Who is the National Poet of India

Literary translation
The Indian literary dilemma

Indian authors, translated | © Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi

The authors of the subcontinent are looking for readers in their own country, but it has become more difficult for them here too.

"India is probably the only economically strong nation in the world that does not have an authority for a dedicated translation program." This was recently stated in India's highly respected daily newspaper "The Hindu". This refers to Indian literature, which is divided into 24 officially recognized literary languages. In order to be able to perceive each other as one Indian literature, these literatures have to get to know each other. That would only be possible with a wide-ranging translation program operated with passion and generous financial support.
 
The Hindu continues: "Translating literature that explores the human condition can be an antidote to power politics talk about the hated 'other.' While billions of rupees are spent on strengthening our military, very little is happening to promote literature in the Indian languages. Classical music and the arts receive much more official support, much more than literature. "
 
Literature as a means of integration, as the horizon against which the commonality of history and experiences becomes apparent - in India, literature can and must also fulfill this social function. Too many corrosive forces are at work here. In addition, stories, both oral and written, have a much higher priority than in digitally saturated Europe. However, the difficulties are daunting. They begin with a mental block: the largest language groups, such as Hindi and Bengali, Tamil and Malayalam, could each start a translation program of national importance that would give the respective literature worldwide recognition. But from an all-Indian perspective, each group only represents one regional language and therefore has to struggle for recognition within the country.
 
As important as literature is to the Indian people, there is still no book culture, even in the major language regions. There is no general catalog of the published or at least available titles, nor is there a well-organized general distribution network; rather, a large number of smaller networks compete with one another. Bookstores worthy of the name only exist in large cities. Amazon and other book suppliers are only just beginning to build their delivery system.
 
On this weak base, it would be difficult to build a nationwide translation program. At first there is a lack of competent translators, although countless Indians grow up bilingual. However, translating literature requires a different and greater effort than translating a business letter, for example. On the part of the government, the Sahitya Akademi (the Indian Academy of Literature) has taken on the task of translating between the Indian languages, and it does so honestly, but with moderate public success. Their volumes are rarely found in bookshops.
 
In the meantime, however, it is good form at the large publishing houses to publish translated literature. Macmillan, Oxford University Press, Penguin Books, Orient Blackswan, and a few others were pioneers in this. Gradually, publishers have come to realize that good translators have to be paid well, that the art of translation should be cultivated, and in fact some elite Indian universities have already started courses on translation. This progress is thanks to the passionate commitment of individuals, such as Mini Krishnan in Chennai, who publishes English translations from Indian languages ​​at Oxford University Press, promotes translations as a national task in various committees and even a highly regarded column in "Hindu" on the situation of the Translator writes.
 
However, the rivalry between those authors who write in Indian languages ​​and those who speak English is also passionate. The former feel disadvantaged because their market is limited and their national impact depends on good translations. The English-speaking authors, on the other hand, are considered to be less authentic and less connected to the people. But they in particular have a large audience all over India and can also publish in Great Britain or America. Writers like Amitav Ghosh also emphasize that English has long since become an indigenous language in India because many idioms and expressions from the Indian languages ​​have been incorporated.
 
In 2006, India was the guest country at the Frankfurt Book Fair. State authorities, especially the National Book Trust, as well as numerous Indian publishers were involved at the time. The eagerness of German-language publishers to publish Indian literature was exemplary. Around sixty works, including anthologies and non-fiction, have been published, many with Indian funding.
 
What remains of this amazing dynamic today? Even modern classics such as O. V. Vijayan's "Legends of Khasak" were sold less than a thousand times in Germany. Publishers' spokesmen state that India "just doesn't work". Is the country too complex, too foreign, too far removed from the way of life and thinking in Europe? But isn't literature from China or Japan being published vigorously - and with success? Are these countries less far away? Certainly not, but the variety of languages ​​in India, it is assumed, is a deterrent. In addition, there are considerations for the country's post-colonial sensitivities and the claim that Dalit literature, i.e. the voice of the poor and low-caste people, must be heard.
 
The fact is that after 2006 no major literary publisher from Germany has made a lasting contribution to Indian literature. Can't you arouse interest through a variety of advertising materials, invite authors, use the new media, the literary houses, the large bookstore chains? Some Indian authors have stayed with the German audience, such as Shashi Tharoor, Amit Chaudhuri, Kiran Nagarkar and, above all, the most widely read, Amitav Ghosh. They all write in English but live in India. But even the last books by Kiran Nagarkar and Amit Chaudhuri were no longer translated. Your previous publishers, A1 and Blessing, no longer have any Indian authors in their program this year.
 
And what about authors who write in Indian languages ​​in Germany? First of all, there is the same difficulty that one is familiar with from India: There is a lack of competent translators. A generation of translators for the important Indian languages ​​is growing slowly, with the support of the Indological Institutes. Ullstein Verlag has proven that one can also be successful with so-called "regional writers", which had the novel "The Girl of My Heart" by Buddhadeb Bose translated from Bengali and achieved bestseller sales.
 
The Indian cultural authorities have developed an extensive translation program for fiction from all major languages, experts have been brought in, foreign publishers have been contacted and translators contacted. This ambitious "Indian Literature Abroad" project (ILA) was in the planning for years. Then disputes over competence arose and it petered out.
 
The small Draupadi publishing house in Heidelberg, which has existed for almost thirteen years, would have benefited from ILA. He cannot print books without subsidies, his publisher Christian Weiß describes sales figures of 600 or 700 copies as a success. The hardworking idealist has so far published around 110 literary Indian works in German, eighteen of them from Hindi, seven from Bengali and fifteen from English. Uday Prakash, a leading Hindi writer, has the Draupadi publishing house with five titles in its program.
 
On the German side, the "Society for the Promotion of Literature from Africa, Asia and Latin America" ​​(Litprom) has been the most active financier for years. Although the large German corporations, many of which also have offices and factories in India, promote culture in order to cultivate their image, none - apart from the Merck company in Darmstadt - has yet discovered Indian literature as a field worth promoting.
 
In contrast to Great Britain and the United States, the Indian diaspora in Germany has few people with active cultural engagement. A significant exception is the Kerala-born journalist Jose Punnamparambil, who has published the magazine "Meine Welt" for 33 years, which is dedicated to the German-Indian dialogue. Three issues appear each year, in each of which Punnamparambil prints stories, poems and factual texts by important Indian authors. He and a team of employees collect, translate, edit, ask for contributions or write themselves. All work without a fee. Jose Punnamparambil has published numerous anthologies on literature and life in India and on the experiences of Indians in Germany, has supported people and given them honors. For decades, he knocked on the boardrooms of some corporations to get money for literature, and took part in seminars and panel discussions.
 
So there is also something hopeful. Last year the University of Tirur in Kerala established a chair for the Malayalam language at the University of Tübingen. The active rector K. Jayakumar wants to translate literature and have it published in Germany. Matthias Beer also founded the Lotos workshop in Berlin last year. His father, Roland Beer, published Indian literature as early as the GDR era. The first books planned are a collection of stories by the Hindi poet Bhisham Sahni ("The Price of a Chicken") and a translation of the famous book "The Other Side of Silence" by the activist and publisher Urvashi Butalia ("Divided Silence"), which deals with concerned with the fate of the people in India and Pakistan as a divided homeland - a topic that can be hoped for interest in Germany in particular. Matthias Beer is planning further works, such as the publication of the India letters by the GDR theater director Fritz Bennewitz and the translation of plays by the national poet Tagore. India's literatures are bursting with life. At least some of it should arrive here as well.

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