with language and cinema has very little to do with image. It is in the pre-language and the pre-image that the ‘junoon’ plays out. And that’s what you try and translate in image or in words. But you cannot let the word terrorize you or else how and what will you write? Believe me that if you let your imagination out, everything is writable. Yes, it is hard thinking, it is hard work, but then that’s true of all forms of art. I often say that from page 1 to page 30 you are writing the book, you are trying to find your way. From page 30 onwards if you have found your flow it is the novel that’s writing itself and you are just following the whole story. And often that leads to better results than creating structures. Speaking of ‘Jaya Ganga,’ I had already done my homework about say what the Ganga is about, what the pandas are about, what Amitabh Bachchan’s election campaign was about. So, basically, my structure was my six month long journey.
Q. You originally wrote ‘Jaya Ganga’ in French and later it was translated into English. But you chose to make the film version in Hindi-Urdu. And finally the Hindi translation of the book is also out. How do you look back at the whole journey?
A. After making the film version of ‘Jaya Ganga,’ I realized that all my interactions, my experience of the Ganges, my journey were all in Hindi, Bengali, Madhubani, or the Pahari languages because that’s what the people I ran into during my journey all along the Ganges mostly spoke. Now, to translate that dialogue, fictional or real, back into English meant sort of cheating the world and so coming back into Hindi with ‘Jaya Ganga,’ the film, was in some ways a great relief that my characters were finding their own voice. So making the film a decade later felt like going back to my original journey along the Ganges. And then working with Mangalesh on the Hindi translation was like coming full circle.
Q. If you were to do ‘Jaya Ganga’ again today how differently would you approach it?
A. Well, I would not do it very differently. Now, of course, I can’t do the same thing because a lot of time has passed. I am in my 60s and so you don’t look back at your late 20s as a granddad but you do have the benefit of hindsight. So there are certain things that I might touch up here and there. There are certain overstatements which I might temper a bit. Having said that I was 32 when I wrote the book and I feel that a 32 year old has the right to say what he feels like at that time.
Q. What are your upcoming projects?
A. Now, it’s my dream to do Jaya Ganga 2 and Jaya Ganga 3 that would complete my film trilogy. The project hasn’t yet materialized due to various reasons but it is a beautiful story called Ganga Panda 5G. It is a modern take on my journey down the Ganges. How 5G, meaning new technology, is digitizing the world of Ganga. I intend it to be a 14-part series. Then there is my book ‘Whirlpool of Shadows,’ which also needs to be translated into Hindi. Also, I am working on a film titled ‘The Palace Symphony’. Then there is another project that I will be helming for a leading platform but I cannot reveal much about it right now.