Translation in practice

The term ‘translation’ cannot be translated in one word as it unfolds a number of suggestions. When we use this term in field of literature, it becomes as complicated as life itself.

What is translation? Let us discuss it in detail.

1. Is it replacing one language with another?
2. Is it taking out a piece of literature from one place to another?
3. Is it taking out a piece of literature from one set of readers to another set of readers?
4. Is it taking out a culture to an alien culture?
5. Is it taking out the fauna or flora of one place to an alien place?
6. Is it taking out the political, emotional and social issues to a     new set up?                                                                                       
7. Is it broadening the boundaries of a writer and his writings?
8- Is it expansion of physical boundaries?

The list of questions never ends. In actual fact, the term translation includes all these meanings and even something more than these questions. It is a saying in literature that a writer writes for his/her pleasure or satisfaction. But, in reality readers are always there in the subconscious mind of a writer at the time of creation. So while creating he uses a language for particular set of readers with a particular language. The fauna, flora and physical aspects are always present in the semi-subconscious mind during creation. In the same way readers who have the same wavelength with the writer may read his writing with ease. That is why in most writings communication between writer and reader is almost total. This communication breaks down with a new set of readers as when a reader has to read a new writer belonging to an alien language and an alien place, he has to be a little careful. Please note that I am talking about literary writings, not about popular writings. Popular writings have different intentions and the thrilling story behind them do not give place to reader to think more.

Let us start with poetry translation. When a poet writes, he/she mostly uses the language of the heart, words are mostly in his/her control, and feelings will take the main place, but for translator the same poem cannot be that easy, as he has to search for words and have control over the feelings. Moreover poems do not reveal their complete meaning. More than 50% of the meaning is interiorized in rhythm, tune and sometimes in words themselves. Now the translator has to catch or imagine the interiorized meaning and search similar vocabulary in the target language and produce his version. Thus the translator’s work becomes three-fold. First of all he has to read the poem as a reader, then as a poet and at last as a translator. As a reader he can enjoy the beauty and rhythm, thus can break only the outer covering. Than he has to enter into the skin of the poet, has to imagine the feelings of the poet at the time of creation. This is not an easy job; every translator cannot get success in it. Very few translators can actually get at the original meaning. Reaching at the original meaning is possible only if one likes the poem as well as the poet. Here the translator has to develop an inner passion for target poetry. Now, the translator has to get similar words in his target language, which can reveal the same inner meaning. This is really a tough job as sometimes he has to coin new words. This whole process needs almost 4 to 5 drafts. Still there are so many things to be cared fur. When the translator is the poet himself/herself, he/she has to be careful. The translator should adopt the style of the original poet. I feel that poetry and other writings also have gender. When a male translator translate female writers poem, his writing gender should change. Same way when a female translator translates a male poet, her writing gender should be carefully changed. The most complicated thing is to keep intact the style of the original poet. Every poet develops his/her own style. For example, as a translator I feel my translations of Balamaniyamaa should be different from my translations of Ayyappa Paniker.. More- over, when a reader reads Ayyapa’s translations, they should feel that these are Ayyapa’s poems, not Rati Saxena’s. Because a poet speaks in his poetry there will be so many words and actions and idioms in poetry, which are not possible in the target language. The poet has to face the challenge to find out similar expressions in the target language.

The situation in prose or story is a little different. The story line helps the translator to keep control over the text, but here also he has to be careful about a number of factors. Most of the story lines closely follow a particular time and space. Other factors like fauna, flora, and geographical features as well as the names of animals, birds, food items and dresses etc follow time and space . Now the translator has two options – either he is translating everything into the target language or he is maintaining an original touch. Both ways are difficult: if he changes everything like names of birds, animals, and food habits etc. the reader will not able to get real picture of the original work. There is no doubt that readability in this type of translations will be as good as in the source language, but other factors of translation will be missing. When we translate a piece of literature, our am is not related to literature only. By translation we open a new vision to the reader of an unknown area. It means when we are translating a Chinese story into Hindi (an Indian Language), we are taking our readers to that part of China, making them friendly to Chinese customs, idioms, dress and food habit.. A number are things should be kept in the original form. The readability of this type of translation will be less compared to the original work, as a Hindi reader has to pass through the process of understanding while reading whereas it will be easy for a reader of the original language who is familiar with culture, social, and geographical aspects, In this case the reading of translation becomes a little difficult compared to the reading of the original work. Learning and enjoying, both activities, take place at the same time. That is why here the work of translator’s increases. He has to be extra careful to maintain the readability of the text as in the original. Now, I will explain my point with an example: The traditional marriage system of South India, especially Kerala, is different from that of North India. Along with this the social structure of marriage is also quite different. Kerala’s matrilineal society has so many customs, which are unbelievable for the people of the northern region. A  reader completely unfamiliar to these customs may find little difficulty and may lose grip over the story line. For example, Thakazhi’z Kayar is not easy for a Hindi reader, as it is about a time when Kerala customs were quite rigid and the responsibility of ammavan (maternal uncle is not understandable for a reader from northern India. More over the marriage system of Kerala like “kalyanam” putavadanam, etc are quite strange for readers of the northern region. Thakazhi’s Kayar talks about the time when relations between brother and sister were stronger than relation between husband and wife. In this case the translator has a challenge-whether he has to translate the customs also to the readers if target language or he has to explain the custom of source language. Either way may not be interesting. If he changes the customs, then he is not honest to the original
   work. And describing every custom prevents the reader from achieving full involvement in the text. The translator has to do two things at a time. First, he has to invite the reader to the physical area of source literature and then at the same time take the source literature to the readers of the target language. If he translates the marriage system into the culture of the target language, the importance of the original writing will be lost. So the translator’s job is to take the story to the target readers and at same time invite the readers to the physical area of the source literature. This double duty is not easy for a translator. Thus the translation of prose is also challenging for the translator.

The main challenge comes when the translator has to handle the interiorized meaning of the text. A good translator finds out the way to come out of this challenge also.

By Dr Rati Saxena

An article on poetry by Suma V.S



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