‘Translation is not just a charm but a serious need for the upliftment of Nepali literature’: An interview with translator Jayant Sharma

Thanks for joining me! Today I’ll be speaking to Jayant Sharma, a literary translator who works in the Nepali-English language pair.

Jayant has almost two dozen literary volumes translated to his credit, out of which some renowned ones are ‘Guerrilla Girl’, ‘Children’s Stories of Nepal’, ‘In the Battle of Kirtipur’, ‘Gurkha War Poems’, ‘Odes from the Himalayas’, and ‘Color of Epoch,’ to name a few. He also has scores of sporadic translations published in different magazines and journals at home and abroad, where he has translated eminent Nepali writers, such as Bhupi Sherchan, Parijat, Gopal Prasad Rimal, BP Koirala, Ramesh Vikal, Shrawan Mukarung, and more.

As a translator and editor, Jayant Sharma also contributes as a writer to major national dailies and South-Asian journals regarding arts, literature, and culture. He writes primarily in English but occasionally pens poetry in Nepali. Currently, he is working on his debut collection of poems entitled बिचरा सन्ते बौलायो (Sante’s gone crazy).

Mr. Sharma is the publisher and editor of an English literary magazine SATHI which promotes Nepali literature through English translations and the founder of translateNEPAL which is an initiative to represent Nepal to the global literary scene.

How do you explicate the significance of translation in literature?

This is quite a topic that demands a detailed discourse. As we know literature is the reflection of people and place, life and society snapped on different epochs of history, and to impart this knowledge to a world unknown, I see no alternative to translation. Ancient texts, the earliest form of literature, were propagated throughout the world by means of translation. Simply put, whatever knowledge we have been able to acquire so far about the world and universe, religion and science, philosophy and literature, civilization and society, etc. is the outcome of translation only.

How long have you been translating? What was your first translated work?

Actually, my translation started as early as my reading and writing back in school days. There were times when I used to translate various texts from English into Nepali, or Hindi into Nepali, and likewise. That was long back and I don’t have a record of them. Anyway, they were meant to be judged. It was just a beginning, a learning process, I surmise. But it was later, in my college days, that I started taking translation seriously. The first work I remember translating was ‘Chiso Ashtray’ by Bhupi Sherchan back in 2000. It was published in a literary journal of that time and later in a couple of other literary zines as well. But when I have to talk about a volume, it has to be an acclaimed historical drama by Hridaya Chandra Singh Pradhan called ‘Kirtipur ko Yuddha Ma,’ rendered into English as ‘In the battle of Kirtipur’ and published circa 2005.


Fearless Warriors, Author: Kangmang Naresh Rai, Translator: Jayant Sharma
Publisher: Olympia Publishers, UK, ISBN-10: 1848976917, ISBN-13: 978-1848976917
Guerrilla Girl, Author: Tara Rai, Translator: Jayant Sharma, Publisher: The Conrad Press; ISBN-10: 1911546155, ISBN-13: 978-1911546153

You said you have around two dozens of book translations to your credit. What charm do you find in translation that you don’t find in other creative writing projects?

It’s not that I don’t fancy creative form of writing; in fact, I have been doing it long before my professional stint in translation but when questions come about our existence in the map of world literature, translation is what I think is the only way Nepali literature can depict its identity. We read books of different languages and cultures of the world that have helped us know the world, the people and the society we have never seen. But has the other part of the world known Nepal as it really is? Have they ever realized that Nepali arts, culture, and literature are also equally rich? My translation is a small effort to bridge that vacuum. Moreover, like creative writing, translation also is a craft. This art of promoting arts and literature tempts me comparatively more. However, I consider translation not just a charm, but a serious need, for the upliftment of Nepali literature.

How do you cohere the artistry and thoughtfulness of original writing in translated form?

This is where the cross-language study and a strong command over both the languages work abundantly for translators. It can either way be aided by thematic translation. With that, you can dexterously carve words to retain artistry while keeping its thought essence also intact. I don’t see literal translation as any form of craft or thought rendering process, though many of the translations seen in Nepal lately have a greater affinity towards it.

Do you agree Nepal lacks good translators? If yes, what may be the possible reasons?

It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing but about probing. If I say Nepal lacks good translators, I am obliged to ask myself what good and bad translations are and who is to evaluate the goodness and badness in them. For now, I simply marvel at the number of translators we have in Nepal, let alone being good. By putting a label of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we might just be doing injustice to all the translators in the lot who are playing their best part to take literature beyond borders. Because translators in Nepal have begun their work out of their self-interest, not formal tutelage. Yes, we lack the necessary skills, and as always, we inflict blame upon the state. But we just can’t laden our ineptitude over the state every time; we translators also need to explore a basic purview of translation methodology prevalent in the world by means of research, study and practice. Many times, financial constraints also come to affect the quality of translation and enthusiasm of translators because literary translation in Nepal is seen as not that financially-rewarding a job.

Do you think Nepali literature translated in English garners international acclaim?

Yes, I am very hopeful of Nepali literature receiving international acclaim. But sad to say, Nepali literature is presently standing nowhere in the mainstream of world literature. There are Nepali works equally good to stand neck-and-neck with other literature of the world, but lack of an authorized body for promoting Nepali literature, lack of skilled translators and critics to judge the quality of translation, and many other factors have deterred the process. I was, and still, am very hopeful, and it’s the same hope that had actuated me to initiate SATHI. It’s with that same hope I guess, Nepali translators and writers also have shown a great interest of late. Once things come to our favor, it won’t be surprising to see Nepali writers receiving international accreditation and coveted prizes.

What is your view regarding literal and thematic translation?

As I’ve said earlier, literal translation is an art form where words get translated and not wisdom. For some particular genres, literal translation is fine but I personally think creative writing needs to be rendered thematically. Yes, literal translation can’t address the thematic department of writing, and in such a case, the philosophy associated with creation also goes astray. Talking about how far it has been implemented in Nepali literature depends upon the translator’s knack of the art.

Talking about Nepali literature rendered in English, I have always revered Devkota as the connoisseur of translation. His translated works carry the pure embodiment of the thematic school of thought. Other foreign scholars translating Nepali literature like Larry Hartsell, Michael J. Hutt, Wayne Amtzis, Maya Watson, also have touched the very essence of retaining the thought process. Many contemporary translators are following the footsteps of Devkota, but as a cumulative output of the Nepali literature in translation, we are hooked up to the same literal base. Nepali translation has lost its flavor eventually in the making. We seriously need to set up an official translation unit and start translation theory and criticism studies to enhance the quality of the translations, which otherwise will misrepresent Nepali literature in the global scene.

What works of translation are you currently working on?

I recently finished translating an anthology of lyrical poems by Ganesh Shrestha Apekchya to be launched next month. Currently, I am translating a collection of short stories by Dr. Sangita Swechcha due to be published early next year from London, and an anthology of poems by Hon. Foreign Minister for Nepal, Mr. Pradip Gyanwali, to be published from Australia. Additionally, I am also working on Ramesh Vikal’s award-winning collection of short stories, ‘Naya Sadakko Geet,’ and sporadic translations for Beyond Borders.

The Rose: An Unusual Love Story (Gulafsangako Prem – Nepali version), Author: Dr. Sangita Swechcha, Translator: Jayant Sharma (translation in progress for 2020 release), Publisher (Nepali version): Color Nepal, ISBN: 978-9937-0-5309-9.

Written by Dr Sangita Swechcha

Dr Sangita Swechcha is a Communications Professional, Researcher, and a Fiction writer. She has over 15 years of experience in international communications and media relations. She is a Guest Editor for Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI) and coordinating ‘Nepali Literature month’ – November 2019. She is a novelist and a writer who has written a novel ‘Pakhalieko Siundo’, a joint collection of stories ‘Asahamatika Pailaharu’ and a collection of short stories ‘Gulafsangako Prem’ in Nepali.

Forthcoming in English translations in 2020 in e-book formats first: A novel ‘Pakhalieko Siundo’ and a collection of short stories ‘Gulafsangako Prem’, titled in English as ‘The Rose: An Unusual Love Story’ (looking for international publisher/s for publishing print versions of these books). Her twitter handle: SangyShrestha. Email: sangyshrestha@hotmail.com Connect on Facebook.

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