Thursday, September 8, 2016


Many students and researchers ask me questions regarding probable areas of research in translation studies in Indian context ( click on the links to read my other blog entries on the subject). My response would be as follows: 

In spite of being a vibrant multilingual society, translation studies has not developed as much as it should have in India. There is still a wide-spread tendency among Indian academics to conceive of translation narrowly as a process and mostly in normative terms.  Therefore, very often in seminars and conferences, one comes across the conversations about ‘ problems’ and ‘ issues’ faced in translation often in terms of ‘ loss’ of  the ‘original essence’ in translation. This may be largely due to the stubborn persistence on the colonial notions of both translation and literature.

There is also tendency to take up actual activity of translation of literary texts from Indian languages into English. While this would certainly seem a good idea, our own limitations as non-native uses of English and largely clichéd findings regarding ‘problems faced’ would not make such a project very useful in terms of research. My own advice would be to translate contemporary literary texts, theoretical and intellectual statements into non-English languages.

 However, translation studies (thankfully), since the nineteen-eighties, has undergone a paradigm shift in the terms of methodologies and critical approaches i.e in terms of research questions asked about translation. Translation today can be conceived as a product generated by the translating language (T.L) culture whose contextual reading and functional analysis reveals a wealth of information about the historical development of the receptor culture. Asking whether Gandhiji’s translation of John Ruskin’s UntoThis Last is a ‘good’ translation or not as it has involved ‘loss of essence of the original’ will not help us to understand the immense historical and social significance of Gandhiji’s translation. It is also interesting that this English text was retranslated into English from Gandhi’s Gujarati version by Gandhiji’s followers. 

The idea of what is meant by a ‘literary’ text (the conventional ‘object’ of literary studies) has also undergone a shift, largely due to the radical developments in ‘theory’ and cultural studies. It is no longer conceived merely as a canonical work in print, but also as a non-canonical work in other media (visual, oral, performative) in digital or ‘analogue’ media. Hence the translated text can be thought of any text produced by ‘intralingual’, ‘interlingual’ or ‘intersemiotic’ translation as famously discussed by Roman Jakobson, i.e. one can study visual adaptations, retellings in various formats. Hence, we can study graphic novel renderings, paintings, musical compositions, cinematic adaptations, TV series or even the stage or dance enactments of texts (like Peter Brooks’ Mahabharata) from other languages as translations. 

Translation is a decision-making process involving choices and options at multiple levels including the selection of the source and the target languages, the text and the author to be translated as well as numerous strategies chosen by the translator. The contextual analysis of translation involves deductive interpretation and comprehension of this decision-making process in the context of social, historical and cultural influences i.e. how have these forces impacted the agency of the translator, while the functional analysis of translation involves the analysis of the role of the translation in impacting the prevalent and succeeding poetics and cultural politics of that language. Apparently, literary research in translation studies, like literary studies in general would merge ultimately into historiography of culture. 

Hence research on translation would basically deal with historiography of translation in Indian languages. The research projects on historiography of translation can be delimited in terms of the following:
i)  Specific periods (e.g translation during pre-colonial or postcolonial times),
ii)  Specific language pairs (e.g.Gujarati- Marathi, Assamiya- Bengali etc) ,
iii) Specific movements or genres (e.g. The Theatre of Absurd, Dalit literature, feminism, realism or surrealism), this may involve translation of critical texts as well as literary texts.
iv)  Specific authors (e.g. Tagore, Saratchandra, Shakespeare, Baudelaire)
v)  Specific texts (e. g the Gitanjali or the Wasteland) in your language and multiple translations of these texts.
These projects can be combinations of multiple delimiting parameters like, for instance, “The Feminist Translation of Gora into Gujarati”( which I am not sure exists at  all).
Other projects can involve preparing bibliography of translated texts in your language and discussion of methodology, findings and theorization.
It may involve developing digital tools (which would require knowledge of both cultural theory and computing) for archiving and analysis of translated texts as a part of a digital humanities project.

Links to Related Subjects:

i) Translation Studies in India
ii) Why Translation Studies
iii) On Research in English Studies  
iv) My Published Papers on Translation Studies 
v) My Doctoral thesis on Translation of Narsinh Mehta 
vi) My book on Indian Translation Studies  (Trans) Migrating Words: Refractions on Indian                  Translation Studies


i)                   Baker, Mona. Ed. Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. London :Routledge, 1998

ii)                  Bassnett, Susan and Harish Trivedi.ed. Post-colonial Translation: Theory and Practice. London and New York: Routledge, 1999
iii)                Bermann, Sandra and Catherine Porter  ed. A Companion to Translation Studies, Wiley-Blackwell, 2014
iv)                Dingwaney, Anuradha and Carol Maier.eds.  Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. Delhi: Oxford University Press. 1996
v)                  Hermans, Theo. Ed. The Manipulation of Literature: Studies in Literary Translation.(1985), London and New York: Routledge, 2004
vi)                Hewson, Lance. An Approach to Translation Criticism: Emma and Madame Bovary in translation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011
vii)              Kothari, Rita. Translating India: Cultural Politics of Translation. New Delhi, Foundation Books, 2003
viii)            Kuhiwczak, Piotr and Karin Littau  ed. A Companion to Translation Studies ,Multilingual Matters Ltd , Toronto, 2007,
ix)                Lefevere, Andre. Translation, Rewriting and Manipulation of Literary Fame. London and New York: Routledge, 1992
x)                  ---. Ed. Translation/History/Culture: A Source Book. London and New York: Routledge, 1992
xi)                Malmkjær, Kirsten and Kevin Windle ed. The Oxford Handbook of Translation Studies Edited by OUP, 2012
xii)              Mukherjee, Meenakshi. Elusive Terrain: Culture and Literary Memory. Oxford University Press, 2008
xiii)            ---. Perishable Empire: Essays on Indian Writing in English. Oxford University Press, 2000
xiv)             Mukherjee, Sujit. Translation as Recovery and Other Essays. Ed. Meenakshi Mukherjee, New Delhi, Pencraft International, 2004
xv)               ---Translation as Discovery and Other Essays. New Delhi, Allied, 1984
xvi)       Mukherjee, Tutun. ed.  Translation From Periphery to Centrestage. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 1998.
xvii)             Munday, Jeremy. Introducing Translation Studies. Theories and Applications. London and New York, Routledge, 2001
xviii)           Niranjana, Tejaswini. Siting Translation: History, Post-structuralism and the Colonial Context, Orient Longman, 1992
xix)         Palumbo, Giuseppe .Key Terms in Translation Studies. London and New York. Continuum  International Publishing, 2009
xx)        Ramakrishna, S. ed. Translation and Multilingualism. PostColonial Contexts, Delhi: Pencraft International, 1997 
xxi)      Ramakrishan, E.V. Locating Indian Literature: Texts, Traditions, Translations. Orient Blackswan, 2011 
xxii)          Saldanha, Gabriela and Sharon O’Brien .ed.  Research methodologies in translation studies , St Jerome Publishing, 2013
xxiii)       Talgeri, P and Verma, SB. eds. Literature in Translation from Cultural Transference to Metonymic Displacement. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 1988
xxiv)             Venuti, Lawrence ed. Translation Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge and Kegan        Paul, 2000.
xxv)             Wakabayashi, Judy and Rita Kothari. Eds. Decentering Translation Studies: India and Beyond. John Benjamins Publication,

Friday, June 5, 2015

Choosing a Topic for the Research Project in English Studies: Some Tips

Many students request me to suggest ‘some topic or an area’ for their post-graduate research projects. More often than not, such queries come from the assumption that post-graduate research is the ‘Third Year of MA’, that is, the teacher suggests the texts, authors and reference material, the students go to the library and basically Google the topic, followed by Control C and Control V and presto-the assignment is ready!

This conception is fairly popular, not merely with the students, but also with their teachers. In fact, the teachers have a lion’s share in spreading ‘the Third Year MA syndrome’. You only have to look at the explosive growth in the ‘Peer-Reviewed Journals of International Research with ISBN numbers’ to publish tonnes of pseudo-research based on the Third Year MA syndrome brought out by college and university teachers to publish their crap and earn ‘API or Academic Performance Index’ points that are mandatory for advancement and promotions in their careers and make some easy money. When teachers follow this model, no wonder the students also emulate their peers.

The defining characteristic of this ‘Third Year MA syndrome’ is the desire to follow the path of least resistance: to read and think as little as possible and finish that damned paper or dissertation with minimum intellectual efforts. The outcome is usually the re-re-re-invention of the wheel and coming up with clichéd and stale work on obvious themes in the canonical writers that adds nothing to what is already known about the subject. There are full-fledged Shashi Deshpande, Girish Karnad, or Diaspora factories at work in academia producing plenty of garbage.   At its worst, this model is plagiarism of earlier bad research, and at its best, it is plagiarism of good research work with one’s own cosmetic surgery added to make it uglier.

I have already written about the basics of research, research question and about the format and fundamentals of writing a research proposal. Hence I am not going to rehearse these things again: Click on- A Beginner’s Guide to Doing a PhD in English Literature and Writing a Research Proposal for English Studies: Some Hints. The tips given here are for those not interested in The Third Year MA model, in short, those who are serious researchers, and are based on my earlier entries. These are not rules, but basically rules of thumb for those beginning their life as serious researchers and hence, are also obvious at times.

You have to keep in mind is that coming up with a viable research topic requires plenty of exploration (reading, thinking, discussing) and may take months. There is no short-cut here. You have to follow your own intellectual preoccupation and curiosity.

1) One of the simplest and obvious tips to start with is to consider the author, genre ( Fiction, poetry, Drama), literatures (like Gujarati literature or Indian Writing in English) or a critical idea (e. g. Gender, or Caste consciousness or both) that appealed to you the most during your BA or MA studies.  However, this is not a strict rule as there is always a possibility that there are other less explored authors, literatures and ideas which you may not be very familiar with. You may also begin by exploring authors, genres, literatures and ideas you have very little idea about.

2) The ideas and texts that appeal to you are not ‘accidents of taste’ but have links with your own life, the things that have happened to you and the relations you have with others and yourself.  Remember, research in literary studies and humanities is very often search for who you are: your own gender identity (the self awareness as belonging to a particular gender), caste identity, class identity, regional or linguistic identities play a significant role in your research and intellectual life. My own research is shaped by my identity as a bilingual- male -middle class poet writing in Marathi and English, born and brought up in Gujarat and trained in study and teaching  ‘Eng. Lit’ as a profession. ( Have a look at my thesis and research work by clicking here)

Again, while the self consciousness about your identity will definitely make your life as researcher more interesting and may also be a valuable contribution to the identity politics, this is not a strict rule and there is absolutely no reason why a Dalit student should not explore science fiction or cyberpunk or a gay researcher should not explore the questions of indigenous/Adivasi culture and literature.   There is no reason why an upper caste and upper class man not research Dalit women’s writing.

3) Researching literature and culture of the society in which you are born and brought up is far more valuable than going for the American, the British or the Continental literatures. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, because plenty of good quality research has already been conducted on these literatures, there is very little one can contribute as an outsider, unless you are going in for a comparative framework. They have already done excellent work on writers like Keats and Bernard Shaw or the themes like the Absurd or Love in Hemingway or Sex in Jane Austen, for instance, and there is very little left for us to add.

 Unless, of course there is a comparative angle. Reception of Keats or Jane Austen in Marathi or Punjabi is indeed a very good idea. But then, so is the reception of Namdeo Dhasal or Arun Kolatkar in Tamil.
Secondly, the research which contributes to your own society and culture is in my view more relevant and necessary than the research which would contribute to the American or Canadian society. As ours is a multilingual, casteist, patriarchal society with a history of colonial experience and globalization, exploring the questions of literary historiography, translation, caste, genders, modernity, regional identities, technology, and consumerism in cultural texts ( not just the literary ones, but also popular cultural texts like films, TV serials and bestsellers) in Indian languages (including English) using comparative frameworks of postcolonial studies, gender studies, Dalit studies and cultural semiotics will make your research interesting and relevant to present times.

So these are my ‘tips’ for the beginners, and I would love to hear more from you and other scholars about what you think of these. You can also check out my blog on  Translation Studies in India and Comparative Literature and you can also check out my blog on Literary theory