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NELit review

POST script 3
MARCH 11, 2012


The art of literary re-creation

Noted translator Deepika Phukan who has introduced English readers to such works as Felanee talks about her experiences in bringing stories from a different language alive



OST Assamese short stories are beautifully seasoned and flavoured. The veteran writers are themselves seasoned; the flavour spills out naturally. Younger and upcoming writers have a completely different twist in their writings. It is in entirely new vistas, that open up into a huge canvas, of a medley of events and situations covering passion, crime, poverty, corruption, intrigues and pathos. They make for interesting and easy reading. When I first started reading Assamese short stories, I had been battling cancer. During my most horrid hours, these stories helped to keep my mind away from my misery. That is when I decided to translate these stories. It seemed a pity that those of my friends who neither spoke nor understood the language were missing out on a good thing. Also I felt that these stories should get a wider exposure in other states of our country, and perhaps outside as well. That is when I had started translating some Assamese short stories into English. My first venture was my book Moments. It was a collection of a dozen short stories, published by Cambridge India. Earlier, Arupa Patangia Kalita had asked me to translate Felanee. I had then told her, that I needed to gather enough courage to translate so many pages at one go. But I promised to translate the book, if and when I felt confident after my first venture with short stories. Moments included one of her stories too. After Moments, I took a holiday from translating and wrote my own stories for a while. And then, I decided to translate Felanee. Arupa was delighted and so was I, for being confident. This was a most powerful novel that I had decided to translate! I looked forward to doing it.

It took me seven-and-half months to complete the translation. Zubaan very kindly agreed to publish the book. They did not know me, but they had previously published Dawn which had been authored by Arupa. They knew the quality of her writing. It was while I worked on Felanee that I realised how difficult translation work could be, more so when the matter was as steeped in cultural contexts as this book was. There were Assamese expressions that were colloquial, but beautiful. They were faithful representations of a persons moods of sullen resentment, sympathy, passion, love and hate. But translated into a different language, they soon lost their original essence and true flavour. To cite an example, the word abhiman does not have an English counterpart that would faithfully convey the mood of an Indian woman in an Indian setting. It is truly a very typical Assamese word portraying a very unique and subtle emotion. Then, also, there are forms of address such as heri, hera and herou in Assamese. The first is a respectful address for a senior, the second is usually an affectionate address between husband and wife, which can also be used with youngsters, while the third is the common form of address reserved for a domestic help and also for children of the family. The word, used in context, automatically creates the mood of the situation. This cannot be conveyed in a different language. Also some of the colloquial expressions are beautiful but defy translation. At times, the translator is at loss. Has she been successful in maintaining her fidelity to the author? Has she been able to retain the flavour of the original work? This doubt can be a source of acute misery for the translator. While translating Felanee, it

Bitopan Borborah


had been necessary for me to replenish my stock of swear words and not too pleasing abusive dialect, in keeping with the text. Once the work is with the publishers, it is possible to set aside some parts of the original during editing. But then, the translator does not possess that right. By the time I had completed translating the novel, I had decided that such work was no joke. When I finished, I decided once again to take a holiday from translating. I went

AT times, the translator is at loss. Has she been successful in maintaining her fidelity to the author? Has she been able to retain the flavour of the original work? This doubt can be a source of acute misery for the translator
back to my own writing and published The Plum Tree. It soothed me. But then, I had this commitment to myself. I went back to translating many other short stories, Burhi Aair Xadhu and then Makam. In Burhi Aair Xadhu, I encountered the same problems with culturebased words. But I thorough-

ly enjoyed translating Makam. It made wonderful reading, and the language flowed naturally and smoothly. As such, translation was good going. Very rarely did I have to go back to my own work, with a sense of irritation or discontent. This translation brought to me a sense of freedom and fulfillment. The book was straightforward, educative and dotted both with anguish and humour. I was happy with what I produced by way of translation. However, I do have this to say about translation. At the end of the day it makes you feel that it is really a thankless task.

Considering the hours you spend on a paragraph to bring about the desired effect, it is after all a reproduction of a work of art produced by someone else. You can only hope that the author and the publisher would be happy with the work. In reproducing it in another language, you might even have recreated something. It might give you a sense of fulfillment, no doubt. But you are still taken for granted. Publishers for translated work are difficult to come by, unless you are a renowned writer. Then, when you find a publisher, it is usually months or a couple of years, at least, before a translated book gets published and reaches the market. You tend to forget that yours is not the only job with the publishers. By that time your enthusiasm is at zero level. Personally, I have been inordinately fortunate to have found a straightforward, reasonable and cooperative publisher like Zubaan. I have known many translators who have been fed up looking for a publisher for their translated work. Eventually, when they do find a publisher, they are disappointed with the terms offered. I fervently hope that things get better for translators in the coming years. T

Pradip Acharya is a former professor of Cotton College in Guwahati and a prolific translator in Assamese and English. He has some well known translations to his credit, including Ancient Gongs and When Seas Meet (translated from Assamese); and Krishnanga Kabir Kabita (an anthology of Black poetry translated into Assamese). Talking to Gitanjali Das, he says that writers from the Northeast have mastered different idioms and will evolve a vision of life in the years to come
u What does literature mean to you? Do you think it has any relevance in our day-to-day lives? According to you, does it have anything to do with all that is happening around us? t Literature is enriched understanding of life. And since it is the understanding of life, it has relevance in our day-to-day life in every way possible. When it comes to literature one does not write about something that is not relevant to our lives. When you advertise a fridge or a microwave, it relates to life in a different way. But when I talk of literature I mean creative literature. Anything you write cannot be literature. u How close is your relation with literature in general, and with literature of the Northeast in particular? t Literature cannot be general. It always has to be qualified. Often, it is qualified with reference to the region or language it originates from. Thus we have literature from the Northeast or we have Assamese literature, or Meitei, or Naga, or Hindi, or English.


Mending bridges across old divides


u What future do you see for literature from the Northeast? t I feel the future of literature from Northeast is very bright because there are so many good writers. We have different realities to express. Our writers have mastered different idioms and in time, they will also evolve a vision of life. u Name one book that had a lasting impact on you. In what way? t Dantes Divine Comedy has made a lasting impression on me in many ways.

EVEN states, myriad cultures, each culture rich in its own traditions the Northeast is perhaps the most diverse region in a country that takes pride in her diversity. Each ethnic group is prosperous with its own priceless treasures of literature, yet only a few languages have seen the limelight, mainly owing to issues like writers convenience. For a population that lives geographically so close to one another, we are strangely, unfamiliar with the literature of the others cultures. Translation is a path which bridges the divide between different groups. Caroline Marak, retired professor of the department of Garo in NEHUs Tura campus says: The role of translation is to know about different languages, literatures and cultures. However, we are isolated in our own literature. A writer or a reader, efficient in one particular language, seldom tries to explore other languages. Translators in the Northeast usually opt for popular languages like Assamese and English while translating a literary work and Garo, Bodo, Mising, Karbi and others do not get the exposure they deserve. Though organisations like the National Book Trust and Sahitya Akademi translate books in different regional languages, the translations are very few in number. Anwesha, a group based in Guwahati, has recently taken an initiative in collaboration with Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) to change the scenario of translation in the region and mend the linguistic divide. The project was launched on 14 December 2011 and as many as 180 books are being translated in Assamese, Bodo, Garo, Manipuri, Mizo and Khasi languages. 30 books will be translated in each of the six languages in this project, says Paresh Malakar, president of Anwesha. The project has brought together litterateurs like Desmond Kharmawphlang, T Bijoy Kumar Singh, Harekrishna Deka, Arup Kumar Dutta, Caroline Marak and Laltluangliana Khiangte

to make stories from folklore and about heroes who have done commendable work for the communities, available to different groups. Politically, Assam is a region which has seen countless conflicts between various ethnic groups. The same can be said of her neighbours. The root cause of such problems, according to Malakar, is the ignorance of people about the literature, culture and traditions of other languages. Literature is a way to understand the psyche of people. He believes that if a thorough study of folklore, stories and cultures of the different tribes is done, one can find that we have a number of things in common. We are scared of others because we feel they are different and we dont understand them. We complicate our problems by not understanding our commonalities, says Malakar. Another endeavour along the same lines has been taken up by the Srimanta Foundation and the Assam Satra Mahasabha. They launched a programme Setubandha, literally meaning building bridges, in 2003 under which people from different ethnic groups in Assam are trained to perform bhaonas (plays), the creation of Sankardev. But even though the bhaonas are performed by different tribes, they are in Brajabuli or Assamese language. However, some of them have been translated into tribal languages recently for the first time in history. An ankiya nat, Sita Haran Bali Badh has been compiled by Nirupama Mahanta and translated into Mising by Rameswar Madak. Bhaskarjyoti Mahanta, IGP (Training), Assam, who is associated with this project feels that though this is the land of Sankardev who had dreamt of a community where people could live with dignity and brotherhood, the various ethnic groups in Assam have been drifting apart. The idea behind this project is to make the tribes feel comfortable and cared for. Why should Sankardev belong to only one particular group of people in Assam? He is a guru for other tribes also, says Mahanta.


WE are scared of others because we feel they are different and we dont understand them. We complicate our problems by not understanding our commonalities G G
President, Anwesha

Though these organisations have been doing commendable work, there are very few writers who are driven towards translating a work into or from the lesser spoken languages. Some languages in the state like Bodo and Assamese are more developed than others and many works from other languages have been translated into them.

When Bodo language received recognisation under the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution in 2003, it was a major development towards the betterment of the group. Moreover, organisations like the Sahitya Akademi and some publishing houses have always encouraged Bodo translations. Anjali Daimary, social activist and

teacher in Barama College, was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for translation in the year 2007. Being a teacher and a student of literature, I felt that if I cannot create something, I must contribute through translation, says Daimary. She felt that children in her community could not read Assamese and they must have access to literature in other languages. Her awareness of the responsibility as a writer led her to translate. Another Bodo author, Maheswar Narzary, received the Bal Sahitya Puraskar from the Akademi in 2011 for his work Puranni Cholo Pithika. It saddened me to see that Bodo children could not read in other languages of the region, says Narzary, whose award-winning book consists of tales from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. The root of the barriers between different ethnic groups in the region, along with understanding different languages is, therefore, education. If a child is taught about different cultures and languages from a very young age she will develop an interest towards the surroundings, which will in turn lead to an understanding about the neighbours. The project undertaken by Anwesha targets the children because of this reason. When children are given exposure to something at a tender age, it tends to make a better impression on them, says Malakar. He also points out that one of the major problems in the area of translation is that 90% of the works that are being translated are fiction. There are great works in the area of non-fiction available in English but not enough in regional languages, says Malakar. Even though English has become the accepted medium of instruction in citybased schools and colleges, there are hundreds of institutions that follow local dialects. Malakar feels the picture is the same in other states as well. Though this is just the beginning of a growing awareness of people towards getting acquainted with literary treasures through translations, a lot needs to be done if we are to stay united in a culturallydiverse region. T

u What book would you recommend for our readers and why? t No, I will not make any suggestions to the readers. Readers will find out what kind of books are to their liking on their own. Why should I impose my taste on them? My taste, like everyone elses will be limited.

CFP: UGC Seminar
Organiser: Department of English, Kakatiya University, Warangal Theme: Multiculturalism in Indian Literatures Date: 19 - 20 March 2012 What to submit: Hard and soft copies of abstracts/papers (3000 words) to M Rajagopalachary, Coordinator and G Damodar, Deputy Coordinator/ M Rajagopalachary, Convener of the Seminar, Department of English, Kakatiya University, Warangal-506009, Andhra Pradesh Deadline for abstract: 17 March 2012 Email for abstracts/papers: Contact: +919866558275, +919849142641

Corrigendum: The author of the review 'Swarnalata: A journey towards light' in Postscript 04 March 2012 is Anjali Sarma.