The Melting of Mother Tongues: Understanding Translation Urdu Bazaar

The Melting of Mother Tongues: Understanding Translation

“Languages do not die, they are killed.”

-          Ganesh Devy


A piece of work when accessible and available in our mother tongue(s) opens a vast paradigm of sharing and moving across time and space. Literatures in translation have been a much contested interesting debate across centuries. Language comes shaped up in its own arena of politics. The sociocultural linguistic aspects of it often vaporize when coming out in its individual structure. British rule changed the scope of translations in South Asian countries. I mention South Asia here particularly because of the multilingual nature coming along with them. Our regional texts were translated, read, and understood in order to gain a better control over the masses. Slowly, without us realizing English became our ‘primary tongue’, but we still beautify it and clothe it with our own different style. The form of Indianized or Indian English is used on a large spectrum to subvert the dominant modes of British or American English. Some writers like Nissim Ezekiel, Kamala Das, Manju Kalia, and, Salman Rushdie to name a few, write in Indian English as a form of reclamation. Where Rushdie calls it ‘chutnification’, we can also consider it as ‘writing back to the centre’.  We have been living our lives in translation for as long as we remember. The cross sectional dialects and not to forget multitudes of pidgin and creoles.

Here, it is important to notice that accessibility too comes with one’s own position in the social strata. Manoranjan Byapari talks in one of the interviews about the problems he had to face with the lack of knowledge understanding and speaking English language. His book ‘Interrogating My Chandal Life’ came out in multiple translations in various Indian languages apart from English. The process of writing, publishing, redistribution, and translation follows a journey which cannot be separated from the politics of different institutions.

Strolling in the lanes of local bookstores we come across a plethora of literature somehow coming from across the borders, like for instance the publications and vast redistribution of soviet literature during the mid 20th c can still be found in cheap prices in excellent conditions with thick bright hardcovers. In our cities and towns immersed in both amnesia and memories harking back to the fractures of partition, we find cultural, social, and artistic affinities between different countries separated by the political decisions of the state.

From Goethe’s ‘welt literature’ to Tagore’s ‘Biswa Sahitya’ we roll back and forth to similar concepts divided with the much new approaches coming in. As usually understood, translation as an act has always been associated with the dichotomies of fidelity/freedom; Walter Benjamin dissects this in his work ‘The Task of The Translator’. We find beautiful metaphors of mosaic art, afterlife, and flowering through Benjamin’s understanding of this act. The ‘cultural turn’ post 1980’s gave us new directions in translations by reading and understanding this act through inter-disciplinary platforms like gender, caste, class, and, race. India as a land of multiple linguistic vibrations gives a broad scope of experimenting and understanding this process.

It is about time we realize that translation is more than a word to word rendition of a text; it is deeply embossed in performative arts, cinema, culture, literature, and tiny aspects of our life. We have Shakespeare from Vishal Bharadwaj’s own taste of adaptations to performance arts in ‘theyyam’. When we translate we not only add more life to a work but we find different nooks and corners in the reach of languages which we often fail to notice.


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