Where this newsletter’s title originated and what you can expect from this new weekly newsletter.
Happy New Year. I hope this year will be kinder to us than the last two have been.
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Thank you for joining this translating and writing journey. For me, literary translation is an act of love, of scholarship, and of activism. I’m hoping to use this weekly space to a) share some of the aha moments that literary translation work has afforded me and fellow translators; b) spotlight works of other translators, both established and emerging; c) encourage community dialogue around specific questions or topics (see my example at the end); d) share on any translation-related opportunities I might come across (awards, fellowships, and such like this one for US-published translations from French to English and due this month.)
The main goal is to explore what works or doesn’t work when we read or translate texts from one language to another. And, more importantly, what that means for us as readers, writers, and translators. Whether you’re here to explore the aesthetic pleasure, emotional reward, or intellectual growth we get from translations, I hope this will be fun and worthwhile. And, no doubt, things will evolve as we go.
This year, I have a translation coming out in the US while I work on another that’s due out in India in 2023. So this newsletter is also about focusing on literary translation as a practice and in a more self-aware manner.
Before I forget, if you’re using Gmail, they like to clip these newsletters halfway through. So please look for the link at the end to read the entire thing.
To start us off, I want to share where the newsletter title comes from. In 2020, when my first translation, Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu, came out in India, I wrote a brief essay at Poets & Writers with that title. It was my personal manifesto for literary translation, if you like. Whether you’re a reader, writer, or translator, I believe we are all translators for the reasons I describe therein.
So, related to the above, here’s my first request: please share with me which particular aspect of that essay resonates the most with you. You can reply to me here or you can share on social media and tag me (links to my socials are below) with the hashtag #wearealltranslators. It’ll be a way to get to know each other. And I’ll pick a couple of responses to share in the next newsletter.
Let me close by saying that I really want this newsletter to be of value to all of you. Please send in your specific literary translation questions or topics and I’ll make sure to dedicate space to them. Here’s a quick example of what I’ve been noodling on this week: why translation involves a deeply immersive and active reading approach. This is from a classic Gujarati folktale by the great Jhaverchand Meghani, who worked hard to preserve our oral storytelling traditions by collecting them from all over the state.
Gujarati: “હથિયાર પડિયાર બાંધીને રાજા-પ્રધાન હાલી નીકળ્યા.”
Phonetic: “Hathiyaar padiyaar baandhine raja-pradhan haali nikalya.”
Literal Translation (or the calque): “Fastening weapons and sword sheaths, King-Minister left walking.”
- “પડિયાર/padiyaar” means the sheath of a sword. But it’s highly likely the author used the word here for a poetic, alliterative effect. What he really means is “weapons and armor.”
- “left walking” is inaccurate for two reasons. a) There’s a later reference to thoroughbred horses in this scene. Today’s readers would find it jarring to see “walking” and then the horse reference. b) Kings like the legendary Raja Bhoj wouldn’t walk anywhere (especially not with all their heavy fighting regalia on) and the original author most likely expected his readers to know this. So we need to replace this with “set off on their thoroughbreds.”
Accurate Translation: “Fastening their weapons and armor, the King and his Minister set off on their thoroughbreds.”
NOTE: unfortunately, in English, we lose the lyrical cadence of Gujarati. So I’ve been playing with this sentence to figure out how to make it sound more aesthetically pleasing. Not there yet.
Please don’t forget to introduce yourself with the #wearealltranslators hashtag so I (and the others here) can see and respond.