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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

* The School of Athens and A Story!

The School of Athens

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In continuation of the previous post Prologue to an International Conference on “Connecting Cultures: Translation and Texts” (24th – 26th February, 2010, CSSH Hall, Alipore Campus, Calcutta University).
Let’s start at the very beginning, which is no doubt a very good place to start. But that reminds me of Professor Alok Bhalla’s Cheshire grin. In the first day keynote address Professor Bhalla had explored the multiple meanings the very word “beginning”. So, perhaps, a better place to start is at the end, because as Professor Chinmoy Guha said, evoking T. S. Eliot, in the valedictory session, that in our end is our beginning. But Professor Guha also wondered whether a person, who has never translated a text, can he theorize on translation. Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta objected to nothing else except to the assumption made that the translator is a male. Professor Guha’s apprehension makes me take it as a commandment: Thou shalt not theorize! And the very idea freezes my pen.
So the best place to start is after all in the middle. Yes Professor Dasgupta we are taking postmodernism really seriously. I plunge in medias res and find myself watching musical chairs being played at the high table during lunch hour on the first day. And I overhear a couple of colleagues, who lost out on their seats at the high table, dissect on their lunch plates Otala and Dasyudamana the Oriya phonetic translations of Othello and Desdemona as mentioned by Dr. Anasuya Guha in her paper in the morning session. Dr. Anasuya Guha also said that in many Bengali translations of Shakespeare’s plays the names of characters and settings are changed to suit the culture of Bengal (and example being Vidyasagar’s Bhranti Bilas). This raises the question of fidelity. But then the presentation went on to Bratya Basu’s Hemlat: The Prince of Garanhata where the play within the play is in fact Hamlet and it produces such intertextuality that justifies “fidelity in betrayal”. This though leaves a question on connecting cultures still unanswered: Which is more transcultural – a faithful translation which makes the translated text a window to a different culture or a cultural transcreation that brings a foreign text within one’s culture?

On the third day, which was dedicated to students’ papers, such questions were even raised by students like Soumit Basu (CU). In fact the third day’s keynote address by Professor Udaya Narayana Singh had the polemical thesis that all translations are original creations and vice versa. He argued that since human languages are subjected to changes and decay, splits and mergers, has allowance for falsity and manipulations, reflexivity and recursion, there is a kind of double patterning. A text is first produced in the mind of the author and then is recreated as a physical text for the readers’ consumption. In the process there is more likelihood of a mismatch between the temporal text and the physical text just as a translation is not an exact match of the original. Thus modifications and prevarications are bound to happen and it is this creativity that makes translation time-bound and original. Raktim Mukherjee’s (CU) paper on cognitive associations stands in comparison here. In this respect it is appropriate when Derrida’s theory gives translation the status of literature. Derrida’s view that translation is both necessary and impossible was expounded by Arka Chattopadhyay (JU).
[I fear that I cannot help but produce here micro-texts of lengthy papers and perhaps bring my prejudices in approximating and appropriating them. Such a charge was rightly levelled by Professor Jharna Sanyal against the doomed Macmillan translation project, especially with regard to the Macmillan’s translation of Ashapurna Devi’s Subarnalata, in her paper. So to absolve myself of any charge of infidelity and micro-texting in my translation of the events of those three days of conference into words here, I declare that this is not a report but rather an opinion piece that I am writing. Hence everything that I state here are coluured by my perceptions.]
So, where was I? Anyway, let’s plunge again in medias res, this time at the second day’s keynote address by Professor Indranath Choudhuri on “Towards an Indian Translation Theory”. As Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta called out “present sir” to Professor Choudhuri’s searching eyes from the dais, the speaker thanked her for inviting him to the conference. Professor Choudhuri said that India provides an ideal translation substratum of Indo-Aryan literature for the development of a translation theory. Ancient India’s polyglottism gave a platform for translators to treat both the source language and the target language as their own languages. Although Sanskrit dominated in the past, there are evidences like Gunadhya’s Brihat Katha, which was not written in Sanskrit but was later translated into Sanskrit (partly in Somadeva’s Kathasaritsagara). Even Kalidasa’s Abhijnan Shakuntalam was originally written in a combination of Sanskrit and Prakrit. India’s translation history from Vatsyayan’s “lokepichanubad” (translatability) to Faizi to Aurodindo’s theory to Ayyappa Paniker’s concepts helped the development of “translating consciousness” (Suniti Kumar Chatterjee). Guru Nanak’s “unhad nada” (unstruck sound) can metaphorically mean the “unheard voice” or “inner speech”, which can be discovered through translation. This makes texts like Gyaneshwari Gita (in Marathi) with its five dialogic tensions plausible, as Professor Choudhuri stressed. He stated that often deviations should not be seen as distortions. In Biblical exegesis translation is often seen as an exile – taking away from the original – but it not be perceived so in the Indian tradition.
Professor Choudhuri pointed out that in the scene where Bottom’s head is changed into a donkey’s head in the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare gives the accompanying speech as “Thou art translated”. Change, adaptation, interpretation all become the various facets of translation. Dr. Tirtha Prasad Mukhopadhyay paper analysed the peculiarities of the translation of the Bible in Bengali. Dr. Santanu Majumdar discoursed on how Bankimchandra’s translation of Gita functions as interpretation. Sanghita Sanyal (CU) brilliantly presented how the empire strikes back when Shakespeare becomes Sheikh Piru in Kalyan Ray’s Eastwards. This phenomenon of writing back started since the colonial times when Michael Madhusudan Dutt mimicked the colonial masters in translating Dinabandhu Mitra’s Nil Darpan, as Saranya Sen (CU) explained. Charuchandra’s Bengali translation (1910) of Robinson Crusoe also contributed towards the phenomenon, as Milan Mondal (CU) discoursed.
Moreover the interface of translation between English and Bengali helped in the development of Bengali language as Dr. Sanjukta Das pointed out. The problems faced by the translators in this interface in today’s world were illustrated by Dr. Niaz Zaman. Dr. Radha Chakravarty’s paper on “The Rainbow Bridge: Translating across Cultures” was equally poignant in this matter. Saptarshi Mallik (CU) said that a translator can decode, demystify but not defamiliarize the source text. Often words from the source language, both translatable and untranslatable, are kept as it is – a kind of “white noise” in the target language text as stated by Sayan Aich Bhowmick (JU) in his paper on Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide. Anuparna Mukherjee (Presidency) said that a translator has to be both bilingual and bicultural. But often in a bilingual, bicultural society cross-connections between languages and cultures occur. Rituparna Das (CU) gave the example of how a Class-3 student of hers said to her, “I am falling on your feet” to mean “Tomar paye pori”. Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta during the interaction added another anecdote of how having bestowed on a student the epithet “gyanpapi” she found that the student had taken it to mean “a puppy named Gyan”.
Professor Linda Dittmar, in her discourse on American minority women’s fiction assigned translation as a destabilizing force. Professor Margery Fee showed how becoming bilingual in Quebec was akin to becoming cosmopolitan. On the other hand, Godhuli Goswami (CU), in her paper on translation of Spanish texts into English, stressed on the concept of localization. Professor Tapati Gupta showed how Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was adapted and acculturated for the Bengali stage by Sombhu Mitra as Putul Khela. Whereas Priyanka Chatterjee (CU) showed that Putuler Sansar, the Bengali translation of the English translation of Ibsen’s play, was staged in Bengal during colonial times with the characters in European costumes. Professor Gupta made an interesting observation that even in Oslo Ibsen is taught in English. Abin Chakraborty (CU) presented a study of Amalesh Chakraborty’s Punorujjiban as a translation of Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken.
A very exciting feature of the conference was the number of students’ papers on celluloid adaptations as translations. Amrita Basu (CU) and Anindita Basu (CU) considered the various movie adaptations of Hamlet. Pranamita Roy’s (CU) paper was on Vishal Bharadwaj’s Maqbool where the original Macbeth becomes the point of departure. Debarati Banerjee (CU) showed how Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali veered from and kept faith with Bibhutibhusan Bandyapadhyay’s original. Dibyabibha Roy (CU) explained how in Peter Brooke’s Mahabharata the director becomes the translator of Carriere’s English translation. On the first day there was also a screening of a part of Krittibas and his Ramayana (Director Debojit Ghosh). Anindya Sundar Paul’s (CU) presentation on “Tonic Translations” (Auld lang Syn / Purono Sei Diner Katha, Old Man River / Bistirno Dupare, Summer Holiday / Lal Nil Sobuj, etc.) deserved to be heard for its sheer auditory pleasure. And Professor Tirthankar Bose’s presentation on illustrations of Milton’s Paradise Lost deserved to be seen as much for its visual pleasure. Professor Bose made a crucial point about how early artists were merely illustrators whereas later artists (especially William Blake) were interpreters of Paradise Lost.
In matters of painting, Dr. Reba Som revealed how the Italian artist Nike Borghese made a series of paintings inspired by listening to Tagore’s songs and reading the translations. Yes we have come back to Tagore, the one we left behind at the end of the Prologue. Rabindranath Tagore dominated the conference with six papers on him. Professor Fakrul Alam and later Anirban Guha Thakurta (CU) and Saranya Sen (CU) discoursed on the internationalism and spectacular success of Tagore’s English Gitanjali. Madhurima Neogi (Presidency) made an interesting point that during the early days of Tagore translation, none of his comedies were translated. Perhaps they were thought to not suit an English speaking culture. The last paper of the conference was by Rupsa Mukherjee (CU) on William Radice’s translation of Tagore’s poem “Shahjahan”, which seemed to be quite a fitting conclusion.
In the valedictory session, when Professor Margery Fee, Professor Ed O’ Shea, Dr. Sinjini Bandyopadhyay, and Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta came together how beautifully it evoked Raphael’s The School of Athens where Averros and Socrates conversed freely, as mentioned by Professor Alok Bhalla in his opening keynote address. Even though Professor Fakrul Alam disagreed with Professor Indranath Choudhuri’s thesis whereas Professsor Chinmoy Guha vociferously supported it, that the three of them could come together and “start a dialogue”, in the Chief Guest Dr. Dhrubajyoti Chattopadhyay’s (Pro-VC, Academic) terms stated in his inaugural speech, was good enough. After the three days of the conference how apt seems Professor Bhalla’s metaphorical imagery that all languages have their roots in the sky and their branches reach us below. I now feel so invigorated and my mind so ignited that I want to give a personal vote of thanks to all who made this conference possible. So starting form the Head of the Department of English Dr. Sinjini Bandyopadhyay, to the DRS Coordinator Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta, the DRS Deputy Coordinator Professor Chinmoy Guha, the whole DRS team (including Dr. Dipannita Datta, Prasita Mukherjee, Sanghita Sanyal, Saptarshi Mallik) to all the volunteers and even the audience, I thank you all.
[What’s missing from this narrative, apart form my na├»ve theorizing, are the micro-narratives of a missing abstracts brochure (fortunately restored), a missing guest (advised against travelling by the doctor), a missing presenter (being indisposed), missing tea breaks (Breaking News), and a gnawing sense of missing academia. Is an epilogue in the offing? Maybe.]

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Read my short story "Who's Where?" in Vol. 3 No. 7 • March, 2010 issue of Word Catalyst Magazine