Staff Reporter –
At the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Festival 2023, author, administrative officer, litterateur and conversationalist, Yatish Kumar, conducted an hourlong lively discussion on translating from Hindi and Urdu to English with Daisy Rockwell, Baran Farooqi and Poonam Saxena at the lawns of the iconic Victoria Memorial, Kolkata. The topic Dhwani Aur Goonj Se Resonance Tak lived up to its name as the panellists shared their experiences and views as translators of some very famous Hindi and Urdu literature work into English. Excerpts from some of the translators’ journey from `longlisting to enlisting’. Yatish Kumar deftly guided the discussions to bring out some very meaningful insights to take home.
Q: Yatish Kumar:In India if we leave aside the religious works like Ramayan, Mahabharata and Geeta, there has been very little translation of Hindi literature into other languages Whereas, there has been a lot of translation of works of other languages into Hindi. So what do you feel about this and what could be the reason for this?
Poonam Saxena:Honestly, I don’t really know the reason. Translation itself is becoming more visible. There are more and more translations happening now because of the interest from Publishers. For a long time there was no interest in publishing Hindi literary works into English. Everybody thought nobody wanted to buy translated works as these were very boring. There was a kind of a mental block. But ever since there has been an interest in translations there has been a lot of work from Bengali and Malayalam and is getting better for Hindi.
Daisy Rockwell:It is because the publishers don’t have a plan and they don’t choose a particular work. It is just us translators who fall in love with a book and make a sample and submit it to the publishers. So all that gets published is the whims of the translators, the publishers don’t take any initiative.
Baran Farooqi:My experience is somewhat different, being in Uttar Pradesh more than 80% of the people understood and wanted Hindi only. So maybe they, the people I worked with, never felt the need for translations. Like in women’s education, they never had any access to English books and were always comfortable with books in Hindi. I think there is a need for translating books into Hindi as well. There have been a lot of translations from Hindi to Urdu and translations from Urdu to Hindi are still happening. After completing class 10, though there were books available in English, I chose to shift to a Hindi medium school because the text books in Hindi gave us a lot of clarity which the English books did not.
translations of a work, like in the case of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, a translator can get away with ambiguities. I say, in today’s world the translators have finally got some licence to be able to say things like we would call `jigar’ (liver) as heart only while translating. There is a rehabilitation of our culture happening so the meanings and analogies in our culture (in English) so we use terms boldly.
Daisy, who was commissioned by Penguin to translate Bhism Sahani’s Tamasinto English, was the third person to do so after Jai Ratan and Bhism Sahani himself.
Daisy: “Translation is very solitary. I was approached by Penguin to translate Bhism Sahani’s Tamas and also his daughter wanted it to be redone. While translating, it was like a conversation with two other works. While Ratan’s translation had left out chunks, Bhishm Sahani himself had a very flowery Victorian old-generation writing style in English. Whereas, his original work was written in a very direct and simple language. What I loved about being the third translator is that I loved having the other books with me. It’s like having a group, they were by my side and I would yell at them and say you did so stupid with certain things; sometimes they knew things I did not have the insights.
Poonam:For translators, it is often very difficult to get the right title for a book. While translating Gunahon ka Devtain English, I and our editors wrapped our heads around to get the right title. I finally decided to call it Chander and Sudhabecause at the very core of the novel was the doomed love story of Chander and Sudha. So it was like Romeo and Juliet. But I wish we could have retained the Hindi title for the English book as well.
Yatish Kumar is an administrative Officer of the Indian railway service Yatish Kumar has the distinction of becoming the youngest Chairman and managing director of Central Public Sector undertakings he has made a special creative presence in the literary world in the last few years. His poetic reviews on popular novels, stories and travelogues have particularly attracted the attention of readers. His poems and memoirs have been published in many of the reputed magazines .Kumar’s first Hindi poetry book Antas Ki Khurchanwas published in 2021 and gained appreciation from the readers and litterateurs. His latest book Abirbhavis a collection of Hindi poems. Yatish Kumar is also one of the key persons behind popularising `Literaria’ – an acclaimed Hindi literature Festival in Kolkata.
Daisy Rockwell who works under the alias Lapata is an American Hindi and Urdu writer, artist and translator. Her 2021 translation of Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sandmade it the first South Asian book to win the International Booker Prize. Her other works include the translation of Upendranath Ashk’s Falling Walls, Bhism Sahani’s Tamasand Khadija Mastur’s The Women’s Courtyard. Being a writer and a painter, Rockwell, in 2012, published The Little Book of Terror, a volume of paintings and essays on the Global War on Terrorand her novel Tastewas published in 2016.
Dr Baran Farooqiis a professor of English at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, whose areas of specialisation include Women Studies. She is a scholar of Shakespearean drama, gender studies and women’s literature. She also translates extensively from Urdu to English. Her translation of Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s selected poetry titled – The Colours of My Heartwas published by Penguin Random House India in 2017.
Poonam SaxenaIs a journalist, writer and translator. She worked with the Hindustan Times for several years, first as an editor of Brunch. She has translated Dharamveer Bharati’s Gunahon Ka Devtafrom Hindi to English (Chander & Sudha) and co-authored filmmaker Karan Johar memoir – An Unsuitable Boy.