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Wednesday, September 16

Reading Translations

Sometime back on Twitter, in the course of a discussion on translations, someone mentioned that translations of foreign authors seem to find more favor with Indian readers as compared to translation of Indian authors from Indian languages. While many love writers like Orhan Pamuk (Turkish),
Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Spanish), not the same favor is accorded to Indian writers. There is a certain disinterest towards them. As is the wont of every Twitter discussion, someone soon mentioned "colonized minds" and that was that.
I'm not sure about the validity of original assertion, there are too many unverified assumptions here. How popular is Orphan Pamuk in India after all? But this discussion got me thinking about my own experience of reading translations. Do I have such a preference? I think I do.

Despite the multitude of languages, there is an underlying cultural continuity across India. Irrespective of the language of the story, if it is set in India, if it is about Indian society, you are likely to encounter familiar things, familiar situations in it. Reading about those familiar things in English often gets jarring. But when it comes to Turkey or Spain or Russia, I have little idea about the cultural idioms. So I can read peacefully in English without feeling awkward.

This problem is not limited to translations. I have run into the same problem with Indian English writing. "In Custody" of Anita Desai was ruined for me by the torturous passages upon passages trying to describe the beauty of Urdu poetry and the few translated couplets. I felt like shaking the author and asking her to just tell me the original Urdu couplet which I am fully capable of enjoying directly. I wish she'd have included those at the end of the book or in footnotes.

For the Indian books, my preference is to read the original if I can, read a Hindi translation or read an English translation if there is no other option. Although the sad fact is that even within India, quality and availability of English translation is often better than Hindi translations.