Society

The great language debate

WORD POWER: Dr. Mini Krishnan. Photo: R. Ragu   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu;R_Ragu -

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Mini Krishnan tells SOMA BASU why she wants to translate and publish more of marginalised literature

English, no doubt, is the power language now. The same way Latin dominated 1,000 years ago. But is it the language of sustainability?

Every language is special and worth learning in its own right, says Dr.Mini Krishnan, Editor (Translations), Oxford University Press-India. She feels the future belongs to those writers who know extra regional languages. “The joy of young writers would be to translate in English from other languages,” she says.

In Madurai on an invitation from the Study Centre on Indian Literature and Translation (SCILET), The Amercian College, Dr.Mini Krishnan while addressing a group of college students insisted that knowing multiple languages is always good for diversity. “You have to use your own language, there is no need to reject it because words in your mother tongue eloquently encapsulate your feelings,” she told them.

Mini, who edits literary translations from a dozen Indian languages, says, the effort is to knit the social and cultural history of the country through Literature. Her personal love for English remains intact, but she calls herself a “re-writer” of texts from other languages that offer a specific perspective of a particular region, community or people the language belongs to.

Though the 1990s ushered in a major shift in translating literary works primarily from Marathi, Bengali, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi, she says no mainstream publisher is for translating the works of marginalised writers. The visibility of Dalit writing is feeble not because of want of creativity but because it is pitted against more than 30,000 titles in English that are published annually. Publishing translations is both an exclusion and inclusion, she says.

When she was the Branch Editor at Macmillan India Pvt.Ltd. and first published a Dalit work, ‘there was trouble’, she says. Working at OUP has given Mini the freedom to work closely with translators and the original authors. The power of their raw language makes English appear feeble, she notes.

She worries over the fact that we are losing rich social history by neglecting the regional languages. “The loss of identity is dangerous for a multicultural society like ours. We should not let our rich repository of literary wealth to fade into oblivion,” she asserts.

Travels to different regions and interaction with the authors make Mini realise the potential and importance of untapped and unrecognised writers. “I sometimes fear,” she says, “that a time will come when there will be so many books that won’t be opened again because there will be nobody to read those books.”

To encourage more translations from the interiors, she was the one who insisted on equal royalty for the author and the translator and also having the translator’s name on the cover. She wonders why translators can’t be recognised as professionals. It would tremendously help in preserving and promoting the works of Dalit writers and the Adivasi speakers, who don’t have a script yet.

Her job is not without challenges. While the author writes in a huge rush of energy, it is the translator’s job that is really difficult. He or she has to get into the skin of the writer and have the ability to take the reader into the deeply detailed and jargonistic territory of the writer who uses words with deep connection in life.

Very often, says Mini, the message or the context is lost in translations because certain words and phrases are not easy to express in another language with the same brevity. For instance, what word be an exact English translation of the Tamil word ‘Thenmozhiyal’. The translator will have to use many words to express the meaning correctly. And that is where Mini’s role becomes crucial.

The readability of the translated text is very important, she says. Translation is a very dedicated work and you require humility and patience to do it appropriately, she adds.

Mini feels though there are quite a few powerful bilinguists but they end up translating only their books. Girish Karnad is a case in point who could translate more books from Kannada, she says, adding that she is happy writers like Jerry Pinto, who translated the first Dalit autobiography in Marathi ‘Baluta’, have stepped in.

We cannot enrich our minds by ignoring our languages, says Mini, who makes it a point to translate 11 books from 11 languages in a year. We should remember and acknowledge the fact that people have arrived where they are now because of the writings of many of our old writers.” Still most of us do not know what is available to read and many Indian writers have not been introduced to the world yet.

Though the primary pride may still remain with English literature, Mini says she uses her time reading, translating and publishing Dalit writers. She always advises her network of translators to sit with the author for multiple sessions and learn about the several unsaid things.

While translating you have to match the voltage of the fierce writing and not just be a smart writer, she says. People tell me I am wasting my time struggling with confusing, lumpy and ludicrous translations and the anxious author-translator pair, but I think I have become a better diplomat convincing the author and managing the translator, adds Mini.

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Printable version | Aug 22, 2017 4:46:32 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/the-great-language-debate/article8223349.ece