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Questions of Translation at Hay Festival Dhaka 2013

Posted on 05/10/2014
By Commonwealth Foundation
Questions of Translation at Hay Festival Dhaka 2013
Chris Heiser, Kaiser Haq, Eliot Weinberger and David Shook, at ‘Have you really read Kafka?’, 2013 Hay Festival, Dhaka, Bangladesh
“Translation is a genre of creative production.”
David Shook, Hay Festival Dhaka

Translation was a common thread throughout the 2013 Hay Festival Dhaka. Commonwealth Writers attended two events focusing on the subject: ‘Have you really read Kafka?’ and ‘Translating Bangla to English’.
‘Have you really read Kafka?’ celebrated the launch of the Dhaka Translation Centre and brought together Eliot Weinberger, Kaiser Haq and David Shook, all of whom are both poets and translators, to talk with publisher Chris Heiser. You can listen to the conversation on the Hay Festival website.
Experienced translators Arunava Sinha, Niaz Zaman, Fakrul Alam, and Ahmede Hussain talked with Jackie Kabir in the ‘Translating Bangla to English’ session.
From the intricate techniques of translation to the dangers of bad translation, the debates were wide-ranging. Translation was explored from a historical perspective: different translations for every generation, with older versions becoming classics; the difference between working with living and dead authors; translating into the language of the ‘coloniser’; and translation’s contribution to shaping the history of two literatures and reflecting the linguistic and political points of contact.

“in translation people are worried that translations can’t do justice to the original. The real problem is that there are bad translations. Translation needs to be true to the original.”
Fakrul Alam

Chris Heiser put forward four archetypes for the different types of translator: architect, combatant, lover and fool. Yet when considering the question how creative the translator should be, not all agreed on the answer. Opinions varied from David Shook’s view that “translation is a genre of creative production” to Niaz Zaman’s belief that the translator should not be given the freedom to be a creative writer, and shades inbetween.
Fakrul Alam pointed out that “in translation people are worried that translations can’t do justice to the original. The real problem is that there are bad translations. Translation needs to be true to the original.”  Arunava Sinha felt that the key to a good translation is the measure in which it creates the same kind of response as to the original. A good translator needs to keep the reader’s context in mind.
The question whether a translation can be word by word was raised as well as how to translate a single word when words in the source language do not have a direct equivalent in the target language. Kaiser Haq emphasised that translation is striking a balance, negotiating the way forward. Eliot Weinberger further explained that, “literature in translation is not a line by line translation, particularly in poetry. Translation is a game you play with that work. In translation there are no absolutes.”
When work is translated, readers access new worlds, and writers access new audiences. As Eliot Weinburger emphasised, translation revitalises the literature of any language, and “you learn new ways of doing things with language.”
Discussion included the ways authors can be the translators of their own stories. Syed Manzoorul Alam explained:
“When I translate into English, I have to take into account cultural translation. When I translate, I have the freedom to choose, to edit.” Translation’s transformative powers can extend to changing the author’s relationship with his/her own work. So authors who are familiar with the target language, are able to become readers of their own works: translations giving the necessary distance with which to view their writing.

In partnership with the Dhaka Translation Centre, the British Centre for Literary Translation and English PEN, we held a Bangla-English literary translation workshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh, from 15-19 November 2014.

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