Translation: A Responsibility to be Carried Out

Dr. Elham Hossain:

Many people believe that translation causes violence to the original text. If it is so, a handful of questions immediately cross our mind. Then should we not translate any text? How does translation betray the original text? The basic question that visits our mind anyway is – what is translation in true sense?

Can it be depended with any theoretical pedagogy? Or is translation itself a theory? If theory helps the way of seeing then is it a tool? If it enhances and goes so far that it creates a new way of seeing then doesn’t it contradict the original text? Does it borrow forms from the psychological disposition of the translator to come into being? Then what will happen if an anti-feminist translates a feminist text or if a colonialist translates an anti-colonial text?

This bunch of questions decides some inevitable tasks of a translator. If he takes up this task as a discipline then he can take resort to theories which will obviously provide him with a frame work that will ensure the authenticity of the text to a great extent because theories take the translator in contact with an innovative and experimental world and make him indulge in a richer mental world. Theories do these great jobs by evoking an urge in the translator’s mind for knowing the cultures, customs, languages, political realities, psychological disposition, economic activities and even the power structure of the time in which the text is produced. It is just like, according to Boase–Beier, knowing about seasonal pattern, phases of moon, soil and plant nutrition before sowing seeds. (Translation: Theory and Practice in DialogueXII). The knowledge of a translator about the vive in which the text is produced will of course help the translator remain faithful to the voice, tone and mode of the author.

Translation is a ubiquitous and inseparable process of human psychology. It continues all the time without any drawing even in the best attention of a man. Our seeing is continuously being translated into knowing or believing. Langue is incessantly being translated into parole.

Our reading is continuously being translated into writing. But is seeing believing? Is Langue equal to parole? Is reading same as writing? Of course, there are lots of nuances between reading and writing. There is an intrinsic missing link between these binaries.

This missing link can never be recovered but can only be approached. The work of approaching this missing link can be done with theories that work as a tool by means of which one can reduce the gap between these binaries. But this gap can never be sealed with the attempt of a translator. Probably, considering this inability,readers may label a translator as a traitor or transgressor and dare to call translation a skeleton of a text.

Nevertheless, translation is widely known as an art, a process, a craft with both philosophical and scientific basis. The act of translation is philosophical because it simultaneously generates questions and answers out of the interaction between the text and the translation.

This interaction can be termed as dialogue which conspicuously lies behind the act of translation. A translator must possess a philosophic disposition that deepens his relationship with the text. The deeper this relationship is the more successful is the task of translation because this relationship fortifies the dialogue between the translator and the text and arguably it,

“…… lies behind the act of translation itself, ideally enabling a flow of meaning between languages and cultures that not only helps us to recognize and respect individual difference, but may ultimately perhaps allow us to consciously participate in that unifying and coherent whole which underlies our being in this world. (Fawcette at al 4)

This dialogue is also fortified by the interplay between theory and practice. Theory does not take a hand into the act of translation. It remains at considerable distance but through a telepathic reciprocation it fashions the practice of translation, makes it scientifically precise and evokes study of sociological, political, historical and psychological aspects of the text.

Thus, the practice of translation interacts with theory. A practitioner may be a theorist and vice versa. So, translation theory goes simultaneously with practice. Practice is guided by theories and theories are generated from practice. This process is commonplace all around us. The tool of culture by which we are identifying ourselves with regard to our entity is also passing through a continuous translation process.

This dialogue between ‘informing theory’ and ‘performing practice’ increases a translator’s capability to have a reliable command upon the target language and the target culture. This very ability helps the translator reconstruct the translated text with a suitable and congenial aura for the target readers.

To reach the target readers successfully understanding of the contextual condition related to the target culture and people is a must for the translator. This task may be done and the stereotype of his attitude may be overcome by the translator’s adherence to the discursive approach to the theories.

But the question, in this regard, arises regarding the translator’s lack of discursive knowledge of theory- is it possible to reach the target readers without having subjugation to the praxis? It may be possible to some extent if the translator can overcome this stereotype by indulging his self in the selves of the target readers. This task of indulgence may be achieved if the translator keeps his eyes open to the anthropological thoroughfares of his target readers.

This task enables the translator to bring about a negotiation between his own experience and the response of the target readers to it. The thought process of the target readers may be reshaped and reconstructed by the translator if they (target readers) are not well aware of their own way of thinking and perception. In this way,translation has got every possible chance to be used as an apparatus or tool in the hands of the translator to misinform and mislead the target readers and lead them to the trap of subjugation to misconception about the text.

Now if these ideas are explored from colonial perspective then it is very conspicuously found in this subcontinent like other plantations of the European colonizers that this tool was more abused than used by the European colonizers. Their dialogic interaction with the local texts enabled them to catch hold of the cultural realities and use it in their own favor, by controlling the minds of the natives.

The task of translation was a colonial project in this sub-continent in particular. ShashiTharoor in his An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India(2016) has overtly declared that “colonialism as itself a cultural and was produced by it; in certain important ways, knowledge was what colonialism all about” (122). European colonizers very deliberately tended to translate the natives into subjects, local law into terms, local system into fluidity, indiscipline and chaos.

For doing this,they targeted the epistemic materials of the locals, for example, theology, history books, technology, education system, and the ‘cult of rituals’. Access to these narratives well was required for understanding the country.

And proper understanding about a nation usually helps the colonizers exercise domination upon it. In this sub-continent the British studied Shastra not for the gratification of their curiosity for knowledge, but for enslaving the natives replicating local epistemology with their own knowledge. But the Persian and Sanskrit languages were inscrutable to them. So, they needed the translated version of the local texts in their own language.

Raja Rao in the Preface to his Kanthapuraasserts that English is the language of intellect, not emotion. On the other hand, the local languages of India are wrapped in emotion. So, when our texts were translated into English they,of course, have the risk of losing their tone and becoming mechanical.

Hence, a translated text arguably evokes suspicion because it has every possible chance to be intertextualised with the translator’s point of viewand voice and thus, it no more remains solely an adaptation of the source text.Translation has the power of cooperation and resistance. It so happens because it may be dictated by the translator’s ‘will to power’ and rule the conscious of the target readers.

In this subcontinent during the colonial period the colonizers’project was to transform the people into subjects, not citizens. European countries were made nation-states and the people there grew into citizens. In fact, a citizen refers to an entity defined by the constitution of a nation who has rights and who is marked for a developed sense of nationhood.

But a subject is enslaved because his conscious is not allowed to develop and question about the role of the colonizers who claim to be their masters. Relation between a master and his subject is determined by the terms ‘domination’ and ‘submission’.But the case of the relationship between a nation state and its citizens is a matter of mutual arguments and dialogue.

RanajitGuha has mentioned in his book Dominance without Hegemony how the British rulers exercised every possible strategy to transform the people of this subcontinent into subjects by creating situations so that the natives might take up British education and be transformed into ambivalent self because education was one of the chief determinants of this project.

And as a part of their project of exercising dominance upon the people here without hegemony they fell upon Indian shastra and got them translated into their languages so that they could rule our psychology and exercise dominance upon ourhistoriography. According to Ranajit Guha, as he quotes Mill, it is a project of “reducing Indian History to a “portion of the British History” (83).

Even under the stimulus of Western education the process of nationalism got retarded and sometimes weakened. One of the most learned Orientalists William Jones established Asiatic Society in 1797 with a view to making the epistemology of India available to the British rulers in their language, that is, English.

He did not want to depend on local pundits for knowing the local tradition. In his words, as we find in Tharoor’s An Era of Darkness (2016), “I can no longer bear to be at the Mercy of our pundits who deal out Hindu Law as they please, and make it at reasonable rates, when they cannot find it readymade”(126). Consequently, old neglected shastric texts were translated into the British language and under the subterfuge of religious authority the colonial rulers effectively impose control upon the natives.

Actually, translated texts could not carry the experience of the natives and the nuances of the cultural expressions and thus, gave a concocted message to the colonizers about the essence of local epistemology.It is undeniably true that translation creates new meaning and interpretation of the text. This newness is not identical to the objective of the target text. So, distortion of local narrative was done easily and deliberately and an artificial vacuum was created where the colonizers placed their own texts.

Moreover, translation serves as a translingual vector of meaning and “… it is only through translation efforts, processes, and types, however defined, that elements of one culture become available to Other, along with those specificities that ultimately constitute the identity of the culture and its mark of difference from the Other” (Oju 4). So, translation has the power of bringing about ‘cross-cultural accommodation’ and at the same time ‘cultural cohesion’.

In this process of cohesion the local culture faces the risk of appropriation or abrogation. At present if we just think of the case of Bangladesh it is found that as soon as an English language book wins an international prize or tops the list of the Best Sellers, it is translated into Bangla overnight.

Our unconscious that carries colonial legacy creates this promptness to think that it is a repository of knowledge (mostly European knowledge) and so it is given adequate concentration. But the speed and quantity that a foreign book receives are not invested for translating the local texts from Bangla into a lingua franca.

A huge bulk of seminal writings is available in the field ofart and literature of Bangladesh. But only a meager number of texts are translated into English let alone French or Portuguese. Even our classics suffer terribly from an acute scarcity of translation into English let alone in French or Portuguese or other lingua franca with a view to taking them in contact with the international readership.

Translation of the local texts into English has recently started receiving a significant amount of concentration. But it is still negligible in quantity. Some are doing this laudable job with great enthusiasm and success. For example, Fakrul Alam hasalready received immense accolade by translating Tagore, Jivanananda Das, Kazi NazrulIslam and Mir Mosharraf Hossain from Bangla into English for international readership.

He has also translated Bangabandhu’s Unfinished Memoir. Besides, a host of creative authors are also translating foreign texts into Bangla for Bangladeshi readership. Khaliquzzaman Elias has occupied a concrete position among Bangladeshi translators who have widely translated African and Latin American texts of literature into Bangla. Besides, a good number of people translate world literature into Bangla.

Some universities have launched courses on translation studies in Bangladesh. For example, University of Liberal Arts launched Dhaka Translation Centre (DTC) in 2014 with a view to bringing about ‘a greater exchange with contemporary world literature’. For the last few years Dhaka Translation Fest has been organized in Bangladesh and it paves a ground for developing interaction between local and international academics and professionals.

But one thing that must be taken as a serious concern that while dedicating enthusiasm to translating foreign texts into Bangla we must be careful lest we should marginalize our own texts. Our local texts should be given priority in the act of translation into a lingua franca to bring our aesthetics, culture, identity and historiography in the state of dialogue with the epistemology of the present world. Another tendency is found among the translators and it is also defective.

For example, most of the translators are arguably more interested in old classics of Bangla literature than in the present day literary texts. Again, translation from English to Bangla is found more than translation from Bangla to English.

If the translators cannot come out of the stereotype of such attitude it may run the risk of causing self-marginalization and it may conspicuously act as a block on the way to run in parallel with the present day trends and traditionsof world-literature.

But Bangladesh needs more translators andrelevant initiatives to translate the local textsbelonging to both past and present in order to take its thoughts and aesthetics to the international readership.While doing this job there is immense risk of deviating far or less from the tone and voice of the source texts because translation is also a remaking, reshaping, rewriting and reconstruction.

So, to a translator the act of translation is a responsibility to grapple not only the target language but also the target culture, ideology and thought structure. Even if it is a difficult task to overcome these limitations, a translator’s dialogue with the source texts can help him transcendthe obstacles that encounter the process of translation.After all,can we deny the truth that translation itself is an international language?

 The writer: Dr Elham Hossain, Essayist, Literary Critics and Translator,Associate professor of English Dhaka City college,  president of Alumni Association Department of English, Government Azizul Haque College, Bogura as well as advisory Editor of  much popularThe Daily Asia’ .



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