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Translations: Problems in Indian Literature

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Indian literature is a huge banyan tree that represents the various branches of literary works written in 22 languages known and over 100 dialects of India. The diverse nativity that Indian literature embodies is colossal. ‘Indian literatures’ is believed to occur as a result of the post-colonial conception of an ‘Indian Nation’ and national integration (Kumar, R. n.d.). Although some scholars have repeatedly claimed that this conception was a brainchild of the colonisers and not indigenous, Indian literature was made accessible and known to Western countries through the art of translation. The emergence of the translation of great works in Indian history dates back to the Mughal empire, particularly Akbar’s reign, where the translation of Urdu and other prevalent literature into Persian was lawfully imposed (Asaduddin, M. 2012).

Understanding the role of translations in Indian Literature

Derived from the Latin word ‘translatio,’ meaning ‘to bring across’ (EMN, 2019), translation has often been given analogies, such as the skill of transferring perfume from one bottle to another (Deepak, K. 2013). In simple terms, translation is the process of reproducing the meaning of a text (poem, prose, narrations, research, etc.) from a source language to a target language. A source language is the one in which the literary piece is initially written by the novelist, while a target language is the one the translator is transcreating to. Translation is deemed the most significant aspect in developing the Indian literature we know of today, regarding immense knowledge gain and removing barriers of cultural exclusivity. Nevertheless, exotropic translation and a significantly less endotropic translation (Asaduddin, M. 2012) provide a freeway into many issues in this spectrum. Exotropic translation is where a literary work of any Indian language is retold in English (e.g., Telugu to English). In contrast, endotropic translation translates literature of any Indian language into another (e.g., Kannada to Marathi).

Problems of translations: Exotropic Indian Literatures

The concept of transcreating a work of any Indian language into English was held vital and applied for decades post-independence. Still, the very target language – English (a colonial hangover) imprinted in the psyche of Indians to internationalise Indian literature, is a paradox that has been the subject of academic discourses. The argument that exotropic translations bring a multilingual and multicultural country into the light of global literature and dissemination of information, be it the Upanishads such as Ramayana, Mahabharata or books of faith, namely Quran and Bhagavad Gita, is valid only to the vicinity of preservation of the essence from the original works. In exotropic translations, more often than not, the translators are bound to make the text contextual since they would be catering to English readers. This is called the foreignisation of original literature and domestication for the target language readers. (Tumsar, M. M., & Meshram, H. V. n.d.).

There are thin lines differentiating transcreations, retellings, adaptations, and renditions. Due to the difficulty in finding exact or substitute synonyms for a few words from the source language in the target language, translations become adaptations and interpretative writing. Translators try to evoke the same feelings and responses of a poetry reading or a novel indulgence in the target language audience while simultaneously conserving the poet’s or author’s purity in the text’s ambiance (Brooks, R. 2017). Inevitably, the translation process falls prey to the need to satisfy English readers rather than the Indian author’s intentions. Thus, maintaining the rhythm from the source language to the target language is an issue that remains unsolved, given the inability to transfer different connotations, colloquial contexts, and cultural references to food, clothing, and names into a comfortable space in the translated work that would reach English readers (Deepak, K. 2013). This calls to an important question: Are we familiarising or defamiliarising Indian literatures to the Western world through English translations?

In the scenario of Indian literatures, translations possess a diabolic tail. The paradox of ‘Indianness’ in Indian literatures, first recognized by scholars of Western Indologists (Raveendran, P. P. 2006), is reflected more in the translations of indigenous literature in English than in works of Indian languages themselves; the art of translation carries a burden of suggestive narration, calling it as the ‘translator’s own.’ The meaning and relevance of exotropic translations in Indian literature have been dynamic, especially since colonial and post-colonial times. With chronological context, the value given to exotropic translations should weigh equal to endotropic translations.

The idea that the globally used language for communication, English, to be the supposed ‘savior’ of Indian literatures, perhaps, needs to be revised and rechecked; for it shall only be another ‘sankritisation’ of Indian literature through exotropic translations. In such a contemporary period of Indian cultural and literary history, endotropic translations could play a better role in the national integration that was originally dreamt of.

References

Adkoli, B. N. (2019). Problems Faced in Translating English Stories into Indian Languages. Language in India, 19(I), 79–80. http://www.languageinindia.com/jan2019/jayanthisnrmtranslation/bharatiadkoli1.pdf

Asaduddin, M. (2012). Translation and Indian Literature : Some Reflections. Semantic Scholar. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Translation-and-Indian-Literature-%3A-Some-Asaduddin/d3d7cbbd425217889cf94937bfaeff577c36c02c

Brooks, R. (2020, January 30). The Challenges of Translating Literature. K International. https://www.k-international.com/blog/the-challenges-of-translating-literature/

Chauhan, N., & Shah, C. U. (2020). Issues and Possibilities of Translating Indian Literatures into English: An Insight. Issues and Possibilities of Translating Indian Literatures into English: An Insight. Published. http://www.sahityasetu.co.in/issue56/nanda.html

Deepak, K. (2013, July 15). Translation And Its Role In Indian Literature. Literarism: The Republic of Letters. http://literarism.blogspot.com/2013/07/translation-and-its-role-in-indian.html

ENM, E. (2020, July 28). Translation: Its role and scope in India. Eat My News. https://www.eatmy.news/2019/03/translation-its-role-and-scope-in-india.html

Israel, H. (2021, June 21). Translation in India: Multilingual practices and cultural histories of texts. Taylor & Francis  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14781700.2021.1936149

Kambar, C. (2020, July 2). What is Indian in Indian literature? The New Indian Express. https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/2020/jul/02/what-is-indian-in-indian-literature-2164056.html

Kaur, N. (2017). GRIN – The Role of Translation from Indian Writing to English. GRIN. https://www.grin.com/document/369169

Kumar, R. (n.d.). Role of Translation in Nation Building: Indian Perspective Ancient and Medieval India. Certified Translation and Interpreting, New Delhi India Modlingua. Retrieved August 25, 2021, from http://www.modlingua.com/translation-research/672-role-of-translation-in-nation-building-indian-perspective-ancient-and-medieval-india.html

Meshram, V. H., & Tumsar, M. M. (n.d.). Translating Indian Text into English: Some Problems and Challenges. SGB. Retrieved August 23, 2021, from http://www.sgbmmtumsar.org/paper/V_H_Meshram/Translating%20Indian%20Text%20into%20English%20Some%20Problems%20and%20Challenges%20-%20Copy.pdf

Pandya, B. H. (2010, November 11). How quality translations can enrich Indian literature. Macmillan Dictionary Blog. https://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/how-quality-translations-can-enrich-indian-literature

Prasad, K. (1982). Some Problems of Translation From Indian Languages: With Special Reference to Premchand. Indian Literature, 25(5), 86-97. Retrieved August 25, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23331115

Raveendran, P. P. (2006). Genealogies of Indian Literature. Economic and Political Weekly, 41(26). https://www.epw.in/journal/2006/25/special-articles/genealogies-indian-literature.html

Translation and Translators | Encyclopedia.com. (n.d.). Encyclopedia.Com. Retrieved August 25, 2021, from https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/translation-and-translators

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Siri Shekar

The author is a student reporter who is also pursuing Psychology and English Literature. A wanderer searching for faces that inspire an optimistic place about the world, she hunts for different human experiences, not just leads for a story.

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