Indian bookscape: New sensibilities emerging in literary translation

February 12th, 2012 - 11:14 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 12 (IANS) In Kerala, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is among the most popular novelists - thanks to his translated works in Malayalam. Translations of popular fictions, non-fictions and classics are very much in demand in India and adorn bookshelves in many urban homes like status tags.

For the translator, it is no easy job. For he/she has to stick to the intent and spirit of the original while choosing the words.

In post-colonial India, regional languages are fighting with English as link tongues and translations often surpass originals in quality of retelling.

“My book has been translated beautifully… At times, I feel it is better than the original,” Claudine Le Toureur d’lson, the French author of “Hira Mandi”, told IANS.

Claudine said “the English translation by Priyanka Jhijaria, released last week, has been able to bring out the essence of the story in a way that relates to the Indian and Pakistan’s social milieus.”

History says India forged its first cultural- literary links with the West in the 6th century BC when Vedic ideas were expounded by Greek thinkers Plato and Galen.

The whole paradox of translation is that a “translator gives new life to something that has been written, but at the same time has to stick to the intent and spirit of the original,” says writer and “bhasa” campaigner Namita Gokhale.

“It is more difficult to do a brilliant translation than a good book. A translation has to retain the texture, idioms and metaphors of the source language rather than flattening into homogenised English,” Gokhale told IANS.

Diplomat-writer Navdeep Suri, who translated two of his grandfather Nanak Singh’s novels, “Saintly Sinner (Pavitra Paapi)” and “A Life Incomplete (Adh Kidhiya Phool)” said he chose “simpler books with easy grammar and syntax” from his grandfather’s collection.

“My Pubjabi does not relate to the characters in many of my grandfather Nanak Singh’s early books because I grew up in the city,” Suri said at a discussion, “Let’s Talk Translation”, hosted by publisher Harper Collins-India in the capital.

Suri had to give up translating Nanak Singh’s literary milestone “Chitta Lahu” because “he recognised that it was beyond him to translate the novel”.

“The characters were so earthy and rooted in rural Punjab of the 1930s,” Suri said.

Kerala-based poet and sporadic translator K. Satchidanandan says “Indian consciouness is a translating consciouness”. He cites Kerala as an example.

“I come from a language (Malayalam) where we translate works by Marquez, Llosa and Saramago. A writer once remarked that Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the most popular novelist in Kerala,” the poet said at a literary discourse in the capital recently.

Satchinandan said he would “rather have more translations in Indian languages - intra-language translations - so that both languages are empowered.”

“It was necessary to achieve equity in translation to give equal representation to every linguistic group and literature,” Namita Gokhale echoed.

Writer and translator Ira Pande, who calls herself “an accidental translator”, says a translator has to share a profound relationship with the author.

“I felt that I had the right to translate my mother’s (Hindi novelist Shivani’s) literature - whom I knew so well - the way I wanted to. But with writer Shyam Manohar Joshi, I could not think of doing it the way I wanted to,” Pande said.

Arunava Sinha, who has translated Bengali novelists Sankar’s and Buddhadev Basu’s novels, said he shared “a love-hate relationship with Sankar.”

“Sankar is grateful that I have carried him beyond Asansol (in West Bengal) - the last frontier of the Bengali-speaking people,” Sinha laughed.

The praxis of translation - and its future- in the post-colonial world revolves around three rationalisations: “normalisation of English, normalisation of markets and normalisation of the Anglo-notion of excellence”, Alok Rai, a professor of English at Delhi University, suggests.

Anything that does not work in English is not world class, Rai explained.

“Either it has to be managed to work in English or it does not work. What is likely to emerge is a standardised homogeniety - an Anglo-notion of excellence,” Rai said.

Books are translated only if there is a market, Rai said.

Writer and translator Neelabh, who translated Arundhati Roy’s “God of Small Things” in Hindi, observed that his “book worked because Roy had won the Booker Prize and publishers were keen to print it”.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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