The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Jul 27, 2015

Jai Ratan, Translator

A recent article in by Daisy Rockwell, "Five timeless translations to read, and what bad translations are", mentions Jai Ratan (1917-2012), a prolific translator of Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi literature. She found his translations to be catastrophic.

I don't think I've read any of Ratan's translations; certainly, unlike Rockwell, I haven't read any of the originals either. But surely others have? What did they think? I thought I might do a search for Jai Ratan to find out.

A foreword to Ratan's translation of Kamleshwar's "Not Flowers of Henna", published by Katha, says Ratan is an accomplished veteran ... Hindi and Urdu literature - and indeed, English literature, too - owe him a profound debt for his momentous contribution to them.

Uday Prakash, a notable Hindi writer, said that Ratan's translations of his works were targeted at an Indian English reader, and could not travel abroad.

A.G. Khan, a professor at Vikram University, reviewed Ratan's translation of Ilyas Ahmed Gaddi's Urdu novel "Fire Area". He says In spite of these subtle intricacies Jai Ratan's translation is an honest and convincing rendering of the text making the version quite engrossing. I took a look at some of these subtle intricacies. I have nothing to say about most of them, but Khan makes the following statement:
Rare is an adjective. It should not be used as a verb. "You are raring to go as if some woman is waiting to play Holi with you” (p 87). The correct expression should have been 'so keen / so eager’.
How, as a teacher of English, Khan is unable to see that 'raring to go' is correct, I don't know. Does this gap in his understanding of English negate the rest of his (positive) commentary on Ratan? Probably not.

Meanwhile, Jason Francisco agrees with Rockwell's claim that Ratan often dropped entire passages in his translations, and also blames him for deadening the impact of the original by (mis)translation.

Then we have Chitra Divakaruni, who said she liked Jai Ratan's translation of Premchand's "Godaan", though she doesn't get into specifics.

A bit of a mixed bag, it seems, from this cursory search at least...


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