The idea of holding the Dhaka Translation Fest (DTF) 2018 was not all that calculated. To begin with, it sprang from a casual adda of a trio of writers, poets and translators--Dr. Bina Biswas from India and Dr. Gaurango Mohanto and I from Bangladesh. Later we added some urgency to it and shared it with some eminent authors, poets, critics and translators from Bangladesh and beyond like Hayat Saif, Syed Manzoorul Islam, Kaiser Haque, Fakrul Alam, Hasan Azizul Haque, Selina Hossain, Kamal Chowdhury, Dr. Partha Banerjee, Dr. Alka Kurian, Nabina Das, Abhijit Mukherjee, Chandra Gurung and a few others like Ahsan Habib who too fanned the flame of holding the fest without delay. And in its wake, the Dhaka Translation Fest (DTF) 2018 saw the light of day on one fine October morning on the historic premises of Bangla Academy, Dhaka. We know it should have been held a month back on or around 30 September in conformity with the International Translation Day. The idea of celebrating the international translation day was first launched in 1991 by International Federation of Translators (IFT) to express solidarity with the world translator community with a view to promoting the translation profession and thereby mutual cultural understanding. This was later fully vindicated by a UN General Assembly resolution passed on 24 May 2017 that declared September 30 ‘International Translation Day’ to mark the death anniversary of the Bible translator St. Jerome and to recognize the role of professional translation in promoting social, cultural and linguistic integration.
That the DTF took place is our pride and joy. It turned a rendezvous for writers, poets, translators, critics and publishers from Bangladesh, India and beyond. The speakers, moderators, panellists, discussants were persons of great presence and the festival premises was vibrant during different events of the celebrations. There were lively discussions on issues of translating different genres of literature, exchanges of views on the nuts and bolts of translation strategies and skills, problems of untranslatability, fears of transgression and the ultimate promise and compromise of translation as the spirit of the fest.
The DTF charter heralds its motto: ‘unite thru translation.’ It seeks to define a new role of translation as a tool of bringing together human beings by breaking social, political, cultural and linguistic barriers. It leads us to the envision of a humanitarian world to live in, which is achievable by, among other things, the unification of cultures and societies through numerous works of translation. The act of translation, that had, since the times of the translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, been a matter of individual endeavour, is now a matter of greater interest and moral obligation. The postcolonial literary and cultural consciousness advocates the interpretation of one’s own culture to be done by themselves and the acceptance of others’ on the same footing. This leads to mutual understanding and unification of cultures, societies and languages.
And to this end, literatures of the world are in urgent need of robust translation. Translation can be an ideal vehicle for increasingly crossing national, cultural and linguistic boundaries. On this account, the DTF can be considered as the start of something new and big in context of the translator community of Bangladesh and South and Southeast Asian region. Though translation festivals are not something of a rarity and many countries have already held or are holding translation fests or stuff like that [Mention may be made of the Japan Translation Federation (JTF) Translation Festival 2017], it has not yet assumed considerable importance and extension especially the way DTF aims for a greater cultural unification. And hence, the end to signify the process of unification and extension well justifies the means of holding the DTF 2018. It is a landmark step to organize the festival accommodating a constellation of connoisseurs of translation from home and abroad.
As for myself, I am absolutely delighted to be a part of the team that has been able to organize such a big event. It is the first of its kind in context of Bangladesh and will, I believe, thrive in this region and the globe as well by popular demand. It’s a fairly acknowledged fact and also the motto of our festival that the world can be united through translation too. A literary translation may be used as a vehicle for the unification of the literatures and thereby of cultures of a greater region or of the globe. Anthony Burgess’ view on translation testifies to it. As he puts it, “Translation is not a matter of words only, it’s a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.” This has been proved over the ages in the history of literature and translation. Had there been no translation, the world would have not been familiar with the popular stories of the Bible in Hebrew, the humorous and entertaining morality tales of Aesop’s Fables in Greek, the colourful animal fables of Panchatantra in Sanskrit, the bawdy and moving stories of Boccaccio’s Decameron in Florentine, the frame narratives of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English, the stories of adventure, magic, love and betrayal of the Arabian Nights in Arabic, The twisted and gory Fairy Tales by Grimm Brothers in Danish, the Children’s and Household Tales by Anderson in German, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain in English, and the Bengali parable collection Dhakurmar Jhuli (Grandmother’s Bag of Stories) and a hundred and one other stories from world literature like these.
If there was no translation, how could we be able to read the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, Virgil’s The Aeneid, Ovid’s Metamorpheses, Valmiki’s The Ramayana, Ved Byasa’s The Mahabharata, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Firdawsi’s The Shahaname, Shakespeare’s great tragedies, Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, Michael’s Meghnad Badh Kavya. Tagore’s Song Offerings?
How have we known the Big Three on the Greek literary scene--Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles; the Springs of Roman Wisdom-- Caesar, Cicero, Horace and Seneca; the flowers of ancient Indian literature--Kabir, Kalidasa, Galib and Amir Khusrow; the three pillars of Persian mysticism-- Rumi, Hafez and Khayyam; the Five Russian Masters --Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov & Gorky; the Two Absurdists—Albert Camus and Frantz Kafka without recourse to works of translation? Besides Paulo Coelho, Anne Frank, Jostein Gaarder, Patrick Suskind, Tove Jansson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Lu Jiamin, Orhan Pamuk or Haruki Murakami would have remained ever inaccessible to global reading public without translation. Translation, therefore, gives wing to literature and helps find new ways of reaching out to an even wider global audience. In addition to this, not only the works of literature but also writings of any kind travel better around the world in translation and involve a medley of languages, cultures, and peoples.
Despite the increasing integration and interdependence in both local and global life in this era of globalization, there are also undercurrents of disintegration and decay towards the pursuit of happiness. Despite all its dazzling successes, the 21st century reaches a crucial juncture where moral values are fast deteriorating, hatred rules the roost and people suffer at the hands of orthodoxy, fundamentalism, sectarianism, religious militancy and fanaticism threatening world peace. To cushion human beings against the worst effects of all these manmade threats, we should cultivate the virtues of forbearance and mutual tolerance. Peaceful coexistence should be the most important aspect of a secular society. ‘Live and let live’- is the key to the conservation and protection of a peaceful milieu and to achieve this, translation works can play a pivotal role. The DTF strongly holds this view and looks forward to the unification of human societies and cultures through the proliferation of translation, translators and enthusiasts.
Dr. Rashid Askari is a writer, columnist, fictionist and vice chancellor, Islamic University Bangladesh. Email: email@example.com