Lost in translation

Every-time I pick up a book of acclaimed international authors, ho have won global recognition, sometime the Nobel or other prestigious literary awards from around the world – be it Murakami, Pamuk or Kundera – even Marquez – a feeling of regret besets on me thinking of the many Indian language (now fashionably called “bhasha”) authors who have lost out due to the sheer lack of good translation.

Tagore himself has been the victim of some terrible translations (often his own – which sometime were worse than what others did for his works). Some would believe owed his Nobel largely to his friends W B Yeats’ advocacy (Read: Why was Tagore so neglected ? By Ian Jack). The older translations are as stilted as the so called “Anglo-Indian” authors of earlier years. For example, Radha Chakravarty’s transcreation of Shesher Kobita is way superior to all previous ones.

In the post Tagore era – only in Bengali itself – there have been some phenomenal writers and poets who could have easily turned heads across continents – Bibhutibhushan (author of Pather Panchali – that Satyajit Ray made a world phenomenon with his debut film), Tarashankar, Buddhadev Bose – even a Samaresh Basu, Sunil Gangopadhyay. My heart aches when Bengali youngsters quote Neruda but haven’t read Sakti Chattopadhyay.

People refuse to believe Sankar (Mani Shankar Mukherjee)’s Chowringhee – which many think was a take of on Arthur Hailey’s best-seller Hotel – was actually written and published (in 1962) a good 3 years ahead of Hotel (1965). Now translated by Arunava Sinha – it has caught attention of the world – receiving laudatory reviews in international publications like The Economist, Independent and others.

I am sure – there are several such undiscovered gems and jewels buried deep in the archives of other Indian languages. It is only recently that serious translators like Arunava (Sinha) and Vivek Shanbhag (Kannada) are emerging – who can do justice to the originals.

Competent translations is only the first step. But, they have to be marketed too. One must acknowledge the contribution of commissioning editors like Chiki Sarkar – who brought translations of Indian language writers under the radar of Penguin Random House, HarperCollins India and other major international publishing houses. The challenge, however, lies elsewhere. One is not sure – about the quality of writing happening today in the regional space. Present generation prefer to write in English because of wider marketability and many low hanging prizes – not just the Booker.

Still if works of the old masters – many of them nothing short of classics – can travel beyond the Indian shores it would be a great tribute – even posthumously – to Indian Language literature.