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Can English rescue regional writing?

Sunday, 15 May 2011 - 1:26am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

While those writing in Indian languages grudgingly admit While some writers feel that English translations of their works give them instant visibility, others lament that the country’s colonial fixation is depriving them of wider appeal.

After being felicitated on Friday for receiving the Tagore Literature Award for her work Badlondian Bahaaraan, Dogri writer Santosh Khajuria did not mince words in holding Dogri-speaking people responsible for what she called the “sorry state” the language has been reduced to.

“Just like those who negate their mothers once they reach the pinnacle, these people seem to feel ashamed to speak their own language,” she said, adding, “This can end up killing our traditional languages and we may lose a really rich trove of our cultural legacy in the process.”

So, is translation the only way out of this situation? Khajuria admitted wryly, “I don’t know. Maybe we should look at translations into other Indian regional languages and not English alone.”

While Brajnath Rath who got the award for Samanya Asamanya (Odia) felt translations should be encouraged as it will help writers cast their net wider, S Ramakrishnan, who won the award for Yaamam (Tamil) lamented the lack of good translators in India.

“Lack of good translators means that regional writers are constrained even if we have to get our works translated,” he said, adding, “Do you think Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism would have reached global audiences if it weren’t for the brilliant translation?”

“I’ve written 23 books and get to hear nothing. One of my books was translated into English and I was amazed at getting 29 letters from readers in a week,” said Debabrata Das who picked up his first award ever for Nirbachita Galpa (Assamese).

While Das and the other writers commented on English vis-a-vis the languages they write in, Somai Kisku who got the Tagore award for Namalia (Santhali) says tribal languages like his have a dual struggle both with established Indian languages and English.

“We got recognised as a scheduled language only in 2002, so we still have a long struggle ahead,” he remarked and points out, “Displacement due to large projects and their effect on the life and culture of Santhali speaking tribals is the mainstay of my work.”

Kisku says dominant regional tongues try to lure people away from Santhali as they have huge presence in the media.

“I see so many youth who reply in Bengali to whatever I say in Santhali and why do they not feel pride in this ancient language?”

Ramakrishnan echoed the same sentiment, saying, “My own brother who is an MIT M-Tech cannot write Tamil. When he applied for a ration card I had to write the application for him.”

He said he has “healthy disdain” for politicians who use language to pursue their regional politics.

“Tamil Nadu has suffered greatly because of the myopic propaganda against Hindi. Today the leaders and their children happily speak in Tamil, Hindi and English while the people are supposed to languish with only one language which does not offer either prospects or employability.”

Though Santhali may be struggling because of the time it took to get official acceptance, Urdu which was lingua franca from medieval India finds itself lost in communal polarisation, said Chander Bhan Khayal who has got the award for Subah-e-Mashriq Ki Azan (Urdu).

“Once it was banished as an official language by narrow communal concerns it struck a blow from which the language has still not recovered,” he observed, “This is a symbol of India’s composite culture and to reduce it into a tool to divide people on the basis of religion hurts deeply.”

He asserted that all languages should be given equal opportunity to flourish.

Bilingual wirters like Kiran Nagarkar feel that the regional writers fault them irrespective of which language they write in.

“When people like the late Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolhatkar wrote in Marathi, the established lot tried to belittle our work saying it didn’t count as literature because we were doing out-of-the box things with form. When we write in English, we are blamed for hogging the limelight,” he complained.

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