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TIME TO MASTER THE ALIEN TONGUE
Bookwise

If you travel on the longest national highway in India, the NH2 that cuts across the Hindi heartland, you will come across a common billboard at regular intervals — “Learn English in 3 months”. The reason for this is simple: more than 60 years after Independence, the doyens of the Hindi belt have woken up to a simple fact that schoolteachers have known for more than four decades — a working knowledge of English is necessary for a modicum of education because of the lack of Hindi textbooks for schools and colleges. And these are not merely for higher courses in science, engineering, technology and so on but for foundation courses too in the social sciences and humanities for school-leaving examinations, without which there are no jobs to be had.

Hence the question: why have there been so few translations from English, which is the quickest and surest way to fill the gaps in core requirements? Is it because of the lack of resources? Or is it that translations require an act of faith on the part of a publisher, especially if the original author is little known in the Hindi-speaking world as could be the translator? Or because the original author and translator are familiar only in limited circles and therefore the market is limited? Given the dearth of good textbooks in Hindi, what does the future hold for those without a working knowledge of English in today’s computerized world?

First, what do we have in stock? It’s a tough call but the only near-decent texts we have are those from the NCERT that are, in a large part, second hand scissors-and-paste jobs of standard British and American books. Private publishers have come up with bazaar notes in the form of Qs and As, or ready-made guides that are meant only to pass examinations and forgotten immediately thereafter. (Some British publishers with branches in India attempted an up-market textbook list with originals and translations in the 1970s and early 1980s, but packed up because of poor market response that could be for a number of reasons like high prices, poor marketing or because the list was too highbrow for the undergraduate market.) Whichever way you look at the scene today, it is pretty grim for the pure Hindi-knowing student.

To get some kind of a list up to undergraduate courses that would include physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer courses, it is necessary to strengthen elementary English language courses and then to commission translators who know both Hindi and English and the subject that has to be translated. The first exercise is necessary if only to give the student the confidence to be able to read and comprehend on his/her own; many students drop out because they lack the confidence to do so.

The second isn’t easy because there are very few who can use both languages with equal ease and the few who can think it is infra dig to undertake translation jobs. This is the primary reason why translations have not kept pace with work done in English (unlike China and Japan where translation rights are the main items of book export and translations are available within six months of their English editions); it is not the lack of financial resources. Translations are not transliterations, which is what they end up being, and therefore fail in the market place.

Well-knownness is a factor that matters now, and therefore a known author/translator goes a long way in achieving commercial success. It would be too much to expect the government to come up with any initiatives to put through a crash programme in translations, if the past is anything to go by. The National Book Trust came up with subsidies to help out translations, and so did some others on a book-by-book basis, but this doesn’t help a sustained programme for translations from English into Hindi.

The demand from die-hard Hindi chauvinists to include English from primary classes is a wake-up call that hopefully will show some results in the next decade or so.

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