Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lost in Translation?

Here at Penguin India the majority of books we publish are written in English, although in recent years there have been a growing number of Hindi, Marathi and Urdu titles also released. At present we have around 100 Hindi, 15 Marathi and 10 Urdu books available, with the percentge of vernacular titles published increasing year on year.

Tonight sees the launch of one such book-Katha, an anthology of tech-savvy stories written in Hindi, at the Amaltas Hall, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi at 7pm. Professor Yashpal, educationist and former head of the University Grants Commission will release the book, and Dr. Namwar Singh, eminent Hindi critic and littérateur will preside over the function.

In this age of gloablisation, Katha reconfirms literature and science can co-exist. Take ‘Agle Andhere Tak’, a tale about a man who has visions of a computer remote controlling his life and his emotions, or 'Tum Yahan Chooke Darwin', a fresh perspective on the theory of evolution.

At the last launch I attended for The Untold Charminar - Writings on Hyderabad, Panchayati Raj Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, recited a selection of poetry by Hyderabadi poet Makhdoom Mohiuddin, which Syeda Imam, the editor of the book, translated into English for the audience. Mani Shankar Aiyar then recited the lyrics of three ghazals by Sufi poet Amjad Hyderabadi without translation, for as he said, everyone would understand the meaning of the words, and he was right!

Through the flowing sounds of his reading and the beautiful intonations of the Urdu langauage, I felt I could comprehend the meaning behind the words. Which brings me to the subject of this post-do you feel some of the meaning of words and phrases in vernacular languages, such as Hindi and Urdu, are lost when translated into English? Would you prefer to see them published in their original form, or do the gains of appearing in English, such as greater recognition and crediblity, outweigh the cons?

1 comment:

Usman said...

Depends so much on the translator. Saadat hasan manto's works translated by Khalid Hasan were quite good.
However, some of the poetry definitely cannot be rendered into the same exquisiteness. The more complex the thought, the more difficult it is to translate. Take Ghalib.

I would like to read and do both in English and Urdu. If we do not promote these languages, and the works; they are more likely to get lost. Thoughts and ideas make books great, not translations that do no justice to them.