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Laurels and Indian Literature

October 18, 2013 | By

The very onset of Indian languages is linked to translation. India’s literature aesthetics, civilization, ethics are all based greatly on translations, especially the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagabad.

Wesley Hall, the noted Caribbean cricketer was no longer playing Cricket. A couple of years back, he came to India as the manager of the West Indian cricket team. The sports journalists interacted with him.

They sought his opinion as to how it is possible for the Caribbean’s to produce a series of pace bowlers every year from a relatively small land mass and population. Hall with all astonishment exclaimed — why a vast country like India with a very large populace cannot produce a good number of pace bowlers for Indian cricket.

A similar analogy may be put before the vast world of Indian literature. The lovers of Indian literature often exclaim for only a Nobel Prize and a Booker Award in a span of long eighty-five years from 1913 – 1997 –Rabindranath and Arundhuti. However during this period of time, two NRI litterateurs — Rushdie and V S Naipaul received Booker Prize, Vikram Seth received Commonwealth Prize and of late Jhumpa Lahiri received the Pulitzer Award.

If we consider these awards not as boisterous, but as bonafide yardstick to gauge the level and standard as per the international parameter and acceptability, the number of awardees is hardly matching with the varied and chequered literary creativity in various Indian languages and also in English with the backdrop of a very rich treasure of a literary heritage. The onlookers of Indian literature for obvious reason are on the lookout for more laurels and international recognition.

On analysing the constraints that stand before the growth of Indian literature we have to keep in mind certain important facts. India being plurilingual and multicultural country, in its languages has long history of creativity, mobility, dialogue and transfer. The very onset of Indian languages is linked to translation. India’s literature aesthetics, civilization, ethics are all based greatly on translations, especially the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bhagabad.

Together with their countless oral, written and performed versions, the brilliant manifestations of the geniuses like Tulsidas, Kirtibas, Premanand, Eknath, Balramdasa, Madhavkandali, Molla, Pompa, Camban, Ezhuthachan were all involved in undying literary creativity to serve their respective languages. All of them are named as writers of the Ramayana and not as the translators of Valmiki.

Until the nineteenth century, the story of Indian literature is, in the main, the story of creative translations, adaptations, re-tellings and interpretations of classics. India’s literary tradition is in a sense the tradition of translation. We never regarded translator inferior to creative authors. Translation was to us writing it. This may well be termed as ‘translating consciousness’. This is very much unlike the monolingual literary cultures of Europe. Since the invasion of the colonialist power we started to view at translation as a secondary literary activity.

Prof Sachchidanandan, Secretary, Sahitya Akademi has aptly put it, “The West has overstated the validity of the concept of literalness, mimesis and synonymy in translation as it does not have a linguistic theory based on multilingual perspective or translation practice. But deviation from the original has never been considered sin in India; we have seldom worried about the ideas of originality and of authenticity.

If for colonial Europe the translation of exotic oriental text was a way of dominating and containing them, for us translation has been a living dialogue between our own cultural past and present, between languages and cultures within the nation as well as between our cultures and cultures abroad. If translation is exiled and guilt in the West, to us it is homecoming and bliss.”

We are aware that like human being, languages also have their organic cycles of birth, growth and death. Thousands of languages rose and died since the beginning of mankind. People who spoke with these languages might have been extinct or the languages couldn’t survive in a changed ambience or new languages might have relegated them. This is in a way a natural course of cultural evolution. Today Indian languages are on the threshold of marginalization. The thread emanates from some endogenous and exogenous factors.

The former factors are the indifferent attitude of the state and the rulers, neglect by media, language and education policies that attach scanty attention towards the development of Indian languages and literature. The latter factors accompany with the process of globalization and hype and hegemony of English language which in turn breeds Anglicization of all discourses and cultures.

Look at the birthday and marriage ceremony parties. Look at the Christening ceremony of a new born babe or marriage anniversary. Listen to the music and view the dancing. Look at the whole atmosphere in these occasions. There is hardly any iota of reference to the tradition; rather the traditional reference system has been supplanted by a new one that belongs to other cultures.

Children are no longer entertained with traditional Indian fairy tales. They now listen to the fairy tales of other countries. “What has happened to fairy tales may, if indifference to our heritage of expression continues, will happen to all published literature and to the language in which literature is written,” Ramakanta Rath, President, Sahitya Akademi has thus sounded the alarm.

It is undoubtedly high time for an integrated and harmonised measure to preserve and further the creative literary activities in various Indian languages including English. The language and education policies of the states demand to be conducive to a pluralingual and multicultural society and its literary heritage.

It is also necessary to retrieve the translation theories with pre-colonial openness. We have to acknowledge that we have multilingual writers and multilingual narratives and texts. There are literary gems hidden in them. Translation has a paramount importance for Indian literature to enliven the same. Hence translation works should by no means be belittled. The English version of the Indian works should be properly highlighted by media and publishers.

Organizations like Sahitya Akademi and other societies and institutions of literature and also the publishers may well extend their activities to encourage and augment the creative literary activities to enable the lovers of Indian literature smile further. Let us all hope that the Indian authors will certainly come up with flying colors, with more stars and laurels and will also add to our pride in the days to come.

This opinion was first published in (between 1999 to 2002).

Tapan Dasgupta, a business associate caters to corporate brand promotion and scribbles at pastime to shape out literary forms.
All Posts of Tapan Dasgupta

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