Indian Writings in English Translation: A Study of Historical Perspective ?>

Indian Writings in English Translation: A Study of Historical Perspective

Md. Eakub Ali.

Abstract:

Translation is a basic human activity to convey something said in one language in another. It is a practice of changing a work originally written in one language belonging to a certain culture into a different language belonging to another culture. The practice of translation is as old as the human civilization. India is a multi-lingual and multi-cultural country. In this country translation works have been an integral part of Indian literature since the pre-Christian times but Indian writings in English translation is a recent phenomenon initiated by the British during the latter half of the eighteenth century but the emergence of Indian translators on the scene of translation into English was seen in the late nineteenth century. The tradition of Indian writers translating their own work into English was pioneered by Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the man of Bengal Renaissance but its most famous practitioner yet has been Rabindranath Tagore who achieved the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913 for his “Gitanjali”, a work translated by the poet himself from Bengali into English. Tagore’s success has brought about a remarkable change in post-colonial India with a more complicated context of translation and encouraged the Indian writers to fulfil the need to evolve a definition of the Indian Post-colonial in particular, and the Indian Literature in general in order to establish its individual nature and relevance, and to create its post-independence Pan Indian identity. The conscious efforts appeared on the part of the publishers have also contributed a lot to find Indian translators and native speakers of the source language to present texts in English, the link language of the world in general and the multi-lingual and multi-cultural India society in particular.

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Keywords: Translation, indology, professionalized, disenfranchised, multi-lingual.

Translation is an intimate act of rendering a work originally in one language belonging to a certain culture into a different language belonging to another culture. Derived from the Latin word ‘‘translation” which itself comes from ‘‘trans” and ‘‘faro’’ together meaning “to carry across’’ or ‘‘to bring across”, the literal meaning of the word “translation’’ is “to carry across” from one language into another. In his book A Linguistic Theory of Translation, J.C. Catford defines translation as “a process of substituting a text in one language for a text in another’’ (Catford, 20) involving the replacement of source- language meanings with alternative receptor-language meanings. However, in high-flying and enriched terms of literary works and literature, translation does not only state that they follow a strict sense of changing or interpreting one word or sentence into another language. Translation for authors and writers denotes the exceedingly efficient penmanship of a literary body of work which can be communicated in a written version from its original language into a secondary or primary one. Translatoin is, thus, a practice of changing a work from the source language text into its equivalent body of target language. The present paper has made some reflections on Indian writings in English translation and the position they have occupied in multi-lingual Indian society.

Indian works of translation have been an integral part of Indian literature since the pre-Christian period but Indian writings in English translation are a recent phenomenon started in the British colonial period in the country. The period covering the years from 1770 to 1785 has been considered the formative period during which the British successfully initiated the programme of appropriating the Indian languages. Warren Hastings, the Governor General of Bengal (1772-85) is believed to have encouraged the translations of Dharmasastras from ‘Sanskrit into Persian by the Indians and then from Persian into English by the Europeans. Charles Wilkins translated the Sanskrit Bhagavad Geeta into English in 1785 to make it accessible to the scholars of Europe. Sir William Jones, the greatest Oriental scholar arrived in India as the judge of Calcutta Supreme Court in 1783 and founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784. Jones translated Kalidas’s Sakuntala and The Ring of Recollection in 1789 and The Laws of Manu 1 in 1779 into English to fulfil the need of the hour by projecting the genuine and authentic image of India to the world outside the country.

The emergence of the British initiative in translation activity played the leading role to the Indians for translation of Indian literary texts into English. Lord Wellesley initiated in setting up the College at Fort William, Calcutta in 1800 and the Indian texts came to be translated into English in ever greater numbers and this form of literary patronage continued in India even in the later years. But most of the translators and compilers were British, and so they worked with Indian assistants and intermediaries like Mohan Prasad Thakur, assistant librarian at the College, who compiled in 1810 an English–Bengali Vocabulary. Translation was thus accelerated to reach its ascendency very soon. Even a number of religious as well as literary texts had been translated into English within a very few years. Raja Rammmohan Ray’s translations of the Kena, Isa, Katha, and Mundaka Upanishads belong to those religious texts. Horace Hyman Wilson, Assistant Surgeon to the East India Company and Secretary to the Asiatic Society published his translation of Kalidas’s Meghaduta in 1813 and dedicated it to the Earl of Minto, Governor-General of the then British colonial India.

During this initial stage of translation activity from Indian language literary texts into English, the pioneering Orientalists like Sir William Jones, Charles Wilkins and Henry Colebrooke endeavoured remarkable efforts leading to the establishment and institutionalization of a research tradition which continued, largely unbroken, into modern Indology of translation. The setting up of the Oriental Studies at the College at Fort William was replicated several times in the next two hundred years. Departments for the study of the texts and languages of the East were established in the prestigious universities of England, Europe and the United States and accordingly, they produced large scale translation. “These prestigious universities also continued and ratified the equation that had been set up between Indian religious and literary texts. This continuum can be demonstrated by following the translations of the Sanskrit Ramayana, which have been published over the last hundred years” in India and abroad.

The practice of translation of Indian literary texts into English was patronized by the British during the latter half of the eighteenth century. The emergence of Indian translators on the scene of translation into English was seen in the late nineteenth century with Romesh Chunder Dutt translating Lays of Ancient India (1894),  Maha-Bharata (1899) and Ramayana (1902), all published in London, and his contemporary Manmatha Nath Dutt who had completed a seven volume English translation of the Mahabharata (1895). Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-73), the man of Bengal Renaissance translated his own plays along with Ratnavali (1858) of Ramanarayan Tarkaratna and Niladarpan  (The Mirror of Indigo Planting, 1860) of Dinabandhu Mitra from Bengali into English as early as the mid – nineteenth century. “Michael Madhusudan Dutt thus pioneered the tradition of Indian writers translating their own work and it was continued by Romesh Chunder Dutt who translated his novel The Lake of Palms (1902) from Bengali into English but its most famous practitioner yet has been Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1942) who brought out no less than six collections of his Bengali poems into English translations during the period covering the years between 1912-1921”. (Sattar, 369) This unexpected incentive to translate one’s own work into English arose even among other Indian writers out of the Nobel Prize award given to Tagore for literature in 1913 for his ‘Gitanjali’, a work translated by the poet himself into English from his collection of Bengali poems written in the same title. Tagore’s unexpected success thus has brought about a remarkable change in postcolonial India with the emergence of a more complicated context of translation, and encouraged the Indian writers to fulfil the need to evolve a definition of the Indian Postcolonial in particular, and the Indian Literature in general in order to establish its individual nature and relevance, and to create its post-independence, pan-Indian identity.

During the Post-Independence era, we find a gradual attenuation of translation within the Indian languages. The space that was open to translation, especially between the Indian regional literatures gradually shrank and English began to intervene to make translation a serious engagement with young academics, established writers, translation experts and critics in the country. In recent decades, the best known among those who have made translations, especially translations of their own work from Indian regional languages into English are A.K. Ramanujan, O.V. Vijayana, Arun Kolatkar, Vilas Sarang, Agyeya, Krishna Baldev Vaid, Qurrutulain Hyder, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Mahasweta Devi, Girish Karnad, etc. The Mysore born A.K. Ramanujan  developed a new academic interest in Indian languages other than Sanskrit and presented a body of work in translation from Tamil and Kannada to an English reading public translating The Interior Landscape (1967), Speaking of Siva (1972), Samskara (1976), Hymns for the Drowning (1981), and Poems of Love and War (1985). Girish Karnad’s Kannada play Hayavadana (1973) was not only translated into many regional languages of India but also into English by the playwright himself. “On the question of translating his own plays, of moving from Kannada to English, Karnad has brought up the notion of ‘rewriting’. But though he would prefer to capture the spirit rather than the letter of the original, his translations, unlike Tagore’s, remain translations” (Sattar, 369) rather than transcreations.

The practice of translation into English serves as an effective tool of empowerment of the marginalized sections of the society giving writers who deal with the struggle of the disenfranchised in society greater visibility, and creating solidarities across the multi-lingual and multi-cultural society of Indian sub-continent. The strand of feminist writing in India has been quite strong through the 20th century but this body of writing never attained the kind of primacy it deserved before it was available in English translation. Qurrutulain Hyder rendered a number of her novels and short stories into English among which her translations of Patjhar Ki Avaz’ (1965)  as The Sound of Falling Leaves (1994), Akhir-e Shab ke Hamsafar (1979) as Fire-files in the Mist : A Novel (1994), Ag Ka Daraya (1959) as River of Fire (1998) and Mere bhi Sanamkane (1949) as My Temples, too (2004) are prominent. Hyder’s own English transcreation of her novel River of Fire (1998), Tahira Nagvi’s translation of a collection of Chughtai’s stories The Quilt and Other Stories (1990), and a novel The Crooked Line (1995), and Jyotirmoy Devi’s  collection of stories from Bengali The Impermanence of Lies (1998) and The Stream Within: Short Stories by Contemporary Bengali Women(1999), and so on belong to English translations dealing with all spirited revolt of marginalized sections of the multilingual and multi-cultural Indian society against the age-old uncompromising hegemony of patriarchy in the country in particular, and the world in general. In addition to their representation of this dominated women population in the male-dominated Indian society through translation, there were and still are some other well-known writers whose translations into English serve as an instrument of empowerment of the dalits and other marginalized sections of society. Sudhakar Marathe’s English rendering of R.R. Borade’s Marathi novel Fall (1998), Lakshmi Holmstrom’s translation of Bama’s Tamil novel Kurukku (2000), etc are some other outstanding examples where the translators created a considerable awareness about and interest in the lives of dalits and untouchables who have been living on the margins of the society for centuries in India. Nowadays, the works of Prem Chand, Tagore, U.R. Annathamurthy, Gopinath Mahanty, Vijay Tendulkar, Nirupama Bargohai, Mamoni Raisom Goswami, Dr. Bhabendra Nath Saikia, etc are available in English translation. Thus, the translation practice in India is now more from Bhasa literatures into English than English literature into the Indian languages.

The role played by publishers in translation in India is in no way of little importance. It is seen that since the 1970s, with publishers playing a bigger role in presenting the literature being written in the Indian languages, translation activity has become somewhat more professionalized than before. In addition to the translation of novels, translated anthologies of short stories and occasionally, poetry have emerged on the market but the quality of those translations has been of mediocre type. At that time, translations were encouraged by the newly emerged small and short- lived literary journals such as Setu, Vagaratha and Bombay Literary Review which were appeared in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Rajinder Paul’s Enact was the name of another journal to publish translations,especially of plays. The Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature (1957) has been publishing translations, mainly though of poetry and short fiction, for the past few decades after India’s independence. “The Sahitya Akademi has also instituted translation awards in the languages recognized by it. A well-funded series which has been widely noticed probably more than any other translation venture of recent times is the one published by an organization called Katha (1988) which has brought out each year an anthology of prize-winning stories in English translation since 1991”. Six such anthologies known as Katha Prize Stories have been published so far. Katha also has the plan of publishing one volume of contemporary short fiction from North India, one volume of the same from South India, similarly from Western India and Eastern India. The Southern Harvest (1994) is the only one published so far, consisting of stories from Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu, with an introduction by Githa Hariharan, the Indian English novelist. Moreover, another arrow in Katha’s quiver or feature in their cap is a selection of  a major writer’s work translated into the English language.

The mid-1980s marked a significant period in the history of Indian literature in English translation when a greater number of translations in English had been published in comparison to those produced earlier. The publishers like Macmillan India Ltd., Orient Longman, Penguin Books India, Rupa & Company, Seagull Books, Permanent Black, Kali for Women, Ravi Dayal, etc. have contributed good number of English translations and made the activity part of their project. During this period there have also appeared from the United States heavily packaged translations of Indian texts into English including those works of Mahasweta Devi, translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, the noted translation expert of the country. Thus, the conscious efforts appeared on the part of the publishers have contributed a lot to find Indian translators and native speakers of the source language to present texts in English, the language of the world.

Now-a-days, translation into English has significantly become so popular and reached at such a position among the Indians that whenever we talk about translation, especially about the translation of Indian literature, we seem to be meaning about translation of Indian languages into English. Consequently, in our country at present it is much easier to find people who can translate literature from one Indian language into English than to find persons who can translate literature from one Indian language into another. As with Indian writing in English, Indian literature in English translation seems to have moved centre-stage with our publishers, reviewers, seminar organizers, and other groups interested in the advancement of Indian writing and accordingly, we are going through the boom in translation, especially translation of Indian language literatures into English.

References

Bassnett-McGuire, S.: “Translation Studies”: London and N.Y:  Methuen, 1980. Print.

Catford, J.C: “A Linguistic Theory of Translation”: London, OUP. Print.

Das Bijay Kumar: “A Handbook of Translation Studies”: New Delhi, Atlantic Publishers & Distributors (P) Ltd. Print.

Iyengar, K.R.S.: “Indian Writing in English”: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. Print.

Sattar, Arshia, ‘Translation into English’. “An Illustrated History of Indian Literature in English”. ed. Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna: Delhi, Permanent Black. Print.

Mukherjee, Sujit : “Translation as Discovery and Other Essays on Indian Literature in English Translation” : Hyderabad, Orient Longman. Print.

Prasad GJV: “Translation and Culture Indian Perspectives”: New Delhi, Pencraft International. Print.

Ray K. Mohit: “Studies in Translation”:  New Delhi, Atlantic Publishers & Distributors (P) Ltd. Print.

The writer is the Head, Deptt. of  English, Dalgoma Anchalik   College, Dalgoma, Assam (India)

 

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