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Polemics of Translation

Mala Pandurang

By Rita Kothari
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. 137, Rs. 195.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

Translating India: The Cultural Politics of English is concerned with the produc- tion of the body of writing referred to as Indian Literature in English Translation or ILET. Rita Kothari offers a concise overview of the political and economic ideologies underlying translation activity in English in India, ‘what goes into feeding it’ and ‘the quarters that gives this industry its present prominence and help sustain its energy.’ She traces the development of ILET as a body ‘that is substantial and distinct’, and suggests that ‘its unprecedented rise from being a marginalized event to a pervasive trend’ over the last two decades is a phenomenon worth close attention (p.2). In order to contextualize her readings, Kothari begins with a trajectory of the politics of translation into English from the 19th century onwards, discusses the cultural politics of English in India in immediate postcolonial India, and then focuses on the emerging phenomenon of a ‘new openness’ to English translation post 1990s, since when it has been ‘striding along energetically with focussed planning and publicity’ (p.46). Kothari clarifies in her introduction that her primary intention is to demonstrate how literary and para-literary forces have interacted in multiple ways, In doing so, she throws up a host of new questions on micro issues involved in the production and marketability of English translations.   Translating India is divided into eight segments. Kothari begins with an analysis of historiography of English translation activity in colonial India, and the ideologies underlying such literary acts, offering Tagore’s Gitanjali as a case study. In the following chapter (‘Two-Worlds Theory’), she situates English’s ‘reconfigured relation’ with the Indian languages in the context of postcolonial India 1950s to the post-liberalized India of 1992, taking cognizance of the complicated interface between a growing middle class and the English language. Kothari analyses emerging readership patterns of the urban English-speaking middle class, who inhabit a ‘bilingual space of language and world view’. Translation, she points out, is one of the manifestations of this phenomenon.   The next two chapters (‘Within Academia’/Outside the Discipline Machine’) are twin chapters dealing with the socio-cultural viability of translation. They examine the usefulness of translation as a pedagogical tool within the academia, and the interconnection between translation activity and parallel developments in related print and visual media fields. The chapter on ‘Publisher’s Perspective’ scrutinizes possible economic reasons why translation titles are increasingly finding a place in the publishing ...

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