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Still In Translation

Be it this year’s fumingly controversial Jaipur Literature Festival or the timid-but-sprawling World Book Fair in Delhi,regional literature was the focal point of both.

Be it this year’s fumingly controversial Jaipur Literature Festival or the timid-but-sprawling World Book Fair in Delhi,regional literature was the focal point of both. But the resurgence of interest in vernacular languages hasn’t just been the domain of literary events. Punjabi and Sindhi theatre,cultural programmes from the North-East and a variety of musical events from Goa,Odisha and other states have yanked “regionalism” out of its confined corridors. It has been replanted on the urban,cultural centre-stage.

The roadmap has clearly come from literature festivals. They have been responding to the growing need for “real Indian literature”,defined as markedly different from Indian English writings. The question is: are these urgent,hurried attempts enough to bring about a noticeable change in India’s interest in different languages?

Contemporary Malayalam author NS Madhavan doesn’t think so. “English still dominates all literature fests and that itself is a big disadvantage for regional works,” he says,adding that there has been a resurgence in translations of regional literature to English. His own 2003 novel Lanthan Batheriyile Luthiniyakal translated in 2010,called Litanies of the Dutch Battery was well-received.

Some other translated works in the last few years have also been popular. For instance,Rita Kothari translated Sindhi language books such as Unbordered Memories and Burden of Refuge: Partition Experiences of the Sindhis of Gujarat; Bhaswati Ghosh translated Bengali work At Ramkinkar’s House with Shakti — a memoir by Samir Sengupta,while Arunava Sinha translated Shankar’s famous Bengali novel,Chowringhee. Tamil author Charu Nivedita’s Zero Degrees was translated by Pritham K Chakravarthy and Rakesh Khanna.

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However,translation itself poses multiple challenges both to linguists as well as publishers. Though translated writings on gender,caste and culture from vernacular origins are being assiduously revisited by literature events,whether these are convincing recreations or not is a question mark. “Good recreation through translation is still missing,” emphasises Punjabi Dalit novelist Desraj Kali.

Sindhi poet Vimmi Sadarangani was invited to the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2010 and has been the sole Sindhi representation at the festival for some time now. “But given Sindhi’s unique problem of being a language without a land or cultural identity,” says Sadarangani,adding,“no number of literature events have been able to tap into the rich,non-translated tapestry of Sindhi literature.”

Quality of translation is another issue and Kali says there are only a few translations despite there being no dearth of vernacular literature. Dr Satish Rohra,Sindhi short story writer and a trustee of the Indian Institute of Sindhology in Gandhidham,adds to the argument. “The overall representation of regional languages may have improved,but efforts fall short without a significant push. The main reason is poorly translated books,” he says.

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Translations are the hotbed of discontent. Mita Kapur,director of Siyahi,which organises literary events like Voices from the North-East and Mountain Echoes Literary Festival,adds another angle. “There is a readership market for cross translations (from one language to another before being translated into English) but nobody wants to invest in it. It will take time but it should happen,” she says.

Others,too,are hopeful saying literature festivals have sown the right seeds. Madhavan also senses a beginning of sorts. “Festivals have somehow managed to give the impression that real Indian literature is not only in English. That is an important message,” he says.

First published on: 26-03-2012 at 12:39:09 am
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