Like it or not, English is a fact of history,” said Mini Krishnan. “But we must also see it as a great hybrid monster that swallows up other languages and makes it its own.” Krishnan was speaking at a panel discussion titled ‘Emerging Trends and Challenges in Translation: Publisher’s Point of View’, at the two-day Gateway LitFest at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, which ended on Sunday. In its third edition, the Gateway LitFest aims to promote Indian literature in regional languages. Krishnan edits literary translations for Oxford University Press India, and is also an editorial consultant at the Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University.
The other panelists were Ambar Sahil Chatterjee, an editor who looks after Penguin India’s Classics’ list; Aditi Maheswari, a publishing editor and sectoral educationist who heads the copyrights and translations division at Vani Prakashan, Delhi; and Anup Jerajani, who conceptualised and spearheaded The Write Place Publishing, an initiative of Crossword Bookstores.
“Authors who write in regional languages might sometimes feel lonely, but that is nothing compared the the loneliness a translator feels when he slogs and his work is not recognised,” said Krishnan. According to the panelists, translators are not given enough credit. Maheswari said, “The task of a translator is as good as writing a book. Yet a translator could do a hundred translations and still not get noticed. Their salaries should also be on par with those of professors.”
Maheshwari is working on forming a cooperative for Indian language publishers to fund translations.
Besides the lack of acknowledgement for the work that translators do, promoting their works is often a difficult process. “The market always speaks,” says Krishnan. “People are wary of putting a lot of work into something that they’re not sure will sell.” Krishnan and Chatterjee agreed that promoting books was very difficult without government funds. “If you have an unknown writer, writing in an unknown language, and translated by an unknown person, its very difficult product to sell,” says Krishnan.
Maheswari discussed the problem of using English as a bridge language. “Many works from other languages are translated first to English, and then from that version, to Hindi. You end up missing out on a lot of nuance of the original text,” she says. Under her watch, she added, books are translated directly into Hindi from other languages.
Chatterjee warned against seeing English as a threat rather than an ally. “We must create more links between English and regional languages. The potential readership of regional works after they’re translated to English is huge. While English literature hasn’t changed much over the years, regional literature is bold, intense, and exciting.”
“Translators are the gatekeepers to whole new worlds of literature,” asserted Maheswari. “And translation is the biggest nation-building exercise,” adds Krishnan. “Look at Mahasweta Devi. She only became a national figure once her works were translated.”