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M. S. Thirumalai
PRACTICING LITERARY TRANSLATION
A SYMPOSIUM BY MAIL-- SECOND ROUND
Moderator : : V.V.B. Rama Rao, Ph.D.
A WORD FROM THE MODERATOR, DR. RAMA RAO
While thanking all those who have come forward and obliged me with their replies individually and severally, I must add that the Symposium has drawn very encouraging reception. Andhra Bhoomi, A Telugu Daily from Hyderabad carried the Telugu version already and letters from translation enthusiasts are trickling in. Viprah bahuda vadanti is no strange thing to our scholastic ethos and then each has a valid point. More and more are welcome to keep the academic spirit high.
LITERARY TRANSLATION - A COMPLEX ARCHITECTONICS
Going beyond, breaking barriers, literary translation is complicated architectonics. This is an activity of a unique creative artist, twice blessed and twice inspired. The literary translator wields a magic wand, which can convey and firmly implant a whole edifice with all embellishments into the receptor language.
14th-5th century Telugu poet anointed kavisaarvabhauma, the Emperor of Poetry, Srinatha besides the glorious imaginative / poetic works of his own, translated King Harsha's Naishadam from Sanskrit into his mother tongue (Telugu). Sanskrit scholars of repute have observed that: Naishadham is a potion to scholars (naishadham vidwadaushadham). This aushadham for scholars could mean as much a corrective medicine as the elixir of life.
FOLLOW THE SOUNDS THAT WIN THE HEARTS
For all literary translators in our multi-lingual literary tradition, the prolegomena, which Srinatha came out with in his intro to his own Telugu rendering is worthy of emulation. "Following the sound that wins the hearts of innumerable noble-minded, understanding the intention, emotion, opinion, paying attention to the inner feeling, sustaining the inner essence 'rasa', purging improprieties, keeping to the original," the act of rendering into the language of the present text (target language) should proceed.
A VOCATION FOR LIFE
Literary translation is taken more as a vocation than a mere profession to make a living. In most cases, the work is its own reward. As a serious-minded vocation, it enjoins on the practitioner humility of the highest order with total self-effacement. The literary translator is an invisible purveyor who provides victuals and nutrients of diverse flavours and tastes from far away fields. A creative writer in his own language sometimes develops a desire to serve the cause of literature which crystallizes as he goes on with deep commitment.
Every profession has some kind of a union of practitioners to help one another in the field to acquire, maintain, and uphold excellence in competence. Medical practitioners and teachers, for example, have forums to exchange notes for updating procedures and techniques. There are very few professional journals and fewer objectively valid techniques for evaluation of translated texts.
PERILS OF TRANSLATION
After embarking on this project, I attended an Award Function in New Delhi of Bharatiya Anuwada Parishat in the Speaker's Hall of Constitution Club. The Chief Guest Shri L.N. Singhvi In his address stated how, sometimes, translation could be a disaster citing the example of the rendering of 'secular' into Hindi in the context of a secular state. "DharmnirapEhksha" relates to being beyond Dharma or even without caring for Dharma, which any state would not wish to become. If Religious State were an antonym to Secular State, the latter would directly mean an irreligious state, which the ideal of a Secular state cannot brook.
Now to the views and experiences of some more literary translation experts:
Gurdial Singh (b. 1933) writes in Punjabi and translates from Hindi Punjabi and English. He has a lot of translated work. His Punjabi novel PARSA won him Jnanpith in 1999 and earlier in 1998 he won Padmashri.
I would like to share a ticklish problem I faced in 1962 when I was translating the first part of Maxim Gorky's autobiography: My Childhood. Gorky had to live with his maternal grandfather when he was a child. His grandfather and grandmother always called each other as "Father' and 'Mother', because of their tradition. In Punjabi no husband or wife called each other even by their names. How I solved the problem is not important but it was not easy. After that I have translated more than forty books from Hindi into English, into from Hindi into Punjabi and vice versa. Even with that experience, still I face problems, whenever I translate any book, even from any Indian language.
We know, ever society has its own history, culture and language, which are quite different from any other society. In my opinion translation is a much more difficult job. No translation is 'perfect' in the true sense of the word. Any translator must have extensive knowledge of the history, culture, language and the way of life of the people of that society in which the original text was produced if he wants to do justice to the work concerned in the target language.
But except via literary translation, there is no other way to gain access to the literary works of other societies. Whether good or bad, translation is a must for any society, especially in the modern age to keep pace with time.
Umesh Joshi (b. 1925), a lecturer in Lucknow University to begin with has been Marketing Executive, Managing Director etc., but translation has been both his first love and forte. He translated extensively and recently was honoured by Bharatiya Anuvad Parishat, New Delhi.
I have translated only poems. … To translate poems, one not only one has to have a very high degree of 'functional vocabulary (as opposed to recognitional vocabulary') of a high order of both the languages. ... One must know the historical, mythological, social condition of both the regions thoroughly. This is what helps the translator to get out of the tight corner of literal translation of nay word and instead give a word, which without being a literal translation conveys the sense of the original. In Byron's "All for Love" 'myrtle', 'ivy' and 'laurel' are not just botanical or poetic words: they convey something socially significant. The first two represent the exuberance, vibrancy mirth, buoyancy and the joie de vivre of youth. For a Hindi speaker, these feelings can be signified only by words like 'mehendi' and 'tesu'. As regards 'laurel' it signifies honour, acclaim and ovation. This idea can at best be captured by the word 'doorwaabhishek'. Translations thus rendered give the readers the essence of the original. This gives the translator the pleasure a mother gets on the birth of a child after throes of excruciating labour.
Saritha Gnanananda (b.1942) knows and translates from and into Kannada, Telugu, Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Malayalam and English. Out of her 101 works 45 are translations. She colloborates with her husband Dr Gnanananda in running Sahiti Samskrutika Pratishan, Bangalore.
It is easier to write independently than translating (a literary text) from another language. The practitioner has to make the reader who is completely ignorant of the original text to appreciate what actually the original writer meant. . . . Ravuri Bharadwaja in one of his 'elegiac diaries' makes a character discuss a cinema with an educated friend and says in his authorial comment: I have nothing to say to a person who has considered Kokkoka as superior to Kalaapoornodayam. This is my translation of Bhardwaja's sentence in Telugu. The original author is differentiating a book on sexology and a kavya. Even with this knowledge, the reader of the translated text cannot appreciate the barb in the dialogue unless he understands the value of Pingali Soorana's kavya, Kalaapoornodayam in Telugu literature. I had to add a note of two whole pages to bring out the meaning of the sentence in the source language text.
In another context, the very same writer freely quoted a verse from another Telugu kavya. I had to search fort a similar verse from a Kannada Kavya with similar meaning to fit the context.
Atulasnanda Goswami (b.1935) is a prolific writer of short stories in Assamese. He has been translating extensively from Assamese into English, Oriya and Bengali and from Assamese into English.
Literatures in myriad languages have enriched themselves by translations. This has been true of all ages since a community came to be identified by a language. The foundations of my own language (Assamese) were laid on faithful renderings of the great epics and puranas. So much so, the first ever prose translation of the GITA in any Indian language was done in the 16th Century, earlier verse translations apart.
Literary exchanges brought socities nearer. Tagore and Premchand are our dear writers in spite of language barriers. Tolstoy and Gorky seem to be our neighbours, thanks to the gift of translation.
The gift is something that all serious readers across the globe constantly desire.
Sitesh Aloke (b.1939) is a creative writer and translator. He has been editing PRATIBHA INDIA, a literary journal from New Delhi for several years now.
... Translation is regarded as something deviated from the truth. And yet, we need translations. And therefore, only the bests - the really competent hands should try that.
While editing Pratibha India a journal essentially of translations into English for over 22 years now, I confronted the problem of translation both in the form of material received for publication in Pratibha India and, occasionally, taking up the job myself. Exceptions apart, my experience of the translated pieces received for participation has not been a happy one. In most cases I have to work hard, very hard, to make them readable. And I take up the task of translation only when it is absolutely necessary, when it seems unavoidable. But when I do, I am absolutely clear that I have to transcreate and not to transliterate. That is all the more important in case of poetry than in prose.
In any case, some degree of injustice to the original, however minimal, is unavoidable while translating it. And, probably, that is why I don't muster enough courage to translated my own creative pieces, especially poems.
Jai Ratan (b.1917) is a prolific writer with sixty books and six hundred stories, which include both originals and translations. He translates Hindi, Urdu Punjabi and English from one language to another with equal felicity.
... Translation is more difficult and arduous than creative writing in original. But it is no less creative than literary writing. In translation one has to work under the shadow of the original…. If the translator allows his personality into the original, such a move can lead to derailment of the original. Only creativity can sustain the translator. If the translator sinks, the author also sinks with him (for the target language reader). It is the translator's supreme task to find appropriate parallels for expressions and words to transmute them into the target language. For example it is hard to get across into English Hindi terms like 'aangan', 'ganga jal', 'saalaa', 'bhaabhi'. One can easily translate 'bhaabi' as sister-in-law. Literally correct: but does it convey the piety, the tender warmth, innocent cajolery of the relationship, which the word conveys to our people in our country?
Creative writing has never been written to a formula or within the framework of theories. This is equally true of good translations. I have read a handful of books on translation, very insightful and illuminating, which throw light on different aspects of translation, its nature and scope. Except for pointing out pitfalls and a plethora of don'ts, the books, which I have read, did not spell out how to go about the job. There may be such, which have escaped my attention.
The genre has come to stay in its own right. But translation as a literary activity is considered inferior to creative writing, … And have you ever seen a translator forming part of a literary delegation going abroad?
Inder Prakash Batra (Sahil)
Inder Prakah Batra (Sahil) (b.1927) had a long innings as a journalist with The Guardian in London. Earlier he was in Information Service of India. More importatantly, he is brilliant poet in Urdu and a translator too.
... In translating a poem ... it is necessary to go behind and beyond the words for communicating meaning and significance. It is necessary to capture and communicate, in words, directly without explanation, the cultural gesture of mind that makes up the elements of the poem. The elements of a poem are its simile and metaphor that shape an image, the implicit pointing to some direction in the poem's rhyme and rhythmic beat, its tendency to tension. Tension in poetry has its own meaning.
It is difficult to define tension in relation to its place in poetry. Examples may be more effective. Take the example of koel in pre-monsoon days: it sits concealed in a mango tree and call out. Its calls gradually go higher and higher, becoming urgent. Take a similar example in human expression: recall the singing of the Late M.S.Subbulakshmi when, in her alaap, she went higher and higher. What she communicated in this was some kind of urgency-in-inspiration. It is this element in poetry that needs to be rendered adequately when translating from one language to another, such as from Hindi to English - when translation has to be from one kind of cultural gesture of mind to another kind.
When the English translation of a poem in Hindi or Urdu or another Indian language contains and communicates all these elements, then that translation might be considered successful.
Makarand Paranjape (b.1960), critic and author, is a Professor in the Centre for Linguistics and English at J. N. U., New Delhi.
... I must confess that I find a good deal of the vivad on anuvad rather vapid and unproductive. There is something adventitious, if not specious, about this species of scholarship. That the practitioners spend a good deal of their valuable time in performing the even more valuable service of translating Indian texts into English is creditable. But what is perhaps less so is that they go to town with their findings. Should one translate culturally loaded words or leave them in the original? Should footnotes be used or not? What to do with idioms? And so on. Such questions, interesting as they are, are not likely to have universal answers. …What might be even more useful is to evolve one or more schools of translations--schools in the sense of groups of translators working together with a shared agenda and theoretical approach to their tasks. … Right now, though, most of the vivad that is encountered seldom rises beyond the listing of individual translators experiences or justifications for the kind of decisions they took while translating a particular text.
My paper ... is to argue for a shift in the discourse of translation studies. This shift may be described as that from structuralism to substantivism.
As Probal Dasgupta says:
Most of us engaged in translation and its study have stopped wishing for universal formal obedience to some conceptually perfect method. We prefer instead to notice that we persistently admire some exemplary performances and to act on our most persistent admiration.
But, to me, both structuralist approaches to translation theory and the more postmodern, indiocentric ones, which celebrate individual translations, are somewhat unsatisfactory. After all good translation theory does not guarantee good translations-or vice versa.
Excerpted (at the instance of the author) from his article The Pedagogy of the Translated published in 2001.
TERMS OF RELATIONSHIPS
Gurudial Singh's difficulty is one many of us have come across. A reasonably valid practice is to retain the terms of relationship as in the original with notes. Umesh Joshi's views are thought provoking. But then not for all words loaded with cultural significance or deep nuance equivalents in the receptor culture could easily be found. Here the practitioner is the best judge either to add a note to explain the source culture term or to find an equivalent in the receptor culture. The joy that he speaks of the end of his write-up is unique indeed. Sarita Gnanananda tells us as to what lengths she has gone to, to be reader-friendly. Atulananda Goswami is right: translations have annihilated distance and time in conveying the glories of imaginative writing.
The veteran Jai Ratan asks a forthright question:
'Have you ever seen a translator forming part of a literary delegation abroad?'
WE ARE PRACTITIONERS
One way out is call us by the name of practitioner. In this connection, I must mention the courageous deed of a distinguished practitioner, an octogenarian who sent up a memorandum with signatures from a registered society of authors in Delhi to treat practitioners on par with original writers. But more of that along with his views a little later. Inder Prakash Batra's ideal of a good rendering is worth emulating, especially in poetry. Makarand Paranjpe comes down to the brass tacks: teaching literary translation. Comparing a number of translations of a given text would enable students to gain useful and even essential insights into the practice of literary translation. In 2003, BSR Krishna (Secretary General of World Telugu Federation), brought out Nivedana. This volume carries about twenty Telugu renderings by diverse hands of Rabindranath Tagore's "Where the mind is without fear" along with the original Bengali and the original rendering carried in the Nobel winning Gitanjali. Such books would give insights during practical training.
As of now it may sound a far cry to have working departments of literary translations in all Schools of Languages and all sections of Comparative Literature in universities. Respect for our fraternity must start at home.
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