Indra Bahadur Rai
Photo: Himadri Barman / Facebook
Indra Bahadur Rai Photo: Himadri Barman / Facebook

The art of translating Indra Bahadur Rai

Interview with Nepali author and translator Prawin Adhikari.

Indra Bahadur Rai, the Nepali-language novelist and critic from Darjeeling, passed away on 6 March 2018. Also known as I B Rai, he emerged in the early 1960s as one of the most ambitious literary voices writing in Nepali, and over the decades, became a cultural icon among the Nepali-speaking communities in India (whom Rai called 'Indian Nepalis') as well as in Nepal. In the months before his death, new English-language translations of two of his best-known works – the novel Aaja Ramita Chha (There's a Carnival Today) and a short-story collection Raatbhari Huri Chalyo (Long Night of Storm) – were published, opening Rai's writings to a new and wider readership.

In this interview, we talk to novelist Prawin Adhikari, who translated Long Night of Storm, about I B Rai's place in the Nepali-language literary canon, his ability to speak across national divides and the state of translations in Southasia.

Himal Southasian: Could you briefly explain why Indra Bahadur Rai is such an important figure in Nepali-language literature?

Prawin Adhikari: Indra Bahadur Rai was the most prominent among the second generation of Indian Nepali writers. His predecessors like Surya Bikram Gyawali, Dharanidhar Koirala and Parasmani Pradhan articulated the establishment of the Nepali language – then called khas kura – as the language of the people from the hills of Nepal. They gave to the Nepali state a tool for unification or subjugation, depending upon the vantage. But I B Rai was instrumental in the effort to enshrine the Nepali language as an official language in the Constitution of India. He suffered professionally and personally for leading the charge for the dignity of the Nepali language in India. In some ways, the struggle for Gorkha identity in West Bengal would be much feebler without I B Rai's work in service of the Nepali speakers of India.

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