Nagaland: ‘Each translator has a story to tell’

Dr Moushumi Kandali in conversation with L Somi Roy, Srinath Perur and Vivek Shanbhag during the final day of 'The White Owl Literature Festival & Book Fair at the Plaza, Zone Niathu by the Park on February 10. (Morung Photo)

Dr Moushumi Kandali in conversation with L Somi Roy, Srinath Perur and Vivek Shanbhag during the final day of 'The White Owl Literature Festival & Book Fair at the Plaza, Zone Niathu by the Park on February 10. (Morung Photo)

Panel discussion delves into ‘dilemma’ of translating each word without changing its meaning

Morung Express News
Chümoukedima| February 11

Three noted translators— Srinath Perur, Vivek Shanbhag and L Somi Roy delved into the deep world of translation during the final day of ‘The White Owl Literature Festival & Book Fair’ which was held at the Plaza, Zone Niathu by the Park in Chümoukedima.

In conversation with Dr Moushumi Kandali under the theme, ‘Lost in translation?” the panellists held an engaging conversation as they talked about how each translator has a story to tell, the ‘dilemma’ they face in translating each word without changing its meaning, all the while concurring that in the end, “for all the differences we make about languages, we are humans and human experiences can be conveyed to other human beings.”

Roy who is a cultural conservationist and curator, and writes on film and culture said translation between Indian languages is ‘very important’ as it helps each language provide a window— a different way of thinking, a world view that is specific to that community.

“Every tribe in Nagaland has a world view that is specific to that particular tribe and by losing a language we close our window,” he pointed out.

Observing that translation opens one’s minds, Roy said the process itself is self-referential for him when he translates, because “I am always thinking what this language that I am translating from is. It also makes me aware of what is this English that I am translating into. It’s an ongoing questioning although there is no solid final answer to it.”

Sharing his work, Roy said he translates from North East Indian language to English. “We do not belong to the Indo-European languages which is the dominant and highly predominant kind of language that we have in India. But we belong to a different language (family) called Tibeto-Burman and Tibeto-Burman and Indo-European languages have nothing in common and come from different families,” Roy explained.

He further said that  the Manipuri, Mizo, Kuki-Chin languages and the Naga languages all belong to the Tibeto-Burman languages, which is highly variegated in about 400 languages, of which only about 10 have written scripts, one of which is Manipuri. 

He viewed translation as an interesting cultural investigation, even as he pointed out that translation is working with someone else’s work, hence one has to be ‘very careful.’ Likewise, he opined that only poets can translate poetry.

For Shanbhag, a story writer, novelist and playwright in Kannada, “When you translate, we need to understand what is beneath the text as what looks profound in one language looks silly in another language.”

He spoke on the challenges of having to pick a word that has more than one meaning, which along the way may have lost its original theme, terming the art as "complex." Shanbhag underscored the importance of knowing "who your readers are while translating." 

He went on to say that translation has helped him to understand his craft to some extent because "when you write in a language you take many things for granted" and being aware of that is an important thing for a writer, because one is very subtle and one operates at a different level. “When a work gets translated, that makes me aware of certain aspect of  the craft.”

Perur, a reputed translator from Kannada to English and writer on science and travel, said the process of translating to him, is like unspooling something that is being knit, “and the reader will get a different stitch.” Hence, he pointed that it is the structure of the language that determines what actually makes sense.

He recalled how he was encouraged to speak more in English at home while growing up, in order to get a command over the language better, which made him think that the other languages were "cool."

Perur also dwelled on how much liberty a translator can take, stating that different languages have a different way of thinking. For him, he does not consider himself to be lost in translation or gain, but rather as a shift.

According to him translation is "very context specific," and hence it poses a great challenge because there are clashing ways of thinking in different languages.