The Role of Translation from Indian Writing to English

Essay, 2017

6 Pages


The Role of Translation in Indian Writing in English

Dr. Narjeet Kaur

The previous century witnessed the rise of literature in English in India. But it did not hamper the growth and quality of literature in Indian languages. Though this trait was visible in the Victorian age as well, the number of readership grew in India as English had taken roots in Indian universities also. It was also a result of the writers’ interest in translating various Western literatures into English as well as English books in Indian languages. It went a long way in increasing the treasure of English and vernacular literatures. There is a lot to understand the value of translated literatures in Nirad C. Choudhuri’s remark, “On the literary side, in addition to the names of Shakespeare and Milton …, we came to know of Homer as soon as we began to read the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which was fairly early.” (Choudhuri 101) Such beginnings initiated writers and readers to European literatures. The flow of interaction between English and Indian literatures had its impact and response on the literary activity of the latter which was deeply influenced by Romanticists and neo-classicists, the followers of art for art’s sake and art for morality, Puritanism and imagism or symbolism. Modern Indian literatures were dominated by the influence of the literary activity of the rulers.

A study of Indian literatures during the late nineteenth and twentieth century reveals that the art and technique of translation was very largely responsible for its growth. Had it not been translation, many Indian authors would have remained unknown outside the Indian frontiers. Who would have heard the name of Rabindranath Tagore but for his own translation of his immortal Gitanjali ? No British reader would have bothered to learn Bengali so that he might have enjoyed the Indian poet. There is a lot of truth in the following words of Sisir Kumar Das : “The contact with English literature provided the Indian author and the reader with a new set of values and canons, thus creating an area of commonality of perception in the endless variety of different Indian literatures”. (Das 46)

Indian students enjoyed the beauty of Sanskrit literature and Greek and Roman poets like Homer and Virgil through translation. Indian poets were influenced by the British literary movements so much so that they wrote poetry manifesting the manifest impact of British movements :

…the modern Indian literary history provides a singular case of co-existence of two literatures, one of them alien, English and the other indigenous, an Indian literature. This co-existence of English and Indian literature became a feature of intellectual life of the English educated Indian. His political relation with England, which was becoming more and more hostile every day, did not alter the situation. (Das 55)

The art of translation also rendered a large number of Indian material into English in such a way that English knowing Indian readers have found a lot to entertain and educate them. Many Indian poets have shown that they were not translating but actually producing their own work. The success of a translator depends on his approach to his method; for a literary translation can be made useful only when the doer knows that one cannot succeed if one tries to make a literal equation of word for word, phrase for phase, or even simple equation of sentences or images for it does not produce good translation because two languages have different grammar, different idioms and different structural patterns. A careless translator may bring about in his task losses in meaning, feeling and effect. A good translation creates in his reader the impression that he is reading not a translated work but an authored one.

The value and volume of translation increases in countries where residents are multilingual and multicultural. We may include such countries as India, Canada, U.S.A. and others. That is why many Universities of the West have acknowledged the existence of two or more languages and, therefore, have introduced Translation Studies in their Universities. India cannot remain blind to this :

This new discipline takes a larger look at translation as a literary and cultural activity involving semantics as well as theoretical issues and asks questions like ‘Why do certain texts get translated rather than others? What is the status of these texts in the target language? What is the nature of transformation that takes place during the process of language transfer?’ and many others. These are abstract meta-inquiries into the activity called translation. We have benefited greatly from this new discourse because these can be applied very profitably to our own multilingual culture where translation is almost as natural as breathing. Yet when we get exposed to the translation theories current in Anglo-American universities, it may be necessary also to remember the difference in our respective literary histories as well as in the ground realities. (Aikant 125)

It must be made clear that translation of literary books is not just an exercise carried on at High School and Intermediate levels but a literary and cultural activity affecting the multilingual culture of a country. A translator these days is regarded as an artist in the same way as an author in any field. Good translation is not a literal one but rewriting of the original text so as to please its readers. It also applies to the translation of fiction in vernaculars in English which has found a lot of favour as it is an international language and is read almost all over the world. That is why a translator is no more a second-rate inhabitant of the land of literature.

It has been acknowledged that translation has always been central to Indian literature, and especially Indian English literature. We have to admit that in certain cases it was very difficult to differentiate between an original book and a translated one :

The story of Indian literature until the nineteenth century was mostly a story of creative translations, adaptations, retellings, interpretations, epitomes and elaborations of classical texts. These knit together communities, languages, religions and cultures. … Translation to us is a way of retrieving our people’s histories and recording their past and present. (Satchidanandan v-vi)

We may be able to make full use of the art of translation by relocating the theory and practice of translation for we are no more British subjects. It has to be done by using it in Eastern cultural contexts. That is why the critic holds:

Translation is also a celebration of difference and a reinventing of cultural identities. It reframes the boundaries of the sayable and changes the term of affiliation. Still at the roots of all translations there seems to be nostalgia for a lost common language the dream of an ideal language the whole of humankind can share. Translation can be looked upon as a festival of the ultimate unity of the human being. (vi)

Translation, we have to admit, is not static; it is also an area of creativity which is claiming and getting more academic and creative importance. The availability of national and international publishers publishing translated books of fiction in English has also increased the volume of books for interested readers. The translators also looked for the convenience of their readers and added glossary at the end to make the book nearer the original while catering to the taste of readers.

However, we cannot claim that Indian writers translated into English get the same attention as those who write directly into English. Whereas, literature written directly gets a place in the University syllabus, it has not been easy for translated literature (the case of books like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Gitanjali and so on is an exception). Moreover, reviews of books translated into English usually appear in the language in which originals were written; but the translated literature is usually deprived of this privilege. One more factor affecting the importance of translated books is unavailability of modestly priced editions for students and readers with moderate income.

I have suggested earlier in this paper that some translated books are good translation and others bad. I would like to be permitted to mention that the translation of Premchand’s novels, Sevasadan and Rangbhumi published by Diamond Books belongs to the category of bad translation. There are a large number of spelling and structural mistakes in these books. There is no beauty of style. The translation is mostly literal. But it is not so with the translation of Ghaban.

A number of translators from the South have made their name in this field. We may mention the names of M. Vijayalakshmi, who has translated Thophil Mohamed Meeran’s novel Chaivu Narkali (titled The Reclining Chair), Padma Ramachandra Sharma who has translated Shivarama Karanth’s Marali Mannige (titled Return to Earth), Smt. Indira Anathakrishnan who has translated Lakshmi (titled Ripples in the River) and C. Radhakrishnan who has translated his own novel Spandamapinikale (titled May Be Another Day). Even more popular as translator is Lakshmi Holmstrom who has also translated Bama’s Sangati titled Events and Karukku.

Karukku is an autobiography of the author and has been called an unusual autobiography. It is the story of a personal crisis though it is not in confessional mode as it has left out many personal details of the author’s life. Its English translation into English has acquainted readers of non-Tamil literature. In her “Afterword” of the novel she has pointed out that Mrs. Lakshmi Holmstrom has “translated Karukku into English without once diminishing its pungency” (106). There can be no better complement to a translator. Bama’s picture of the “oppressed, ruled, and still being ruled by patriarchy, government, caste, and religion” (“Preface” vii) has been made available to the readers of English by Mrs. Lakshmi Holmstrom :

In Sangati, many strong Dalit women who had the courage to break the shackles of authority, to propel themselves upwards, to roar (their defiance) changed their difficult, problem-filled lives and quickly stanched their tears. Sangati is a look at a part of the lives of those Dalit women who dared to make fun of the class in power that oppressed them. And through this, they found the courage to revolt. (vii)

Here again Bama says, “My gratitude also to Lakshmi Holmstrom who spent years translating, revising, and redrafting the English version of Sangati without disturbing the essence and flow of the original.” (viii)

Malini Seshadri and N. Ravi Shankar have also made their names as translators for their translation of Vanmam : Vendetta and Harum - Scarum Saar & Other Stories. The author’s praise of the translation of Vanmam reveals the quality of work done by Malini Seshadri, “For her excellent translation, carried out with care and much enthusiasm, I thank Malini Seshadri” writes Bama in her note to the book. N. Ravi Shankar’s translation “retains the freshness and the inventiveness of the original Kisumbukkaran” according to the note printed at the back cover of the book.

Works Cited

Bama. Karukku (English) Trans. Lakshmi Holmstrom. Chennai : Macmillan India, 2000. Print.

— — —. Sangati : Events. Trans. Lakshmi Holmstrom. New Delhi : Oxford University Press. 2005. Print.

— — —. Vanmam : Vendetta. Trans. Malini Seshadri. New Delhi : Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

— — —. Harum Scarum Saar and Other Stories. Trans. N. Ravi Shankar. New Delhi: Women Unlimited (an Associate of Kali for Women), 2006. Print.

Chaudhuri, Nirad C. The Autobiography of An Unknown Indian. 1951. Bombay : Jaico Publishing House, 1966. Print.

Das, Sisir Kumar. A History of Indian Literature : 1911-1956 : Struggle for Freedom : Triumph and Tragedy. New Delhi : Sahitya Akademi, 2010. Print.

Karanth, K. Shivarama. Marali Mannige (Kannada) . Trans. Padma Ramachandra Sharma, Return To Earth. Bangalore : Sahitya Akademi’s Centre for Translation, 2002. “Publisher’s Note”. K. Satchitanandan. v-vi. Print.

Mukherjee, Meenakshi. “Reading and Teaching Translation” in Critical Spectrum : Essays in Literary Culture”. Ed. Satish C. Aikant. Delhi : Pencraft International, 2004. 124-132. Print.

Premchand, Rangbhumi. Trans. N.R. Gopal. New Delhi : Diamond Pocket Books, 2008. Print.

— — —. Sevasadan. Trans. Arvind Gurtu. New Delhi : Diamond Pocket Books, 2008. Print.

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The Role of Translation from Indian Writing to English
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Narjeet kaur (Author), 2017, The Role of Translation from Indian Writing to English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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