Many teams around the world have been doing some stellar jobs translating various works of late. We recently wrote about the academic translation of the Talmud in Italy and the global translation and commercial publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.
Yet not every translation project is a stellar success story. Recently, an article surfaced at Scroll.in about the Indian Literature Abroad (ILA) project, titled, Why did India’s ambitious global translations project die prematurely?
Perhaps it is not entirely fair to say the project died completely, though it may be on life support. The Ministry of Culture still officially has a page dedicated to the project, but the graphic on it (pictured above) shows a catalogue cover only as recent as from 2011-2012. The project did produce three translations. The first was the Swedish translation of Train to Pakistan. This novel was originally written in 1956 and published in English (though a 1998 film based on it was produced in Hindi). The second was the German translation of the short 1993 novel (and later 2005 movie) Herbert, by the Bengali writer Nabarun Bhattacharya. (The book is also available in English in a 2011 translation under the title Harbart.) The third was the French translation of A Forest, A Deer, by the Tamil feminist writer Ambai. (The book is also available in English from Oxford University Press.)
As the Ministry of Culture page states, the mission, set forth five years ago, was to bring the great works of India’s more than 24 natively-spoken languages to a global audience of major global languages recognized by UNESCO. As of today, even with the transfer of the project to the literary Satiya Akademi (see its page for the ILA project) the momentum that had been established at its outset seems to have dissipated.
A recent published letter in The Hindu expresses the lament of Mini Krishnan on the lack of progress of the project. The lack of funding did more than just halt work; it also wasted the efforts and goodwill of its contributors. The question stands as to whether the produced translations occurred due to the efforts of the Ministry of Culture, or in spite of its indifference.
The key takeaway from this tale is to ensure executive sponsors truly have the budget, authority, and conviction to commit to execution of your translation projects. It is all good to get the right linguists and writers in the room to create magnificent works of prose. But without the right sponsor behind the project, these idealistic plans can drag out for years and eventually come to naught. Work on translations may even occur with the hope of funding eventually appearing, but disappointingly never see the light of day in publication. It is like buying a car, but never putting oil in it. Eventually, inevitably, your engine of creativity is going to burn out.
What is your perspective? Have you ever had a sponsor leave a translation project high-and-dry? Or, on the other hand, do you have the best sponsors in the world? We’d love to hear your stories! Email us at [email protected], and let us know your experiences.