Growing concern over vernacular, classical literature at Jaipur fest

January 22nd, 2011 - 8:40 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
Jaipur, Jan 22 (IANS) A growing concern to preserve vernacular and classical literature and to popularise it through translations is gradually occupying centre-stage at the sixth DSC Jaipur Literature Festival underway here. “The new generation has limited access to classical and vernacular literature because most of us speak English. Ask me to name one writer in Tamil, Punjabi or Hindi, I won’t be able to. I would struggle to name one even in Hindi,” Manhad Narula, director of the festival, told IANS.

According to him, the only way to take classical and vernacular literature to young readers is by encouraging serious translations.

The DSC Group managed by the Narulas is the chief sponsor of the Jaipur literature festival.

He said one of the objectives of the DSC South Asian Prize for Literature instituted by the group is to promote quality translations of vernacular literature.

“The role of the translator is very important. A good translation is almost as authentic as the original. If a translation of a vernacular South Asian work makes it to the top slot, then we will divide the prize money equally between the translator and the writer - $25,000 each (out of the total prize purse of $50,000),” Narula said.

President of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations Karan Singh commended the diversity in vernacular creative writing in India.

“India has a very rich vernacular literary heritage with creative writing in 25 languages. This diversity and glory should be showcased in literature festivals,” Singh said.

He also highlighted the importance of translations to spread awareness about vernacular literature.

“The country should encourage more translations in vernacular language to English and Hindi and there should be more incentives and awards for translators,” Singh said.

The five-day DSC Jaipur festival, which opened Jan 21, is representing regional and classical literature in 12 Indian languages and literature from 23 countries.

Sheldon Pollock, a Sanskrit scholar at the Columbia University in the US, said: “India has a very rich history of literature festivals. One of the erstwhile rulers of Jaipur, Sawai Jai Singh hosted “gosthi (gathering) of poets and litterateurs in his court,” he recalled.

“India is going through cataclysmic changes and writers are concerned about the fragility of the future. Poets often wonder who will read their work. I doubt if in two generations there will be anyone to read and understand literature produced before 1800 AD. Scholars and intellectuals are completely ignoring the fact that nobody reads classical language,” he said.

Pollock cited an initiative, the Murthy Classical Library of India, a brain child of Rohan Murthy, son of Infosys mentor (and founder) V. Narayana Murthy, that was trying to translate and popularise vernacular Indian classics for posterity.

The dual language series, led by Pollock, will publish at least three Indian classics every year. Work on the translations has begun.

Novelist Orhan Pamuk, most of whose books have been translated, echoed the need for translations and preservation of traditional classical literature.

The writer said he “investigated the continuities in classical Ottoman, Mughal and Turkish culture” to reinvent them in his books.

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