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Storyteller’s take on epics

Bhubaneswar, Feb. 27: Author and translator Arshia Sattar, who is known for her research on the Ramayan and other mythological epics over 30 years, was in the city to deliver the second Chittaranjan Das Memorial Lecture.

Interacting with young readers, she said Indian storytelling traditions and ancient epics held great relevance in present day literature.

Sanskrit texts such as Kathasaritsagar and Valmiki’s Ramayan that she has translated into English have a touch of contemporary language, which is important, she feels.

“Indian mythological epics have interesting styles of narration. Interestingly, they are considered as history and religion, whereas when I set to translate a particular epic, it is the literature that attracts me,” said Arshia.

“As a translator, I feel it is important that we remember these epics are literature. We still haven’t figured out which characters where right or wrong in the Ramayan and the debate always continues. In fact, it is funny that people ask me to judge the characters. But for me, the storytelling is significant and we must bring out translations of the Sanskrit epics using contemporary idioms,” she said.

Arshia, however, agrees that Indian epics are obsessed with violence and wars.

“Hence it is important that we present an abridged form. Then there are words such as karma and dharma, which one may not define perfectly in English in varying contexts. I prefer not translating them,” she said.

A scholar with a PhD in classical Indian literatures from the University of Chicago, Arshia has also written two books for children — Kishkindha Tails and Pampa Sutra.

“There are hundreds of age-old stories in India, especially those propagated in Sanskrit, that need to be retold for today’s youngsters to enjoy the tales. Since many do not have access to the original versions in Sanskrit, we need to translate them,” said Arshia.

At present, she is working on the Uttarkand episodes of the Ramayan for her next book.

“This is a very complicated part of the Ramayan and its tough to translate it. But, I am ready to take up the challenge,” Arshia said.

The author encouraged young readers and students of English to try and represent their times in their writing if they ever take up translation of ancient Indian literature.