does the essence get lost in translation? When does a translation
fail to whip up the same enthusiasm as does an original? These
key questions may jostle the mind of every disenchanted reader.
The answers lie only in the fact that like an original, any
translation too, either simply works or does not.
There is no easy solution to the problem of rewriting a novel,
a poem or an epic, or even scientific work in another language.
As with the original, the translation too needs a talented
writer to make the pen cough up the information, the wisdom,
the turn of events and the artistic energy almost in the vein
of the original. However, as many of the translations fail
to emulate the essence, there are works that even supersede
the original. Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said about the English
translation of his masterpiece, "One Hundred Years of
Solitude", of having far more lucid a language than what
he wrote in Spanish.
The history of Bangla language too is replete with examples
of translations that in essence stand on their own as they
often surpass the feat of the original work. But, there is
a whole gamut of literary exploitation that simply fails to
bring the real brew to the people of this riverine flatland.
In the context of the history of the Bangla Language SWM tries
to measure the volume and value of works that sprang from
history of Bangla literature is capacious. It has been the
ground that was tilled in many different ways at various points
of time to make many different harvests. "It was the
military feudalism during the rule of Allauddin Hussain Shah
(1494-1590) that Mahabharata and Ramayana
were first translated in Bangla. The state language was Farsi
(Parsian), and Sanskrit was the language of the Hindu pundits;
it was in this backdrop that the Hindu epics were first translated
in the popular language that was Bangla," points out
Salimullah Khan, a linguist with a strong penchant for historicity,
one who is also a writer who translated a number of philosophical
works. He pin points the rise of Chaitanya Dev, the Vaishnav
avatar, as being the Renaissance of Bengal.
century is the time of Chaitanya Dev, and it is the beginning
of Modernism in Bengal. The concept of 'humanity' that came
into fruition is contemporaneous with that of Europe,"
notes Khan. He believes that all hopes of progressing on that
humanistic line were dashed when the British came and forced
all things Bangla into a "subordinate position".
the 16th century, the Vaishnav movement led by Chaitanya had
various social, political and literary implications. Most
importantly Vaishnavism forced to bring the language of the
masses to the fore. "The discourse of knowledge was Sanskrit
at that time. It was Chaitanya who emerged from Sylhet and
settled in Orissa to spread his humanistic ideas that spurred
a process of interaction between the elite and the subaltern,"
Khan points out.
led a revolt against the Sanskrit-speaking pundits of his
time. The Sri Krishna Kirttan, a series of story-telling lyric
poems, is a major work in Bangla of his time. "It is
the tale of Uttar Pradesh retold in Bangla," says Khan.
"The Radha-Krishna tale of north Indian origin assumed
Bangali characteristics in Sri Krishna Kirttan," continues
Khan. He terms the Bengal Vaishnavism that contributed in
bringing Bangla into use by superseding Sanskrit in the "phase
one" of the history of Bangla literature.
unequivocal about the fact that "the history of Bangla
literature is the history of translation". It was in
the first phase that Mahabharata and Ramayana
were translated, the former by poets like Kavindra Parameshavra
and Shrikara Nandi, two major poets during the rule of Hussain
Shah. It was also the era when through the Bangali brand of
Vaishnavism the poems of Radha-Krishna was adapted into Bangla.
phase of the history of Bangla too is a time when a lot got
translated. New poets emerged, who are now popularly known
as "medieval poets", were the major exponents of
the Arakan court. Alaol (1607-1680), Daulat Kazi (1600-1638),
Muhammad Khan, Daulat Ujir Bahram Khan and the likes steered
Bangla literature on a relatively newer course. Outside the
Arakan court there was Shah Abdul Hakim.
most celebrated work titled Padmavati was based on the Hindi
original named Padmavat by Malik Mohammed Joyasi. Even his
major works like Saptapaykar and Sikandernama were of (Farsi)
Persian origin. Heavily influenced by his two predecessors
Kanshi Ram Das and Krittee bash, Alaol was the most prolific
poet of 17th century Bengal. Both Kanshi Das and Kritti bash
had translated the Ramayana in the previous era.
Kazi based his major work on Ramayana and Mahabharata, the
epics by Jaydev and Kalidas. A Sufi by faith, he espoused
a liberal view. His work, like many other poets of his time,
doted on all kinds of literary sources, be they Hindu, Vaishnav
or Islamic in origin. Baharam Khan's Laily Majnu and Imam
Bijoy were also translated from original Arabic literature.
The former work got eternally tied up with the folklore of
was the time when a new set of writers started translating
from Awadhi, the language of Lukhnow, which was the classical
Hindu land of Ayodhya. Awadhi itself was an amalgam of Hindi,
Urdu and Farsi. Most of the translations of this period are
from Hindi and Farsi," Khan says.
works were translated from Arabic to Bangla in the second
phase. And the third phase saw a flurry of translations from
English to Bangla," says Khan, who also points out that
it was in the 19th century, 70 years after the conquest of
India by the East India Company in the 1760 that "the
creative spurt first became visible".
was in 1830 onwards that two kinds of forces came into play
-- one of secular enlightenment and the other of missionary
aspirations," Khan adds. "Thousands of books were
translated into Bangla for the first time in history. There
were books on geography, medicine and other science subjects.
And the missionaries translated a lot of religious texts,"
to Khan, the great hey-day of translation ended in 1857 when
Kolkata University came into existence and English was imposed
as the medium of learning. "The time between 1820 and
1860 was the most fertile. It was the time of Rammohon. Thousands
of books that were translated then are now lost forever,"
says Khan. He pins down the fact that the School Text Book
Society and the School Society that were established in 1820,
had opened up the floodgate for learners in Bangla. "The
periodical like Tottobodhini (1840s) and Bibidartho Shogroho
(1850s) regularly printed scientific texts in translation,"
Khan testifies. Radhanath Sikder, who surveyed the height
of the Himalayas, used to translate scientific discourses
for the latter journal. It was McCall's policy of education
that made English the only medium of learning, putting an
end to the need for works in translation.
of learning in Bangla was followed by a barren time in the
field of translation. English became the Lingua Franca of
that time, as Sanskrit used to be in the olden times. Like
the Buddhist scholars of the 15th century who shunned the
language of the masses and opted for Tibetan, the intelligentsia
groomed in English too, avoided Bangla altogether. It was
the 19th century, and English as a language ruled Bengal.
was during the political upheaval of the 1930s that Bangla
was again sought by both Muslim League and the Congress leadership
to be able to relate to the masses. The Congress even proposed
to make it the medium of education," says Khan. And he
sees the era of so-called "renaissance of Bengal"
when the intelligentsia absorbed all things English as a "dark
age" while "living on borrowed ideas".
need translations to be on a level with the world, we lagged
behind in this as we were ruled by the British. The translated
works say how much of the ideas of the world is being read
in your own language," observes Khan.
of works have been translated into Bangla over the last 600
years. Yet the field of philosophy remains a vacant slot.
"You wouldn't find a dependable edition of Karl Marx
in Bangla. The Moscow-based Progress Publisher put out the
third to the fourth edition, but they are no good," says
Cold War era is the fourth phase that has seen a spell of
works in translation. As the two superpowers were locked in
a tug of war in the information arena, it soon turned into
a race between "exporting" knowledge to supersede
the "other". The Russians translated and published
on their own by employing people like Noni Bhoumik, Dijen
Sharma, Arun Shome and Hayat Mamud in Moscow and then they
exported the books to the receiving countries to be sold at
very low prices.
Americans had a better policy. They paid a section of Bangali
intellectuals in the 1960s to translate anti-communist literature.
Then they paid the local publishers hefty amounts to print
and distribute the books in the local market," Khan harks
back to the Cold War days. "The Franklin Book Project
in Dhaka was busy doling out money to translate and publish.
Most of these translations were bad. And the books too are
not in demand. The translations done in Moscow were third
rate, with a few exceptions. Somor Sen did some excellent
translations," Khan continues.
War did produce a few sparkling moments. Syed Shamsul Haq
translated Saul Bellow's Henderson--The Rain King, and Monir
Chowdhury showed his acumen as a translator of several American
Alam, a writer and an Assistant Editor of Prothom Alo, says
that several of the later period translations from the Progress
Publisher were good. "Arun Shome who translated Tolstoy's
Crime and Punishment and Resurrection from the originals were
really good," says Alam.
Academy that came into being in 1955, to this day, remains
a hub of the translators. Most of its significant translations
were done in its early days, as it now focuses more on textbooks
to generate income. "Their translations are not enough;
the translators too are paid inadequately. But the programme
they have is invaluable. This is the one that put out El Beruni's
work in translation. No other private publisher could accomplish
this," Khan emphasises.
was a separate translation cell in Bangla Academy in the 1960s.
And they had their own translators; Sardar Fazlul Karim was
one such translator. It was in the 1960s that Nietzche's Thus
Spake Zarathustra, and even Crime and Punishment were published,"
Moshiul Alam reveals.
Academy, founded during the Ayub rule, later became the Islamic
Foundation in the liberated Bangladesh. It contributed to
a lot of translation from Arabic and Farsi. However, even
before the existence of any institution, Bhai Girish Chandra
Sen translated the Quran in the 1880s.
scenario could have been a time of reawakening to the world
of knowledge, but it was not. "Even Bangla Academy's
efforts fizzled out after liberation. We soon began to see
that it is the willingness on the part of certain individuals
that made translations possible. Nowadays, it is the writer
who takes a fancy to a work of literature and then takes steps
to translate it," Alam observes.
phase has little to crow about. There has been a slide in
translations from the originals. There has been intermittent
flickers of light that are solely the contribution of a handful
of talented writers. "Abu Mohammad Habibullah did some
work in the 70s that are from the original, for example the
Bharat-Totto of El Beruni. Al Mukaddima, Ibne Khaldun was
also translated from the original language by Golam Samdany
Koraishi," observes Zamil bin Siddique, a senior sub-editor
of the Daily Prothom Alo. Zamil also praises the pre-independence
efforts of Monir Chowdhury in translating Shakespeare.
1971, it was Zafar Alam who single-handedly translated the
works of Krishan Chandr, Ismat Chugtai and Prem Chand from
Urdu. Abdus Sattar remained the only exponent of Arabic translation,
he worked on Nagib Mehfuz and Taufique al Hakim.
the theatre movements of the 1970s and the 1980s that spurred
many writers to pick up the pen to translate some major works.
"Syed Haq translated Macbeth and Tempest as well as Julius
Caesar, which was adapted in Bangla and was called Gono Nayok,"
also believes that Sheba Prokashoni, with their concise versions
and lucid language, has been able to capture the imagination
of the younger readers. He extols their effort in bringing
out concise versions of Mahabharata and Ramayana. But, Alam
disagrees. According to him, most of what this popular publisher
churned out in the last three or so decades are "efforts
to mimic the story lines of the original works, they seldom
take into account the artistic verve that a good piece of
1990s, there has been a steady rise in the number of translation
of books that had fetched international awards. And they lack
all that is essential to call a translation a work of literature.
From Arundhati Roy to Salman Rushdie, most awarded writers
have enjoyed getting translated in Bangla. These works severely
lack artistic merit.
is Khaliquzzaman Illias, who wrote Myth-er Shokti from Joseph
Cambel's The Power of Myth, and Gulliver's Travels in Bangla,
upon whom the hope of getting a good translation could be
rested. He also translated Sholokov that came out from Mukta
Dhara, a publishing house that used to concentrate on cheap
production. Roshomon is another of his much-talked about translations.
Illius and a few like Shibobroto Bormon and GH Habib are the
ones who often resort to the English versions of the original
work. Habib translated the much celebrated One Hundred Years'
of Solitude and Italo Calvino's Invisible City and Bormon
did an excellent job with VS Naipaul's Miguel Street, and
Sayed Wahliullah's French writings like How to Cook Beans
and Ugly Asian; they subsequently came out in the special
supplements of Prothom Alo.
good translators are quite a few, there are some who bring
a breath of fresh air to the literary scene as well as the
world of knowledge. One such translator is Salimullah Khan,
who translated Orientalism by Edward Said. Now, one of his
series of Plato's writings from Greek are to hit the market
this month. "It is coming out under the rubric of Plato's
Collected Works containing three Socratic dialogues,"
says the translator. Khan also did the translation of Dorethy
Soelle from the German original back in 1998. As for Plato,
it was Rajani Kanto Guho who first translated four dialogues
from the Greek original; that too was in 1922.
a lot of literary works has seen its publication in Bangla,
philosophy and science remain almost a closed chapter as there
are a few writers capable of translating them. Though Bangla
as a language still lacks a grammar of its own, it has proved
its significance as an incredible vehicle of expression, both
in original writing and in translation. But how the Bangla-speaking
people will shape their future alongside that of the language,
depends a lot on what they are capable of interiorising using
the mother tongue.
Literature in Bangla
history of translating literary works of other languages into
Bangla goes back a long way. In the 19 century, the work of
translating took a new turn. The missionaries in the then
Indian subcontinent believed that they must have a good grip
on Bangla to deepen their roots here and perpetuate the colonial
rule. They were thus very eager to learn Bangla. But the Bangla
that was spoken was poles apart from the Bangla that was used
in literature. Bangla literature at that time basically meant
Bangla poetry. Bangla prose as we know it today was nonexistent.
This endeavour was centred on the Fort William College. A
group of pundits led by Mrittunjoy Torkalanker and Ram Ram
Basu and others were given the responsibility of writing Bangla
prose. It was decided that works of Sanskrit, Persian and
Arabic literature would be translated into Bangla. That was
the time when the colonial rulers had taken up steps to translate
works of other languages into Bangla.
the giant literary figures of the nineteenth century translated
from works of Sanskrit literature. Ishwarchandra Bidyasagar
translated Kalidas' Shakuntala, Rajshekhar Basu translated
Valmiki's Ramayan and Kashiram Das did Byadbesh's Mahabharata.
But as far as translating western literature is concerned
the most significant name is certainly Micheal Modhusudan
Dutta, says litterateur and critic Abdul Mannan Syed. Modhusudan
is the first major Bangali poet who was very well versed in
world literature. He knew fourteen languages including Greek,
French, Italian not to mention Sanskrit and Persian. He translated
from both Homer and Dante.
to Syed, another major Bangali poet of the nineteenth century
who has great contribution to Bangla translation literature
is Sattyendranath Dutta, whose mastery over rhyme earned him
the title of "Chander Jadukar" (the magician of
a three-book series of translated works from literary troves
of such languages as varied as English, French, German, Italian,
and Japanese. "His translation of Baudleaire and Heinrich
Heine's works are great treasures of Bangla literature. He
also translated the Hadith," Syed reveals.
also did some translations. He admired the English Romantic
poets and translated quite a few poems of Coleridge, Wordsworth,
Shelley, Keats and Byron. He also translated the most influential
English poet of his era (of the first half of the twentieth
century) Eliot's poems. Besides the compendium of English
writers, Tagore has translated Victor Hugo and Hafiz' s works.
Islam knew Persian very well and his most favourite poet was
Hafiz. His translation of Hafiz and Omar Khaiyam's works are
remarkable. His great authority of Persian and Arabic literature
has inspired him to import many Persian and Arabic words into
his writing, which has greatly enriched Bangla vocabulary.
His hamd and nath displays how a great poet absorbs and makes
foreign words, phraseology and syntax the property of his
own native language.
poets of the thirties, particularly Buddhadev Basu, Sudhin
Dutta and Bishnu Dey have had their share of contributions
to Bangla translation literature. Buddhadev Basu's translation
of Baudleaire's poems is considered a milestone in the whole
range of translation literature while Sudhin Dutta, who was
very well-versed in French and German, had translated a good
number of poems from both the languages.
it comes to institutional efforts, Bangla Academy has done
a fairly large volume of translations works. Litterateur and
academicians Professor Kabir Chowdhury who has some 50 books
of translation to his credit, though acknowledges Bangla Academy's
endeavour in this respect, is not exactly full of praise as
far as quality is concerned. The Academy has sponsored translation
of Arabic masterpieces and got quite a sizable volume of works
of Sadi, Rumi and Iqbal translated into Bangla. Chowdhury
believes that quality-wise many of them are rather poorly
done. Especially with poetry, the translators had the right
techniques or skills but often lacked poetic capability, which
often render the translated versions lifeless.
is of the same opinion as far as translation of western literature
is concerned. The academy has translated works of Tolstoy
(Anna Kareninna), Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Rolla and many others,
but the quality remains suspect. One reason for that is, as
Chowdhury thinks, translation of non-English literary works
are not done directly from the original text, but often from
the English translation. So, it becomes a re-translation of
a translated work and most often much of the greatness of
the original work is lost in the process," he explains.
greatly appreciates the effort of Biswa Shahittya Kendra in
this regard, which he believes has got quite a good number
of translation works to its credit. He himself has translated
Greek playwright Aristophanes' "Bird" and "Frogs"
for the Kendra. He also talks of some publishing houses like
Oitijya and Samoy among others who have done some commendable
(R) thedailystar.net 2005