Translation boom helps India and West exchange new literature

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : Millions of vernacular and English language readers across India are cashing in on the boom in translations to access foreign literature.

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The spotlight this year is on all genres of European literature, especially from France and Britain. The French embassy and the British Council have taken the lead in bringing literary works from the West to India and promote translations of Indian works abroad in collaboration with the exploding tribe of indigenous publishers.

Translation, a literary phenomenon that took off in India during the 1970s, rose in the nineties post- globalisation when the doors opened to free trade. The opening up of trade barriers facilitated exchange of ideas and intellect.

Leading French poet Franck Andre Jamme’s poetry will soon be made available in bookshops across Hindi-speaking north Indian cities and in West Bengal.

“One of my anthologies, ‘The Recitation of Forgetting’, is being translated into Hindi and Bengali,” Jamme, who has 15 volumes of published poetry to his credit, told IANS. He was here for a poetry-reading session.

While Bhopal-based poet Udayan Vajpeyi is translating Jamme’s anthology into Hindi, Kolkata-based poet and translator Ujjal Singha is doing so into Bengali.

“I exchange a lot with my translators because they revert to me with frequent queries,” Jamme said, who writes extensively on Dhrupad music and Indian ethnic art for the French newspaper Le Monde.

Another of Jamme’s anthologies, “Moon-Wood”, was translated, edited and published in India. Translation, says Jamme, is a general necessity.

“With so many borders and restrictions on our planet, people must speak to each other and translation is an effective way of doing it. It is another way of avoiding new wars,” Jamme said.

The French government has initiated a mega bilateral literary project, “Tagore Publication Support Programme”, in India to promote French culture and literature in the country jointly with the French embassy and local publishers.

“Translations are a vital component of the programme. We will host the first-ever translation workshop in India in August,” said Marielle Morin of the embassy.

The embassy is working with Indian publishers like Rajkamal Prakashan, Purple Peacock, Bingsha Shatabdi, DC Books and Continental Prakashan to translate French books into Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and Malayalam.

At least 20 translations of contemporary French literary works are in various stages of completion at the moment, Morin said.

“The key to good translation is to retain the flavour and spirit of the language in which the book has been originally written and capture the colour and culture of the country. India has very few translators. Most of them are old and we want new young faces in this genre because of its growing demand and popularity,” Morin said.

According to Morin, the two most significant projects include the ongoing translations of Afghanistan-born French author Atiq Rahimi’s novel “Singue Sabour” into Hindi by Sharat Chandra and Le Clezio’s “Desert”. The books will be published by Rajkamal Prakashan and Bingsho Shatabdi respectively.

Rahimi is the winner of the French Goncourt Prize in 2008.

One of the thrust areas at the London Book Fair this April 20-22, where India is the country in focus in 2009, is translation. A special literary session, “Found in Translation”, will be held at the Nehru Centre in London.

Author Vikram Seth, whose writing has been influenced by the power of translation, said he had an enormous regard for translations.

“Had I not read the translated works of (Russian poet and novelist) Alexander Pushkin and Charles Johnston, I would not have been inspired to write ‘The Golden Gate’ in verse,” the author said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])