Debate in India: Can Translations Hold Their Own Among Great Literature?

In News by Dennis Abrams

Does a translator need to be ‘very good at the language being translated into and reasonably good at the language being translated out of?’

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

‘An Intensive Effort’
At India’s Sunday Guardian Live, Nirmala Govindarajan turns to some seasoned translators to ask, “Can a translated work be included in the canons of great literature?”
Pranav Kumar Singh, former editorial head of Pan Macmillan India and translator and founder of Ponytale Books says:

“A country’s literature is part of its soft power.

“Today, most Indian languages have become just a medium of communication in urban Indian households, and English has become the language of reading. Therefore, it is important to translate the best of Indian literature not only for the benefit of native non-readers, but also for the growing readership in English, both in India and abroad.

“With the increasing prominence of India globally, a time will come when translations will play an important role in creating an understanding of the Indian experienc”

Singh, who says he has a strong commitment to bringing a wide range of literature to younger readers, says that translating is never easy: “One has to be truthful to both the source text as well as the language it’s being translated into.”

Still, he says he’d welcome the opportunity to translate not only more from Hindi greats such as Premchand and Chitra Mudgal, but from also from other Indian languages as well.

“Professionally, I would like to add more languages to my list of Bengali, Hindi and Konkani, and publish the best of children’s and young adult literature from as many Indian languages as possible,” he says.
Aakar Parel, writer, translator, and head of Amnesty International India notes:

“One bit that needs more exploring is the publishing of Indian languages in the Roman script.

“Turkey made the transition easily.

“What is the benefit of this? In the modern world, although mobile phones and tablets can use most scripts, it’s still simpler to use the Roman.

“Advertising in India uses Roman-Hindi. The turn of literature will come soon.”

Parel adds, “Khushwant Singh once said that the translator needed to be very good at the language being translated into and reasonably good at the language being translated out of. This is true for me.”

Vaishali Mathur, Executive Editor and Head Language Publishing Rights, Penguin Random House India, whose work as a translator includes stories from The Chronicles of Narnia says:

“In the case of Chronicles, which has very detailed imagery, the language needed to be contemporary and at the same time, as true to the text as possible because I had to recreate a world of fantasy for the Hindi reader.

“Translation is an intensive effort, more challenging than writing original pieces because you’re already bound into a canvas with the painting done. You can take little liberties, but then your work will be compared with the original.”

The full article from Nirmala Govindarajan at the Sunday Guardian Live is here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.