Kalyan Raman · @kalyanasc

29th Mar 2015 from TwitLonger

English and Bhasha literatures

"How English Ruined Indian Literature" by Aatish Taseer:

"Dear Aatish Taseer, you’re right, but you’re also wrong" by Joseph Greenbaum, academic and translator from University of Chicago: http://scroll.in/article/716693/Dear-Aatish-Taseer,-you%E2%80%99re-right,-but-you%E2%80%99re-also-wrong

As practising translator, I have a few things to say in relation to the above two articles on the subject, especially Joseph Greenbaum's.

Both are right in identifying, more or less, "English as an outsized, problematic force that can cause all manner of distortions." Taseer stops with mere lamentation; Greenbaum thinks that translation of bhasha works into English can make a difference. I'll deal with JG first.

Literature in a language is intimately bound up with the history and lives of the people who speak and read primarily in that language. Any major Indian language has its own modern literary tradition, culture, discourse, what have you, which are continually evolving through a praxis which is their own. So, it is preposterous to say that translation into English is an essential pre-requisite for a Tamil writer (say) to feel that he has "arrived" and receives the attention he deserves in his own country / community. This is completely untrue, not only of Jayakanthan and Ashokamitran, but also of Marquez, Calvino and Paz. It is the response of their primary audience which is the bedrock on which such national and international reputations as they may acquire are built. There are exceptions, I know, but we mustn't mistake them for the rule.

JG is right when he says: "It’s not that these literature have been ruined. They’re there, and often thriving, but what follows - "But since they don’t exist in English, they’re often not visible" - gives the game away. A more proper way of saying this could be: "They're there, and often thriving, but we can't see them because we are blind (or have blinded ourselves)." That would be taking responsibility for oneself rather than granting oneself an easily available and hegemonic centrality. Democratic literary praxis in a multilingual country would demand no less.

That said, we really don't have a national discourse that will enlighten us on the diverse literary traditions and cultures that are being nurtured in various Indian languages. It exists at the margins, perhaps, in journals like Sahitya Akademi's journal, Indian Literature, and in their national and regional seminars, which seldom receive a significant level of public attention or response. And as luck would have it, our national literary/cultural discourse is by default the Anglophone discourse, controlled - and I use the word advisedly - by monolingual Anglophones. In fact, they also control the discourse on translations (into English), which is a story for another time. It's unrealistic (as well as unfair) to expect this category of people to build the kind of space I've suggested for bhasha literatures. Nor is it their burden, as JG rightly says, and they all recognize this only too well.

People who would like literature in Indian languages to be accorded its due place in the public sphere and contribute to the development of a national discourse (in English, naturally) on them, must do the hard slog of creating it through their intellectual contributions and making it endure through their claim on support from universities and cultural institutions, in India and abroad. How feasible this would turn out to be is anyone's guess. But we do need an independently existing alternative discourse on bhasha literatures which would do justice to the communities they represent. It would also do away with the vexing condescension and patronizing that is endemic to the privileged class.

Meanwhile, no power relationship is ever remade by one who is privileged thereby. Therefore, we must take AT's self-absorbed convulsions in that spirit. JG, who is relatively more knowledgeable in this regard, is yet pushing the primacy of Anglophone discourse through his advocacy of English translation. Clearly, both gents are part of the problem.

My 2p. Thank you for your attention.

Reply · Report Post