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   General Editorial
   Guest Editorial
   'Plagiarizing’ for Bollywood - M.K.Raghavendra
   Not Speaking a Language That is Mine - Anjali Gera Roy
   How Does Shakespeare Become Sekh pir in Kannada - T.S.Satyanath
   Translation as DissemiNation: A Note from an Academic and Translator from Bengal - Swati Ganguly
   Vernacular Dressing and English Re-dressings: Translating Neel Darpan - Jharna Sanyal
   Post-Colonial Translation: Globalising Literature? - Purabi Panwar
   Translating the Nation, Translating the Subaltern - Meena Pillai
   Translation, Transmutation, Transformation: A Short Reflection on the Indian Kala Tradition - Priyadarshi Patnaik
   Translation: A Cultural Slide Show - Hariharan
   The Hidden Rhythms and the Tensions of the Subtext: The Problems of Cultural Transference in Translation - Tutun Mukherjee
Of Defining and Redefining an ‘Ideal’ Translator: Problems and Possibilities - Somdatta Mandal
Translation Reviews
   Burning Ground: Singed Souls, a review of theEnglish translation Fire area of Ilyas Ahmed Gaddi’s Urdu novel Fire Area - A.G.Khan
   Translation: Where Angels Fear to Tread, review of Rashmi Govind’s English translation, titled The Story of the Loom, of Abdul Bismillah’s Hindi novel Jhini jhini Bini Chadariya - A.G.Khan
   Fall, Sudhakar Marathe’s English translation of the Marathi Novel Pachola - Madhavi Apte


      “Towards the end of the story, by a brilliant metonymic process, Bishen Singh becomes Toba Tek Singh; the person becomes the place where he was born and had his roots. They merge inextricably with each other, so much so, that towards the end of the story, at least in the Urdu text, it is difficult to distinguish one from the other. To my knowledge, no English translation of the story has endeavoured to retain this tension and ambiguity. I have endeavoured to retain it even if it meant sacrificing a BIT of lucidity”. (Ravikant & Saini 2001)

     Thus the physical description of Bishen Singh or Toba Tek Singh changes from "ghoulish appearance” of the first version, the "frightened appearance” of the second, to"a fearsome look” in the third. Again in another instance, the mention of Toba Tek Singh's daughter becomes much more explicit with details as one moves from the 1994 to the 2001 versions.

  1. He had a daughter who was grown up now. As a child, she cried whenever she saw her father, and she continued to cry for him when she was a young woman. (Naqvi)
  2.  When he was first confined, he had left an infant daughter behind, now a pretty young girl of fifteen. She would come occasionally, and sit in front of him with tears rolling down her cheeks. In the strange world that he inhabited, hers was just another face. (Hasan)
  3. He had a daughter who had grown up a little, every passing month, during these fifteen years, and was now a young woman. Bishen Singh could not recognize her. She used to cry at the sight of her father when she was an infant. Now a grown woman, tears still flowed from her eyes, seeing her father. (Asaduddin)

The climatic end of the story also focuses upon the personal interpretations of the translator.

  1. But he was adamant and would not budge from the spot where he stood. When the guards threatened to use force, he installed himself in a place between the borders and stood there as if no power in the world could move him …Before the sun rose, a piercing cry arose from Bishan Singh who had been quiet and unmoving all this time. (Naqvi)
  2. The guards even tried force, but soon gave up. There he stood in no man's land on his swollen legs like a colossus … just before sunrise, Bishen Singh, the man who had stood on his legs for fifteen years, screamed and as officials from the two sides rushed towards him, he collapsed to the ground. (Hasan)
  3.  When they tried to move him forcibly to the other side, he stood on his swollen legs at a spot in the middle, in a posture that seemed to suggest that no power on earth could move him from there …Just before sunrise, a sky-rendering cry emerged from the gullet of Bishen Singh, who till then had stood still and unmoving. (Asaduddin)

      With the different versions of Jibanananda Das's poem "Banalata Sen” the problem manifests itself further. Jibanananda Das (1899-1954) was one of the foremost figures of modern Bengali poetry and his work combines the substance of international modernism with the timeless experience of rural Bengal, and both these with the complex and disturbing patterns of urban life and political upheaval of his time. Since Jibanananda's poetry has a major contribution to Bengali poetic idiom, his work becomes specially challenging for the translator.

    In his book Translation as Discovery, Sujit Mukherjee compares six different versions of "Banalata Sen” that had been published by 1981, including the translation by Martin Kirkman, as well as a "transcreation" of the poem by Mukul Sharma (Mukherjee1994). Published in 1935, "Banalata Sen” may or may not be the best poem that the poet had written, but it is undoubtedly the most popular one. Built up through a series of opulent images of sea and island, lashing storm and quiet resting place, fragrant forests and shipwrecked sailors, captures the old fairy-land magic, that merges the geography of mythical and historical times only to culminate in the frustration and hope of the modern age. Asok and Vimbisara, Sravasti and Vidisa, the Malay Sea and the Sinhala Sea cease to be the luxurious backdrop of a romantic escape. Apart from heightening the contrast between the past and the present, and intensifying the pain and agony of modern man, the poem connects the narratorial voice with the ever-moving forces of history2 (Chaudhuri 1998). The haunting rhythm, the rich imagery, the magic of proper names and the ethereal beauty of the concluding sestet have contributed to its immense popularity. A comparison of the closing stanzas from some of the translations would help us to understand the problem better.

     Sukanta Chaudhuri's translation reads as follows:

    At the end of all the days, dusk comes like the sound of dew; The kite wipes off the scent of sunlight from its wings. The earth’s colours all quenched, the manuscript prepares To tell its stories, lit by firefly gleams. All the birds come home, all the rivers - all life’s trade ends. Only the dark abides; and, to sit face to face, Banalata Sen. (Chaudhuri 1998)

Clinton B. Seely's translations in his book on Jibanananda Das's life and works are always competent and as faithful to the original meaning as possible. Seely's primary interest in his translations appears to be to reproduce the words of the source poems as accurately as possible. But in trying to avoid misreading and in following the sense of the original faithfully, the American largely ignores the formal and tonal quality of the original poem. He has translated it in free verse. Thus his version of the closing stanzas of "Banalata Sen” reads like this:

     At day’s end, like hush of dew Comes evening. A hawk wipes the scent of sunlight from its wings. When earth's colours fade and some pale design is sketched, The glimmering fireflies paint in the story, All birds come home, all rivers, and all this life's tanks finished. Only darkness remains, as I sit there face to face with Banalata Sen. (Seely 120)

In a note prefacing his translations, Chidananda Dasgupta, a distant relative of Jibanananda Das, reveals that the poet has given his "blessings readily" to five of the poems he had rendered into English shortly before Das's death in 1954 (Dasgupta 1972:28) Moreover, Dasgupta informs us that the poet had agreed to the translator's decision to avoid too literal renderings. Apparently, the poet had allowed Dasgupta "a certain degree of sacrifice of the literal meaning” and even some tampering with the sense of the original to make the meaning of a poem "comprehensible in a foreign idiom”. The poet seemed to have also consented to Dasgupta's decision to have "smoothed out to a clear flow …Jibanananda's very complicated and apparently arbitrary syntax”. Thus Dasgupta decided to depart from the original as often as he felt necessary. Terming the tendency of translators in general to "convey all of the many layers of thought, feeling and rhythm of the original” as a "temptation” to be avoided and as the wrong kind of "enthusiasm” he describes himself as someone opting for "restraint”. (Dasgupta 1972:28). Thus in his translation of "Banalata Sen” we read that "The raven wipes the smell of [sic] warm sun/From its wings; the world's noises die”. (Dasgupta 1972:28)

    Having a series of translations before him already, Fakrul Alam is more conscious about his method of translation of the same poem. In the detailed introduction to the volume of Jibanananda's poems that he translated3, (Alam 1999) he explains his modus operandi as well as drawbacks in some of the earlier translated versions of the same poem. Confessing that he knew full well that a lot of the poetry of the original has got lost in his renderings as well, he states that to think that "all or even much of the poetic qualities of Das's poems can be transmitted into another language is therefore to indulge in wishful thinking”. For instance, the tonal qualities of a line such as this one from "Banalata Sen” is uncapturable in translation:

 Chul tar kabekar andhokar Vidishar Nisha

      Even if one did not know any Bengali one could still hear the rich music of these lines coming from the extensive sound patterning - the internal rhyme and the repetition of the "a" "h" "r" and "s" sounds (Alam 1999). Alam further states that he has always worked on the assumption that translation of poetry should involve not only following the words of the source poem, but also in recovering something of the poetic qualities of the original, in transmitting the tone of the poet, and in conveying as much as is possible of Das's formal experiments and idiosyncrasies as a poet. Another goal that he had set himself was that "the translated poem should be capable of being read as a poem in English in its own right”. So, the last stanza of his translation of "Banalata Sen” reads as follows:

At the end of a long day, with the soft sound of dew, Night falls; the kite wipes the sun's smells from its wings; The world's colours fade; fireflies light up the world anew; Time to wrap up work and get set for the telling of tales; All birds home - rivers too - life's transactions close again; What remains is darkness and facing me - Banalata Sen! (Fakrul Alam 1999)


      To focus upon the fourth and final category, that of translating the text from one medium to another, I will use cinematic translations of adapted texts - Mahasweta Devi's Hazaar Churasir Ma ("Mother of 1084") and the film as well as theatrical adaptation of her short story "Rudaali” as examples. In the Indian context, the problem of authenticity acquires a newer dimension in the sense that, often, regional languages create more distance. The general problems pertaining to literary translation from SL to TL (source language to translated language) also becomes apparent in films. For instance, we can cite the example of Hazaar Churashir Ma. Told in simplistic terms, it narrates the story of an unsuspecting mother who faces the trauma and tribulations after the death of her young Naxalite revolutionary son in Calcutta when she is called upon to identify his corpse and the narration centers around how she gets involved in her son's political activities only after his death.

     Though Govind Nihalani, the film director, was true to the spirit of the translated text, and though Mahasweta Devi herself had given a most heartening endorsement for the performance of Jaya Bachchan in the lead role of the mother, for serious viewers across Bengal, the film seemed to have failed in capturing the haunting memories of the turbulent 70's and the actual Naxalite movement seemed too insipid. Yet considered from the psycho-sociological angle, the film can be called successful in the depiction of the lead role of Sujata, the mother, who is the prototype of every urban Indian woman who pretends to have established a great channel of communication with her children, but seldom digs deep to understand what might be bothering them. And after she does, she often gives up, saying that she cannot handle them any more.

      Another interesting variation of the same problem occurs when the original text as well as the filmic version involves masters in their respective fields. Take the case when Rabindranath Tagore's Ghare Baire (The Home and the World) is made into a film by the world-class filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Tagore's 1916 novel, written in the dairy form of narrative is a significant, yet rather complex work of fiction. Embedded in it, is a historical moment of the swadeshi in Bengal around the years 1903 to 1908 - a period in Indian nationalism when the concerted demand for self-government and the boycott of British goods seemed for a while to rock the very foundation of imperial administration in India. This theme is dealt in detail by juxtaposing the character of the fire-brand revolutionary Sandip with Nikhil, the noble but misunderstood hero who personally believed that each individual has a freedom to choose his own way of serving the cause of social political emancipation. What is more significant is how Tagore portrays the invasion of this swadeshi political movement to "home", and ultimately brings in a threat to feminine virtue.

      When such a complex story is made into a film, one is naturally interested to see how the symbolic meanings of the "home" and the "world" are analyzed. Closely following the text, Ray's statement that he “did not use a single line of Tagore's dialogue in the film … The way people talk in the novel would not be acceptable to any audience” puzzles us. Again, though Tagore presents his introspective story through multiple points of view, shuffling through the narratives of the three main characters at random, Ray's straightforward narration in the film makes some critics feel that the film is structurally weak. One such view endorses that the film is divided into three separate watertight compartments. The first section deals exclusively with Bimala. The political involvement of Sandip and Nikhil covers the second section. The third section primarily focuses on the Hindu-Muslim riot and clash. These three sections do not seem to be well coordinated, or in other words, one section does not automatically lead to the other. Again, though critics and the viewers in general accept the changes when a work of art is transferred from one medium to another, from one set of codes to another, one of the most frequently raised questions regarding The Home and the World is that whereas Tagore left his novel rather "open-ended" (with the communal riots breaking out, Sandip runs away to safety and Nikhil rides off into the night to face the hostile mob), Ray makes his story rather "well-closed". In the film, Bimala is seen looking out of the window and she sees the people carrying Nikhil's dead body in a procession and immediately the image of the widowed Bimala fills up the screen. The film, considered one of Ray's failures, is now merely referred to as a definite 'period' story. Much earlier, Tagore had come to realize that "cinema continues to be a sycophant to literature because no creator has yet liberated it from this servitude by the strength of his own genius” and Satyajit Ray attempted to do just that.

        A deviation of medium and the problems of translations are also witnessed in the case of theatrical adaptations. Take the case of Mahasweta Devi's short story "Rudaali”. The stark setting and Usha Ganguly's remarkable acting in the role of the protagonist Sanichari had made this theatrical production by the Calcutta - based Rangakarmee group a memorable event (Devi & Ganguly 1999). Though a Hindi production, this play had received rave reviews from all kinds of audience in Calcutta, which included the snooty Bengali theatre-goers who are used to viewing only avant-garde productions and also not very much conversant with the national language. Years later, Kalpana Lazmi's directional venture made the film version of the same story more a vehicle for presenting a matured Dimple Kapadia along with full support from Bhupen Hazarika's soul-rending music ['Dil hoom hoom karey ghabraye’]. But I think since this film remains the only medium of approach to Mahasweta Devi's work for the pan-Indian audience, the positive side of any transcreation has to be accepted as an equally important genre. The only exception ofcourse is the rare and enterprising viewer who would read up the translated English version of the text before going to the movie hall or vice-versa.

       After considering all these various forms of translation, I am still confounded with the question that forms the title of this paper: "Who is an 'ideal' translator”? Though the choice of the medium alters the message, the question still remains how far the translator can construct those messages effectively. In a recent article, the noted critic Susan Sontag opined:

      To translate means many things, among them: to circulate, to transport, to disseminate, to explain, to make (more) accessible. By literal translation we mean, we could mean, the translation of the small percentage of published books actually worth reading: that is to say, worth rereading…In what I call the evangelical incentive, the purpose of translation is to enlarge the readership of a book deemed to be important. (Sontag 2003)

       Sontag further explains that the translators were "the bearers of a certain inward culture” and that to translate "thoughtfully, painstakingly, ingeniously, respectfully, is a measure of the translator’s fealt to the enterprise of literature itself”. Though she propagated such values as 'integrity’, 'responsibility’, 'fidelity’, 'boldness’, 'humility’, and 'ethical understanding’ in the translator, she does not define who an 'ideal’ translator is. She avers what is obvious: that 'literary translation is a branch of literature- anything but a mechanical task’. This article thus ends with the naïve contention that since there are no immediate solutions in sight, there is nothing called an 'ideal' translator.


  1. In terms of Tagore's entire canon, Bengalis use the word kobita, poems, poetry, to refer to his longer and children's poems as opposed to Rabindra-sangeet, his songs, of which there are more that 2,000 in existence. In most cases, the verbal and musical portions of each of these songs were composed simultaneously.
  2. In his "Translation Editor's Preface”, Chaudhuri tells us that the translations emerged out of a workshop where the eleven translators had agreed to do away with the rhymes but preserve "the general movement and impact of the original poems” (xvii). The translators, we learn, had decided to be pragmatic rather than consistent in using Bengali names of plants, birds, seasons, etc.
  3. In his introduction Alam also points out that Faizul Latif Chowdhury's collection of translations of Jibanananda Das’s poems I have Seen the Bengal's Face: Poems from Jibanananda Das (Dhaka: Creative Workshop 1995) is uneven in quality and significantly the better translations in the volume are the ones by the foreigners - an Englishman, an American and an Australian. "The Bengali translators fail probably because in translating verse the translator must have a much surer command of the target language than of the source language”.