Overview of exercises in both-way translations
A section of literary and academic enthusiasts tirelessly advocate Bangla translation of foreign language books in their respective fields. That by foreign books they mean English is implied. In Bangladesh, especially in scholarly disciplines in higher classes, students suffer from the dearth of accessible textbooks. A number of them available to the learners are out-dated, their context long proven irrelevant. Students who study the different branches of higher science face this problem acutely. At the same time, students enrolled in the studies of economics, sociology, history, geopolitics, conflicts and climatology make do with newspaper articles written in English. They are mostly meant for intellectually groomed mature people. Thus there arises the need for locally written books, which ought to be produced by professional authors. To the woes of the university students, the inadequate numbers of books which are available are in most cases found not enough to meet the academic needs of the students. Against this backdrop, what the students need are deftly translated books in Bangla on these subjects.
The poor knowledge of English, the closest of the overseas languages to us, has led to an intellectual atrophy. A similar condition prevails in the area of the broader arts, literature in particular. The irony is that literature is not anybody's area. The way a writer is required to cross a number of gruelling phases to be recognised as a novelist or a poet has also to be crossed by others to emerge as a creative translator. The Bangladesh literary scene is divided into two segments on the issue of translating creative works. While discussing the subject, the larger section has always been enthusiastic about translating the Bangla books into English. As they view it, the reason Bangladesh literature is largely unknown to the Western world is the books by the country's authors haven't yet been widely translated. They passionately highlight the case for English translation. According to these translation enthusiasts, books translated into English are enriched with the unalloyed elements in order to get translated into all major European languages. But they do not have any clear idea as to who will do the preliminary job: translating the Bangla books into English. Similar limitations plague Kolkata in West Bengal, India, another mostly Bangla-speaking city in South Asia. Kolkata enjoys the reputation of giving the greater Bengal a few brilliant translators who have rendered a number of modern world classics into Bangla. Notable among them is Albert Camus' 'The Outsider'. Premendra Mitra, the poet, translated the novel into Bangla under the title 'Ochena'. Apart from this fiction, dozens of overseas poetry, especially those from Latin America, fictions and stories from other continents have been translated into Bangla in Kolkata. Kolkata also took initiatives to translate Bangla novels into English. Enakshi Chatterjee, a seasoned Bangla-to-English translator rendered Sunil Gangopaddhay's vastly read novel 'Purba-Paschim' into English.
The purist section participating in the debate of English translation backs the argument that appearing before the English speaking readers across the world with sloppily translated books might spoil the country's image. These substandard English translations are feared to detract from the nation's spontaneous and varied literary output. In the 21st century, it is clear that in Bangladesh there are two schools - one for English translation and the other dead against. The second group is not prepared to give concession even a little over the perfection of the English used in the translated works. In spite of the perfectionists' opposition to weak English translations of Bangla poems, short stories and novels, these books continue to come out in the country.
However, some Dhaka writers have excelled in translating literary books, especially poetry and novels into Bangla. They include both big names and promising youths in independent Bangladesh. Beginning with Ishwarchandra Bidyasagar, the tradition in the past was later upheld by Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore and, after a long gap, by the poets of the 1930s which included Buddhadeb Bose, Sudhindranath Dutta, Bishnu Dey et al.
Bangladesh in the decades of the 1960s and the 1970s witnessed a nearly golden age of American fictions and stories translated into Bangla. It was born as a grand project spearheaded by Franklin Books. The project, a publication venture, aimed at translating American English literary works by the major writers of the then East Pakistan, later Bangladesh. Thanks to the Franklin Books, the readers of Bangladesh were able to have access to the works by the major 20th and 19th century American authors. They include, among others, Robert Frost, the poet, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe et al. Poet Shamsur Rahman translated the poems of Frost for the publication house, titled Robert Froster Kabita, and Syed Shamsul Huq translated Saul Bellow's novel 'Henderson the Rain King'. The translations also included works 'Samudrasangam', translation of Ernest Hemingway's fiction 'The Old Man and the Sea', done by Fateh Lohani, and Edgar Allan Poe'r Golpo ( Selected Stories by Edgar Allan Poe) and a select number of juvenile books. A list of overseas books translated into Bangla over the decades shows that the translators have chiefly banked on English. Despite the original authors' medium of writing being German, French, Spanish, Greek or Italian, the translators were made to turn to the books' English versions. It's because few of the Bangladeshi translators are fluent in the European languages mentioned. In fact, there are few authors or translators who have the command of European languages other than English. Even novelist Syed Waliullah, a long resident of France couldn't see his magnum opus 'Laal Shaalu' in French during his lifetime. The English trans-creation of the novel, however, appeared in 1967.
Very few of the Bangla literary works in both Dhaka and Kolkata were translated into European languages other than English. Poet Olokranjan Dasgupta, a resident of Germany and fluent in German, is said to have his poetry collections translated into the German language. Bangla-knowing Russian scholarly poets have translated Bangla poetry from Dhaka into Russian in the early 1970s. At the same time the poems of the legendary Russian poets such as Mayakovski, Yevtushenko or Voznesenski were presented to the Dhaka readers in Bangla translation. Hadn't the poet and translator Loknath Bhattacharya rendered Rimbaud's 'One Season in Hell' into Bangla, titled 'Norokey Ek Ritu', the Bengalee readers would have remained deprived of the work of the French poetic genius. The same goes with the poetic output of the great French modernist poet Charles Baudelaire. Buddhadeb Bose, a major poet of the 1930s, translated a voluminous collection of the French poet's work into Bangla. In the case of Baudelaire, Bose employed his primary knowledge of French, and his extraordinary Bangla and English proficiency. In the strenuous task Buddhadeb's indebtedness to the French language scholar Loknath Bhattacharya cannot be belittled. Moreover, the vast poetry collection with an erudite introduction by Bose on Baudelaire's life and the contemporary poetic ambience can itself be recognised as an independent book.
To sum up, the literary translation works in Dhaka is still a one-track exercise. A similar scene exists in Kolkata, too. Almost all books, including a handful of academic ones, are translated straight into Bangla. Without a two-way exercise, i.e. translating local books into English or other major European languages, and vice versa, the Bangla speaking vast zone cannot be recognised as self-sufficient in the genre of translation. Whatever the numbers of translated works are, they result from individual, isolated initiatives. Without institutionalised efforts backed by literary and academic houses, the vast area of translation can hardly come of age in Bangladesh.