The art and craft of translation
Translation is a very interesting craft which requires proficiency in languages one is working with, a good understanding of the cultures those languages represent and also a fair degree of understanding of the target audience. Without this critical mix of skills and abilities, translations can turn out to be pedantic, boring, literal and forced pieces of writing which conveys nothing worth enjoying. Here, Rajesh Khar, editor, Pratham Books, shares more about translations in conversation with Varsha Verma. AABP: India is a multi-lingual country. How challenging or exciting it is?
Rajesh: Every kind of diversity is special and I really feel that the diversity of languages and therefore cultures in our country is a very exciting phenomenon. I have enjoyed every thread of it and yes, it does pose some challenges but overall it is something to celebrate and to be ecstatic about. When you travel across India, you see different people eating different food, wearing different sort of clothes, living in their own different ways and speaking different languages. It is all so interesting – their clothes, their rituals, their festivals, their entire way of life and the most distinguishing feature there is the language. The sheer number of languages that people speak in India creates a unique tapestry of expressions, traditions, histories, politics, literature, wisdom and threads of human evolution itself. I have always been fascinated with this linguistic diversity of my country.
AABP: How easy/difficult it is to find good translators? Are there any translation courses they can pursue to enhance their skills?
Rajesh: In m personal experience of dealing with languages and translations, I have found that good translators are not easy to find. Finding good and efficient translators is equally difficult if not more, than finding original authors in those languages. Most good translators for the children’s books are usually teachers, authors, editors, theatre persons, journalists and people who have been working with children. Translation is a very interesting craft which requires proficiency in languages one is working with, a good understanding of the cultures those languages represent and also a fair degree of understanding of the target audience. Without this critical mix of skills and abilities, translations turn out to be pedantic, boring, literal and forced pieces of writing which conveys nothing worth enjoying. And like any other craft, translation requires practice, a lot of it.
Translation courses are offered in many colleges and universities abroad, however in India, we have only a handful, literally handful of institutions where one can learn the basics. These include IGNOU, JNU, Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Central Bureau of Translation and some universities.
AABP: What has been your biggest professional reward?
Rajesh: As a translator, I have had my moments of delight when people have liked whatever I had translated. This includes my mother, my close friends and colleagues who always have generously praised my pieces. My colleague Mala Kumar, who also happens to be a well known children’s author and a journalist liked my translation of her English story ‘Paper Play’, so much that she wrote a mail to me saying that my Hindi translation read better than her original story. Of course, she was too generous with her words but for me such words coming from an author are very precious. Similarly my ex colleague and head of content Manisha Choudhry had complete confidence in my sensibility as a translator and would ask me to read her Hindi translations before signing them off. That meant a whole lot to me. My translations have been liked by people like Dr. Madhav Gadgil, who are very particular about how their stories should read in other languages. I have translated one of his stories, Muchkund and His Sweet Tooth which is about a delicate ecological balance between flowers, fruits, bees, bears and forest. He liked it and had approved it without asking for any changes. I feel moments like these are very fulfilling and are the highest professional rewards one can hope to get.
AABP: What advice would you give to an upcoming translator?
Rajesh: I am hardly in a place to give advise but yes I can definitely share my experiences as a translator. Over the years I have learnt that translation works in conjunction with good language capability and sound cultural understanding. It is imperative to read, feel and experience the written words fully. This can only happen after one has observed and experienced the different cultures existing all around us. Reading books, watching plays & movies, listening to good music, appreciating art forms, appreciating nature, talking to people…all of this help us find the appropriate words when we sit down for translation.
AABP: Are there any pitfalls to avoid in the translation business?
Rajesh: Yes there sure are pitfalls and the most dangerous ones in my understanding are doing an espresso-job-of-translation, missing out on the actual inherent texture and detail of the original piece and using too big or too difficult words.
AABP: What’s unique or interesting about any particular language combination?
Rajesh: What is unique or interesting in a pair of languages one is working with is completely subjective. For example, one might pick up a piece for translation just because the sheer difficulty of transporting that particular piece in the target language is challenging in itself. One may pick up a piece because it is such an interesting piece of work that it compels one to translate it. In my opinion, every language is unique in its own rights and when we think about the prospect of translating a story from it to another language, it automatically becomes a challenging task and therefore very interesting. In general terms, it is slightly easier to translate from one to another Indian language as compared to translating from English.
AABP: What’s your funniest translation story?
Rajesh: I haven’t got any funny instance or anecdote to share however, I am very lucky that I do translations of children’s story and many children’s stories are usually funny. I have translated a number of very funny ones which include Hatchu Hatchu by Sharada Lolluru, Too Many Bananas & Too Much Noise by Rohini Nilekani.