Dhaka,  Thursday
25 April 2024

Treasure Awaits Translation

Kazi Tahmina

Published: 08:04, 3 March 2024

Update: 21:07, 3 March 2024

Treasure Awaits Translation

Photo: Messenger

Any average reader in our country might know about Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot but only a few in the West might know about Misir Ali. In Bangladesh, we can have the delight of reading the works of various authors across the universe, but the literary works of writers from Bangladesh hardly reach readers of other languages. I believe tons of treasures in Bengali literature are waiting to be translated, which could mesmerise readers across the globe.

To my understanding, Misir Ali, created by famous writer Humayun Ahmed, is nothing less than globally popular characters like Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, or Arsene Lupin. British writer Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are investigators who solve various mysteries. The novels and stories of Miss Marple and Poirot have been adapted into stage dramas, movies, and TV series, which also engaged many viewers. But hardly a few readers in Western countries might know about Misir Ali, a parapsychology teacher who solves various mysteries based on logic and observation. Created by Humayun Ahmed, Misir Ali appeared in 20 novels and several short stories.

The part-time teacher of the Psychology Department at the University of Dhaka, Misir Ali, lives a solitary life and upon request from distressed persons, he engages in cases which he finds interesting. He could be termed as a psychic investigator who reveals the mysteries behind apparent paranormal activities. The literary works involving Misir Ali could attract readers from other languages incalculably for gripping storytelling style and mystic flavor. Unfortunately, there has not been any successful attempt or effort to translate the works of Humayun Ahmed, especially the books involving Misir Ali to English for international readers.

While inaugurating the Ekushey Book fair this year, the honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in her speech, "the more our art, literature and writings are translated in different languages in different countries of the world, the more the people of the world will know, understand and learn about Bangladesh and the Bangalee nation". However, there is no visible activity to take Bangladesh literature to global readers.

Renowned translator and critic Anthony Burgess once said, "Translation is not a matter of works only: it a matter of making intelligible a whole culture." The statement also describes the significance of translation, which is a powerful means of diffusing cultural elements and establishing language supremacy. Along with allowing a wider readership and appreciation of a culture's literary works, translation also facilitates a better understanding and appreciation of the culture itself.

Modern-day Bangladeshi literature is not far from global trends. Being a student of English literature, I had to study several books ranging from Chinua Achebe, and Arvind Adiga to O' Henry and Guy de Maupassant. I am not taking anything from them, but I find Humayun Ahmed on par with them. His short stories his novels portrayed the gradual elevation of the middle class in Bangladesh, from struggling economic conditions just after the liberation war to the post-millennial era while a crony economy was foaming at the heart of the country.

While searching for an English translation of literary works by Humayun Ahmed, which I was looking for as a gift for my British friend, I found that there are only 8 books available in an online marketplace! Can you believe it, the leading writer of Bangladesh, who is still immensely popular even after his death, has got only a handful of books translated into English! Just look at Haruki Murakami; his literary works have been translated into more than 50 languages and he is a best-selling author internationally. Though Murakami wrote his first novel in English and translated that into Japanese to maintain the original tone, his later works were mostly written in the Japanese language first. Jay Rubin, an American writer, scholar, and Japanologist who holds a PhD in Japanese literature, translated several books written by Murakami for American readers. Here in Bangladesh, I have not seen any such attempt to engage professional writers or translators to convert the selected works by Humayun Ahmed for a global audience.

I think there is a huge commercial prospect if we can cater the works of Humayun to the global audience. Initially, the target group could be the non-resident Bangladeshis who do not have a good command of Bengali. Even the population from the Indian Diaspora could be interested in reading the translated literature from Bangladesh. But to make it possible, the publishers must take the modern-day book marketing procedures. Apart from selling books in conventional form, translated books could be sold as e-books for devices like Kindle and iPads. We have seen global streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime adapting best-selling literary works into movies or web series. Lee Child's Jack Reacher and Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan were received warmly by the viewers, and so was the movie adaptation of Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger". In the future, we might see global streaming companies or production companies commissioning visual adaptations of Humayun's works, which could fetch a fortune. For your kind information, the intellectual property value of Spider-Man is more than 100 Million Dollars.

Characters like Misir Ali, Himu, and Shuvro might not be that valuable, yet the intellectual property rights may fetch fortunes through visual adaptation rights. But for that, we must deliver these fictions to the international audience through translation.

Mohammad Nazim Uddin is a popular Bangladeshi writer, who has translated many renowned literary works from English to Bengali, which enriched the Bengali literature. At the same time, he has also published several original works of his own, but it is a matter of regret that none of his works have been translated in English to make them globally renowned. Almost all of us know about Sherlock Holmes, who is a fictional detective created by British author Arthur Conan Doyle.

However, I doubt if any reader from other languages knows anything about the character Zefri Beg, a character of a homicide investigator, created by Nazim Uddin. One of his most popular works is 'Rabindranath Ekhane Kwakhono Khete Aashenni' followed by a sequel. Later, the novel has been transformed into a web series for the OTT platform Zee5, but only Bengalis can enjoy his works as this popular piece of work has not also translated to any other language.

We know that many literary works of legendary Indian Bengali writer Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay have been translated into several languages, but only eight of his over two hundred short stories have been translated and three of his sixteen novels translated from Bengali to English.

Sometimes we notice that translators working with Bengali literature do not or cannot do their jobs properly as they have not often read enough contemporary literature in the target language. So it is very natural that they are not familiar with the idioms of the language they are translating into. Even translators who are good in English slip up. In this regard, we can say that the worst misfortune of our national poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam, is probably that he did not get a good translator. However, the fate of Rabindranath Tagore was slightly better, firstly because he had just enough knowledge of the English language to translate himself into English. To solve the problem of perfect translation, I think a committee might be formed so that they can train some educated as well as interested translators so that they can do the job efficiently to grab the attention of the global community.

I think Bangla Academy, with the collaboration of the Cultural Affairs Ministry, should take the required measures to facilitate translators so that they can translate literary works in Bengali language to other international languages to make those works available for international readers so that they can know more about our literary works, our culture and tradition. Since its inception, the Bangla Academy has been publishing literary translations in English. The literary works include poetry as well as short stories, novels, plays and occasionally even novellas. The educated younger generation can also take the initiative to make Bengali literature known to the international community by translating popular and meaningful Bengali literary works to other languages. They may work independently or also work jointly to make the job accomplished. If all the concerned authorities, including the government, as well as the educated generation, work together to enrich the Bengali literature by translating the literary works to other languages, the international readers will have a vast knowledge about the Bengali literature in the near future.

The writer is a journalist and translator.