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The Financial Express

Why a nation remains 'lost in translation'


Why a nation remains 'lost in translation'

It has long become a fashion in the country's academic circles, especially those literature-centred, to lay emphasis on the need for increasing the number of translated works. A section of people anxious to see more and more foreign language books translated into Bangla is found highly vocal about these endeavours. It is implied that when the question of Bangla translation of overseas books arises, English receives the chief focus. Since it is veritably the global lingua franca in today's world, Bangladesh readers can have access to books written in any European language through the publications' English versions. Most of the people belonging to the educated class in Bangladesh understand English.

Books written in French, German, Russian, Spanish and many other major languages may be inaccessible to scholars and those habituated to pleasure reading. But the ones translated into English offer them the opportunity to taste the essence of these works through a second phase translation, i.e. from English to Bangla. When it comes to translated works, people normally refer to books in the genre of literature. A handful of foreign language experts can go through the said books written in their original languages, for example those in French or Spanish. A lot of others do not face trouble reading the English-translated books. But vast numbers of the average educated people remain deprived of the pleasure hidden in these books' English or the versions in other languages. They are mostly found eagerly looking to the books' Bangla translations.

In fact, it is this ground reality that prompts the academics, scholars and literary critics to put stress on the easy availability of the Bangla-translated books. They urge conducting relentless search for translators. But where are the efficient translators in this country? Average publishers are least aware of the foreign language books and translators. But, in fact, there are people gifted with their inborn capability to translate. Workshops can train the entrants in the basic rules and know-how of translation. In Bangladesh majority of the translators belong to the groups of amateurs. Despite their amateurism, it is these people who mainly meet the demand for the old and modern classics by translating them into Bangla.

In many developed countries, they organise short or long courses of translation. In a sense, these are special classes. In many ways, the USA has played a pioneering role in these translation workshops, similar to the poetry workshops held on university campuses round the year. It's true that translation workshop participants are given formal lessons on how to translate prose or poetry into their mother-tongues from a foreign language, especially English --- or vice versa. Many have reservations about grooming professional translators through this straitjacket method. For, a translator has also to have a creative self within him or her. Literally or mechanically translated books mostly annoy the serious readers of literature. A major aspect of this feature is it helps revulsion of sorts grow for foreign literary works within them. The most prominent qualification demanded of a good translator is his or her spontaneity. A basic element comprising this specialty is the translator's language skill. One ought to be exceptionally proficient in the two languages involved. The language of the work he is translating from, and the one he is translating into. Translation cannot remain a tedious job, if the person concerned is efficient in both the languages. Ishwar Chandra Bidwasagar translated Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors into the Bangla Bhranti Bilas. The Bangla version proved a critically acclaimed play. It was warmly received by the time's readers and audience.

While in England, Rabindranath Tagore himself translated Geetanjali into English in prose form. Later he put it into poetry form in collaboration with the Irish poet W.B. Yeats. It was called Song Offerings. It is this humble but one containing the essence of the Eastern spiritual message that won him the Nobel Prize in 1913.

Translation of literary works continued in the 1930s. A few major poets of the decade translated German and British poetry into Bangla. Novelists didn't lag behind. In the same period, Premendra Mitra translated The Outsider by Albert Camus into Bangla. He called it Ochena (stranger). A noticeable aspect of translating foreign language literary works at the time was the absence of professional creative translators. Buddhadev Bose appeared on the scene like a flash of lightning. His collections of translated poems by Charles Baudelaire, Rainer Maria Rilke and Friedrich Holderlin still inspire readers' awe and respect. Besides, Bose's translation of the Indian epic poem Meghdoot by Kalidas has long been considered a treasure of the world literary corpus. Three decades later, in the 1960s, enlightened translators like Manabendra Bandyopaddhay entered the scene.

Meanwhile in East Bengal, later Bangladesh, a number of poets and novelists proved their worth in translation work as time wore on. They included, notably, Shamsur Rahman, Syed Shamsul Huq et al. Non-literary persons also emerged as translators like Fateh Lohani, who was basically a  consummate actor.  Many modern writers have proved their skill in translation. Translation continues in the 21st century Bangladesh. It has now become clear that the job is not the work of linguists or academics. But there still is a great dearth of professional translators. Not even publishers which bring out only translated books have their own translators. In the 1960s, Franklin Books, a wing of the USIS in Dhaka, published a large number of collections of American authors. Noted fiction and short story writers and poets of the country got engaged in the translation job. The translators included Shammsur Rahman (Robert Froster Kabita), Syed Shamsul Huq (Srabon Raja, translation of Saul Bellow's novel Henderson the Rain King), Fateh Lohani (Samudrasangam,   translation of Ernest Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea), Allan Po'r Golpo (Selected Stories of Edgar Allan Poe) etc. Besides these, Shamsur Rahman translated Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Syed Shamsul Huq brought to the readers the tormented world of Macbeth. Those were published by other houses. Earlier, Ahmed Sofa took efforts to translate Goethe's Faust. 

These days a few Bangladeshi publishers on a large scale began coming up with books translated into Bangla.  According to them, these books have demand among a large section of readers. Unfortunately, most of these Bangla-translated works smack of lots of drawbacks like weak translation, lack of lucidity in their use of Bangla, especially in the case of novels and stories, inept editing etc. These books cannot be placed alongside the Bangla translations coming out in Kolkata. The Bangladeshi publishers ought to enter this challenging field on being fully equipped. Only a handful of them can boast of proficiency in both Bangla and English. Many of them do not have even the sketchy idea of the global English-language publication sector. This is no insurmountable problem.

The large and enlightened publishers can appoint fulltime editors. Their jobs are expected to range from collecting books worth translating, contacting the overseas writers and completing the delicate tasks related to the issues of copyright and payment to the original authors. These are imperatives for the professional publishers. Apart from enhancing the publishers' goodwill, these functions will ensure continued dividends coming to them.

Reading habit continues to change. Alongside, the readers' preferences for overseas books translated into Bangla have been on the increase over the decade. It is, thus, high time big publishers began searching for gifted translators. They could be made to remain attached to certain publication houses. These new trends will only add to the variety of Bangladesh publications. A few publishers have begun laying stress on opening their translation divisions. Due to their makeshift arrangements, they cannot engage translators who can be fully trusted. This should change. What contribution the relevant government institutions have been making over the last few decades in publishing well translated and edited books is anybody's guess. As they have the funds and manpower to remain active round the year, government-run institutions cannot afford to remain idle. Unlike the commercial publishers, they have the means to form translators' pools as well.

 

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