Translation

Translation: A cultural transfer

After tens of thousands of years of evolution through which language was fundamental for the development of mankind, we have reached the age of globalization. Though, today, there are few borders left that have not been breached by the internet, electronic mail and telecommunication, language may still be a barrier in communication and translation is necessary for successful communication.

A language postulates in itself a model of reality and a phonic association with the universe it describes, so we cannot separate language from culture. Both linguistic equivalence and cultural transfer are at stake when translating. Translation is a cultural fact that means necessarily cross-cultural exchange and understanding.

The translator’s purpose is not just to translate a printed literary text into another language but to be the mediator who could initiate and even induce the reader to internalize the representative text of an alien culture.

I remember A K Ramanujan, who while translating U R Ananthamurthy’s Novel Samskara opined, “A translator hopes not only to translate a text but hopes to translate a non-native reader into a native one. This statement of Ramanujan’s “to translate a non-native reader into a native one” very simply but powerfully introduces the crucial notion of cultural translation. So, through translations of creative writing, cultural bridges of understanding are securely constructed.

Early Translations

In the early centuries of Christian era, Buddhist texts were translated into Chinese and later into Tibetan. In the 11th century, Sanskrit texts began to be translated into Assamese, Kannada, Marathi, Telugu etc. At the same time translation began to be done in the Persian language too.

Zain ul Abidin (1420 -1470), the ruler of Kashmir, established a bureau for bilateral renderings between Sanskrit and Persian. Dara Shikoh’s Persian translations of the Upanishads and Mulla Ahmed Kashmiri’s rendition of Mahabharata are among the major landmarks along this stream.

In the 17th -18th century, the great Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh set up a bureau and had a large number of Sanskrit texts translated into Punjabi.

In 18th century, major universities in Europe had chairs in Sanskrit and Sanskrit studies had come to enjoy immense prestige. As the century progressed, Sanskrit studies immensely shaped the European mind. All the major European minds of the 19th century were either Sanskritists or by their own admission had been deeply involved in Indian thought –Humboldt, Fichte, Hegel, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Kant, Nietzsche, Schelling, Ferdinand de Saussure, Roman Jakobson.

Translations in the British period

The British phase of translation into English culminated in William Jone’s translation of Kalidasa’s Abhigyana Shakuntalam.

The late nineteen eighties and nineties was an exciting period for the discipline of translation studies in India. Seminal writings like G N Devy, In Another Tongue: Essays on Indian English Literature (1993), Sujit Mukherjees’s Translation as Discovery and Other Essays on Indian Literature in English Translation (1994), Tejaswani Niranjana, Siting Translation: History, Post Strucuralism and the Colonial Context (1995), and many anthologies like Pramod Talgeri and Verman S.B (Editors) Literature in Translation from Cultural Transference to Metonymic Displacement (1988), A K Singh Edited, Translation: Its theory and Practice (1996), Dingwaney, Anuradha and Carol Maier (Editors) Between Language and Cultures: Translations and Cross Cultural Texts (1996), Tutun Mukherjee (Edited)Translation : From Periphery to Centre Stage (1998) and Susan Bassnett and Trivedi (Editors) Post Colonial Translation: Theory and Practice (1999) burst into the scene.

Translation of Malayalam works in English

The very foundation of Indian Literature is based on translations. India is a multilingual country. According to scholar G N Devy there are 780 languages spoken in India.

Translation builds bridges and opens the door for those who would not otherwise have access to the original and thereby unite different cultures. The literary works of different Indian languages especially Bengali literature were translated into Malayalam during the early seventies. Premchand, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho and Mario Vargas Llosa have come into Malayalam via English translations and found great readership.

Translation has been gaining ground as an important discipline in literary field and has been growing rapidly in the multicultural world. Translation is an important tool to disseminate regional literatures, to make them go beyond the territories of their native domain and reach global readership. Translation is a creative process which involves two languages. It involves critical thinking and evaluation. Translation should be as far as possible close to the original in language, style and content.

Be it the case of Indian languages or foreign languages, the cultural elements are in danger, while translations are done. Given the fact that Malayalam language is culturally rich with its traditional customs, beliefs and practices, translation of literary works from Malayalam to English becomes a challenge for the translator, as I mentioned above, the translator has to bring a non-native reader into a native one.

Words like pooram, padayani, koithu pattu, palliyodam, kanji, appam etc…reflect the cultural aspects of Keralites which may not necessarily be found in the target language into which the source text is translated, especially in English. Hence translation is not a mere linguistic substitution, it’s a cultural transfer. The translator has to facilitate the message, meaning and cultural elements from one language to another and create an equivalent response from the receivers.

When one talks of Malayalam works in English the titles that comes to mind quickly are Basheer’s Ente Uppupakoru Ana Undayirunnu, Thakazhi’s Chemmeen, S K Pottekkat’s Oru Deshathinte Katha and M T’s Randamoozham.

Of late, there has been an increase in translation of Malayalam fiction into English. Benyamin’s Aadu Jeevitham was translated as Goat Days by Joseph Koyipally and Subhash Chandran’s Manushyanu Oru Aamukham translated as Preface to Man by Fathima E V, K R Meera’s Aarachaar translated as Hangwoman by J Devika, T D Ramakrishnan’s Sugandhi Alias Andal Devanayaki and Francis Itty Kora translated with the same names by Priya K Nair, Othapu by Sara Joseph translated as Othappuby Valson Thampu have made Malayalam fiction more visible internationally.

The Indian literary scene has witnessed a great change as far as translation is considered in the last decade. Crossword awards have changed the translation scenario in India. Beginning with fiction and then adding on translation awards in its scheme of things have resulted in more and more Indian language fiction being translated into English.

It’s noteworthy that Malayalam fiction has made its presence over the years. The list also includes among others, On the banks of Mayyazhi by M Mukundan- translated by Gita Krishnankutty, Kesavan’s Lamentations translated by Gita Krishnankutty, P Sachidanandan’ Govardhan’s travels translated by Gita Krishnankutty, Narayan’s Kocharethi: The Araya Woman translated by Catherine Thankamma, and Benyamin’s Jasmine Days translated by Shahnaz Habib

The Juggernaut published Swarga, the English translation of Enmakaje by Ambikasuthan Mangad. Translated by J Devika, it qualifies to be a miserable exercise. I am citing an example here: in the Malayalam original, the sentence reads “Vanaprasthan mare pole kaatil kazhiyunna namukku ee kurish ottum cherukayilla.” (Pg 18)

The English translation reads: “This cross doesn’t suit us who live in the forest, who seek a life of contemplation in the wilderness.” The author meant that the child is a burden to them who are living in the wilderness. Devika’s translation “this cross doesn’t suit us” is way off the mark. Likewise, other errors have crept in. The end result is that, the Malayalam novel which has 18 reprints so far, while being introduced into English, got lost in translation.

A translator can enhance the original work or mess it up.

Everyone familiar with translation, theory and practice is aware that translation no longer entails linguistic substitution or mere code– switching, but is regarded as a “cultural transfer.”

Linguist Eugene Nida states that the role of the translator is to facilitate the transfer of message, meaning and cultural elements from one language to another and to create an equivalent response from the receivers i.e. the primary responsibility of the translators is to recreate in the target language the reader responses that the text in the source language had created. The ideal translation should therefore be accurate, natural and communicative.
All said and done, translation is an attempt to introduce a literary work from one language to another. We have had access to world literature and Indian Literature because of translations.

A gifted translator is a creator. He can remain close to the text and then render it creatively and bring the source language alive in the target language. Translation is a creative approximation of the original. The original and the translation must play in harmony, like jugalbandi. It’s here that translation becomes an art.

Santhosh Alex
Dr Santosh Alex is a Poet, Translator and Poetry Curator. He is the author of 35 books including poetry, criticism and translations.

May 21, 2019

Indian Novels Collective

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  • BOOK EXCERPT

    Seeing but not SEEN


    Known as one of the greatest storytellers of the Partition, Joginder Paul has been the recipient of important literary awards, such as the International Award for Urdu Writing from Qatar, SAARC Life Achievement Award, Iqbal Samman, Ghalib Award, Bahadur Shah Zafar Award and many others. His fiction has been translated into several languages. With his unique writing style and choice of themes, he is known as one of the most innovative writers in Urdu.

    Joginder Paul migrated from Sialkot (now in Pakistan) to Ambala (India) in 1947, at the time of Partition, after which he married and left for Kenya where he lived for nearly 15 years. The experience of being a refugee and that of ‘exile’ reflected in a lot of his short and long fiction writings. He was familiar with multiple languages, with Punjabi as his mother tongue and school education in Urdu. Post this he pursued a Masters degree in English and taught literature until he retired as the principal of a college in Aurangabad. Joginder Paul chose to write in Urdu, with a conviction that Urdu is ‘not a language but a culture’.

    Grounded in human suffering and exposed to continental fiction, he found his own distinctive style of writing. While Joginder Paul’s first collection of short stories, Dharti ka Kaal, carried stories of Africa, the subsequent collections of his short stories project a deep concern for social issues, poverty and hunger, mostly in the Indian context. His novel Khwabro has been widely discussed as a poignant Partition novel with a television film made on it. The four volumes of flash fiction by him established him as a pioneer in the oeuvre. Each of his stories came to him with its own specific language and style, shape and size, as dictated by its own experience and content. Joginder Paul added new dimensions to Urdu fiction, both in content as well as form.

    It was the lasting experience of visiting a blind home in Kenya which several decades later compelled him to write his novel Nadeed, translated to English, as Blind by his daughter Sukrita Paul Kumar and co-translated by Hina Nandrajog. The English translation works towards maintaining the metaphorical significance of the word ‘Blind’ and the inter-relation of the allegorical and physical blindness in the narrative projected in Nadeed. Sukrita Paul Kumar and Hina Nandrajog, attempt to transpose the metaphysical dimensions of blindness, present in Joginder Paul’s work.

    Here is an excerpt from the translation:

    Sharfu

    Each of us has his own way of seeing. Who can tell how the other sees? As for me, I see the whole world within myself – lofty mountain peaks that pierce my insides, wide rivers in whose eddies I sometimes get trapped; dashing against the rocks, I smash into pieces, but my banks gather all the pieces from the flowing waters, put them together and carry me to a safe and secluded maidan.

    Within me lies the world-of-worlds. Many places in this world have been torn and worn by cruel seasons, but somehow I manage to patiently build kutcha-pukka bridges so that no part of me remains isolated. I arrive wherever I wish to reach the very moment the thought of getting there comes to me. I live in every speck and atom of this universe of mine.

    No, I am not making any claim to godhood! The truth is that I was born blind and I lie inside myself quietly. Quietly? No, that’s a lie! And … and it is also a lie that all of my fragments lie scattered. The truth is that all my bridges are broken. I comfort myself in vain. In fact, blind as I am, I’m unable to reach anywhere; even if I have to reach my mouth from my ears, I fall with a thud on the way.

    The mention of mouth, ears and all reminds me of a curious incident that took place a few days ago.

    The three of us from our Home for the Blind were sitting together after lunch when Bhola said, Yaaro, life stinks but if we spend it together it won’t be so bad.

    Bhola always comes out with meaningful observations, so both of us listen to him very attentively.

    The distance from inside to outside stretches across in an awfully tangled length, yaaro! I keep falling on my face even if I have to travel from my head to my belly.

    Yes, Bhola, precisely! This is the problem when it is one’s fate to fill the belly with just thoughts. And then with a full belly, who can remember the way back to the head?

    Shall I ask you something, Bhola? Why return to the head anyway? As for me, once my stomach is full I lie crouched in the middle with my legs under my belly.

    That’s it, Bhola. A full belly makes one feel one is on a swing.

    But for how long does a full belly remain full, yaaro?

    When the belly gets empty, the swing snaps, the bones crack, and the person feels them stabbing his feet.

    Yes, we should get back to the head as soon as the belly is full. sss

    But that is the dilemma! Once the belly is full, one can’t figure out the way back home.

    Right, Bhola! A man’s head is his home … but how to fill our bellies if we don’t step out of the house?

    And how to go back when the belly is full?

     

    Excerpt published with the permission of Sukrita Paul Kumar. The book is available in paperback and e-book format and is published by Harper Perennial.

    For reading the original in Urdu, please visit http://bit.ly/2WMAznS

    Book List

    Six must-read translations of Urdu novels

    With over 50 million native speakers, Urdu is the seventh most spoken language in India. The Urdu language has a rich literary tradition in the Indian subcontinent, ranging from Mirza Ghalib’s poetry to Saadat Hasan Manto’s social realist short stories about partition.

    The Urdu novel and short story was preceded by dastangoi or the oral storytelling tradition. The early Urdu novels that emerged in the nineteenth century were initially centered around urban social life and later expanded to include rural social narratives. In the twentieth century, under the influence of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Urdu fiction, in particular, the short story form flourished and was concerned with social inequality and injustice. During the partition period, Urdu fiction primarily dealt with themes of migration, identity, and decolonization.

    Here is a list of Urdu novels that are easily accessible in English translation. 

    Mirat-al-Urus by Nazir Ahmad
    Translated as The Bride’s Mirror by G.E. Ward

    Published in 1869, The Bride’s Mirror deals with the themes of female education in Muslim society and social and educational reforms in the second half of the nineteenth century in India. The plot revolves around the contrasting life paths of two sisters from Delhi who are married to two brothers. Akbari, the spoilt and poorly educated sister lives a troubled life after her marriage while Asghari who is hardworking and well educated is able to deal with the difficulties she faces and forms a good relationship with her husband’s family and the local community. Through the story of the two sisters, Ahmad creates a compelling portrait of a rapidly changing society in Delhi in the nineteenth century.

    Aag Ka Darya by Qurratulain Hyder
    Translated as River of Fire by the author

    The novel unfolds over two and a half millennia of Indian history, covering the classical, medieval, colonial, and postcolonial periods. The narrative moves seamlessly from one epoch to another, interlinked by four characters: Gautam, Champa, Kamaal, and Cyril who represent the various ethnic and religious groups that have populated the region. In the final post-partition period, historical continuity is disrupted with the division of people and creation of nation states. With its magical elements interlaced with parables, legends, and personal notes, Hyder’s masterpiece provides a sweeping overview of the history of the Indian subcontinent and sends out a clear message of inclusivity.

    Ek Chadar Maili Si by Rajinder Singh Bedi
    Translated as I Take This Woman by Kushwant Singh

    Set in a village in undivided Punjab, the novel revolves around the lives of Rano and her young brother-in-law Mangal, who are forced to marry each other after the death of Rano’s husband, even though Rano has raised Mangal like her own son. Eventually, both Rano and Mangal reach a level of understanding and are able to form a conjugal bond. Tackling themes of sexuality, society, patriarchy across religions, this novel remains a classic in the Urdu literary canon.

    Bazaar-e-Husn by Premchand
    Translated as Sevasadan by Snehal Shingavi

    Originally written in Urdu, the novel was first published in Hindi in 1919 and in Urdu in 1924. Set at the turn of the twentieth century in the city of Benares, the novel tells the story of Suman, an unhappy housewife, who forced out of her home by her husband, ends up becoming a courtesan. During this period, as a result of social reforms, the local municipal corporation orders the relocation of kothas or brothels to the periphery of the city. Suman faces social ostracism as a courtesan and eventually discovers an existence that restores her agency. Through Bazaar-e-Husn, Premchand exposes the hypocrisy of society and presents a critique of the demand for women to be the standard bearers of morality in colonial India.

    Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Hadi Ruswa
    Translated by Kushwant Singh and M. A. Husaini

    Published in 1899, Umrao Jan Ada is a fictional first-person account of an eponymous Lucknawi courtesan and poet, as narrated to the author. Set in the mid-nineteenth century, the novel recreates the decadence of Awadhi aristocracy and provides an insight into the social impact of the Revolt of 1857 in Lucknow. As a young girl, Umrao is kidnapped and sold to a tawaif or a high-class courtesan and trained in classical music and dance and literature. Through the use of psychological realism, Ruswa creates one of the most complex and memorable characters in Urdu literature.

    Ajeeb Aadmi by Ismat Chughtai
    Translated as A Very Strange Man by Tahira Naqvi

    Situated in the Bombay film industry of the 1940s and 50s, the novel tells the story of Dharam Dev, a popular married actor and director and his infatuation with Zarina, a young dancer from Madras. With his help, Zarina becomes a famous actress and subsequently abandons him. The narrative follows the descent of Dharam Dev and his wife into depression and alcoholism. Chughtai, who was herself part of the film industry as a screenwriter and producer, explores the dark side of ambition, glamour, and infatuation in her characteristic irreverent prose.

    About the blogger
    Priyanka Lindgren has a background in linguistics and refugee studies. She is passionate about world literature, in particular, 20th-century South Asian literature in translation. She is the Culture Editor at The Lead, part of the International Women’s Initiative. She blogs about books and South Asian identity at thesouthasianreader.wordpress.com.