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Institutional support needed for translations of Indian literary works: Bajpai

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By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 20 Nov: Two very interesting sessions were hosted on the inaugural day of the Valley of Words Literature and Arts Festival, today, on the art of translation. One session was in Hindi and it concerned the status and challenges in translation of literary works between Indian languages. The other session was titled, “The Moral & The Immoral: Existentialism in Translation”, in which Nadeem Khan and Prema Jayakumar were in conversation with Prof Satish Aikant. This session focused on English translation of works in Indian languages.
While the first session was chaired by leading Hindi poet Lakshmi Shankar Bajpai, titled “Setu Bhaashaon Kay – Bridges of Languages: The Importance of Translation”, the speakers were Subhash Neerav (Punjabi), Santosh Alex (Malayalam), JL Reddy (Telugu), Damodar Khadse (Marathi) and Utpal Banerjee (Bengali). All of them have decades of experience in translating literary works from their respective native languages to Hindi and vice versa. All of them have many original writings also to their credit.
In the session, Bridges of Languages, Bajpai asked about the current status and challenges in translation of literary works into and from Hindi to their native languages. Subhash Neerav, who has not only written originally in Punjabi but also has translated many Punjabi works into Hindi and vice versa, was of the opinion that, while many celebrity authors in Punjabi language had been translated into Hindi, but many other well known works had not been touched. He also observed that Punjabi works in prose had been translated more as compared to Punjabi poetry. More efforts were required. Utpal Banerjee felt that, some decades ago, huge amount of Bengali literature had been translated into Hindi but many well known works of later period had not been translated into Hindi. Earlier, the level of translation had been so good that well known authors like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Bankim Chandra and Tagore became household names among Hindi readers. So much so that many thought Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Bankim Chandra to be Hindi authors. However, he lamented that such quality translation had gone missing in the later period. He added that, while substantial amount of Bengali literature had been translated into Hindi, many great Hindi works had not been translated into Bengali. JL Reddy felt that, as compared to other North Indian languages, which had some commonality with Hindi, southern languages were quite different and, therefore, his major concern was regarding quality of translation. He was concerned about the rather run of the mill quality of translation of Telugu literary works into Hindi and vice versa. He said that the translation of literary works required thorough knowledge of not only the language from which it was being translated but also about the culture and life of people of that language. Otherwise, the translation would not be able to communicate the thoughts of the original author. Much work in this direction was required. He also lamented the fact that there were not many native Hindi writers who learnt South Indian languages and this acted as a big impediment for translation of Hindi works into Telugu or other South Indian languages and vice versa.
Damodar Khadse said that substantial amount of Marathi literature had been translated into Hindi and that included drama, poetry, as well as prose. Some authors such as Vijay Tendulkar had their entire works well translated into Hindi, though some lesser known authors were not so fortunate. He added that, while a huge amount of Marathi literature had been translated into Hindi and also in other Indian languages, not as much Hindi literary work had been translated into Marathi. He felt that perhaps the reason could be that Marathi and Hindi had the same Devanagari script and a large section of Marathi population understood Hindi well, so Marathi readers could directly read Hindi books. He, however, added that a lot of translation between various Indian languages was through Hindi, which acted as a pool. Santosh Alex said that, in Kerala, there had been a lot of demand for Malayalam translations of Hindi, Marathi and Bengali literature. However, while the translations were easily available, earlier, new translators were not coming up. He said that a good translator took several years to be groomed and the modern life did not leave the people this luxury and patience. Therefore, fewer younger translators were emerging and the older generation of translators had grown too old to be actively involved in translation of new works. He said that this problem could only be dealt if some institutional support system was created by the government, and bodies like Sahitya Academy, where new translators could get a secure job and grooming so that they could engage in full time translation between Indian languages. Bajpai also felt that bodies like Sahitya Academy and National Book Trust and the government ought to set up an institutional support system for this much needed work.
The other session was, “The Moral & The Immoral: Existentialism in Translation” with Nadeem Khan and Prema Jayakumar in conversation with Prof Satish Aikant, who chaired the session. Here the main focus was translation of Indian works into English. Prema Jayakumar and Nadeem Khan felt that some publishers were showing greater interest now to publish translations. Prema Jayakumar said that she was a practitioner, not an academician or theorist, but felt that she had managed to do justice to most of her translations from Malayalam to English and, therefore, the question of morality or immorality did not strike her. While agreeing that there was an additional filter between the original author and the readers in the form of the translator and the translation, she added that she attempted to be faithful to the thought and concept of the original author as far as possible. She added that she loved the languages and, to her, the music, the colour and the texture of the words still mesmerised her.
To a question by Aikant whether translations of period works made any difference of impact among the readers, she felt that, while the settings could change with the time and place, the human values remained the same. She pointed out that, centuries later, the works of Shakespeare are still translated, modified and filmed under different settings and gave an example of a recent Bollywood movie, Maqbool, adapted from Macbeth.
Nadeem Khan, on the other hand, admitted that while translating Marathi books into English, he did take the liberty of toning down some drama and style of the original author as English readership preferred understatement and restriction in writing. He admitted that, where the author did not agree to this, he still colluded with the publishers on the same and handed them the responsibility of dealing with the author. His loyalty was to the book not the author. He did so keeping in mind the readership in English and in the interest of the wider readership. He admitted to this dilemma of morality in translations done by him, as he genuinely wanted the books to resonate well with readers in English.