A Conversation with Lipika Das:
Lipika Das is an Assistant Professor at IIIT University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha Her teaching areas are Translation Studies, World Literature Studies, Communication and Interpersonal Skills, Cross-Cultural Communication. Research Areas are Shakespeare Reception in Odisha, Teachings of Shakespeare in Odisha, Shakespeare for Children in Odisha, World Literature Studies and Cold War Cultural Studies.
Full text (texto completo):
To explore how Shakespeare was received in Odisha let me start with a few questions.
What I have to do with Shakespeare in Odisha? How was I introduced to Shakespeare?
Can my initial encounter with Shakespeare reveal connections with larger preoccupations?
Can those faint, obscure, or apparently insignificant childhood memories of Shakespeare say anything about his reception in Odisha?
Let me tell you what it can reveal:
In my childhood we would spend our vacations at my granny’s place, a small town called Puri. It is a great place of pilgrimage and famous for the Temple of Lord Jagannath and its Car Festival. My granny was very religious and hence spent a lot of time in reading scriptures. In the meanwhile she would tell us stories like, fairy tales, ghost stories, love stories, sad stories, and many more. I faintly remember her bed, and by its side one could find massive scriptures along with slim and colourful story books. Among the Odia story books like Arab stories, Greece stories, African Stories, I remember a book, carrying the picture of a man-with high forehead, expressive eyes, thin moustache, calm composure, and dressed in a brown high collar jacket.
At that tender age I could only guess that the young man was from a distant place because that high collar jacket appeared quite unusual to me.
Later on, after many years when I was formally introduced to Shakespeare I realized that he was a familiar face to me and I knew his stories.
Because I always found Shakespeare stories as at home.
Does this unquestioned presence of Shakespeare at home assume any significance in this context?
What does my initial encounter with Shakespeare in a small town reveal about the larger reception of the Bard in Odisha? This apparently simple question is an enterprise in itself which is embedded in the long colonial rule in Odisha.
Let me tell you what does it reveal.
The cover-page of the Odia book titled Shakespeare Kahani ( means Shakespeare stories ) carried a picture of the bard and no introduction was given. Perhaps the writer was confident that Shakespeare needed no introduction for Odia readers. A familiarity was already assumed. The popularity of the Bard was considered obvious in the contemporary times.
So, it was first in our mother tongue, we read Shakespeare, we listened to Shakespeare stories at home, and much later came across the formal Shakespeare in English books in a classroom.
So my point is we must find out ways in which Shakespeare was responded to. We usually think of Shakespeare as a part of the curriculum or as someone who is taught or performed. But we rarely look at the ways in which people actually relate to Shakespeare at a personal level. So, the picture of reception of Shakespeare is more complex than it is usually assumed. Shakespeare is not always received in formal contexts like school, college and then universities. In fact there are different worlds in which Shakespeare is received. But his presence outside the University walls is perceived less actively.
It will be a near impossible task to present the complete picture of Shakespeare reception in Odisha because such a discussion would be extensive and time consuming.
However, I will try to explore our cultural history and give a modest account of Shakespeare in Odia translations in two contexts: the formal and the informal.
The idea of Shakespeare in the formal context would refer to the serious literary engagement with the Bard in Odisha whereas Shakespeare in the informal context would involve an obvious familiarisation and general reading habits of the natives, not in the academics but at home.
Part-2 The Formal Shakespeare:
To talk about the reception of Shakespeare in formal contexts I will explore the serious literary engagement of the regional literature with Shakespeare.
And in this context, I will take into account the Odia translations of Shakespeare produced over fifty years from 1908 to 1959 to illuminate aspects of the Western impact on Odia literature and to show how historical and political forces condition responses to Shakespeare in Odisha.
And these translations represent the way Shakespeare has been received and appropriated in the context of Odisha in the first six decades of the 20th century.
I will talk about the Odia translations of three Shakespearean plays, Romeo and Juliet , Hamlet and Othello. Since there is no record of their performance, they shall be treated as texts meant to be read. However, it may be assumed that Shakespeare is presented to Odia readers primarily as a reading experience. And we will see, how these translators simply do not project an Elizabethan Shakespeare but use him subtly to intervene in the cultural political contexts of their own times and implement their own agenda.
It is interesting to see that these three plays are appropriated in three different forms in translation.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is presented as a story.
Hamlet is presented as a poem.
And Othello is presented as a play.
Here we see, in course of half a century, the image of Shakespeare changes from a story-teller, to a poet to a playwright.
Romeo and Juliet
In 1908, Jagannath Balllave Ghose translates Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as Premika Premikaa, meaning a lover and his beloved. This title foregrounds the love element in the play and the translator refers to his work as a story in the introduction. The work of translation can be called a free translation, as the translator produces the text without the style and form of the original play, instead seeks to summarize and paraphrase the play in form of a story. He further informs the readers that the present story is not a full-length translation of Shakespeare’s play, but in major portion it is translated from the Charles Lamb’s story, and the rest from the original play. He clearly indicates that the translation has been undertaken by a loyal subject of the British, and he dedicates the work to the British colonial officer. The words in the brief note of dedication such as “ the most obedient and humble servant ” show great dedication towards the Sessions Judge in the contemporary period. No wonder, it was produced during the British rule.
The play is rendered in chaste prose. The story is presented in forty three pages and divided into ten chapters, each of them bearing a title in Odia and a quotation in English from the original text. These titles announce the theme of each chapter.
For example, the first chapter is titled as ‘Prema Kalikaa’ meaning the love bud.
Similarly, the titles of the rest of the chapters announce the contents as, bibaha (the wedding), soka sambada (sad news), tattwopadesha (good counsel), bidaya (the farewell), satira sahasa (the courage of a chaste woman), harsha bishada ( joy and grief), bisabrikhya (the poison- tree), parinam (the outcome), and the last chapter ‘Shanti’ (peace) befittingly prepares the readers for the end of the tragic story. Such titles indicate that the Shakespearean play has been presented as a traditional moral tale involving human actions and their consequences.
Shakespeare presents Juliet as an embodiment of love who ends her life for her beloved. The translator presents Juliet as a chaste woman and lends her the powerful metaphor of “sati” in the native culture. The term “sati” has religious connotations in Hindu culture and refers to a woman who could sit down on the funeral pyre by the side of her dead husband to prove her loyalty and ultimate dedication. The translator chooses this intense metaphor to show Juliet’s indulgence for Romeo and simultaneously Odianizes his work. Similarly, he presents Lawrence as a “tapaswi”, meaning a Hindu hermit and the church as an “ashram”, referring to a spiritual hermitage and a centre for religious activities for the Hindus. Church is translated as “dharma mandira” meaning the temple of religion and cemetery as “samadhi mandira”, meaning the temple of graves, thereby consistently domesticating the work with local references from home.
Jagannath Balllave Ghose appropriates a Western classic model and presents a moral tale with a tragic end. Such preferences for stories with unhappy ending created a space for a new sensibility in the contemporary Odia literature in early 20th century. This attempt is a part of a wider attempt in nineteenth century to search for a model, borrow themes and plots from Western sources and domesticate them to establish the possibilities of innovation in the contemporary literary practices. In this process of innovation, there was a practice of borrowing plots and themes from classic Western sources and assimilating them into the Odia literary tradition. There were more notable experiments made by well known Indian literary figures (Radhanath Ray) who borrowed plots from Classic Western sources and assimilated them into Odia literary traditions.
This attempt seems to aim at popularising Shakespearean plots in Odisha. No wonder the translator repeatedly refers to his work as a ‘story’. And the retelling of Romeo and Juliet as a story in chaste Odia prose contributes to and strengthens this process of innovation in the history of Odia literature.
The second translation of Hamlet by A. K Bandyopadhyaya in 1934 marks a more convincing and ambitious attempt to render a Shakespearean play into Odia. It radiates a confidence and determination that is missing in the earlier translation of Romeo and Juliet. Although produced during the British rule, it is not dedicated to any colonial official. Bandyopadhyaya does not seek to summarize, outline or paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet, rather presents the text in full-length translation in Odia.
It is interesting to see that the cover page of the book carries a picture of Shakespeare and his name is written in English. No other information is provided. But on the next page the name of the playwright appears in Odia along with four adjectives describing his status and fame such as ( biswa bisruta) world famous (swanamadhanya) well reputed (ingraji kabi o natyakara) -English poet and dramatist. The translator perceives the play a suspenseful one and mentions it as “rahasyamaya nataka” (meaning a suspenseful play). But it is surprising that all these adjectives are omitted on the title page. The omissions in English are significant: because an English-knowing readership is supposed to be familiar with Shakespeare’s world fame.
A very important feature of the play to be noted – it was rendered in Odia blank verse, known as amitrakhyara chhanda. The decision to translate the play in amitrakshara chhanda (Odia blank verse) assume special significance in the context. In 19th century English blank verse was naturalized as amitrakshara chhanda in Odia and in other Indian languages. The translator mentions the adoption of this form on the title-page as : “ Hamlet By William Shakespeare Translated into Oriya Blank Verse ” Here, the translator claims the native form amitrakshara chhanda as a counterpart of English blank verse and proves the equivalence and affluence of the native literary form in the work of translation. He makes an ambitious attempt in literary experimentation and produces distinct patterns of amitrakshara chhanda in Odia literature. This translation demonstrates the potential of Odia language to convey the richness and beauty of Shakespeare’s poetry in Odia blank verse.
A striking feature of the translation is the translator’s choice of a heavily Sanskritized Odia. Sanskrit is an ancient Indian Classical language, and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism. This language encompasses a rich tradition of poetry, drama, scientific, religious, and philosophical texts. The effect aimed at in this translation, is a technical virtuosity, which the translator achieves through a deliberate choice of difficult Sanskrit words. The flexibility and intense artistry of Shakespeare’s blank verse in Hamlet, gives way to a majestic tone that is dominant throughout the text.
Another significant feature of the work is heavy use of alliteration through which the translator achieves sonority in his creation which is not present in the original text. However, it can be said that the translator does not depend on Shakespeare to justify his literary potential, rather he treats the bard as a possibility to explore the richness of Odia language. So the focus, as we see repeatedly falls on language and its capabilities to bear the poetic and aesthetic quality of Shakespeare’s blank verse. Here a reader is driven to think why the focus is heavy on language? Alliterations in the text make noticeable stylistic effects and reinforce the intended meaning and thus infuse intensity into the character’s tone.
Let me give an example:
In the first scene of Act 1, Horatio describes the chivalry of the dead King to Hamlet.
“Such was the very armour he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated;
So frown’d he once when, in an angry parle,
He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice.” (1.1. 60-63)
This is translated into rich poetic words with heavy use of alliteration.
Translated Text :
eebhali tanutre tanu kari aachadita,karithile dwanda judha bhangibaku taan dambhi narway rajara; eebhali bhrubhanga lila lalate tankara dekhithili dine,krodhe matta hoi jebe kale se prahara sabhasthale polakakanku.
In the first line of the verse, an alliterative effect is noted with the sound ‘ta’, followed with an immediate sound effect of the sound ‘bh’ and ‘la’. Here, “armour” is translated as “tanutre” and “tanu” word is added to explain the physical body of the king. ‘so frowned’ is translated with as “eebhali bhubhanga lila lalate tankara”, meaning the subtle and enticing movement of the muscles in the forehead when the King was angry. The translator introduces alliterative effects to show the emotion of anger, as it is a most frequent emotion reflected in the “tandaba lila”, the great dance by Lord Shiva in Indian mythology. In this regard, there is a repetitive reference to “tandanba lila” in Hamlet’s speeches. These sound effects significantly place an emphasis on the intentions and focus on the tone of the speaker.
Here, as we see, the translator acts as a conscious poet and controls the sound effects to convey his interpretations vividly and uses difficult Sanskritized words consistently throughout the text. Alliteration is used here as a technique and the translator combines it with the rhyming scheme and imagery to mark out the language as special and musical. Bandyopadhyaya creates a rhetorical effect of sublimity in the language in Odia blank verse. The focus repeatedly falls on language and its capabilities to bear the poetic and aesthetic quality of Shakespeare’s blank verse.
Let me now reflect on the contemporary back ground in which the reasons of this translation are deeply rooted. The work of translation was made in 1934, a time considered as the high point of Odia nationalism. In Odia history, the most important time for identity was the time for this consciousness for Odia nationalism. This consciousness grew stronger and turned into a quest for the national identity. The chief objective of Odia Nationalist movement was a territorial unity of Odia speaking community in three levels; linguistic, literary and cultural with the demand of an original independent identity. This was a time when the Odia identity was longed for and claimed a meaningful recognition from the rich resources of its language. The source of identity was not the land, territory, religion, history or cultural heritage, but its language which mirrored all these resources together. The emphasis was focused on language which was considered to be capable of great things. The work of translation features the key components of the movement: a linguistic independence, the technical virtuosity of Odia, and its inheritance of Sanskrit. It reflects a linguistic flexibility and virtuosity that Odia language had achieved as a result of the sustained movement These features are highlighted in the translation. Akshoy Kumar Bandyopadhyaya’s ambitious attempt to render a Shakespearean play into rich and Sanskitized Odia, forms a part of this movement.
For the translator , language is not only a medium of communication, it serves three political functions:
a) It unifies a nation (whose unity is at stake)
b) A reminder of the glorious past.
c) A source of Odia culture and tradition
For the translator, choosing a classical language in his translation of Hamlet, serves a great political cause. He demonstrates a striking view of the connection between language and national identity. His vision of a collective identity over individual, ethnic, religious, culture through a common language is embedded in his translation. The Odia Hamlet radiates a linguistic confidence that demonstrates the ability of standard Odia to portray the richness and intricacy of Shakespeare’s blank verse. This work of translation conveys vividly the historical circumstances where translations are enlisted in contemporary national agenda. A translator is sensitive towards these social-cultural forces and these forces influence the decisions of a translator. The attempt to render a Shakespearean play into Odia embodies the objectives of the movement of Odia nationalism whereby Odisha was recognized as a separate province on the basis of it language. And the translator used Shakespeare subtly to intervene in the cultural-political contexts of their own times and implement their own cultural and political agenda.
Hence, a work of translation needs to be explained and understood on the basis of the contemporary contexts.
The Odia translation of Othello contrasts strikingly with early translations of Shakespeare in Odisha. A new context of political and social realities endows this translation with a very different character, illustrating the subtle and significant changes that distinguish this work from pre-independence translations. Those earlier translators were not important literary figures, but the translator of Othello was undertaken by a famous poet and Shakespeare scholar Dr Mayadhar Mansingh.
He informs us that the work of translation was published with a political agenda which is mentioned in the blurb of the book. The work of translation was published in 1959, a high time of the Cold War. The book, surprisingly lacks an original introduction or a preface. But in the blurb of back cover, the translator mentions clearly that, though Shakespeare creates literature with aristocrats, with a feeling of hatred for the common people, yet he is the most popular dramatist even in the communist countries. The translation features an introduction by John Dover Wilson that also focuses on Shakespeare’s art of characterization and goes on to psychoanalyze characters such as Othello and Iago.
Mansingh’s focus on Shakespeare’s character has a political dimension, emerging from the comment in the blurb. It goes like:
Now the emphasis is not Shakespeare as a story-teller, nor on his extraordinary achievements as a poet but on the distinctiveness of the way he portrayed his characters. “ today Shakespeare is universally recognized as the greatest playwright of the world. Although his plays focus on the lives of the characters belonging to the aristocracy and although they clearly regard ordinary people with contempt, he is counted among the most popular authors in all communist nations”.
In this context, the translator claims that Shakespeare appropriation is not limited to English speaking countries, it also has similar relevance in other non-English countries including communist countries, where the bard is well appreciated through translation, adaptation and performances. The focus shifts from Shakespeare’s poetry to his finer treatment of human characters. Translating Shakespeare is now a part of a wider strategy in order to respond to the rigid egalitarian biases by recognizing the individuality and dignity of human beings. As one can see, the shadow of the Cold War falls across Mansingh’s translation of Othello. The decision to render the play in prose needs to be seen as a part of Mansingh’s attempt to divert attention from Elizabethan poetry and Shakespeare’s plot-construction, to the art of characterisation.
Another significant information about this translation is that, even published by a local publisher, it has the imprint of the Sahitya Academy. It was a part of a national program to introduce the four great tragedies of Shakespeare to the Indian readership through translation. The book’s cover has a picture of Shakespeare, but does not even mention his name. The significance of Shakespeare as the greatest dramatist or poet no longer needs to be emphasized. It is taken for granted. The blurb on the back cover provides many adjectives in presenting Shakespeare the greatest playwright in the world.
Like the Odia translations of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, Mansingh’s translation of Othello is clearly not meant to be staged. The translator presents Shakespeare in Odisha primarily as a reading experience. In fact, the blurb mentions the “opportunity available to Odia readers to read Shakespeare in their own languages”. Unlike the earlier translators Jagarnath Ballav Ghose and Akshya Kumar Bandyopadhyaya, who viewed Shakespeare as a story-teller and poet respectively, Mansingh regards Shakespeare primarily as a playwright, whose preoccupation is not with poetry or story but with characters.
The focus shifts from Shakespeare’s poetry to his finer portrayal of human characters. The play is rendered in chaste Odia prose. The decision to render the play in prose can be interpreted as a part of Mansingh’s attempt to shift the focus from poetry and plot, to the art characterization. The translator attempts to argue that the subtle analysis of human mind which Shakespeare projects through his rich characterization, is not just limited to poetry. It can be, on the other hand well expressed through prose.
The attitude to Odianize is quite prominent from the very beginning of the play. He gives a list of the Odia names to introduce the dramatis personae.
One interesting thing can be noted in this regard that the translator is quite skilful in translating the names into Odia. Each character in the text is assigned a tone and an equally suitable language style that speaks of their role assignment in the play. The translator attempts to justify the human nature which is universal and beyond the physical boundaries of a national territory. He retains the same sound effect of the original names at the same time an elemental character trait of all the characters in the play. Hence, there remains an echo of the English names in the translated names. Generally speaking, all Indian names are lexical. They have a meaning embedded in our culture and religion.
It is interesting to see the way the names are translated.
Othello- Attala; very strong and the unshakable one
Gratiano– Gruhatrana; (gruha meaning home, trana meaning protector) protector of home
Lodovico – Lubdhaka; meaning possessed by greed
Michel Cassio – Mukta kasyapa; (kasyapa was an Indian saint and mukta means free ) a free saint
Iago – Ahiga; (ahi means snake) being serpentine
Roderigo – Rudraraga; (rudra, means lord Siva and raga means anger) an angry lord
Montano – Madan; meaning the God Cupid
Desdemona – Diptibarna, meaning burning bright
Brabantio – Birabansi; a knight by inheritance
Emilia – Ambalika; religious name for goddess Durga
In the present context, it is evident to note that the translator makes a name translation, which is considered as an interesting feature of the translation but they only remain at the outset on the list only and do not get a place in the text. Yet, they generate an influence in the mind of the reader. Like….the reader in the very beginning gets introduced to the characters through familiar and conventional ideas in form of native names.
Hence, before a reader comes across Iago’s malice, s/he could guess his cunning nature through the hint provided in the native name, “Ahiga”. The religious notes in names like “Ambalika”, “Madana” and “Rudraraga” Odianize these characters in the play. The translator calls the Odia list of characters the “Indian list” to give a national status to his work.
Not only these, translator e also explores multilingual resources in Indian languages. He borrows many words of Perso-Arabic origin and colloquialisms. Borrowing in translation is not always justified because of the lexical gap in the TL, but it can mainly be used as a way to preserve the local colour of the word, or be used out of fear from losing some of the semiotic aspects and cultural aspects of the word if it is translated in the purer form of the Target Language. The words such as, “naukari”, “suparish” “nimaksacha”, “saitan”, “hajur”, “jamanabandi”, “namaste”, “sahib”, “ji hajur”, “mamuli”, “saccha”, “chiz”, “bhago”, “phaida” , “rumal”, etc. are used in the translated text. These loaned words are thrown around in daily conversations mixing in with our local flares of speech. The translator gives his use of language a spicy consistency by exploring multilingual resources and putting them together in one text. By absorbing these words in the translation, he gets his points across on the pragmatic poise of language. He also added some English words like “kaptan”, “pin” and “dozen” that show the collected English vocabulary in Odia language.
So, these three translations are not just literary productions, they reveal larger preoccupations.
Here we see, in course of half a century, the image of Shakespeare changes from a story-teller, to a poet to a playwright.
Here arises certain questions.
Are these significant changes in the image of Shakespeare just literary?
Are these translators responsible in changing the image of Shakespeare from time to time?
OR are there some active unseen factors that condition these decisions in the background?
The reasons are here.
The first translation of Romeo and Juliet embodies an attempt to introduce Shakespeare as a story-teller concentrating chiefly on the plot. This attempt is a part of a wider attempt in 19th century to search for a model, borrow themes and plots from western classic resources and domesticate them to establish the possibilities of innovation in contemporary literature. This attempt contributes to and strengthens this movement of Innovation.
The second translation of Hamlet, embodies the triumph of the movement of Odia nationalism whereby Odisha was recognized as a separate province on the basis of its language. Hence it radiates a confidence that is missing in earlier translations of Shakespeare. In this work the translator sets out to justify the potential of Odia language to achieve greatness in literature. No wonder he presents the full text in amitrakhyar chanda and deliberately uses heavily Sanskritized Odia to project a technical virtuosity born out of the victorious movement of Odia nationalism.
In the third translation of Othello, a new context of social and political realities endow the work with a different character where the translator intends to project Shakespeare not a story-teller or a poet but a world famous playwright with an aristocratic bias who is admired even in the communist countries.
As we see that, these three translations represent three key movements in order in the history of western impact on Odia literature. The translators, instead of enslaving themselves in the old fidelity problem or identifying the act of translation as a linguistic exchange of textual contents of two different languages and literary traditions, they have taken on a new approach. These approaches are diverted from the traditional linguistic theory and take a socio-political turn.
Hence, the translator is not a passive receptor and does not simply project an Elizabethan Shakespeare, but acts as an active agent who uses him subtly to intervene in the contemporary concerns of their own times and implement their own agenda.
Part-3: The Informal Shakespeare:
To talk about the reception of Shakespeare in informal contexts I will explore the contexts not in academics or universities, but at home.
Shakespeare at home is Shakespeare the story teller.
And this throws light on the general reading habit of Odia readers. Finding Shakespeare stories at the tea table is not random instead it is the result of a publishing initiative, the first major initiative to implement the idea of World Literature in Odisha.
Shakespeare as a story-teller at home gains more interest than Shakespeare in any college syllabus. The reasons are not surprising because the idea of a scholarly Shakespeare appears as simple as ABC when a drama is printed as a story in barely 15 pages in a colourful palm size book. What can be more encouraging than this to read Shakespeare? Although these stories are meant for children , there is never a check on adult readership. No wonder, reading Shakespeare stories as Shakespeare Kahani easily becomes a hobby.
The idea of Shakespeare at home deserves attention because here the Bard is viewed through the prism of ‘Biswa’ (meaning world). Here Shakespeare’s monumental isolation is ceded to a larger cross cultural understanding of the world. And Shakespeare appears not as the only great writer of the world but he appears along with other great writers like Homer, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, Anton Chekhov, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Guy De Maupassant, Leo Tolstoy, Cervantes, Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Hardy and many more.
So it is an attempt to release Shakespeare from the institutional guises and revive him in a commonplace setting. Hence, Shakespeare appeared, not as a poet or playwright but as a story teller with twenty-one world famous stories. These stories were not published in isolation, but appeared in a series along with another one thousand stories from across the world.
The attempt to appropriate Shakespeare, not as an English writer but as a world writer was undertaken by a famous publisher, Granthamandir in 1969. This series of World Literature appeared as a set, received well, flourishing and running successfully till date. It published a series titled, Biswa Sahitya Granthamala [BSG] meaning, the world literature series. This is a collection of world literary texts in abridged versions, especially meant for young readers. The blurbs of the storybooks reveal interesting information about the project and clearly state that this is an initiative by the publisher to introduce and popularize World Literature in Odia language. This declaration by the publisher forms a response to the question raised by Tim parks “Is English always to be the lingua franca that determines what can be said, handing an advantage to the native speaker?”. So, here is an attempt to create World Literature, not in English but in a local language. This leads to vernacular cosmopolitanism: a vernacular language expressing the world which is cosmopolitan in nature. Unescorted by English, World Literature emerges and survives successfully in a local language. A local publisher, with a team of thirty translators, introduces World Literature outside the “space within which the world lives as world literature” (Damrosch 283). This bold attempt is a milestone in the history of Odia literature. The project published a series of world literary texts in abridged versions and made an inclusion of literary genres like novels, fantasy tales, adventure stories, morality tales, drama, scientific fiction, fairy tales, plays and many more, meant for young readers. This series contained around 210 books , drawn from 60 authors across the world. It printed 15 editions till present and sold 100 sets every year.
The cover page of the series carried the title of the story, the name of the project (Biswa Sahitya Granthamala) at top margin, and the name of publisher (Granthamandira) at the bottom. Most books carried an illustration of the story, whereas some carried only the picture of the world authors even without their names. This is not surprising as an English –knowing readership is supposed to be familiar with a world author’s fame. There is one more reason, as they are presented chiefly as story-tellers, hence no other information is given. The cover pages of Shakespeare Kahani bear a picture of Shakespeare and interestingly it lacks an introduction. The reason is clear ; an English –knowing readership in Odisha is supposed to be familiar with Shakespeare’s fame. He is presented primarily as a story-teller and no other information is provided. This new image is interesting as it differs from the gigantic academic Shakespeare , who is always received in formal contexts. So this fresh story-teller is quite adventurous for young readers where the focus is not on the academic scholarship, but on the story only. The publisher Granthamandira published these in a series and Shakespeare Kahani appeared in 4 parts in half a century( 48 years). The first part appeared in 1970 and the fourth part in 2013. Each book is about 60 to 90 pages and each story is presented in 10 to 15 pages only. These can hardly be called translations. Rather these are abridged translations where the focus in on the plot development only. The translators keep it simple : a traditional beginning, rising resolution and a brief climax. It is interesting to see that out of 37 plays, 21plays are translated and the remaining 16 plays are left out. This deserves attention. The blurb of the books give us clues about the decision to translate the plays undertaken. The blurb reflects the two fold objective of such an initiative, at first, to familiarize the young readers with world literature and secondly, to promote a reading habit through entertainment. Hence, it is clear that the objective of Shakespeare Kahani is not to produce Shakespeare scholars but to promote a familiarisation with the idea of World Literature. Here we note that the focus is on promoting reading as a habit and Shakespearean plots have a major contribution. Hence the translators choose plays that can be presented as interesting stories to young Odia readers. This is the reason behind the selection of 21 plays with familiar themes like love, hate, justice, procrastination, revenge, ambition, jealousy, self-deception, freedom and so on.
The publication data reveals the way Shakespeare is received in Odisha. It is noted by the publisher that one thousand books are printed per edition only. Accordingly, in total, 10,000 books of Shakespeare Kahani are printed till date. This proves people have read them. And among them, the most popular are the comedies. Shakespeare Kahani part-2 and part-3 in particular have maximum number of editions, revised editions and reprints. These two parts mostly contain comedies and romantic comedies, and barely one tragedy in each. There are only two editions of Part-1 of the series, and it contains five major tragedies. Surprisingly, all history plays are left out. The history plays are not selected for young readers as the readers may not relate to the complex political events of a foreign land. It is now clear that Shakespeare is received only as a story-teller and comedies are mostly preferred to tragedies.
Part-1: Julius Caesar, Othello, Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth
Part-2: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cymbeline, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night
Part-3: Timon of Athens, Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Pericles, Prince of Tyre
Part-4: Measure for Measure, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors, All’s Well That Ends Well and Winter’s Tale.
All history plays are omitted.
Another important fact is, the history plays also do not appear in The Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb . Out of 21 plays in Shakespeare Kahani , except Julius Caesar , the same 20 plays also appear as Lamb stories. No wonder, Shakespeare Kahani emerges as a counterpart of The Tales from Shakespeare but, in Odia language.
The blurb of The Tales from Shakespeare reveals significant information:
By all account Tales from Shakespeare has remained the best introduction to the Bard, not only for young people but readers of all age.
Similar is the objective of Shakespeare Kahani : to serve the best introduction of Shakespeare to the young Odia readers.
Earlier the colonial reception of literature dwelled on the explorations of Western writers in isolation. Single authors and single literatures were appropriated either with a token of dedication or resonated with a virtuosity of native language. But these tendencies could not survive when colonialism came to an end. And post colonialism brought with it the urgent need to graduate from the narrow vision and thereby generate a broad platform for knowledge dissemination. Odia Literature could not afford to delimit the reception to just one part of the world, rather attempted to push the boundaries and move from one to many. Though such inductive approach resulted in a loss of the legendary isolation which Shakespeare enjoyed over a century in Odisha but gained much in popularity and literary interests. Shakespeare now appears in a group and looks more inviting that way. He is placed along with other famous writers from different countries and this enriches the initiative with a cross cultural understanding across the globe. This motive towards a global understanding is embodied by the World Literature series titled Biswa Sahitya Granthamala. It is striking to note that such an attempt to appropriate the world escapes a world language. This series shifted focus from an English dramatist to an Odia story-teller and thus created an easy access to the Bard.
This series promoted a new reading habit of reading Shakespeare without a dictionary and without the pressure of knowing English. This new context is no more challenging as it is away from the schools, colleges and universities. Hence the monumental isolation collapses under the weight of palm-sized-colorful story books published by Granthamandir.
Now everyone can afford to read, not only Shakespeare but also other writers like Shakespeare without university degree and of course, without even knowing English.
(This research paper is a part of the Seed Fund project which has received funding from the Odisha University Research and Innovation Incentivization plan (OURIIP– 2020.)