At the end of the first day of the workshop, we were returning to our guest house in a car arranged by the organisers. There were six of us, and coinci-dentally, everyone was talking on the phone, having switched our mobiles off during the workshop. There was a mild cacophony as everyone spoke in different languages. Then, someone said, this is a ‘mini India’ right here in-side the car.
Looking back, I realise the far-reaching implications of the seemingly in-nocuous situation that evening. All six of us were speaking different lan-guages. We had come from different parts of the country. We belong to dif-ferent professions. There was no common ground among us. Yet, we were there, together, because of our love for literature and because of the fact that we are all Indians.
But, how do you define India? You do not define India. You experience it. You experience it in its details, its diversity. India thrives on being different. India blossoms in its plurality.
This all-encompassing plurality about India, this sense of defiance to an exact definition was, in a sense, the highlight of the Literary Translation Workshop organised by the British Council and the Sahitya Akademi in Kolkata from September 6 to 8, 2009. The event was co-organised by ‘The Little Magazine’ and the British Centre for Literary Translation, University of East Anglia, UK.
Personally, for this writer, those three days were moments to cherish. It was a revelation to discover that there are still people who believe in the importance, the power and the future of literature, and are willing to do what it takes to spread the word. For this writer, the issue of plurality was even acute, as he was representing the state of Assam, even though he is based in Pune, Maharashtra, and closely associated with the Marathi literature. The workshop was a stamp of approval for this writer’s belief that literature is always polyphonic, and there is more than one way to understand the di-versity and plurality, that is India.
The dinner lecture organised at the historic Bengal Club on September 6 evening set the tone of the workshop to be followed, and marked the be-ginning of this plurality. Speaking on the subject ‘Sending and receiving: Translation, transmission and cultural transactions,’ Prof Supriya Chaudhari of the Jadavpur University discussed at length three English translations of Ranbindranath Tagore’s celebrated short story ‘Khudhito Pashan’ (The Hungry Stone). While discussing the various translations, the idea was not to find out which one was the best, but to point out that each translation is unique in their own ways.
Yes, we agree that no translation can replace the original. Yet, we cannot dismiss the translations. Each translated work claims a place of its own within the literary milieu.
In the next two days, we discussed on various issues. There were questions galore. And a few answers. The idea was not to find the answers but to keep asking questions, to share views, to try to fathom the depth of the subject. If we find something while diving in, a pearl or a cowry shell, it’s well and good, if we don't find anything, the diving itself was worthwhile.
The workshop was chaired by two people who are experts in their chosen fields — Amanda Hopkinson, FRCA, Director of the British Centre for Lit-erary Translation, University of East Anglia, UK and Pratik Kanjilal, co-editor, The Little Magazine. Both the experts shared their views on the is-sues concerning the subject, and the reality of the Literary Translations in India and UK, which are of course very different.
One of the issues that cropped up was the possibility of taking up literary translation as a viable career. Whereas it’s still possible in the UK, it’s still a distant dream in India. This are perhaps changing, but very slowly. (Apparently, however, in Kerala you get a decent payment for translation works.)
Another issue that was discussed was the technicalities, publishing, drawing a contract and maintaining copyright.
The best part of the event, the crowning glory, however, was the roundtable discussion which was attended and elucidated by Manabendra Bando-padhyay, former professor, Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University; Mandira Sen, director, Stree and Samya; Sanjukta Dasgupta, professor, Department of English and Dean, Faculty of Arts, Calcutta University; Udaya Narayana Singh, Tagore Professor, Rabindra Bhavan and director, Indira Gandhi Centre for National Integration (IGCNI), Visva-Bharati; Amanda Hopkinson; Pratik Kanjilal and Sujata Sen, director, British Council (East India).
At the end, the reality of Literary Translation in India was explained with a anecdote by Ramkumar Mukhopadhyay, of the Sahitya Academi. Appar-ently, there are at least six translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Gitanjali’ in the Manipuri language. When Mukhopadhyay asked why there are so many translations on a single work, one of the translators replied: Each translation is how the individual translator reacted to the text. Therefore, each translation is unique in itself.
Let plurality prevail.
Here are a few pictures from the event: