During my college days almost two decades back, me and a few friends were talking about loan defaulters in Bangladesh, while having tea at a small rural tea stall. Suddenly, the tea vendor interrupted us, "We should introduce strict rules for loan defaulters similar to what Shylock faced in The Merchant of Venice".
We were really surprised he knew about a Shakespeare play. Later, he told us he had studied up to high school and had read the Bangla translation of The Merchant of Venice.
It would not have been possible for him to read and understand the play if it had not been translated to Bangla.
Similarly, it would not have been possible for many non-Bangali speakers to be familiar with Tagore's Gitanjali if it had not been translated to English. How many Bangla speaking people would have the opportunity to enjoy the charm of Crime and Punishment, Inferno, Oedipus Rex, The Iliad or works of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato if those had not been translated to Bangla?
Each language has something unique in terms of its literature, culture, heritage, history, customs, etc and translation plays a vital role in circulating internationally celebrated works, both fiction and nonfiction, across the globe. Unfortunately, Bangladesh is yet to utilise the field of translation even though the Bangla language has innumerable praiseworthy works in several fields which deserve to be disseminated and acknowledged throughout the world.
Bangla Academy, an autonomous institution which is funded to promote and foster Bangla language, literature and culture, as well as to develop and implement a national language policy, used to translate books on various disciplines in the past but over the last couple of decades, there have published only a handful of translated works.
Bangla Academy Act-2013 says it is one of the important responsibilities of the Academy to translate dictionaries, terminologies, grammar books, reference books, bibliographies and encyclopaedias written in foreign languages into Bangla. The academy is also supposed to ensure broadening and enhancing the use of Bangla in science and technology.
The recent catalogue of Bangla Academy shows less than 100 books have been translated into Bangla from other languages, out of around 1,500 published books. Similarly, 21,527 books were published in the last five Ekushey book fair, of which only 186 were translations.
At the University of Dhaka, there are very few books in Bangla except in Bangla Literature and some departments in the arts faculty. Many of the science departments have less than 2% books and reference materials written in Bangla and some departments do not have any reference books in Bangla, according to the Institute of Education and Research of the university.
Only a little more than 35% of books published by Dhaka University are written in Bangla. In the first education policy in 1974, the Qudrat-e-Khuda Commission suggested that Bangla be the medium of instruction at all levels.
The Ministry of Education, University Grant Commission, Bangla Academy, The Institute of Modern Languages at universities should come up with initiatives for drafting and implementing proper language policies. They should work together with international organisations such as the British Council, American Centre, Goethe Institute, Alliance Francaise, Russian Cultural Centre, Iran Cultural Centre, Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre, etc and take up projects on translation.
Recently, stressing the need for more translations of Bangla literature, Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has also talked about spreading our art, literature and culture globally so that people of different languages of the world know about our literature and culture.
Besides literature, translation is also essential for education and training in higher education as well as professional sectors like medical, engineering, law, vocational and other programmes. However, the disappointing reality is none of our universities offers any specialised programme on translation at the undergraduate or graduate level.
Many universities across the world, including some in the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia, offer programmes on translation that produce professional translators. Moreover, translation departments at universities translate various textbooks and reference materials from a foreign language to the mother tongue.
Educationists have pointed out several benefits of education in the mother tongue. For example, the mother tongue develops a learner's personal, social and cultural identity and helps improve critical thinking skills.
All of these make it evident that we need to put immediate and strong emphasis on policies that would enhance the quality of Translation Studies in our country. This would, in time, help us in numerous ways through cultural diffusion, development of cultural identity and educational benefits.