Published: 31st March 2018
This West Bengal-based author explains how translated books are conserving marginalised languages
Saubhik De Sarkar urges us to read more translated works to gain insight into other cultures and gives us tips on how to ensure that 'things are not lost in translation'
Ever wonder why you had to read translated works like Crime and Punishment and War And Peace at school and college? Let West Bengal-based author, Saubhik De Sarkar tell you. Having recently translated Y B Satyanarayana's My Father Baliah (Yes, the same book Rajinikanth was reading in the opening scene of Kabali) into Bengali, this master translator, who teaches at Alipurduar School, tells us what role translated books play in the conservation of marginalised languages and how they help us understand other cultures. Excerpts:
We all know that a cultural exchange happens when one reads a translated work. But what else do we perceive from it?
Umberto Eco, the Italian writer, once said, “Translation is always a shift, not between two languages but between two cultures or two encyclopedias.’’ Truly, it opens up new vistas, expands the horizon. Apart from the socio-cultural exchange, it gives a clear conception about the writings of other languages. By reading a translated work one can cultivate solidarity with works of other languages, one can imbibe new ideas and techniques to enrich their own literature. Translation gives an opportunity to feel the pulse of the contemporary world.
As a translator and poet, I feel translation is becoming a weapon to face challenges of intolerance which tries to destabilise the multicultural fabric of our country
Saubhik De Sarkar, teacher and translator
What technique or method do you use to ensure that things are ‘not lost in translation’? Can you elaborate with an example from your own work?
It is necessary to keep the flavour and texture of the writer’s voice in translated works. I try to read as much as possible about the writer, their other works, interviews and so on. It helps me find the right words and expressions. When translating the stories of Roberto Bolaño, I did the same and it gave me ideas about how to carry the street-smart, dark, bitter humour of Bolaño into Bengali.
Russian novels that have been translated have always been the popular choice. But what is the current trend?
Once Russian novels and other literary works were a popular choice. Their government-sponsored translation projects were also behind this immense popularity. French and German classic literature, African resistance poetry also became very popular. But after globalisation the scenario has changed. Latin American literature, particularly the major writers like L Boom, have gained popularity. Works from Eastern Europe and Middle East of Asia are also being translated. I have observed that inter-language translation in India is also gaining good momentum. Apart from the institutional efforts of Sahitya Akademi, National Book Trust and individual translators are also translating wonderful works of other Indian languages into Bengali.
When Sarkar was translating Rudramoorthy Cheran’s poems into Bengali, it gave him and the readers a chance to look into the scattered and displaced lives of the Tamilians of Sri Lanka after decades of the civil war
What does it take to be a translator?
It requires competence in both ‘source’ and ‘target’ languages. It needs flexibility and observational skill to translate words and expressions with their proper drive and connotations. And above all, a literary penchant is needed. Career path is rewarding as new opportunities are cropping up every day.