The Moral & The Immoral: Existentialism in Translation
Event EL 2: The Moral And The Immoral; Existentialism in Translation
Venue : Writers Savoy Bar
Panelists: Nadeem Khan, Prema Jaykumar
Moderator : Prof. Satish Aikant
Date : 20th November, 2020
Long Live Translation!
Translation, which is now considered a really popular genre in the literary world is not just confined
to the communication of the meaning of a source-language text using an equivalent target language,
rather as Nadeem Khan mentioned, it's a heavy term with really strong and extensive connotations.
The session began with a discussion related to the existentialism that rises from morality or
immorality from translation. The best part of the session was seeing both the panelists beautifully
explaining their idea of translating books without trying to be an obstruction to the author's idea
behind writing the book.
Apart from that, to the outside world, literary translators are famously invisible. Over the years, it's a
bit tragic to see translators just being viewed as mouthpieces for authors and their books. During the
session, while being asked about the existentialism that exists because of moral or immoral
translation, Nadeem Khan mentioned that his translation of 'The Story of Being Useless' from Marathi
never actually made him suffer any kind of moral or existential crisis. He tried to explain how he just
tried to question himself and form a character for his English adaptation of the Marathi novel very
similar to the one created by the author in his book.
Prema Jaykumar, another panelist when asked about the morality of the act of translation, highlighted
some grievances that translators have to face like accusations of misinterpretations and misreading the
reader when they are given the responsibility of translating an author's original work. She also
appreciated Ratna Publishers for giving translators the platform they deserve and expressed her love
for different regional languages which is like music to her ears.
Interestingly, both our panelists had received no formal training for philosophy or translation ever.
Their capability to assign characters to words not in one but in various languages and their love for
making various universes open just through translations made them reach where they are today.
Usually, people do not prefer reading translations of different novels and texts because most of the
time, they feel that individuality has been smoothed out. The panelists also discussed the difficulties
they would have to face while translating between two alien languages. Since it's their responsibility
to help sustain the essence of its original form, issues like usage of the kingship terms, the attitude or
the form in which it has been originally written, the form and the order of words always keep the
translators in a dilemma of not diluting the original character from the original story.
The panelists also stressed the fact that whenever we talk about a good translation, it does not need to
be impeccably starched or ironed but, it should also be more ragged and frantic wherever appropriate.
Translators usually have to deal with the dilemma of not diluting the essence of the original book or
normalize the writing when the author is meant to be unorthodox.
Both the panelists agreed to the fact, that translations might impute the morality of the originally
written books at some point because of the barriers that every other language has but even then, they
would still be required because that would not restrict us from reading any kind of literary piece just
because it's written in a language that we don't understand. During the discussion, Mrs. Prema
beautifully explained how translations need to be cherished and nourished because, they can not only
destroy the restrictions that language barriers impose while reading a literary text but, they can also
help one nation getting connected to another just by being able to understand how they behave in
certain situations by reading translations.
During the session, panelists also realized that translations can be not considered as a finished project
in a way because of the different settings or re-settings that it could have. There might even be some
temporal changes when there is a shift from one language to another. Mr. Nadeem took the
opportunity to elaborately explain this while narrating about his nuances while translating from
Marathi to English for his book. He explained how difficult it gets to translate regional languages to
English because regional languages usually have the epic style of writings and a form of exaggeration
which English does not. It's then the test of the creative skills of the translator to sketch a character
according to the needs of the original character mentioned in the original book.
The session ended with both the panelists narrating some amazing excerpts from some of the books
that they have translated. It was very interesting to see two people with no formal training in
translation talking about breaking language barriers with their exceptionally creative ways of
assigning words to characters. People might agree to the fact that there can never be a final translation
or perfect translation to an original piece of text but we should not forget that maybe without
translation, we would be living in provinces bordering on silence.