Unearthing of Indian Writing in English:
A Conversation with
Christopher Rollason and Ludmila Volná
Interview by Dr.
Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal
What should be the language of one's creativity: one's native language
or a second/alien one?
Ludmila Volná: For a large number of writers this would,
of course, be the mother tongue, but in principle it can be any language
expressing by the means of which one feels at ease; that which does
not feel alien.
Christopher Rollason: In most cases it will, of course, be one's
first language. However, some people are genuinely bilingual and therefore
free to choose.
What should be done to promote the literature in native regional
Ludmila Volná: The translation work cannot be overestimated
here. To translate between Indian languages and into English and other,
non-Indian languages. As far as I know it has been the Sahitya Akademi's
prerogative for several years to promote the former.
Christopher Rollason: Translate, translate, translate! Into
English, into Hindi, and between Bengali and Tamil and all the rest.
And into non-Indian languages, too.
Are there sufficient translations of regional literary works into
English? What do you think are the essential qualities of a translated
literary work? How will you distinguish transcreation from transliteration?
Ludmila Volná: In fact, there have been perhaps a surprisingly
large number of works in regional languages translated into non-Indian
languages. Not only into English, but we find an impressive number of
works being translated into French from Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Malayalam,
Tamil and other languages. And one can find translations from Hindi,
Urdu and Bengali also in Czech, for example, not speaking of translations
of classical Sanskrit works. Whether the number is sufficient is hard
to say; of course, the more the better. A translation is always a kind
of re-creation of the text, I believe. Not only should the translator
try to be faithful to the original as much as he or she can, but also
the work must be understood by the readers into whose language it is
translated. So it is always a kind of compromise between the two. The
scope for "imaginative flight" for translators is given by
their capacity to find the most suitable expression in the language
into which they translate.
Christopher Rollason: It is obviously vital to translate works
from Indian languages, including Hindi, into English: the more the better!
I should add (I live in France) that on the French book market there
exist a surprising number of translated works from Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam
etc. Most of these are directly rendered, i.e. not going through English.
You can find them in the bookshops. This fact is insufficiently well
known. It is thus not only a question of translation into English. A
translated literary text needs to strike a balance between fidelity
to the original and culture and accessibility to the host culture. Transcreation
I believe the concept has been particularly explored by P. Lal
differs from translation proper because it is a much freer process.
It is in line with a long Indian tradition, as with the many different
language versions of the Ramayana, most famously the Tamil version,
which are retellings and not translations of Valmiki's Sanskrit narrative.
However, a transcreation should be billed as such and not presented
as a translation in the strict sense.
Can a translator always be faithful to the original? Sometimes, he
or she deviates from the original. Do you grant such deviations to a
translator? There is a typical dichotomy involved in a work of translation.
On the one hand, a translator cannot digress from the subject. The other
side of the coin is that, if translators do not deviate from the original
and stick to the text, where is the imaginative flight for them? A translator
is chained by classical bondage of rules, customs and regulations. So,
where is the scope for imaginative flights for a translator? Should
a translator be subjective or objective?
Ludmila Volná: A transcreation is clearly not a translation
and should be distinguished as such. It is what is in the Indian context
also called "a rendering." A number of renderings of the classical
Sanskrit texts into English have been done, and quite often Indian writers
have rendered their own works from their native language into English
or vice versa, especially in the period of the beginnings of Indian
writing in English.
Christopher Rollason: Transcreation and translation proper are
not the same thing, and each has its advantages. The transcreator can
be subjective: the translator proper needs to be objective.
What are the problems of Indian English criticism? What do you think
are the major issues before Indian critics? Are these critics following
the ancient Indian tradition of Rasa, Dhwani and Alamkara? Or are they
playing "the sedulous ape" to the western critical tools?
Are there certain attempts to evolve an individual perspective, different
from the ancient Indian aesthetics and western critical theory? There
is an onslaught of theory from the West. Are the Indian critics able
to maintain a separate identity? Who are the major contemporary Indian
English critics who have evolved a new and innovative approach in their
Ludmila Volná: Indian critics should follow their own
way which does not mean an absolute rejection of Western criticism.
I feel, nevertheless, that they should also try to set the critical
approaches relevant for Indian writing on Western critical circles and
be sceptical towards any post-colonial theory which is subject to simplifications
or distortions with regard to the specific features of Indian culture
and literature. Indian critics should certainly not allow any kind of
theoretical colonization. Theories like dhwani-rasa have not yet found
their way into broader critical circles. On the other hand, IWE has
already its own well-established tradition of Indian critics, starting
with Srinivasa Iyengar, Prema Nandakumar, or C.D. Narasimhaiah, and
going on with names like Harish Trivedi, Vrinda Nabar, Meenakshi Mukherjee,
Subhendu Mund, GJV Prasad, Nilufer Bharucha and many others, all of
whose approach can be classified as a singular contribution to Indian
Christopher Rollason: There are very significant names in Indian
criticism Harish Trivedi, GJV Prasad, Meenakshi Mukherjee, Gayatri
Spivak but, alas, how well are any of them known in the West
outside the ambit of postcolonial studies, or perhaps translation studies?
This said, surely Indian critics wishing to make their mark internationally
would do best to master both Indian and Western points of view? Still
missing is the Indian critic who will bring rasa theory to the outside
world's attention as an alternative to Aristotelian perspectives.
What are your views about English studies in India? English studies
were introduced in India to colonize the minds of the Indians. About
the determination of the British to introduce European literature in
India, Governor Lord William Bentinck declared that "the great
object of the British Government ought to be the promotion of European
literature and science among the natives of India, and all funds appropriated
for the purpose of education would be best employed on English education
alone" (qtd. Iyengar 27). In the light of the aforesaid facts,
is it not proper to exclude certain colonial texts from the syllabi
of English Studies in India? In their place, should we not introduce
translations of certain classics of regional languages? It will be a
sort of decolonization of English studies. I think the curriculum of
English studies should consist of literature in English language in
place of literature of England. Your views please.
Ludmila Volná: In my opinion, the study of English in
India should be given a place analogous to that which it occupies anywhere
else. English studies are nothing more but nothing less either than
English studies. If we study English, then we should certainly include
classical texts written in English, and that is irrespective of the
place where it is studied. It should include all literature written
in the English language, certainly not just literature of England. Examples
of what you call "certain colonial texts" should be, on the
contrary, studied, I believe; not from a subordinate position but in
the proper historical perspective, they should be studied by a "decolonized
Christopher Rollason: It is usually said that Macaulay's Minute
on Indian Education was aimed at imposing British perspectives on
Indian minds. However, if you read that text closely, you will find
a subtext, namely that he does also advocate developing modern Indian
languages rather than Sanskrit or Arabic with a view to
those languages acquiring a scientific and technical vocabulary. The
technology introduced by a colonial power can be reappropriated for
national purposes post-independence. Noone in India suggests tearing
up the railway lines simply because the British had them laid. Karl
Marx predicted that teaching Indians western technology would ultimately
lead to India reassuming its place as a great nation. Mulk Raj Anand
in his novel Untouchable saw technology as liable to bring about
social progress in India by liberating dalits from the most menial tasks.
Meanwhile, the idea of "excluding" certain "colonial
texts" from syllabi sounds risky. Shakespeare remains the most
important writer in English and introduced more words into the language
than anyone else. Kipling's Kim is still valuable as transmitting
aspects of the colonists' idea of India. Edward Said found Kim redeemable.
This said, there is anyway a growing tendency worldwide to teach "literatures
in English" British, US, postcolonial rather than
The MNCs are hiring a number of Indians. One requirement for entry
into these organizations is fluency in English, but the problem is that
the comprehension power of Indian students in the English language is
very weak. Will it not be better to teach the students about the minutest
intricacies of the language in place of lecturing on a number of irrelevant
and colonial texts of England? What do you think?
Ludmila Volná: The only way to solve this problem is
certainly to improve the quality of teaching of the English language
as such. Learning English does not necessarily need to be a part of
English studies. In other words, it is possible to learn good English
without majoring in English studies. At the same time it is necessary
to realize that the "minutest intricacies" of the language
are conveyed precisely by the literary works of art.
Christopher Rollason: I think there are two separate issues
here. It is not necessary for all professionals proficient in English
to be English studies majors. One thing is service courses in English
for those studying economics, technology, et cetera. Another is the
content of degrees in English studies as such. Meanwhile, I do not accept
the notion of literary studies as "irrelevant." Creative writing
expands a language's boundaries and is a privileged means of access
to, precisely, its "minutest intricacies."
What are your views about the publication process in India? Publishers
do not easily come forward to publish a new and budding author. Most
of the time, they ask for money from the poets/authors instead of giving
them royalties. Similar is the case with certain journals. They also
charge for subscription/membership. In this way, new and innovative
approaches to literature may be kept hidden from the eyes of the world.
Ludmila Volná: The reluctance to publish a new and unestablished
author is nothing specific to India. It is, more or less, the case anywhere
else, too. New authors and innovators are not always appreciated; theirs
is not an easy lot. This is a sad, nevertheless, generally valid reality.
Christopher Rollason: I am not in favour of the practice of
asking authors or contributors for financial input into books and journals.
I find it counterproductive.
Can electronic publication be an alternative to print publication?
I think negatively about it. Publication on Internet cannot replace
print publication. One can easily get one's material published on the
Internet. But the real issue is whether people take it seriously. Readers
go through blogs cursorily. How many genuine readers do bother to indulge
in the text on the Internet? It is not suitable for serious academic
research. What do you think about all this?
Ludmila Volná: We are perhaps still more used to print
publications. Nevertheless, while it is true that one can publish whatever
one wants on his or her own blog, there are very serious Internet journals
published from prestigious universities where it is not so easy to get
published. The advantage of these journals is, of course, that they
are accessible to a large number of readers and thus academic research
can benefit from them. Very often the readers and the authors can come
into direct contact via e-mail. On the other hand there is a large number
of print journals or other publications which are of poor quality. It
is then necessary to have the criteria for serious academic research
in mind and to act selectively both with regard to printed matter and
to internet material.
Christopher Rollason: There is in fact a large amount of serious
academic material online. Today, the bibliographies to articles reflect
this. What worries me is that a lot of academic journals are paying
sites. This I find contrary to the free circulation of knowledge, a
principle vital to the Internet which also, I believe, corresponds to
the Indian notion that knowledge exists to be shared.
Iyengar, K.R.S. Indian Writing in English. 5th ed. New Delhi: