‘It’s like wearing a sari vs. wearing jeans, you just walk differently’

May 01, 2018 12:39 am | Updated 12:39 am IST - Mumbai

The city’s literati discuss translating regional classics into English in search of a wider audience

Book talk: (From left) Shanta Gokhale, Kiran Nagarkar, Prabodh Parikh, Chirag Vohra, Damodar Mauzo, Abhay Sardesai, Ashwani Kumar and Anil Dharker on Saturday.

When it comes to conveying the emotions of an original text, some phrases are indeed lost in translation. Acclaimed author and translator of Marathi literature, Shanta Gokhale says: “In order to gain something, one loses something and that’s what happens in the process of translation.” But that statement isn’t meant as a discouragement from exploring regional literature.

Last weekend, the Kitab Khana hosted the second edition of the Indian Novels Collective (INC), an initiative to create awareness about regional literature. The first edition, held in September 2017, explored the cognisance of Hindi works. This year, the INC expanded its scope to include Konkani, Marathi and Gujarati as well. By early 2019, the INC aims to translate and publish 100 shortlisted books into English.

Encouraging readers

During a span of two hours, some of the city’s renowned authors, poets, translators, theatre actors convened to encourage the audience to access regional literature. Those present included Ms. Gokhale along with Sahitya Akademi Award winner and storyteller Damodar Mauzo; author Kiran Nagarkar; multilingual translator and poet Prabodh Parikh; editor of Art India Abhay Sardesai; and theatre actor Chirag Vohra. The discussion was moderated by Literature Live founder Anil Dharker, and co-founder of INC Ashwani Kumar.

Each of the panellists read out literature verses first in the text’s original language, followed by a translated version. For instance, excerpts from

Kosala (Marathi),
Saraswatichandra (Gujarati) and
Karmelin (Konkani) were narrated. The panellists talked about their experiences with translation. Mr. Mauzo explained how he worked best in his mother tongue, Konkani, and had no qualms about having his work translated. But others like, Mr. Nagarkar, preferred translating his work himself.

Mr. Sardesai said, “Why should one treat every language as a separate entity since the languages create a map of compatibility.” He continued that translation is only a version of the original and one should appreciate that. “Most of us have participated in the process of reimagining Russian and Spanish in a language we have accepted, which is English,” he said. “In more ways than one, linguistic regional languages have opened up to us. Thanks to one particular rich channel that we have right now, which is English.”

‘Can’t do justice’

According to Ms. Gokhale translation cannot do justice to the original text. The author admitted to the difficulty she faces while translating emotions and gender in English. On the other hand, Mr. Nagarkar said he refuses to read translations of his works. “It doesn’t do justice [to the original],” he said.

The panellists acknowledged that translation is important to access vernacular literature, even if the emotions cannot be conveyed as is, but “the essence and colour of a text must be kept intact”. “It’s like wearing a sari and wearing jeans; you just walk differently,” added Ms. Gokhale.

Dharker pointed out how up-and-coming authors have to work that much harder on presentation, so that their book’s jacket is appealing, with reviews from renowned sources, attractive artwork and catchy phrases. “That’s how Amish Tripathi’s The Immortals of Meluha prospered,” he said. In addition to publishing the shortlisted literature, the INC plans to have more such discussions and meetings to promote vernacular literature.

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