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Breaking Barriers through Translation


VoW 2020: Eleven Weeks to go!


“You taught me language; and my profit on’t / Is, I know how to curse.
The red plague rid you/ For teaches me your language!”
(William Shakespeare – The Tempest)

These lines spoken by the native islander, Caliban, to Prospero who appropriated Caliban’s island claiming to have civilised him reflect the symbiotic relationship between culture and language. The language and literature of a region, place or country is firmly grounded in its locale and culture. English language has no significance beyond a proficiency to know how to curse in English for an illiterate, simple islander Caliban alien to European/English culture.

In the present age of multilingualism, translation has emerged as one of the most viable means of forming a dialogue or communication between varying language groups. The proliferation of translation activity across the globe validates this fact. In the Indian context, translation has promoted and popularised regional writings and the need to be not only bilingual but multilingual is increasingly realised. However, the intricacies and complexities of translation are inherent in the broad categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ translation. One of the Herculean tasks a translator is confronted with is the challenge to translate and accommodate the miscellaneous literary and cultural traditions from one language to another. What ultimately imparts excellence to a translated work is the quality of translation in terms of its ability to navigate a reader through the translated work in a flawless and effortless manner.

It is precisely for this reason that one of the most difficult task for the curatorial team at VoW is to adjudge translations. One can only marvel at how Navdeep Suri Trans-creates his grandfather’s iconic ballad Khooni Baisahki, and also explains the context in which it was penned, as well as the saga of its disappearance and subsequent discovery. Likewise, Arunava Sana’s translation of Shirsho Bandopadhayas’s Tiger Woman is a story of passion, compassion, professional excellence and the quest to show that an Indian circus is better than the best. What is charming in this translation is his ability to recreate the atmosphere, and make it absolutely live, as well as lively! The third offering is Salim Kidwai’s translation of the Ship of Sorrows by Qurratulain Hyder. Set in Lucknow, on the eve of Independence, as the certainties of the old order begin fraying and the prospect of division becomes inevitable, they are confronted with having to make the kind of decisions that their hitherto carefree, privileged lives had not required. She places the six friends in situations that reflect this changing context and reveal their complex relationship with each other and with their altered reality.

In ‘The bells are ringing in Haridwar’, we the protagonists travel to ancient Haridwar where the Ganga came to earth, where the marks made by Bhageeratha’s chariot wheels can still be seen and Bhima’s sweat can still be tasted in the water of the pond dug by him. The call of the bells of Haridwar is irresistible, and this wonderful story in Malayalam by M Mukandam has been translated for a wider outreach by Prema Jayakumar. And, finally, we have the Marathi classic Avadhoot Dongare’s The Story of being Useless rendered into English by Nadeem Khan. So our readers can get a taste of life from different regions of India from the website itself, as well as from the podcasts that will follow.

These authors have been shortlisted not just because of the quality of the text, but their ability to relate it to the context. The translation of any text is not to be attempted exclusively at the linguistic level only in the form of the translation of the vocabulary, grammar and syntax of the source language into the target language. A vitally significant component of language is its culture. For the purpose of obtaining qualitative translation, one has to transcend the superficial meaning of words and encapsulate the meaning of a word in a social or cultural context. No wonder the emphasis in modern times is shifting more and more towards cultural translations, as Eugene Nida has aptly remarked: ‘Language is a part of culture, and in fact, it is the most complex set of habits that any culture exhibits.” As Nida states, language reflects the culture, provides access to the culture, and in many respects constitutes a model of culture. The Irish novelist James Joyce and German/Bohemian writer Frantz Kafka are two noteworthy examples of non-English outsider writers who adapted English language in an artistic manner and translated their cultural traditions in English. The Indian writers Mulk Raj Anand, RK Narayan, Raja Rao and, more recently, Amitav Ghosh fall in the same league, transmitting the indigenous Indian traditions in English and reinforcing the genre of ‘Indian English’.

One of the popular novel techniques used in the domain of translation is adaptation, also called ‘free translations’. Apart from the adaptations of literary texts for the reading public, adaptations are becoming more common and popular in the print and visual media. The adaptation of the novels into films and TV serials is very common these days. The most popular examples of adaptations are of TV shows or films where changes in language, scenes and situations are introduced vis-a-vis the target audience. Adaptations are thus transformative in nature. The cinematic adaptations mark a break from the original texts and adapt them for the modern viewers. The language of films in the form of songs, dialogues reflects an interesting mix and match of Hindi and English creating a new kind of lingua franca which is very flexible in terms of assimilation, innovations and improvisations. New terminology is coined in violation of grammatical rules and injunctions and usage has taken an upper hand to grammar. The language spoken by a rural man would be different from the language of a city dweller. Similarly, the language of a boy will differ from that of a girl. The cultural specificities and nuances are integrally entwined in a language intersecting with the dynamics of bilingualism and biculturalism. And this is what will make these sessions at VoW most memorable!

Next week, Yauvanika Chopra will describe the journey of the VoW Podcasts, which are becoming increasingly popular with listeners offering their comments from Minicoy Islands to Pune in Maharashtra and our soldiers on forward locations.