In 1995, Sunil Gangopadhyay, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Chandra Shekhar Kambar and myself went to China as the members of a writers’ delegation sent by Sahitya Akademi. I remember that even on foreign shores, the topic of translating literary works from one language to another would crop up many times. One evening, Nair lamented to me that had he known Hindi writers of different generations, it would have enriched his perception about the kind of experiments being done in Hindi, both in prose and poetry. After discussing the works of several Hindi writers, I realised his knowledge of the Hindi literary scene was commendable. He said that it was only because of the translations he had read in Malayalam and English, but that was not enough. I readily agreed with him, but told him that, fortunately, the works of many Indian writers were available in Hindi, including his own, and those of Kambar and Gangopadhyay. More than 15 years on, much more is available in Hindi, especially from other Indian languages, be it Bengali, Assamese, Marathi or Malayalam. Even young poets and writers from these and other Indian languages have been translated into Hindi. But it can still be said that more is required, both in terms of quantity and quality, in translation.
Quality is important and one should not be satisfied only with an increase in quantity of translated work. Writers worry most on this count, as they would like to see their work being translated “creatively” to other languages. The quality of the translation is always of great concern to them.
Sunil Gangopadhyay also used to worry on this account, and rightly so. When we would meet in Kolkata, Shantiniketan or Delhi, or on foreign shores, like at the London book fair in 2009, the question of translating works from one language to another would creep in. In London, he suggested that translation is also a creative thing. One can only welcome translations that have been enjoyed thoroughly by the translators. In February 2011, Sunil ji presented me a copy of the Hindi translation of his voluminous work in two parts titled Pratham Aalok, published by Vani Prakashan Delhi, and said in Bengali, “Dyakho ki rokom hoyechey (see how it has turned out)”. Alas, I never got to discuss the quality of the translation with him, but had it been possible, I would have told him that the quality was good, and it is heartening to note that the translation done by Lipika Saha was also assigned for scrutiny to Mahendra Mishra, himself a writer, who is well versed in Bengali and is familiar with both Bengali and Hindi literature. Wherever possible this practice of scrutiny must be followed by publishers.
It is generally believed that the translation of poetry is more difficult than the translation of prose. This may be true to a certain extent, but translating prose is not easy. In modern times, especially when writers experiment with diction and in paraphrasing and weaving sentences with certain intent, it is not only the narrative or descriptive part that matters, but also the way in which a particular story or episode has been presented. Thus, while translating a novel, a story, an essay or a travelogue, one has to be careful to transmit the flavour of the original language.
When I was translating the essays of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay for the National Book Trust from Bengali to Hindi, I was in a quandary as to how to bring the flavour of Sanskritised prose into Hindi as it is spoken and written today. Somewhere, a balance had to be maintained, otherwise the translation would remind of a bygone era in itself. I wanted to keep the flavour of original, with all its wit, humour and grandeur, while making it reader-friendly. In any case, any translated work must “belong” to the language into which it has been translated, while remaining true to its source. This is no easy task.
A translator can rejoice in his work without taking into account the polemics, the differences, the opinions circulated in the literary circles of a particular language about different writers, as he is concerned with the “work”, and not other factors. He may know about all these and still be able to carry forward his work. Translating the works of different writers from a particular language can be a learning experience in itself. Sunil ji was of the opinion that a translation would carry the intent of the original work only if the translator was translating from the source language, as the words belong to a cultural and social context as well.
The writer is a poet, art critic and translator