On translation

“Writers, translators, smugglers,” argued the Bulgarian poet Georgi Gospodinov, “we are all engaged in a similar task. We translate—which is to say we literally carry over—what is desired, valued, missing, suppressed, forbidden.” Translation, then, as need. Need to right that which is wrong. Writing wrong—describing through your writing the ills the injustices that remain hidden in the midst of a dailyness that are taken for granted as a way of life.

So: translating these stories into existence. Translation as midwifery? Perhaps. Challenge the language you have so carefully cultivated. Revisit the meanings of words you have since childhood imbibed as universal truths. Consider the act of translation as impulse, as motivation, as a “telling” of that which would otherwise remain “untold”. So: speaking out and speaking about the forbidden? Maybe.

Illustration: Tripat King 

Do not the frames that rule the act of translating from one language into another hinder your vision, fool you into thinking the job is done? Translation as action. Activism as a tool for the translators who take up causes. Body pheledebo as a translatable act of not just the body being thrown physically into the fray should the situation demand this of you but the soul too. The soul translated as body made visible. Made passion. Translate your passion. Subvert the status quo. Translation therefore as subversion.

It’s how Mahasweta Devi translated her lived dailyness into literature. “I believe in documentation,” she wrote. “After reading my work, the reader should face the truth of facts, and feel duly ashamed of the true face of India.” Her method, as she put it, was “[f]orensic writing. Disclosing, revealing everything.” She needed to put down on paper, report, what she saw: “Writing is my real world. It is where I have lived. And survived.”

 For Mahaswetadi, the positions she took through the many lives and many characters she sired were born out of an instinct to bear witness. Literature as an act of witnessing. Documenting the dark times under the guise of storytelling. Another act of translation? Maybe. Perhaps.
(Naveen Kishore, publisher of Seagull Books and long-time associate of writer and activist Mahasweta Devi)

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