FIFTH WALL - Making the translator visible : Uddipana Goswami

The translator almost always remains invisible. In the entire process of making an original text available to a wider audience through translation, the original author and the text itself attracts enough attention. The person responsible for making it thus available, however– and the hours of labour she puts into the process – often gets overlooked. This blatant disregard of the translator’s art and craft has been the subject of much scholarly research in recent decades. Our Looking Glass section in this issue of NELit review attempts, in some small way, to reclaim the primacy of the translator when it comes to the translated text.

The translator’s role has also been scrutinised closely in the context of postcolonial enquiry. In the process, the very politics behind the process of translating the colonial subject has been questioned. As a region which ‘challenges the separation of the colonial from the national’ (as one scholar from the region puts it) the politics of translating the Northeast is a rich arena for further study from this perspective as well. Ranjita Biswas – who has translated prolifically, making Assamese texts accessible to an international English-reading audience – touches on some difficulties inherent in translating the region’s ethos and idioms in our Frontispiece.

The region’s ethos is overwhelmingly one of orality. In reproducing the oral traditions in a written form, the authors of the region are constantly engaging in the task of translation. Sometimes, this task is more difficult than the task of translating the written word from one language to the other. The latter task requires the translator to make some tough choices – as both Deepika Phukan and Ranjita Biswas point out. But the task of translating the spoken word into the written entails making more complex choices as the oral text is a fluid text and given to multiple interpretations. The region’s authors, who engage in writing and translating its vibrant oral traditions, therefore, need to be celebrated and that is what this issue of NELit review is all about.

Translating tradition and culture is in any case a complicated task, and many translators have grappled with the complexities involved in numerous ways. In Nitoo Das, whose poetry we focus on in our Inkpot section, it finds a poetic expression. Despite the inherent dilemmas, however, translating between cultures is a pressing necessity, especially in a region as prone to ethnic conflicts as the Northeast. Gitanjali Das, in Take Two, then questions why this has not happened in any significant measure.

There are not many answers to the questions we pose in this issue. These questions are, however, inherent in the process and politics of translation. We would encourage further discussion on them.

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