Overview of two-way translation exercises

A section of literary and scholarly enthusiasts tirelessly advocates the Bengali translation of foreign language books in their respective fields. That by foreign books they mean English is implied. In Bangladesh, especially in higher grade scholarly disciplines, students suffer from the lack of accessible textbooks. A number of them made available to learners are obsolete, their context has long been irrelevant. Students studying the various branches of higher sciences are acutely confronted with this problem. At the same time, students enrolled in the fields of economics, sociology, history, geopolitics, conflicts and climatology content themselves with newspaper articles written in English. They are mainly intended for intellectually prepared mature people. Thus arises the need for locally written books, which should be produced by professional authors. Much to the chagrin of university students, the insufficient number of books available is in most cases deemed insufficient to meet the academic needs of students. In this context, what students need are skillfully translated Bengali books on these subjects.

Poor knowledge of English, the closest to us of overseas languages, led to intellectual atrophy. A similar condition prevails in the field of the arts in a broad sense, literature in particular. The irony is that literature is nobody’s domain. The way in which a writer must pass through a certain number of trying phases to be recognized as a novelist or a poet must also be passed through by others in order to emerge as a creative translator. The literary scene in Bangladesh is divided into two segments on the issue of translation of creative works. While discussing the topic, the larger section was always enthusiastic about translating the Bengali books into English. According to them, the reason why Bangladeshi literature is largely unknown to the Western world is that the books of the country’s authors have not yet been widely translated. They passionately point out the case of the English translation. According to these translation enthusiasts, the books translated into English are enriched with non-alloy elements in order to be translated into all the main European languages. But they have no clear idea who will do the preliminary work: translating the Bengali books into English. Similar limitations plague Kolkata in West Bengal, India, another predominantly Bengali-speaking city in South Asia. Kolkata enjoys the reputation of giving great Bengal some brilliant translators who have translated a number of modern world classics into Bengali. Among them, we note “The Outsider” by Albert Camus. Premendra Mitra, the poet, translated the novel into Bengali under the title “Ochena”. Besides this fiction, dozens of overseas poems, especially those from Latin America, fictions and stories from other continents have been translated into Bengali in Kolkata. Kolkata has also taken initiatives to translate Bengali novels into English. Enakshi Chatterjee, a seasoned Bengali to English translator, has translated Sunil Gangopaddhay’s widely read novel “Purba-Paschim” into English.

The purist section participating in the English translation debate argues that appearing before English-speaking readers around the world with poorly translated books could spoil the country’s image. It is feared that these substandard English translations could harm the spontaneous and varied literary production of the country. In the 21st century, it is clear that in Bangladesh, there are two schools – one for English translation and one completely against it. The second group is not prepared to make even a little concession on the perfection of the English used in the translated works. Despite the opposition of perfectionists to the weak English translations of poems, short stories and novels in Bengali, these books continue to come out in the country.

However, some Dhaka writers have excelled in translating literary books, especially poetry and novels into Bengali. They include both big names and promising youngsters from independent Bangladesh. Beginning with Ishwarchandra Bidyasagar, the tradition in the past was later confirmed by Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore and after a long interval by the poets of the 1930s including Buddhadeb Bose, Sudhindranath Dutta, Bishnu Dey et al.

Bangladesh in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s witnessed an almost golden age of American fictions and stories translated into Bengali. It was born out of a great project led by Franklin Books. The project, a publishing venture, aimed to translate literary works into American English by leading writers from what was then East Pakistan and then Bangladesh. Thanks to Franklin Books, readers in Bangladesh have been able to access the works of the great American authors of the 20th and 19th centuries. They include, among others, Robert Frost, the poet, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe et al. Poet Shamsur Rahman translated Frost’s poems for the publishing 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’, directed by Fateh Lohani, and Edgar Allan Poe’r Golpo (Selected Stories of Edgar Allan Poe) and a number of books for minors. . A list of foreign books translated into Bengali over the decades shows that translators have mostly relied on English. Although the writing medium of the original authors was German, French, Spanish, Greek or Italian, the translators were forced to turn to the English versions of the books. This is because few Bangladeshi translators are fluent in the mentioned European languages. In fact, few authors or translators are fluent in European languages ​​other than English. Even novelist Syed Waliullah, a longtime 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 Bengali literary works in Dhaka and Kolkata have been translated into European languages ​​other than English. The poet Olokranjan Dasgupta, residing in Germany and speaking fluent German, is said to have had his collections of poetry translated into German. Russian scholar poets with knowledge of Bengali translated Bengali poetry from Dhaka into Russian in the early 1970s. At the same time, the poems of legendary Russian poets such as Mayakovsky, Yevtushenko or Voznesensky were introduced to Dhaka readers in Bengali translation . If the poet and translator Loknath Bhattacharya had not translated Rimbaud’s “A Season in Hell” into Bengali, entitled “Norokey Ek Ritu”, Bengali readers would have been deprived of the work of the French poetic genius. The same goes for the poetic production 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 Bengali. In Baudelaire’s case, Bose used his primary knowledge of French and his extraordinary command of Bengali and English. In the daunting task, Buddhadeb’s debt to French language specialist Loknath Bhattacharya cannot be understated. Moreover, the extensive collection of poetry with a scholarly introduction by Bose on the life of Baudelaire and the contemporary poetic mood can itself be recognized as an independent book.

In summary, the literary translation of works in Dhaka remains a one-way exercise. A similar scene also exists in Kolkata. Almost all books, including a handful of academic books, are translated directly into Bengali. Without a two-way exercise, ie translating local books into English or other major European languages, and vice versa, the vast Bengali area cannot be recognized as self-sufficient in the genre of translation. Whatever the number of works translated, they result from individual and isolated initiatives. Without institutionalized efforts supported by literary and academic houses, the vast field of translation can hardly come to fruition in Bangladesh.

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