Translations: A shortcut into different worlds

Updated: Sep 17, 2013, 10:07 AM IST

New Delhi: In a land of cultural diversities like India, language is the glue that binds us together - and separates as well. Literature from the mofussil Indian landscape is a window of its indigenous socio-political turmoil and publishers are translating poignant tales of struggle, freedom, history and injustice to transport readers into other worlds.

"Translations are a shortcut into another world or, you can say, a bridge between two different worlds. Translations connect India and its people," Mini Krishnan, publishing consultant and editor, translations, Oxford University Press (OUP) said.

"What is the worth of travelling Madras (Chennai) to Delhi and not knowing the culture? Literature introduces you to it," she added.

Translations have the ability to foster culture - linking between people, languages and culture, across history, across caste, class and religion, through its storytelling means.

It isn`t a new phenomenon, though. Bengali and Marathi translations have always had a strong foothold, thanks to some prominent names.

Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore`s warm story ‘Kabuliwalla’ has been read by many. Tagore`s stories have been translated in many languages and hence Bengal`s strong literary roots have resonated with urban audiences and the this legacy has been carried forward by Satyait Ray`s ‘Feluda’ and Mahasweta Devi`s ‘Dust On The Road’ and with their many other stories.

Among contemporary writers, Suchitra Bhattacharya, Bani Basu, Tilottama Majumdar, Shirshendu Mukherjee, Nabaneeta Deb Sen are writing on wider issues, interspersing them with emotional settings.

Playwright Vijay Tendulkar`s strong ideology on social issues and political vendetta has annoyed many, but all this has made his writings informative and given Marathi literature a strong foundation in the world of translation.

Now venturing into other states are publishers who feel stories are the only way to preserve culture and develop active tolerance for other cultures.

So, translations in Oriya, Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu, Kannada, Assamese, Malayalam and Tamil are occupying space in book stores.

"Translation as a counter-divisive tool in nation building and gives access to insights and skills needed to live in a pluralistic society like India," Geeta Dharmarajan, executive director and founder of Katha said.

"Stories are the only way to understand peoples, cultures and the flavours of a region. They can and do help develop active tolerance in us, an ability that comes from a greater maturity and understanding of ground realities," she added.

Hence, one is not surprised to lay one`s hands on Josep Macwan`s ‘The Stepchild’ translated from Gujarati. Set in a rural village of Gujarat of 1930`s it draws attention to the political ideology of that time. Then, Zaheda Hina`s "All Passion Spent", translated from Urdu, is a story about a woman and her struggles during the partition of the sub-continent in 1947.

Providing an insight into a tribal patriarch and his family is Gopinath Mohanty`s ‘Parjaja’ that was written in 1945 and has been translated for the first time into English.

On the surface, it may appear, translations are easiest thing to do on earth. But Krishnan quickly dispels this notion.

"Translators are highly subjective and emotional people. They really need to fall in love with the work and should be aware of rich culture and religion that a region offers," she pointed out.

"Writers and translators often fight when they don`t agree at times. Mind you, writers have big egos and they make translators rewrite the entire thing, at times. They need to work in harmony for smooth functioning," she added.

Lyricist and writer Gulzar, whose works have been translated into many languages, had once mentioned: "Translation is like a mistress. If she`s faithful then she`s not beautiful. If she`s beautiful then she`s not faithful."

This lack of faithfulness is the biggest obstacle that comes in way of translations.

Krishnan also pointed out the stringent process OUP follows.

"If writers are alive, it is best that the translator and writer spend time together. A translator has to understand the writers` state of mind to do justice to his writings. It is a creative pursuit. Only a creative person can translate," she said.