Even before the silver screen or the idiot box, Bharatiya society has been using translation and adaptations for transmitting culture and wisdom to masses
The cultural, linguistic and biological diversity of our country has been manifested in the epics, mythology, history, legends, kathas and diverse folk mores, symbols, traditions and patterns. Vedas, Upnishads, Sanhitas and epics had been created here before the civilisation existed in many western countries of present. In our country, art has not been an imitation of life as
propagated by Plato. Art and life have been interspersed so intrinsically in the cultural contours of the country that the multileveled cultural pool prevalent in Bharat becomes a legitimate metaphor of the society.
Most of Bhartiyas have grown up
listening to/watching Satyanarayan ki Katha by Kathavachaks (popularly known as Pandit Ji) on every Purnima each month; Garud Puran Katha and other Vrat Kathas; Krishna Rass Leela during Holi; Ram Leela before Vijayadashmi; the legend of Heer Ranjha, Soni- Mahiwal, Dulla Bhatti (the Robinhood of Punjab who is mentioned in Lohri folk songs like Sundri mundri oye. Dulla Bhatti
wala oye..), Tara Rani ki katha,
Krishna-Sudama Prasang (Interestingly the friendship between Krishan and Sudama is not a part of the main Mahabharta story but it forms an fascinating part of oral story-telling tradition.) and some special folklores sung or said on different occasions which were a part of written literature and/or simply of oral tradition. Then is the experience of Kirtans, Bhajans, Harikathas, Jatak Kathas (which deal with the life of Budhha), Panchtantra tales and all other didactic, religious and moralistic bed- time stories by Dadis and Nanis to told to groups of
Thus, our literature and culture was transmitted to generations through classical dances, songs, kathas and many other forms of performing and other arts in addition to written versions. Even before the silver screen or the idiot box saw the light of the day, Bharatiya society has been using translation and
adaptations for transmitting culture and wisdom to masses. Sanskrit texts were paraphrased into understandable dialects by abridging them or explaining them with theatrical Kathas, like Ramayan Katha or Ram Leela, etc.
With the advent of television, some of the stories which were passed on to generations through oral traditions were serialised on TV. Some tales like Vikram and Betal, The Jungle Book, The Malgudi Days and many more were also telecast. A special mention may also be made of two television serials of the 1990s which were based on the biggest epics of literature – The Ramayan and The Mahabharat, which witnessed unprecedented viewership, with the roads and streets being emptied during that hour of telecast. This is also true that many people in Bharat and
outside got introduced to the rich
cultural capital, like The Mahabharta and The Ramayana, through adaptations and televised, abridged versions.
First films, then television and now Internet have made the world a global village, our society a multi-nationalist society and ourselves multi-culturalist citizens of a globalised world. The
relevance of translation of literature and their interpretation in local and other languages has increased multifold and it has helped in being better connected and mediated with other societies of the same and different cultures. Translation has acquired greater significance in today’s globalised market by providing linguistic accessibility across societies. If Bible would not have been translated in English, maybe it would not have become a much translated and circulated book afterwards and if Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, which was originally written in Bangla, had not been translated in English, it would never have got Nobel Prize in literature and moreover, the attention of the entire world.
With the written word being
translated and interpreted for different purposes, the transformation in canons and the big change in media of
presentation, many related issues about the basic assumptions and methods of translation and adaptations have emerged which need to be discussed and deliberated. The first issue is of equivalence, which broadly speaking, is a kind of similarity (not sameness) between two languages which could be at the level of word meaning, structure, grammar, etc. While translating from one language to the other, one looks for approximation rather than sameness or equivalents in the target language. Such asymmetry in languages- when no exact equivalent is available in a language- poses problems for translators and script-writers. Then there is the dilemma of in-between-ness in general and specific vocabulary. Grammatical and rhetorical differences may cause another translatability issue.
Then comes the issue of negotiation which can be considered as an area between cultures, the writer and the readers, and the original text and the translated version. Since the gap is between what is known and unknown, therefore, the space is full of uncertainty and tension. Dominance (of the source language and the source culture),
submission (by the target language/
culture, like these days Bhartiya
youngsters under the charm of English
language, take pride in using words like: awesome, cool, hot, etc.), resistance (in the target language to accept), etc. are related to negotiation. Along with
negotiation comes acculturation which is related to the cultural distinctness of the original society/language or ethnic group and the negotiation on this level to find equivalence in the target society/language or ethnic group. For example, how many non-Bhartiya audience can immediately get the expressions like Bua, Mami, Chachi, Tai, Mausi, etc. as we do? An expression like Neelkanth may not be understood by non- Bhartiya readers as they might not be familiar with the cultural context. I am reminded of one short story by Mahashweta Debi,
originally written in Bangla as Standaayini and later translated in English by a translator as The Breast giver. Devi has used the expression ‘Durga’ many a times in Standaayini, which has been translated as ‘Lion-
seated’ in English, obviously lacking in exact equivalence and not conveying the exact expression. Some of the words and expressions uniquely understood in a regional language/dialect and the
contextualised psyche do not have exact equivalents in other languages and the readers/audience cannot equate with them and contextualise them. Such issues become more relevant while translating/adapting deep cultural symbols, like of Vedic and Upnishad culture and of Bhartiyata while translating from Bhartiya to non-Bhartiya languages.
Cinematic adaptation of literary works poses further questions relegated to periphery of faithfulness, where the person adapting/translating them takes liberty in content and expression. Fidelity to the original is a perennially contentious issue when a novel/play/historical work is transferred onto screen or is screen-
relived. The greatness of an artist and his/her creativity depends on the ability to handle the situation when in conflict between naturalness and faithfulness,
giving more importance to naturalness, and not only maintaining the beauty of original but to make it better even, though a person adapting a novel into a film script is not credited with creative writing and script writers are looked down as compared to creative writers, and translated books inferior to originals. Yet, particularising the universal and universalising the particular; changing the names if required, especially in children’s literature, and setting them to the localised needs; taking care of the times, like creating a 10th
century scene in the 21st century; and
fitting an exotic environment in the target social milieu, etc. need to be addressed to.
The biggest issue before us, the
people living in the machine age of a Google and Bing Translator and video making apps, etc. is the need to be
creatively more sensitive. We need to revive the strength and richness of our traditional cultural treasure so that Bharat can absorb those shocks without being affected substantially. Bhartiya literature and art had to remain captive under foreign, alien culture for
centuries, therefore, the first priority should be to rejuvenate indigenous
literatures and arts through dedicated and passionate efforts at all levels are a must – of individuals and institutions.
There is a need to bring out our rich
literary and cultural pool of ancient Bharat for the contemporary generation so that it gets spread out, reaches the
psyche of Internet obsessed younger
generation through abridged versions, translations, adaptations and all other prevalent media like television serials, animation, films, video games, blogs, e-articles, cartoon strips, etc. It is significant that our talented filmmakers and other artists have brought the beauty of world literature, which has universal appeal and knows no boundaries of time and place, like that of Shakespeare and other writers and beautifully presented it in the indigenous social milieu, through the films like Angoor and Do Dooni Char (Comedy of Errors); Qyamat se Qyamat Tak, Ram Leela and Ishqzade (Romeo and Juliet); Omkara (Othello); Haider (Hamlet); Maqbool (Macbeth) etc. which are adaptations of the bard’s famous plays. Some beautiful literary works of yesteryears and the lives of historical characters and historical events like
partition and freedom movement, have already been adapted. Even contemporary novels famous with younger generation like that of Chetan Bhagat and others have also been successfully attempted.
It is appreciable that we read
translated works of Shakespeare and other western writers and philosophers and watch the cinematised versions of their works. What about our
innumerable Kalidasas, Chankyas, Ashokas, Karans, Arjuns, Bhrigus, Charaks, Patanjalis, Bhaskaracharyas, and many more? Should not they/their works be translated in most of the
languages of the world and even dialects and adapted in all technical media
available today? Some of our brilliant filmmakers like Ramanand Sagar, B R Chopra, Dr Chander Prakash Dwivedi and others have already achieved feats by working on adaptations of epics like The Mahabharata, The Ramayana, Chankya, and more works. Dr Dwivedi is also working on Upnishads and bringing out a TV serial Upnishad Ganga and another one exploring Vedic culture.
But is that enough considering the rich treasure house of ancient wisdom we have? No, undoubtedly a BIG NO!! We need to reinvest, reinvent and
rediscover with dedication and passion the plethora of research already done by our fore parents in various fields of
science and arts- mathematics,
astronomy, astrology, anatomy, medical science, welfare of the entire humanity and many more. We desperately need to re-experience the treasure what all has been getting dust in the few libraries which have preserved them. We need to systematically revive the knowledge, organised and arranged in our folk-lores, kathas, prasangs and texts. It is the time to blend traditional
knowledge with modernity through modern media of TV, screen, Internet and other social media. We cannot wait further to remove the red sacred cloth wrapped around our ancient treasure houses of scriptures and epics and spread in the world so that everyone knows who has been the Jagadguru and why she richly deserves to be
reestablished the centre of excellence and intellectual power.
(The writer teaches English at Ram Lal Anand College, Delhi University. She is a much-published writer of books