Archive for November 2010

Translation 23. Literary Translation: A Review Essay by Brian Nelson

30 November 2010

As I pointed out in an earlier blog, with reference to the very warm welcome accorded to Edith Grossman’s recent book, Why Translation Matters, ripples of overdue recognition of the craft of literary translation are spread when such skilled and respected practitioners of literary translation share their secrets and insights with us.

A more recent related plea for appropriate recognition for the work of literary translators has recently been presented by another distinguished literary translator and academic spokesman for literary translators, Professor Brian Nelson, in his review essay, ‘The Great Impersonators’ (The Australian Literary Review, 3 November 2010).

[Although no Internet reference seems available for this monthly section of The Australian newspaper, here is the version published in its November 2010 issue by The AALITRA Review (the Review of the Australian Association for Literary Translation). Also contained in this .pdf is a bonus piece on Grossman’s work by Jorge Salavert.]

In this review of three important recent books on translation, Emeritus Professor Nelson, who has translated several works by Emile Zola and is currently the President of the Australian Association for Literary Translation, briefly outlines and deplores public misunderstanding and underestimation of the input of the literary translator since the persecution of Saint Jerome, now the patron saint of translators.

According to Nelson, literary translation is still seen by too many (including many publishers and reviewers) as “an unfortunate necessity at best and, at worst, as a terrible form of treachery” – an allusion to the age-old slander, “Traduttore, tradittore” (translators are traitors).

After praising the recent memoir by Grossman and highlighting her passionate insistence on fidelity to the original text, Nelson goes on to present some aspects of the academic debate on translation studies in Umberto Eco’s Experiences in Translation (itself translated into English, by Alastair McEwen), such as the cultural differences between languages and the need to sacrifice “literal translation for the sake of preserving an appropriate style”.

However, it is Antoine Berman’s work Toward a Translation Criticism: John Donne (translated and edited by Françoise Massardier-Kenney) with its “theoretically sophisticated exploration of the ways in which translation is a critical process as well as a creative one”, that Professor Nelson singles out for recognition as a trail-blazing theoretical work well suited to a more rigorous discipline of translation studies, which he sees as vital to a more extensive (and overdue) public discovery and recognition of the real merits of literary translation.

(As an example of academic polemics over literary translation, see here.)

Contemporary India. 1a. Basic Sources of Information. Catherine Taylor’s Possible Sequel to Sarah Macdonald’s Interpretation of India

29 November 2010

I had never heard of Catherine Taylor until I read the article which I reproduce below (from The Australian, Weekend Magazine, 9 October 2010, at the height of the Commonwealth Games media coverage). Seasoned India watchers will detect the usual strong indications of a successful and balanced interpretation of India by an “expat” (non-Indian) English speaker:
– prolonged residence in India
– journalistic and writing instincts and ambitions
– keen observation and sensitive reactions
– deep understanding and appreciation in the face of gross “provocation”.

If my intuition is correct, we should therefore be seeing the publication of another interesting book on India by this resident visitor in the not too distant future. Here, with due acknowledgement to Ms Taylor (and in anticipation of more of her Indian observations), is the full telltale article which prompts this prediction:
Mad for Mumbai (The Australian, 9 October, 2010).

“Living in India is like having an intense but insane affair, writes expat Catherine Taylor.”

“TONIGHT, as I waved my high heel in the face of a bewildered taxi driver, I thought suddenly: I am absolutely nuts in India. It’s a thought I have often. Someone or something is always going nuts, and quite often it’s me.

“I was trying to get a taxi driver to take me home, a mere 500 metres away, but it was pouring with rain and my shoes were oh-so-high, and it was late. He, of course, was having none of it; no amount of shoe-waving and sad-facing from a wild-haired firangi was changing his mind, when suddenly I remembered the magic trick – pay more than you should. “Arre, bhai sahab, 50 rupees to Altamount Road? Please?” And off we went.

“I have lived in Mumbai for almost three years. It was my choice to come – I wanted offshore experience in my media career and India was the only country looking to hire – and I wanted a change. I needed something new, exciting, thrilling, terrifying. And India gave that to me in spades. In fact, she turned it all the way up to 11. And then she turned it up a little more.

“To outsiders, living in India has a particular kind of glamour attached to it, a special sparkle that sees people crowding around me at parties. “You live in India? My God, really? I could never do that. What’s it like?” The closest I have come to answering that question is that it’s like being in a very intense, extremely dysfunctional relationship. India and I fight, we scream, we argue, we don’t speak for days on end, but really, deep down, we love each other. She’s a strange beast, this India. She hugs me, so tightly sometimes that I can’t breathe, then she turns and punches me hard in the face, leaving me stunned. Then she hugs me again, and suddenly I know everything will be all right.

“She wonders why I don’t just “know” how things are done, why I argue with her about everything, why I judge, why I rail at injustice and then do nothing about it. She wonders how old I am, how much I earn, why I’m not married. (The poor census man looked at me, stunned, then asked in a faltering voice, “But madam, if you’re not married then… who is the head of your household?”) I wonder how she can stand by when small children are begging on corners, how she can let people foul up the streets so much that they are impossible to walk along, how she can allow such corruption, such injustice, such A LOT OF HONKING.

“But she has taught me things. She has taught me to be brave, bold, independent, sometimes even fierce and terrifying. She has taught me to walk in another man’s chappals, and ask questions a different way when at first the answer is no. She has taught me to accept the things I cannot change. She has taught me that there are always, always, two sides to every argument. And she was kind enough to let me come and stay.

“She didn’t make it easy though (but then, why should she?). The Foreigner Regional Registration Office, banks, mobile phone companies and rental agencies are drowning under piles of carbon paper, photocopies of passports (I always carry a minimum of three) and the soggy tissues of foreigners who fall to pieces in the face of maddening bureaucracy. What costs you 50 rupees one day might be 500 rupees the next, and nobody will tell you why. What you didn’t need to bring yesterday, you suddenly need to bring today. Your signature doesn’t look like your signature. And no, we can’t help you. Come back tomorrow and see.

“It’s not easy being here, although I am spoiled by a maid who cooks for me, and a delivery service from everywhere that ensures I rarely have to wave my shoes at taxi drivers. I buy cheap flowers, trawl for gorgeous antiques, buy incredibly cheap books; I have long, boozy brunches in five-star hotels for the price of a nice bottle of wine at home, I have a very nice roof over my head … on the face of it, it would seem I have little to complain about. But then, I am stared at constantly, I have been spat on, sexually harassed, had my (covered) breasts videotaped as I walked through a market, had my drink spiked, been followed countless times. I have wept more here than I have ever in my life, out of frustration, anger, loneliness, the sheer hugeness of being here. But the longer I stay, the more I seem to relax, let go, let it be.

“But I do often wonder why I’m here, especially when I’m tired, teary and homesick, my phone has been disconnected for the 19th time despite promises it would never happen again, when it’s raining and no taxis will take me home. But then a willing ride always comes along, and we’ll turn a corner and be suddenly in the midst of some banging, crashing mad festival full of colour, where everyone is dancing behind a slow-moving truck, and I won’t have a clue what’s going on but a mum holding a child will dance up to my window and point and smile and laugh, and I breathe out and think, really, my God, this is fantastic. This is India! I live in India! She hugs me, she punches me, and she hugs me again.

“Yet I know won’t ever belong here, not properly. I know this when I listen to girls discussing what colour blouses they should wear to their weddings – she’s Gujarati, he’s from the south, she’s wearing a Keralan sari. I know when my friends give me house-hunting advice: “Look at the names of the people who already live there, then you’ll know what kind of building it is.” (Trouble is, I don’t know my Kapoors from my Kapurs, my Sippys from my Sindhis, my Khans from my Jains). I know this when my lovely fruit man (who also delivers) begs me to taste a strawberry he is holding in his grubby hands and I have to say no, I can’t eat it, I’ll die… I know I will never belong because, as stupid as it sounds, being truly, properly Indian is in your DNA. I marvel at how incredibly well educated so many of them are, how they can all speak at least three languages and think it’s no big deal, how they fit 1000 people into a train carriage meant for 300 and all stand together quite peacefully, how they know the songs from every Hindi film ever made, how they welcome anyone and everyone (even wild-haired, complaining firangis) into their homes for food, and chai, and more food.

“I’ve seen terrible things – someone fall under a train, children with sliced-off ears, old, old men sitting in the rain nursing half-limbs while they beg, children covered in flies sleeping on the pavement, beggars with no legs weaving themselves through traffic on trolleys, men in lunghis working with their hands in tiny corridors with no fans in sky-high temperatures. I’ve read heartbreaking things, of gang rapes, corruption, environmental abuse. I’ve smelled smells that have stripped the inside of my nostrils, stepped over open sewers in markets, watched a goat being bled to death.

“I’ve done things of which I am ashamed, things I never thought I would do. I have slapped a starving child away, I have turned my head in annoyance when beggars have tapped repeatedly on my taxi window, I have yelled at grown men in the face. I have been pinched and pinched back, with force. I have slapped, I have hit, I have pushed. I have screamed in anger. I have, at times, not recognised myself.

“I’ve yelled at a man for kicking a dog, and yelled at a woman who pushed into a line ahead of me when I wasn’t at all in a hurry. When a teenage beggar stood at the window of my taxi, saying “F… you madam” over and over, I told him to go f… himself and gave him the finger; once on the train I let a kid keep 100 rupees as change. I am kind and I am cold-hearted, I am fair and I am mean, I am delightful and I am downright rude. I am all of these at once and I distress myself wildly over it, but somehow, India accepts me. She has no time for navel-gazing foreigners; she just shoved everyone along a bit and made room for me. She has no time to dwell on my shortcomings, she just keeps moving along.

“And then, and then. I’ve been to temples where I’ve sung along with old women who had no teeth, I’ve held countless smiling ink-marked babies for photos, I’ve had unknown aunties in saris smile and cup my face with their soft, wrinkled hands, I’ve made street vendors laugh when I’ve choked on their spicy food, I’ve danced through the streets at Ganpati, fervently sung the national anthem (phonetically) in cinemas, had designers make me dresses, I’ve met with CEOs and heads of companies just because I asked if I could. She hugs, she punches, she hugs again.

“In short, I have been among the luckiest of the lucky. She keeps me on my toes, Ms India, and I have been blessed that she let me stay for a while. She wanted me to succeed here and she gave me grand opportunities and endless second chances. She willed me forward like a stern parent. She welcomed me. And when I leave, because I know I will one day, I will weep, because I will miss her terribly. And because I know she won’t even notice that I am gone.”

Given the language barrier and other political factors, it may be a very long time before we get such intimate and revealing pictures of life in China as those of Ms Taylor and the other writers referred to in my previous Indian blog.
Which may be a useful thought to mull over.

Contemporary India. 1. Basic Sources of Information

28 November 2010

Part 1
Basic Cultural Introductions for Foreigners (and NRIs)

Those about to visit India for the first time or who are thinking of relocating there for work purposes with an Indian or foreign company naturally turn to the Internet to get basic information. Everything is there, scattered over many websites, but as a preliminary orientation, I would recommend one webpage, assembled by an Indian-based provider of content writing and design services, On this page (URL below), “” offers 39 introductory articles for both foreigners and returning NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) and POIs (i.e. other persons of Indian origin).

To further facilitate research, I have regrouped the articles below. To consult them, go to the relevant page of the Chillibreeze site and, checking them against a copy of this revised list, select the titles you wish to read. (I have separately listed the articles for NRIs and POIs which are in the Chillibreeze list on this web page and which also contain useful information about contemporary India, especially about changes in living conditions due to the prolonged economic boom of recent years.)

For Expatriates (Expats):
Group 1: Parts of the “India Survival Kit” Series posted in May 2008
The India Survival Kit – an Introduction. (This gives a full list of the 5 sections and articles offered.)

The articles:
Communication in India: It is different!
Ten Tips to Survive Indian Culture
How Indian Society functions: A few cultural tips
Indians Cannot Say ‘No’!
Indian Family Values: What you must know before you visit India
Indian English Quiz: How well do you know India?
What is Indian English? A Whole New Language!
Exotic India: Landscape, Celebrations, Temples, and Art Forms
Cultural tips for visitors to India: Food and Restaurant Etiquette in India
The Diary of an American visiting India – Part 1 / Part 2
The Role of Culture in Business Relationships with Indians – A Case Study

Group 2: Other articles mainly for Expatriates

Expatriates and NRIs in India – Experiences and Perceptions – May 2010 –
NRI tips to Expats Living in India – May 2005 –
Repositioning Delhi: A guide for expats and Indians – Aug 2008 –
Ten Tips from an Expat – May 2007 –
A look at the experiences of American in India – January 2006 –
An American’s Perspective of Life in India – May 2005 –
The Road Less Travelled:The Challenges – May 2005 –
Independence Day – Sept 2008 –
Meet Bob: An American Expat Living in Bangalore – May 2005 –
Must Have Book List for Bangalore Expats – Oct 2004 –
Expat Mom Gives Description of Life in Bangalore – Sept 2004 –
Long-Distance relationships – Jan 2009 –
Will your baby be born in India? – Oct 2007 –
Other Articles – mainly for NRIs and POIs
The Resident Non-resident – May 2010
Musings of an RNRI – Sept 2006
Returning to India: But which one? – Oct 2008
Moving to India? Five Things No One Will Ever Tell You – Jan 2010
India’s Work Culture- Some Tips for Returning Indians and Foreigners – May 2008
Notes from an Itinerant PIO on Freedom – May 2005
Why NRI’s Want Their Children to Grow up in India – May 2005
Top Ten Techie Favorite Areas in Bangalore – Oct 2008
A guide to relocating to Nagpur – Oct 2008
Is real estate in Bangalore booming? Let’s look at some trends – May 2008
Choosing the right school board for your child – Nov 2008
Tips for NRI parents living in India – August 2006
Surviving Summers in the Gulf – July 2010
Shopping at an Indian store in the US – Oct 2008.

Part 2

Basic Books by English-Speaking Visitors to India

The following is a brief reading list for those interested in benefitting from the (relatively) recent research and travels of English-speaking visitors to or residents of India.

Luce, Edward, In Spite of the Gods (The Strange Rise of Modern India), London, Little, Brown, 2006. (Abacus paperback edition, 2007. Also: New York, Doubleday, 2006.)

Interviews and observations of India by the Financial Times’s correspondent from 2001 to 2005 during which time he learned Hindi and married an Indian wife. Highly recommended by Mark Tully, Professor Amartya Singh, William Dalrymple and ex-President Kalam, among others. A real mine of insight and information, with analyses of the changing caste system, the status of India’s Muslims and the rise of Hindu nationalism.
See William Grimes’s Review: ‘The Power and the Potential of India’s Economic Change’.

Sample: “Much of the book consists of interviews and colorful vignettes intended to illustrate the myriad statistics that, out of context, can numb the mind. The blend of anecdote, history and economic analysis makes In Spite of the Gods an endlessly fascinating, highly pleasurable way to catch up on a very big story.”

Kremmer, Christopher, Inhaling the Mahatma, HarperCollins, 2006.

An account of various aspects of contemporary Indian history and life based on seven years of travels and residence in India between 1990 and 2001 by a journalist and writer who took the trouble to learn Hindi and established very close contacts with influential Indians.
A recent REVIEW by Richard A. Johnson.

Macdonald, Sarah, Holy Cow. An Indian Adventure, Sydney/London, Bantam Books, 2002.

An Australian journalist’s entertaining and informative account of contemporary life in India.
(A suitable bestseller for air travel.)

Tully, Sir Mark
The doyen of British correspondents in India over the past 40 years, renowned in the UK and in India. His work in presenting India to the overseas English-speaking world has been recognised by awards from Queen Elizabeth II and the Indian Government. A later blog will deal with his lifelong work in more detail. For this basic orientation list the following two works are recommended.
No Full Stops in India, London, Penguin, 1992.
The Heart of India, London, Penguin, 1996.

Aitken, Bill
Like fellow Indiaphile and septuagenarian Mark Tully, Bill Aitken has spent several decades of his life living and interacting with Indians and writing about them and about India. Like Tully, he is well known in India, where he has lived as a naturalised Indian citizen for nearly fifty years.

Aitken’s special interests are spirituality, travel, climbing, the Himalayas, and Steam Railways.
The Penguin Introduction to two of his works reveals that “He has lived in Himalayan ashrams, worked as secretary to a Maharani, freelanced under his middle name (Liam McKay) and undertaken miscellaneous excursions – from Nanda Devi to Sabarimala – on an old motor bike and by vintage steam railway.”

For this basic list on “India for foreigners”, I include three samplers of Aitken’s specialised oeuvre. More comment and analysis will follow in a later blog.

Footloose in the Himalaya, Delhi, Permanent Black, 2003.
Of the three mountaineering travel books by Aitken that I have read, this latest one is the best, full of fascinating detail, observations and adventure.
The Nanda Devi Affair, Penguin Books India, 1994.
Aitken’s very special spiritual climbing quest.
Branch Line to Eternity, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2001.
His travels on the last steam engines operating in India.

Dom Moraes and Sarayu Srivatsa, Out of God’s Oven. Travels in A Fractured Land, New Delhi, Viking, 2002.

An investigative book by two Non-Resident Indians, based on six years of travel and interviews on contemporary Indian issues.
(For an Asia Times Online review by Jason Overdorf in March 2003, see here.

Overdorf comments: “In a book of remarkable scope, the two writers address many of the seminal events of Indian history of the past three decades, ranging from riots by Dalits (formerly untouchables) …”

Dalrymple, William
Dalrymple has gained considerable acclamation and fame from his many scholarly works on India and Indian history. His latest book on spirituality in India has become a best seller in the English-speaking world (like most of the books on this list):
Nine Lives. In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, London, Bloomsbury, 2009.

These nine exotic interviews on very diverse aspects of religion were prompted by Dalrymple’s desire to investigate the present state of religious beliefs in India following a period of great economic and social change.

Fishlock, Trevor, India File, 2nd edition, New Delhi, Rupa, 1987.

Another of the distinguished list of British correspondents in India, Fishlock first published this slim volume in 1983. His first chapter, ‘Inheritance’ (pp. 1-19) is still well worth reading.
NOTE: Further blogs on printed and online information about contemporary India are planned.