International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Rupalee Burke  
This paper attempts to discuss the plight of literary translators in general in the context of observations  
by translation theorists and scholars and to share through personal testimony what it takes to be a  
literary translator in Gujarat. The idealistic view of the role of literary translation and translators and the  
ground reality, in juxtaposition, foreground the huge chasm in the field of translation in the absence of  
legal provision for redressal.  
The field of literary translation in Gujarat is one that is fraught with hurdles for which there are no  
effective solutions. In the absence of ethical behaviour on the part of writers, institutions and publishers,  
the literary translator is most often made the scapegoat.  
Being a literary translator is choosing to walk the dolorous path. Theories of translation have yet to  
address the humiliation, marginalization, betrayal, victimization that literary translators are subjected  
to. The aim of this paper is to make a public appeal to all those engaged in literary translation to come  
together for formulation of strict guidelines and redressal systems to prevent the unabashed exploitation  
of literary translators.  
Key Words: Literary translation, literary translators, exploitation, legal provision.  
The translator is herself resurrected in the process of resurrecting the text. Translation for a passionate  
translator is an extremely fulfilling experience at the creative level. However, there is a big price which  
she has to pay to get to see her translated text in print. Although the present millennium, hailed as the  
knowledge age, centralizes the role of translators and translations, the domain of translation remains  
largely an ‘unorganized sector’ so to speak with lacunae waiting to be plugged.  
The aim of this paper is to share unpleasant experiences as a literary translator in Gujarat spanning  
nearly two decades. However, it is not merely with the intention of catharsis but rather as activism to  
raise awareness and correct bad practices (outlined later in the paper) prevalent in the procedure of  
translation beginning with the proposal and ending with the publication. Like my counterparts I too  
enjoy translation and hold it dear to my heart especially as an active and committed translator who has  
considered translation a mission for all these years. I have limited myself to referring to some poignant  
observations of the pivotal importance of translation in the context of (1) The twin entities of literature  
and translation and their combined role in building literary bridges across cultures, translation as part  
and parcel of literature, as the carrier of literary traditions, movements and trends across cultures  
Grossman, Thiang’o, Devy) (2) in juxtaposition with the marginalised status and exploitation of  
translators (Krishnan, Lawrence) in the following first few paragraphs.  
Literary translation has played as important a role in human culture as has literature itself. The role of  
literary translation has been hailed as extremely vital in myriad ways. As Edith Grossman rightly points  
out, “Translation asserts the possibility of a coherent, unified experience of literature in the world’s  
multiplicity of languages. At the same time, translation celebrates the differences among languages  
and the many varieties of human experience and perception they can express. I do not believe this is  
a contradiction. Rather, it testifies to the comprehensive, inclusive embrace of both literature and  
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translation.” (Grossman, 17) Building on her argument she further, “ Where literature exists, translation  
exists. Joined at the hip, they are absolutely inseparable and, in the long run, what happens to one  
happens to the other. Despite all the difficulties the two have faced, sometimes separately, usually  
together, they need and nurture each other, and their long-term relationship, often problematic but  
always illuminating, will surely continue for as long as they both shall live.” (Grossman, 33) Grossman’s  
endorsement of the inextricable-cobbled-togetherness, the conjoined status of literature and translation  
and referring to them almost as living entities as nobody before her has done) is pivotable in furthering  
the argument in favour of the central position of literary translation and is also applicable to non-  
literary translation.  
In a similar vein the Kenyan writer Ngig) wa Thiong’o in his message of solidarity at PEN International’s  
Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee meets in Johannesburg, South Africa on 10 March 2016  
has said: “Translation is essential to the vision enshrined in the document. Translation is indeed the  
language of languages, and the more languages we have in the world, the more it becomes necessary  
for them to dialogue with each other through the common language of translation.” (www.pen-  
It would be useful at this juncture to cite a very insightful observation by G.N. Devy where the perception  
of translation is problematized by according as much importance to translation (both literary and non-  
literary) as to creative writing, in other words validated as the bedrock of literary traditions and seen as  
the mobilizer and prime mover of literary trends in specific instances:  
During the last two centuries the role of translation in communicating literary movements across  
linguistic borders has become very important . . . Indian English literature too gathered its conventions  
of writing from the Indological activity of translation during the eighteenth century and the nineteenth  
century . . . In fact modernism and post-modernism as international movements would have never  
come into existence without the mediation of repeated acts of translation. Those who study Theory  
today know that if they did not have translations of theorists from a dozen different cultures, it would be  
impossible to think of a revolution in literary thought at all. Thus origins of literary movements and  
literary traditions can be traced back to various acts of translation.  
Considering the fact that most literary traditions originate in translation, and gain substance through  
repeated acts of translation, it would be useful for a theory of literary history to seek support from a  
theory of literary translation. However, since translations are conventionally perceived as unoriginal,  
not much thought has been devoted to the aesthetics of translation. Most of the primary issues too  
have not been settled in relation to translation: issues related to the ‘form’ and ‘meaning’ of translation.  
No major critic has taken any well-defined positions about the exact placement of translations in literary  
history. Do they belong to the history of target languages, or do they belong to the history of source  
languages? Or do they form an independent. Tradition all by themselves? This ontological uncertainty  
which haunts translations has rendered translation study a haphazard activity which devotes too much  
energy to discussing the problems of the original meaning and the meaning of the altered structure.”  
Devy, 152-53)  
The irony is that while the activity of translation is placed on a pedestal, translators who play a central  
role in the process are made to bite the dust. Mini Krishnan, consultant, publishing, Oxford University  
Press, India through her regular column ‘This Word for That’ has been championing the cause of  
translation and translators. Hers is a tireless crusade to bring to light all aspects of good and bad  
practices related to the field of translation worldwide. In her article ‘Lost in Translation’ she observes:  
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Despite all this, a disturbing development seen is an Indian language translation, published in India,  
not carrying the name of the translator on its cover. Why? Does masking the true origins of a work  
make for better sales? Is a work less worthy because it is a translation? Is there no originality in a  
translated product?  
Today, when translations are shortlisted along with original writings in English for the biggest prize in  
the literary world — the DSC Award which aims “to raise awareness of South Asian culture around the  
world” — why are some publishers refusing to grant translators equal status with the authors, making  
it difficult for them to be remembered or even noticed? We see translators competing with blurbs and  
endorsements on the back cover, leading readers to say, “Ah! A great book! Translated by whatshisface…  
don’t remember the name.” Can anyone deny the historic power of translators? Their work has forced  
massive shifts in the literary canon, cross-fertilised writing and propelled communities emerging from  
invisibility, besides influencing the vision that language groups have of societies other than their own.”  
Krishnan, 4)  
Like Mini Krishnan does in the Indian context, Venuti Lawrence has dealt with the marginal status of  
translation and the shadowy existence of translators in the specific context of Anglo-American culture  
at length. He foregrounds factors such as the copyright law and translation contracts which are  
exploitative and work against translators:  
For although the past twenty years have seen the institution of translation centers and programs at  
British and American universities, as well as the founding of translation committees, associations, and  
awards in literary organizations like the Society of Authors in London and the PEN American Center in  
New York, the fact remains that translators receive minimal recognition for their work—including  
translators of writing that is capable of generating publicity (because it is prize- winning, controversial,  
censored). The typical mention of the translator in a review takes the form of a brief aside in which,  
more often than not, the transparency of the translation is gauged. This, however, is an infrequent  
occurrence. Ronald Christ has described the prevailing practice: “many newspapers, such as The Los  
Angeles Times, do not even list the translators in headnotes to reviews, reviewers often fail to mention  
that a book is a translation (while quoting from the text as though it were written in English), and  
publishers almost uniformly exclude translators from book covers and advertisements” . . . The  
translator’s shadowy existence in Anglo-American culture is further registered, and maintained, in the  
ambiguous and unfavourable legal status of translation, both in copyright law and in actual contractual  
arrangements.” (Lawrence, 8)  
A careful reading of the quotes above reveals the pivotal function of literary translation (its cultural  
contribution), the complexity of the act of literary translation, the indifferent and hegemonic manner in  
which it is perceived, and the half-hearted engagement with translation study, especially the exploitation  
of translators in multiple ways, which does more harm to the discipline than good. Nobody can deny  
that the position of translation, both literary and non-literary, is consolidated more than never before  
through its crucial function in the dissemination of literary works and knowledge texts across languages  
in the present age touted as the “Knowledge Age’. Nevertheless, that ‘translations are conventionally  
perceived as unoriginal’ and the relegation of translation study to ‘a haphazard activity’ points towards  
an unholy nexus of agencies and gross (publishers, book reviewers, readers and pedagogues according  
to Grossman, Lawrence and Krishnan) responsible for this sorry state of affairs. This too is something  
that needs to be thoroughly investigated and theorized to pave the way for a binding legal procedure  
consisting of strict guidelines and a redressal system. It is indeed welcome and consoling that some  
sort of initiative has been taken by PEN International referred to later in the paper. But to what extent  
will it help translation gain a legal status only time will tell for it is easier said than done.  
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The field of translation in Gujarat, where I have been an active and committed translator for more than  
two decades, is one that is fraught with hurdles for which there are no effective solutions. In the absence  
of ethical behaviour on the part of writers, institutions and publishers, the translator is made to feel like  
the scapegoat. I have undergone immense torment as a translator in Gujarat for over two decades  
now. In the absence of a tradition of formal contracts by small publishers here, I have been exploited to  
no end. Considering translation a mission and using my translation skills in the service of Gujarati  
literature I was oblivious of the fact that someday I will end up receiving shabby treatment that will scar  
me forever.  
Stations of the Cross or the Way of the Cross is also known as Way of Sorrows or Via Crucis. The Via  
Dolorosa (Latin: ‘Way of Grief,’ ‘Way of Suffering or simply ‘Painful Way’) is a street within the Old City  
of Jerusalem, held to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. Listed below are two  
versions of the 14 Stations of the Cross, the traditional and the scriptural:  
The traditional Stations of the Cross  
. Jesus is condemned to death 2. Jesus carries his cross 3. Jesus falls for the first time 4. Jesus  
meets his afflicted mother 5. Simon helps Jesus carry his cross 6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus 7.  
Jesus falls the second time 8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem 9. Jesus falls a third time 10.  
Jesus is stripped of his clothes 11. Jesus is nailed to the cross 12. Jesus dies on the cross 13. Jesus  
is taken down from the cross 14. Jesus is laid in the tomb  
The scriptural Stations of the Cross  
1. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane 2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested 3. Jesus is condemned  
by the Sanhedrin 4. Jesus is denied by Peter 5. Jesus is judged by Pontius Pilate 6. Jesus is scourged  
at the pillar and crowned with thorns 7. Jesus carries His Cross 8. Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene  
to carry the Cross 9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem 10. Jesus is crucified  
1. Jesus promises the Kingdom of God to the Good Thief 12. Jesus speaks to His Mother and the  
beloved disciple 13. Jesus dies on the Cross 14. Jesus is placed in the tomb  
The theological explanation of the two versions of the Way of the Cross cited above does not fall within  
the scope of the present paper and is thus avoided. These are to give an idea of the condemnation,  
humiliation, suffering, and trauma that the passion of the Christ in his human avatar embodied in  
context to my metaphorical references in the following paragraph to the dolorous path, the cross and  
the stations in connection with my personal bitter experiences as a translator.  
Being a translator is choosing to walk the dolorous path. Theories of translation have yet to address  
the humiliation, marginalization, betrayal, victimization that I as a translator have had to face in Gujarat,  
the cross that I have had to bear while negotiating the stations along the way all by myself. The aim of  
this paper is to share these experiences and make a public appeal to all those actively engaged in  
translation to come together for formulation and implementation of strict guidelines and redressal  
systems to prevent the unabashed exploitation of translators in Gujarat and elsewhere. I have all the  
evidence but am helpless in the absence of legal provision for redressal. This prompted me to pick up  
a campaign to prevent the exploitation of translators. I wrote about the same in ‘Nireekshak’ a leading  
Gujarati journal last month with the aim of starting a campaign for the cause. My article has created  
quite a stir and an appeal by Mr. Yogendra Parekh to translators to get together has been announced  
in the very next issue of ‘Nireekshak’.  
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I would like to conclude my paper by citing ‘The Quebec Declaration’ which has the potential to  
safeguard the interests of translators. The Assembly of Delegates, meeting at the 81st PEN International  
Congress in October 2015, adopted the adopted the Quebec Declaration on Literary Translation and  
Translators, sponsored by PEN International’s Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee and  
spearheaded by PEN Quebec:  
Literary translation is an art of passion. Promoting values of openness, acting for peace and  
freedom and against injustice, intolerance and censorship, translation invites a dialogue with  
the world.  
All cultures are not equal when it comes to translation. Some cultures translate by choice, others  
by obligation. Translation is a key to the protection of languages and cultures.  
Respectful of authors and original texts, translators are nevertheless creators in their own right.  
They seek not only to reproduce a literary work but to move the work forward, to expand its  
presence in the world. Translators are not simply messengers: though they speak for others,  
their voices are also their own. In particular, they act in favour of cultural diversity by remaining  
loyal to marginalized authors, literary styles and social groups.  
The rights of translators must be protected. Governments, publishers, the media, employers—  
all must respect the status and needs of translators, give prominence to their names, and ensure  
equitable remuneration and respectful working conditions—in all forms of print and digital media.  
The physical safety and freedom of expression of translators must be guaranteed at all times.  
As creative writers with specific skills and knowledge, translators must be shown respect and  
consulted for all questions related to their work. Translations belong to those who create them.  
Translated by Sherry Simon)  
Works Cited:  
Devy, G.N. ‘Of Many Heroes’: An Indian Essay in Literary History. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1998.  
Grossman, Edith. Why Translation Matters? Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan, 2011. Print.  
Krishnan, Mini. ‘Lost in Translation’. The Hindu. April 23, 2016. Print.  
Venuti, Lawrence. The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. London: Routledge, 1995.  
*Associate Professor and HOD, Dept. of English, Shree Sahajanand Vanijya Mahavidyalaya, Panjrapole,  
Ambawadi, Ahmedabad, Gujarat - 380016