Monday, September 22, 2008

Translations of Christianity

The number of Christian publications is on the rise each year; albeit, some of them do not last long. The responsibility of Christian periodicals and books is to interpret the essence of Christian doctrines not only to Christians, but, to the world at large. Mud slinging, rumour mongering, distortion of news, exaggeration of facts etc. are not at all appropriate. But, there is no harm in occasional constructive criticisms unless they become a pretext for character assassination and vindictiveness.
The publishing sector in Kerala is witnessing a phenomenon- the excess of translated works. In an article titled Vivarthanangalude Pookkalam (The Spring of Translations) by S. Sunderdas in India Today Malayalam dated December 25, reveals a lot of interesting information on this. The Malayalam translation of Degeneration of India, written in English by T. N. Sheshan, a Keralite, has outsold the original. 20000 copies of the translation Titled Inthiyude Pathanam, have been sold out whereas only 3000 copies of the original could be sold. The amazing sale of the translation has made an entry into the latest version of the Limca Book of Records. The translator, M. P. Sadasivan, considers this evidence to Malayalees not giving up the habit of reading even when the electronic media have started dominating.
This spring of translated works not only brigs to the fore the interest of Malayalees in reading, but, also their broad minded thinking that incorporates other cultures. The present translated works have made remarkable impact, writes Sunderdas; but, Malayalees have been open to translated versions since long. In early days, Sanskrit works were translated into Malayalam; in modern days numerous works from English, Hindi, Bengali and other languages have been translated. There have been a lot of translations from Tamil, regarded the original root of Malayalam. But, the largest number of translations from a South Indian language is from Kannada.
Many of these translated works have enriched the Malayalam language. The styles, ideas and revolutionary attitudes of writers in other languages made waves in the world of Malayalam literature. When the translations of works propagating leftist ideologies were accorded a warm welcome, changes became visible in the social, political and economic structure in Kerala. In between, the prominence of translated works had waned; because the Sahitya Pravarthana Sahakarana Sangam, a co-operative society formed for writers, which undertook the publication of translated works grew weak. Anyhow, the emergence of private publishers revived the translation sector. In recent times, works from the Marathi language are also getting translated into Malayalam.
In my opinion, it is the presence of good translators that has immensely contributed to the popularity of translated works. A writer, who translates a work from a language to another, should intimately know both languages and corresponding cultures. When the usages in a language and the undercurrents of a culture are presented to people with a different language, they should be coherent. If the translation is lucid and flowing, readers will quickly grasp the contents. Publishing houses, both big and small, are depending on such competent translators to flood the market with translated works. Though, many foreign language works come to Malayalam via English, now there are translators who directly translate from French and German. Sadasivan who has translated a book each of the Indian presidents, Gianni Zail Singh, K. R. Narayanan and A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, besides T. N. Sheshan’s, has translated a total of 59 works into Malayalam. He has already applied for inclusion of his name into Guinness Book of World Records.
The life stories of revolutionaries, accounts on areas of conflicts, social topics- all these are dear to a Malayalee. Several world famous books get translated to Malayalam before they get translated to any other Indian language. It might be this open minded approach of the Malayalees that enabled Christian missionaries to make inroads. The awareness level of the Malayalees increased as Missionaries included education and literature in their activities. Although, some deride their linguistic efforts as Pathiri Malayalam (Missionary Malayalam), it is a fact that they empowered the Malayalam language. The facts that the first lexicographer of Malayalam was a German missionary named Herman Guntert and the first book printed in Malayalam was the New Testament translated and printed by the English missionary Benjamin Bailey in 1819 buttress this claim. (As a matter of fact the book translated to the largest number of languages is the bible).
Perhaps, the ideas and doctrines in the Bible are incoherent to non-Christians. As the eunuch said to Philip, unless someone guides, they may seem unfamiliar. Here lies the importance of the role to be played by each believer. A person who does not understand Greek can not grasp the contents in a Greek book unless he gets a translated version of that book in his own language. For the non-believers to understand the deep meaning and the perfect idea of Christianity, every believer should be an effective interpreter of the Christian faith. A believer should make own life a lucid and fluent translation of Christianity. Remember, the early missionaries and our ancestors led their life in conformation with the Bible. They practised what they preached. We should understand that it is the life style rather than the preaching which appeals to the people. For action speaks louder than words.
Many misconceptions about Christianity prevail in India. Even in Kerala where it is believed that St Thomas had come in the first century, such misunderstandings cloud the minds of the non-Christians. Many people mistake Christianity as a western hedonistic concept. These days several evangelists are importing various foreign doctrines which may help in justifying such unfounded impressions. When people in our country identify luxury, life without taboos, war craziness etc. with Christianity, the onus is on the true believers to reverse such notions. Christian publications and organisations must remain good interpreters and publishing houses that encourage translations so that Indians get the true impressions of Christianity. It is the need of the hour that the life of every believer should be an ideal translation of Christianity. In conclusion, I am quoting a scripture portion which I have already quoted in this column in a previous issue. “You are our epistles written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stones, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3: 2, 3).