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Every now and then one comes across lists of “untranslatable words", usually drawn from Japanese or Swedish, which express something one has felt or experienced but been unable to put into words. They are delightful reads and remind us that we all share a band of similar feelings and ideas, even if the languages we express them in are entirely different.
Most Indians are multilingual, easily sliding from one language to another, rarely seeing the ability to speak three or more languages as remarkable. Despite this multilingual dexterity, people often say they can’t understand the more formalised version of a language, the kind used by writers or spoken by television anchors. This is probably because the language we speak daily is lighter, more functional, and peppered with words borrowed from the other languages we speak. Over the last few years, English-language publishers have been bridging this gap by commissioning translations that capture this fluidity in language, a trend we have written about previously.
This week, we pay particular attention to Hindi as a number of young multilingual writers have been translating fiction as well as authoring English biographies of acclaimed Hindi writers. Hindi has always got a push from various quarters but it is hard to find readable translations of its literature or much about its icons in mainstream English publishing. Translators are now bringing their familiarity with the dialects, cadences and slang of Hindi and of culture and social norms to the texts, even as other writers are mining the history and heritage of Hindi literature to interest readers of other languages, especially English.
In other parts of the world, museum curators are playing a similar role, bringing meaning and context to objects far removed from their original homes in South Asia. We meet curators of South Asian origin who draw on their heritage while putting together exhibitions that go beyond colonial collections and turn a non-Eurocentric lens on the region. And as always, we also have recommendations on what to read, do and watch this weekend.
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- FIRST PUBLISHED04.02.2023 | 07:15 AM IST