There is an increasing focus on translation in the world at present, adds Baral, and many publishers are now putting out more translated works than before. This is evidenced by the widespread popularity of authors like Haruki Murakami, Elena Ferrante, Olga Tokarczuk, Han Kang and Mieko Kawakami.
Speaking in Tongues
But translation itself is not a new craft. The word ‘translate’ comes from Latin translatus ‘carried over, bear across’ and translators have been integral to cultural and intellectual exchanges since The Epic of Gilgamesh was translated four thousand years ago from Sumerian into Akkadian.
Many works of Greek philosophers and mathematicians survived in large part due to their Arabic translations. Even in Nepal, Bhanubhakta Acharya’s रामायण Ramayan, which is considered the first Nepali epic, was itself translated from Sanskrit.
And while Nepali literature is relatively young, there are also writers who are pioneers in social realism, psychological fiction and experimental writings, and have made unique contributions to understanding the human condition.
Michael Hutt says a certain section of readership, for example in the UK, is now used to reading books translated from different languages. In addition to Russian, French and Italian, writings from Czech, Korean and Japanese are also gaining readership.
“There is an entire range of different languages, and people are engaging with those books as literature,” he says, “And they are being evaluated as literature that strikes our imagination and our emotions.”
Nepali stories being translated into English and published internationally in this scene provides readers with a unique geographical flavour. Says Baral: “This increases the probability of more authentic and local stories from Nepal being published abroad as readers there will be able to find something new in them.”
Chuden Kabimo, author of Faatsung, also sees the English translation of his book as a positive addition to literature and emphasises the role of translations as bridges. He says, “In translation, it’s not just the book that is being transmitted, but identities, cultures and history as well. This helps mediate the apparent separation between communities and peoples of different nationalities, and help us understand each other better.”
It is like borders coming down, he explains, as the story travels from one person to the next, one country to the next. And since its translation, Song of the Soil has now also been added to the BA English curriculum at the SRM University in Sikkim where, Kabimo believes, the story and culture will now also be passed from one generation to the next.