French – Hindustani Translation Workshop
In collaboration with the French Embassy in India
VoW Lit Fest
November 21, 2020
French to Hindi Translation Workshop
Translations break boundaries and transcend the thoughts and culture of a region to another
while trying to uphold the essence of the original text. Sometimes translations can be morbidly
misleading, while many a time they end up creating an indelible mark on the cultural link that is
formed between the two languages. These translated works often stand as solitary works which
do not belong to any side but have built their own beautiful area of respect. After a sumptuous
afternoon repast, Valley of Words literary Festival again began with its sessions on French
Literature and we were introduced to Prof. Alain Desoulieres, who sat in conversation with Dr.
Christine Cornet from the French Institute of India. For the next 45 minutes they would lively
chat about the struggles of translations, the passion behind translating from a particular language
and conspicuously show their love for literature beyond the physical and mental boundaries.
Professor Desoulieres began recounting his days of teaching in several countries and universities
across Europe and South Asia. It was not until his stay in Toledo(city of three cultures) that he
grew immense interest in translated literature, which had been his hobby and profession since.
He also travelled extensively from India to France and it was during this time when he
discovered Urdu, eventually loving the language as his own. He was fascinated by the likes of
Saadat Hassan Manto and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, even meeting the latter. In his early days of
translation he would translated books and stories from Urdu to French Prof. Desoulieres faced
difficulties convincing the publishers to publish bilingually, who were more inclined to
publishing monolingual pieces.
During the course of the session Prof. Desoulieres kept on giving words of wisdom for young
and enthusiastic translators. His first advice was to take special care of the illustrations and if
working on a classical text then to surely add illustrations that could be universally understood
by all. Translations have always been influenced by illustrations. Since the 19th century,
illustrations have become an integral part of a translated novel. These illustrious drawings largely
told the story in their own manner, often changing shapes with the change in language. He gave
an example of the French translation of Malgudi Days. The R.K. Narayan's book is translated
extensively across languages and its illustrations have changed with the changing language.
Drawings of telling parts of the larger story have been shaped and reshaped adhering to the
language of translation and the audience it got.
Prof. Desoulieres also gave advice for the audio-visual adaptation of novels and books, as they
remain one of the most connective modes of transmitting stories. Ever since the introduction of
cable television in India, it has become a government tool to disperse messages and morals that
would bind the nation with a thread of common values. Hence came filmmakers like Shyam
Benegal and Sagar Brothers into the picture, who adopted the stories of French writer Guy de
Maupassant and others under their fold to make an acclaimed television series. Katha Sagar, the
series, was produced with the purpose of educating the young readers of Indian subcontinent
about short stories. He even went on to say that Shyam Benegal is one the most important
personalities who directly impacted on the growing relationship of Urdu and French.
His advice was somewhat obvious but also ignored by the newer translators: not to work with the
author. This is generally regarded as the conflicting ideology between the author and the
translator. Both try to command their power over the text and leave a lasting touch of their own
on the work. This, however, also creates a void in the contribution of either of them as they both
put in equal effort in the text. But again the translator is the final author of the text and has the
right to profess his literary styles as well as understanding of the work. The conflict has been
largely seen in the translated works of Ismat Chugtai and Saadat Hassan Manto, who had a really
hard time dealing with publishers. Certain metaphors and names can never have any meaning in
another language which should also be best left untouched by the translators, but is not always
the case. Translators sometimes work vehemently to change each and every word to fit into the
narrative of the new language. With all respect to the author’s vision and the general
understanding of the novel, the translated work should try to celebrate the new adopted language
while acknowledging the writer’s original intent.
Translations have been around since the birth of language, a clear sign of how important they are
for the transmission of culture and stories. Translators work, mostly, as the bridge between two
worlds, they try to channel a link between cultures. Another job of a person translating a text is
to understand and respect the cultures and history of the region the book is originally written in.
This would make the new work more culturally significant as it conveys the correct contextual
meaning of the text. In some sense, a translator is also a historian as he studies the past of a place
and then tries to preserve it by documenting it, though in a different form. All said and done, the
translator's jobs are seemingly defined and limited, but they also have a responsibility of owning
the work, for the sake of creating an identity in their own language. The whole duty of the job is
summed up by Prof. Desoulieres as he expertly translated an excerpt of Manto’s Diwali Ke Diye
in his broken Hindi but marvelous French.