Translating for international understanding - The New Indian Express

Translating for international understanding

Published: 22nd January 2013 07:25 AM

Last Updated: 22nd January 2013 07:25 AM

A team appointed by the Ministry of Culture is working to make available representative works by Indian regional-language writers in six world languages (Russian, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and English). Its goals are related to, but not the same as that of the Sahitya Akademi which is to foster and promote the genius of Indian literature, full stop.

This venture of the MoC called Indian Literature Abroad will bankroll the preparation of translations through translators and publishers in the countries of the identified languages just mentioned. The broad plan is to introduce non-Indian readers through translations in their own languages to select Indic writers and their works, thereby familiarising them with India’s culture and sociology. A silent and subtle way to spread our literature? Why not? In much slower times, Sanskrit spread all over Southeast Asia without piggybacking on armies. Significantly, the university of Bangkok is called the University of Chulalongkorn, which is an evolution of the Sanskrit word chula alankaran (crown). Might a mutual exchange of cultural capital be effected if educational think-tanks were to design strong programmes of world literature in translation to be studied at school and college levels as seriously as chemistry and mathematics?

Increased globalisation and immigration patterns have made people aware of cultural differences, which, some time ago did not matter because we did not have to engage with them as much as we need to today. Does it not seem that when words like ‘global citizen’ are used every day and in almost every context, the understanding of what it really means to be equipped for global dialogue is missing?

While education for international understanding (EIU) has its place we urgently need a programme of education for national understanding because local ignorance about ourselves and our country is so astounding that most educated people have no idea of the most urgent social issues facing the nation because they have never been trained to look beyond their personal needs or comfort zones. There is nothing in the educational system that emphasises looking inward to look beyond the self. Our education focuses fiercely on the material world and neglects the intangible aspects of our socio-culture. While we struggle to move our writers into English, the silences between adjacent linguistic regions in India are both intense and remarkable. Not only can we not read one another’s languages but we also hardly feel any remorse for this disability. Some of us cannot even read our own mother tongue. Sometimes it takes days for news from regional language media to reach the English media: we are so boxed off that we are literally living in zones severed more sharply linguistically than geographical!

Do we need to be reminded that we live in an interactive world? A condition that is not only desirable but also necessary. Our growing global socio-political and economic transactions call for the osmosis of information and ideas between and across linguistic divides. We need another renaissance to save the world from ourselves and the handiest instrument of peace is translation.

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