Monday, July 2, 2012


I will be teaching translation studies to the postgraduate students of English this year and the question I asked myself was- why should an Indian student of literature study translation? The answers I came up with are as follows: We study translation because

1) Translation makes literary studies possible today. Translation is the most widespread mode of accessing the key literary and theoretical texts from all over the world. Foucault, Neruda, Camus, Plato, Aristotle, Tagore, Marquez, Kafka, Simone de Beauvoir, Bhamaha, Anandvardhana, Roland Barthes, Ghalib, Nietzsche, Saratchandra, Freud, Rumi, Marx, Habermas, Mahasweta Devi, Kalidas and Gramsci are available to the students only in and because of translation. Looking at these texts as translation can help dispel the illusion (or pretense) of an unmediated, transparent and unproblematic transmission of such texts across cultures and time. Hence, even if students do not take translation studies as their primary area of research, studying translation will provide an additional critical handle on the research projects and provide useful insights into research involving translated texts.

2) For the student of English in India, reading is translating. Reading of literary texts from other cultures like English or American for instance is an intercultural and inter-contextual process. An Indian teenager who has never been to a Prom or not experienced the lifestyle of a typical American teenager does not read or watch Twilight saga in the same way as an American teenager does. An Indian youngster who dances for nine nights during Navaratri celebrating ‘Divine Feminine’ reads Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code differently from his Western counterpart. An Indian student who has no idea what ‘curtsey’ is, reads Pride and Prejudice in a different way from her British counterpart. Serious study of literature and art is impossible without taking into account the differences between the source culture’s system of values and attitudes that produced these texts and the recipient culture’s system of values, which shape the reader’s outlook towards life. Oh, yes, the vampires-Pishachas- belong to a very low caste and are usually ‘meat eating’ types, so while you might be infatuated with them for a while, it is difficult for you to get married to one of them.

3) We are translated people living in a translated culture. Much of the cultural phenomenon in which we are immersed- TV shows, films, fashion, music, cuisine, literature, language, arts incorporates assimilated elements from other cultures. These processes of global traffic of cultural forms have become incredibly accelerated in the age of globalization.  TV ‘Reality’ shows, which have become extremely popular today, use the formats and promotional strategies similar to those in the US, and a lot of film and popular music is ‘inspired’ and ‘remixed’. These processes are not always unilinear (from the US to non-US) - consider the great escalation of Hindi films made for ‘overseas’ audience (Robertson calls this process ‘glocalization’). The idioms of languages that we speak today and hear today in media often sound ‘translated’, and hybrid. This ‘code remixing’ is central to our cultural lives today. The Shastras say that we are what we eat. Therefore, if we eat Chinese in the evening and continental pizzas during the day, our souls are invariably going to be hybrid. Literary translation is part of the larger processes of ‘remixing’ and hybridization of cultures. Hence studying the poetics and politics of translation will help us to understand these numerous processes and modalities of intercultural traffic. Globalization is translation and translation is globalization.

4) Translation as a profession and vocation is an excellent career option. While reading Keats or Yeats or studying Judith Butler or Dalit literature may not help you to earn your bread and butter unless you decide to become a professor or teacher, the study of translation theory and practice can help you become proficient in translation. When the Government of India considers Humanities and Higher Education as ‘burden’ instead of investment and reduces the granted vacancies, there are very few chances of permanent and secure employment. On the other hand, there is a rising demand for good quality translators and interpreters.  You can study foreign languages and start your own business. You can also work in the areas like film or TV industry where dubbing is essential or in the areas like legal and corporate communication. Besides, there is exciting work being done in the field of machine /computer translation and artificial translation.

5) You can be a literary translator. Like me. You can make literary texts from one language available in another language. It may not pay like technical translators. However, it is a creative act. It is an art that is at par with ‘original’ creative activity in terms of fulfillment, and in fact, more challenging and times more exciting the ‘original’ writing. It reinforces and enhances your own creativity. I remember how when I was doing my BA in the nineties, some of the passages in Macbeth moved me so much that I translated them into Hindi. As a poet who wrote in English and Marathi, and who is born and brought up in Gujarat and teaching English literature,  my choice to translate Narsinh Mehta into English for my doctoral research in the late nineties was the part of my personal quest for cultural identity. It was expression of my love for Gujarati language and literature. Narsinh has made me spiritually richer and happier human being, if not ‘better’ and he has become one of my closest friends. When I chose to thirty Marathi poets of my generation into English, it was again a manifestation of my own personal quest for my roots as a Marathi poet. Translation for me is the act of love. The fulfillment and joy of rendering my favorite work into another language is the act of sharing my life and passion with others.  At the same time, when you make literature in other language available for readers, you are in your own way contributing to that culture by extending the possibilities of the target language and culture.

People who complain of the ‘loss’ in translation or its impossibility usually have a very limited view of the process. These people are usually people who can read both translation and the original, and translations are not intended for such people. For someone who cannot read Hindi, any translation, however bad, of Kabir or Muktibodh is always a gain, because no translation is ‘complete’ any more than the so-called ‘original’ is complete. Jorge Luis Borges said that the original should be faithful to translation, and I agree.

Watch my lecture on contemporary translation studies with Dr. Vishal Bhadani

 Read my blog on using Semiotics of Culture as a Theoretical Framework for studying Indian literatures and cultures.


Anonymous said...

very are requested to contribute us as much information as possible on such relevant and key issues as translations studies from very many perspectives such as modernism ,post-modernism,marxism etc.welcome.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I found this writing a mix of knowledge and artistry well knit in words.....

Thanks and Regards,

Denish RD said...

Really outstanding