JNU professor conferred China's highest literary prize — the Special Book Award

September 19, 2014

Priyadarshi Mukherjee, 52, a Sinologist and professor of Chinese at Jawaharlal Nehru University has been conferred China's highest literary prize — the Special Book Award — for his many books and works of translation, but more specifically, for translating the poetry of Mao Tse-Tung into Bengali. That was published in 2012.

Mukherjee had a way with languages even as a young lad growing up on campus at Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. His father, who taught at IIT, spoke several languages — French, German, Chinese and Russian among others — and Mukherjee picked up smatterings. His CV on the JNU website lists over a dozen languages he knows well enough to read and write in. Mukherjee completed grade 12 at Shantiniketan and moved to JNU for higher studies.

Mukherjee joined JNU in 1979 and has noticed the increasing interest in Chinese. "When we started," he says, "China wasn't a big economic power. 1978-79 saw just the beginning of the reform that made it one. Our generation studied the language simply because we were passionate about it. The focus has changed now. Most of the students, take jobs in MNCs right after BA. You don't even learn the language properly by then."

Mukherjee has translated from and into Chinese. His Contemporary Chinese Poems were translated from Chinese into Hindi; he collaborated with another translator to translate works in Chinese and Spanish into English. He translated some of the Rabindrasangeet into Chinese and in a way that the songs can be sung. For his translation of Mao — he's translated all the poems - he had to "hunt down books all over China and compiled the anthology from about 15 books." "I had collected them all but sat down to seriously translate and annotate in 2009," he explains, "The Chinese has also appreciate by efforts to classify his works into categories." The 95 poems - Mukherjee had to "weed out" the propaganda slogans - have been classified into sections such as military campaign, anti-soviet revisionism, romantic (Mao has written a few poems for his wife) and ones written in collaboration with others. Mao was translated - that too from English - for purposes of propaganda in Bengal earlier.

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