The year 2022 can be called significant for Hindi literature as Geetanjali Shree’s Ret Samadhi won the Booker Prize. Along with Shree, another one to win the accolade was her translator, Daisy Rockwell. This year’s JCB longlist, too, has been dominated by translations, with six out of 10 books falling into this category, with writings in Hindi, Urdu and Nepali making it to the list for the first time.
“An emerging theme has been the popularity of translations,” said Sutapa Basu, an award-winning author, poet, and translator, while moderating a session ‘Changing Literary Landscapes: India and Europe’ at the Czech Embassy, hosted by Oxford Bookstores in association with Long Night of LiteratureS, on Thursday. “There has been a rise in the translation of India’s regional literature to other languages as well as non-English European literature into English,” she added.
Knowing culture is important
“Not only languages but knowing the culture you are translating from is also important sometimes,” said Mercedes Cebrián, a Spanish writer-poet and translator who has translated several pieces of work from English, French and Roman into Spanish. For “I have travelled through France, I have friends there, which helps if I have to clarify some things. It is good to be in contact with the culture of that country,” she said on the sidelines of the Long Night of LiteratureS event at New Delhi’s Instituto Cervantes on Friday.
Prominent Indian translators Rustam Singh and Teji Grover Portra agree. Between them, they have translated as many as 20 pieces of work of languages ranging from Norwegian, Estonian, Punjabi, and Assamese. They read the literature of Estonia at the Long Night of LiteratureS. Describing their work, they said, “First the English translator translates the original work into English. We sit with the writer to understand her work. Once we wrap up the Hindi translation, we compare the three—the English, Hindi, and the original text.” The duo also often travels to understand the original work.
“In Doris’ (Kareva) case, we worked on each and every poem with her,” Grover said referring to the Estonian writer Doris Kareva whose poems the duo has translated into Hindi. “We focused on what the English translator had done to retain the same quality of music in Hindi, because you do not just translate the text but also the music and rhythm,” said Singh.
One size fits all?
The issue is complex for Cebrián as Spanish translations are not just sold in her home Spain but in several other countries too. “The different Latin countries would want translations closer to how they speak Spanish. However, they have no other choice but to buy the one produced for the whole market,” she said.
Little access to world literature
Just like Spanish readers, their Hindi counterparts have their issues. “Unaware of his politics, I was fascinated by (Norwegian writer) Knut Hamsun’s work, especially Hunger, when I was young,” shared Grover. “I was fascinated that this is what world literature is like. I was very fascinated but wondered how people from my language would ever get to read and that’s what troubled me,” she said. “Since then, whenever I read something in English, I wanted to share it with my fellow Hindi readers,” she added.
Speaking about the kind of work they choose to translate, the translators, who are also poets, said, it does not depend on money but if the work speaks to them.
A long process
“I don’t accept very long pieces of work as they require quite a lot of time and if you don’t get that, you get anxious and the translation suffers,” said the Spanish translator. However, her usual process involves first creating a rough draft of the work “even if it is poorly done and is not polished”. “Then I start to polish everything,” she said.
On the other hand, it is a long journey for Singh and Grover, sometimes spanning eight years too. “Doris’ work took that much time,” they said. Speaking on the process involved, Singh commented, “There is no single script of doing things.”
Money, fame, recognition
The recent trends suggest that translations and translators are increasingly getting recognised.
“Many publishers have started putting the name of the translators on the covers,” said Cebrián, who agrees that recognition of translators has increased over the years. “But for me, it is important to see my name but what is also important is the money,” she added.