Satchidanandan stresses need for more translations

He may not have won this year's Nobel Prize, but poet K. Satchidanandan considers being shortlisted for the world's most prestigious award in literature was an honour for Malayalam language and the rich tradition of India's regional literature.

“I have always believed that our regional literature is among the best in the world; that I was considered – along with Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi and Rajasthani author Vijaydan Detha – for the Nobel is recognition of that fact,” Mr. Satchidanandan told The Hindu here on Thursday. “Somehow there has been a perception for some time that Indian literature is just Indian writing in English, which is totally untrue.”

“I do not deny the fact that there are fine Indian writers in English – I admire Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, and Vikram Seth – but I think our regional literature is far superior,” said the New Delhi-based writer, who was in Kozhikode for a book release. “But unfortunately, we do not have enough translations and much of the regional literature does not reach beyond the original language.”

He, however, said things had improved of late. “Now more and more Indian books, especially from Malayalam and Bengali (two languages which could boast some of the finest literature in the country), are getting translated,” he said. “It would, of course, be impossible to translate a book into the various Indian languages, but at least all classic Indian works should be translated into English.”

Mr. Satchidanandan pointed out that the Malayali reader had gained a lot through translations from other languages. “Most of us were exposed to classics, especially Russian literature, through translations, which were economical and readily available through libraries,” he said. “We have always welcomed writers from other languages. Remember how Gabriel Garcia Marquez virtually became a Malayalam novelist!”

Mr. Satchidanandan, who was the Kendra Sahitya Akademi secretary for a decade, said the Central government should ensure that classic works in regional languages were read across the country, by encouraging translation. “As the Akademi secretary, I was able to increase the number of books in regional language eligible for translation, but more has to be done,” he said. “Unfortunately, only iconic writers like Tagore are widely read outside their regional boundaries. It may be difficult to translate poetry, but fiction could easily transcend the barriers dictated by a language; stories of Basheer, MT and Karoor could be enjoyed by all.”

Mr. Satchidanandan said there had been a discernible improvement in the quality of translation in India. “We have translators who have excellent command of English,” he said. “Three of the seven shortlisted books for this year's ‘The Hindu' Literary Prize for Best Fiction – whose jury I am a member of – are translations. It is a positive sign.”

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