Saturday, 1 November 2014

Raji Narasimhan’s Translation as a Touchstone / Sage Publications

Reviews, Vol. I, Issue I. 
When in 1993 Susan Bassnett emphasised that “Today, comparative literature in one sense is dead”, translation studies was supposed to take the mantle where comparative studies was leaving it. More recently, Bassnett has acknowledged that her earlier, prediction has shown itself to have been flawed: “translation studies has not developed very far at all over the last three decades and comparison remains at the heart of much translation studies scholarship”.

While translation means carrying over a piece of foreign language into one’s own, “comparison” means being momentarily without one’s language, not needing to translate precisely because of one’s ability to translate, to step into the other’s language without carrying it across, and thus respecting the otherness of languages and cultures.

Translation in that sense is a discursive practice of remaining/retaining the other; not allowing one to subsume the other in the dominant, hegemonistic, synchronic systems of hierarchy.

Raji Narasimhan’s Translation as a Touchstone (New Delhi: SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd., 2013) is an important contribution to the ever growing field of translation studies under the larger rubric of cultural studies. It brings the expertise of the two symbiotic worlds of comparative literature and translation studies together to create insights into the reading of the texts and also the methods of translations.

On the blurb of the book we find written, “Through a comparative study of original passages and phrases in literary texts along with their translated equivalents, she has followed a multi-pronged strategy and has used, as methodology, the comparative analysis method.”

According to Narasimhan, “translation is a product of Difference”, hence the act of translation becomes as unceasing negotiation of cultural difference. Narasimhan says, “A translation should sound and read like a translation that is, like a rendering in another language. It should have a bi-lingual note and fee.”

Apart of the six chapters, Narasimhan has written by way of an introduction (Introduction: Some Approaches to Translation) her theories of the approaches to translation.

She says, “In addition to transliteration and transcreation, there is one more approach possible to the task of highlighting Difference that is incumbent on the translator. This approach, which I think, can be called the creative juxtaposition or the creative aligning, of the two languages comprising a translation”.

The first chapter (Chemmeen: Its Passage through Three languages)of the book is a study of the three translations of Sankara Pillai’s Chemmeen in Tamil (by Sundara Ramaswamy), Hindi (by Bharati Vidyarthi) and English(by Narayana Menon). To translate the original Malayalam, according to Narasimhan, the translator must be able to grasp the ‘femininne orientation’ of the original. The translator’s, ‘prose has to rock with the pain and pleasure, the ethics and passions, battling each other in Karuttama’s (protagonist’s) sexual awakening.’

Mahasweta Devi’s story Rudali which was adapted for stage performance by Usha Ganguli is the focus of the second chapter (Negotiating the Language Divide) of the book. To bring the best in the translation one must feel the inner tether i.e., the standing realities of the story. Also, Narasimhan sees a role for the editors of translations to iron out the deficiencies in the translated language.
The third chapter (A Misleading Simplicity) concerns with Nirmal Verma’s Maya Darpan translated by Geeta Kapur. According to Narasimhan, Nirmal Verma’s Hindi is deceptively simple; translating the text without understanding the postmodern sensibilities of the text will create pitfalls for the translator.

The fourth chapter (The Implications of Bilingualism) discusses Vijay Tendulkar’s Shantata! Court Chaaloo Aahey in its English translation (Silence! the Court is in Session). Narasimhan says, “The language is stage-y, in both the Hindi and the English”...’a translation is primarily considered at the lingual level, even for saying that the lingual level be itself is not enough.”

The fifth chapter (The Road to Rebirth) begins by problematizing the issue of who is the best judge of a translation. Can it be done by someone who does not know the original? Narasimhan says that in that case the language nearest to the original should be treated as touchstone. P.S. Sadasivan’s Tamil translation of Samskara, U.R. Anantha Murthy’s celebrated novel in Kannada and its English translation by A. K. Ramnujan are discussed in the context. Narasimhan does not know Kannada and has used the Tamil version as touchstone.

The sixth Chapter (The God of Small Things: A Wrong Book to Translate) treats Neelabh’s Hindi translation of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things as Mamooli Cheezon Ka Devta. According to Narasimhan, “The language of The God of Small Things is overpowering. For the translator, this strong, foregrounded presence of the parent language creates problem.”  “ The immediate effect on the translator of this thrust of language is that it thwarts him from sufficiently distancing himself from it, and focusing on the thought/thoughts behind it.

The euro-american perspective of the demise of comparative literature has always been questioned. The questioning should have a particular Indian edge. For a multilingual, multicultural context to survive, translation – in theory and in practice- has to flourish. The tools of comparative studies come handy. This is what this book achieves – though at times subjectively – and in the process has brought the art and craft of translation to theorise and respond to theories.

Reviewed by Himanshu Shekhar Choudhary/ Editor-in-Chief - Reviews 
He teaches at the Dept. of English, P K Roy Memorial College, Dhanbad, Jharkhand

(First published in Literary Confluence, Vol. 1, Issue 1, a journal by Authorspress India Publishers.)

About the Book
Hardcover: 165 pages
Publisher: SAGE Publications Pvt. Ltd (January 24, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 8132109546
ISBN-13: 978-8132109549

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