Mapping An Ocean of Words: Mini Krishnan
Mini Krishnan has been an eminent figure in the publishing sector for over four decades. She edited translations for Oxford University Press and was Series Editor of the Macmillan India translations. She currently coordinates a programme of translations for the Tamilnadu Textbook & Education Services Corporation in collaboration with eleven private publishers. She has edited 105 literary translations. Krishnan is a strong proponent of translation education in academia and was also a part of the National Translation Mission. Here are some excerpts from her insightful interview with Mathrubhumi.com.
Multilingualism is a great resource that should be explored extensively. What are your thoughts about that?
Don't get me started! Long ago neurolinguistics proved that the more languages a person knows the better equipped she is to make sense of the world. The mind is more nimble, and the vital bridge of communication extends beyond one's native tongue. Even illiterates in the border zones between two linguistic states are more at ease than are those with just one language at their command. Every Indian school (certainly in urban and semi-urban locations ) will show a mix of mother-tongues in its classrooms and staff rooms. Instead of suppressing them into an English chutney, ways could be found to benefit from them.
How much do you think the field of translation has flourished over the years in India?
We publishers like to think we are doing a great job but we have not even scratched the surface. Intra-regional languages have done far more than into-English translation lists which, if you look at systematic programmes, are really only about 25 years old. The odd novel or long poem or the works of Premchand or Tagore are nothing to go by. The Sahitya Akademies have done a great deal of translations but their books are not easily available.
What are the greatest challenges that you face as a Translations editor?
Unless the author collaborates and confirms, I feel a deep unease wondering if the translator-editor team has done justice to the original. So working on a text of an author long gone, poses special problems. Jokes and significant sounds that are like balloons and stars in the original fall off the table completely. Also the different registers ---educated speech, dialect peculiar to a region or remarks by semi-literate persons, terse metaphors can all bring everything to a complete halt for hours.
In several curricula and school education boards, language is often reduced to just another subject that students are forced to take up. What can be done in schools to bring up the enthusiasm of children to learn languages?
True. Our education system isn't paying enough attention to the medium of instruction. Unless children have a sound grasp of the language (any language) how can they understand what they are expected to absorb of the material aspects of the world which are compartmentalized and offered as study courses in that language? What can be done? Teach only language, music, poetry and mathematics in the first five years of school. After that children will be so confident that they will fly on their own even if the teaching is indifferent.
Over the years you have had close encounters with the brightest writers of various Indian languages. Do you feel that the Indian writers in English have been enjoying the fame and glory which originally belonged to the great storytellers of the regional languages?
Well…apples and oranges. It is no use feeling grumpy and I don't. Indian writers in English have already translated themselves for a world readership. Naturally, their flights will leave before that of regional language writers and their translators who have a very difficult time interpreting and re-writing for an audience that has no idea of our social structures or customs.