“By translating, I am violating a tradition”, says Professor Velcheru Narayana Rao, who was named the first Visweswara Rao and Sita Koppaka Professor in Telugu Culture, Literature, and History at Emory University. According to him, translation is new to India. Indians always read the originals. The Indian languages are syntactically, semantically and culturally close that there was no need tradition for translation. In fact, there is no equivalent word for ‘translation’ in Indian languages. If an equivalent exists, then it must be a borrowed word. India has always been multilinguistic. However, with the introduction of English, we have lost the multilingualism.

Professor Rao explained how the texts can be divided into three kinds – sound primary, meaning primary and sound-meaning primary. The Vedas are sound primary and are not translated because the essence of the text lies in the way it is spoken. The Epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata are meaning primary and get narrated in different words as long as the meaning is retained. The Kavyas are sound- meaning primary making them difficult for translation.

Speaking of what he does when translates, Professor says he develops a new protocol and also translates the reader to understand the syntactical, semantical and cultural differences between the languages involved. Indian languages have longer compounds. Sanskrit has an entire story in a single compound and Telugu has compounds longer than Sanskrit. It is not possible to translate them into a single compound in English. In such cases, these compounds have to be broken down while translating. Even then there are untranslatable texts in some languages. For example, is the Citra Kavya, where the readers need to follow a specific pattern and it is not possible to translate those texts into other languages. Untranslatable texts from the original language should be left alone.

He also questioned his audience as to why should we do translations. The ideal way to go about reading Indian classics is to read the originals. So we must learn instead of translating them. However, since we are not doing the learning at the moment, he says we must also continue to translate. Also since English has opened Indian literature to the world outside, thereby making translation relevant in our times.

About the author : Jeevanayagi Ganapathy is Founder Editor and Writer at Bookstalkist.