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India needs more translations: Mushirul Hasan

Saturday, March 06, 2010 04:00:32 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: The absence of organised translation activity in literature and academia has led to cultural and intellectual distancing in Indian society, believes eminent historian Mushirul Hasan.

“This distancing has led to greater regionalisation and in some cases appropriation of languages. The unity in diversity is lost - and on a personal note, it has led to a gulf between my students and me,” Hasan, a former Jamia Millia Islamia University vice-chancellor, said Saturday.


The academic, who has authored more than a dozen books and 200 papers, was speaking at the inaugural session of a two-day seminar on “Translation and Inter-Cultural Communication” organised by IGNOU’s School of Translation Studies and Training at the Lalit Kala Akademi in the capital. The seminar began Saturday.


“While adopting a standard two and three language formula in eduction, literature and society, we have not paid attention to building the country across cultural, linguistic and intellectual divides. We need translations to connect to the world and to our own society.”


He cited the translations undertaken by the caliph Al Mamun and his father Al Mansur of the Abbasid dynasty in ancient Baghdad, which later enriched Europe.


“The age of enlightenment in Europe was all about knowing each other and the world. Translations played an important role. But how much does our society know about literature from Bengal and Kerala? We have had a lot of tokenism - but show me someone who is seriously trying to popularise works in languages. There is a saying in Islam - ‘My beloved’s language is Turkish, but I don’t understand Turkish’,” Hasan said, stressing the need for quality translation.


V.N. Rajasekharan Pillai, the vice-chancellor of IGNOU, said the university’s translation school was committed to “inter-language” translation. It offers post-graduate diplomas in inter-languages and has an MA programme in translation studies.


“Translation is important in transmitting culture from one generation to another - and from different cultures and language. A language is enriched by its interaction with other language and culture.

Moreover, we live in a global village,” Pillai said in his inaugural speech.


The university has just set up the Tagore chair in the school of humanities to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore this year, the vice-chancellor said.

The chair, which is yet to find a head, will play a key part in translating the works of the Nobel Laureate, among other activities.


Guest of honour and chief speaker at the special sessions on seminar, Indranath Choudhury, the former director of the Sahitya Akademi and Nehru Centre in London, said “credence should be given to different languages spoken across the country”.


“Centrality is a dangerous thing for a country like India because it tends to homogenise culture which in India is extremely diverse.

Diversity is the essence of our life. Hence, I would like to describe English and Hindi as filter languages which can be used for better communication. Translation conscience, as linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterji once said, is an age old phenomenon in India,” he told IANS.


Choudhury, who is chief editor of Sahitya Akademi’s Encyclopaedia of India (revised version) and another being brought out by the ministry of human resources, said, “We are by nature polyglots (speakers of many languages) and a person of Bengali origin, who speaks English or writes in English, often translates from Bengali to English in his head naturally. It is wrong to think of any language as superior or inferior,” the language scholar said.







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