Translation has been a big help in bringing Indian literature to a wider audience, according to regional authors in India. There was a time when only speakers and readers of one Indian language got the chance to enjoy the literature written by a regional author.
For example, “Chowringhee” is a novel written by Sankar, a Bengali author. It was originally published in the Bengali language. It was later translated by Arunava Sinha into several Indian languages. The works of Saadat Hasan Manto were originally written in Urdu. Had books such as these were not translated, only Bengali and Urdu readers would have enjoyed them. Through the years, these types of Indian literary works were being translated into other Indian languages. Now, with English being one of the primary languages in India, English translators are finding that demand for their expertise is escalating.
But some translators pointed out that there seemed to be something missing in the translations. Prashant Pethe, a translator, said that at times the translations failed to show the intended emotions. He said that there were times when it got quite difficult to fully understand and convey the right kind of emotions woven in the source text into another language. Prashant Pethe did the English translation of “Aiwa Maru,” a novel by Anant Samant that was originally published in Marathi. Snehal Shingavi, another translator, shared the same sentiments. He was the English translator for “Angaaray,” which was a series of short stories by authors Mahmud-uz-Zafar, Rashid Jahan, Rashid Jahan and Sajjad Zaheer that was originally only available in Urdu. Still, he said, they have to keep on trying to find the right words.
According to these two translators, they are constantly facing complexities and difficulties when doing their translation, specifically pointing out that it was crucial for them to be very adept with word play so that repetition could be avoided. Word play presents a real challenge for them, according to Shingavi, a University of Texas, Austin assistant professor of English. But as a translator, he said that it is their responsibility to do it and try to make sure that the context of the original text is always retained. He said that there are concepts that in one language could be very flexible but could turn rigid when translated into another language, and that is when creativity has to be exercised. They have to do justice in presenting the characters as close to the original as possible while bringing changes to the original text.
“Aiwa Maru” was a story based on a person’s life at sea. The translator, Pethe, who lives in Pune, was an expert on the subject because he used to work on offshore gas and oil rigs. But while he was able to relate to the story, he still had difficulties when doing the translation. He said that he had to remain focused on what the writer wants to convey while expressing the Marathi words in English.
Shingavi added that it is inevitable to make some changes in the text. For example, he said there are words in Urdu that sound rather strange when translated into English based on the story’s context and he had to rearrange some of the words at times.
But while they are satisfied and proud of the English translations they have done, they still lament the fact that their efforts are not marketed aggressively in the Indian market when there are so much hidden gems that could be discovered when more books are translated into English and other languages.