Lost and Found in Translation!

As I reckon the rhetoric hobbling around the phrase ‘lost in translation’ when many translated texts lack the subtlety of the original text, my conscience also suggests a different way out. For many readers, had it been possible to them, the best text to choose to read would be in original form. Unfortunately, the privilege of knowing many languages remains limited to some, let alone multi-lingual mastery. Not to be left out to embrace the beauty of their favorite writers’ work, many choose the texts translated into their languages. In the process, an optimal degree of ‘lost in translation’ strikes these readers most, a fear hovers around their mind, “Am I losing the best thing (of the book) in this translated text?”

Well, in most of the cases, the answer could be yes. In some cases, though, the answer is no!

Nepali translators did an early job (good? to be evaluated) translating some books inspired with political ideas and discourse. If I have to name a foreign book printed and sold as many as original Nepali books, it is undoubtedly Maxim Gorki’s Mother (titled as ‘Aama’ in Nepali). To most of the kids reaching an age to explore the world through reading, ‘Aama’ becomes the most available and the most read book written abroad. Obvious following up books are some more books on communist or Marxist literature. No wonder, why so many communists are in Nepal!

Nepal isn’t rich in translated literature if you let go some old political translations. The reading culture in Nepal is yet to be grow, access to the world’s literature has been limited by the language. In recent years, though, some efforts are being made to change the direction. In this process, a lot of books went lost in translation, while some stood out!

In 2008 Khagendra Sangroula, a Kathmandu based newspaper columnist and author translated John Wood’s book, ‘Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children’ into Nepali. Titled as ‘Microsoft Dekhi Bahun Danda Samma’ the book was very well received by Nepali readers and its selling broke a few records then. John, in his book, shares a lot of stories, aspirations, pain, joy, hopes and dreams about Nepal. Sangroula captured the essence so well: the subtlety of each emotion got very well featured; John’s odyssey in Nepal pushed the translator to go beyond translating but bringing a local voice and context into the translated version. Each of the stories connected to the lives described in the book shook the readers’ inner being amazingly and that in the local language. The result, thus, came beyond the translator or the author had ever thought: Nepali readers flooded the author and the translator with the vibes Nepali translation literature had ever seen. Many readers still describe the book as originally written by Sangroula.

A few years later, an autobiography of a Nepali singer and writer Ani Choying Dolma was translated into Nepali. Originally written in French, Girish Giri, a journalist and author based in Kathmandu translated the book. Titled after Dolma’s most popular song, ‘Phool ko Aankhama’ the book got an overwhelming response from Nepali readers. The sensitivity Nepali translator put into his work not only presented the best readable autobiography but also touched many hearts. The relativity of the book in Nepali context with the right, perhaps the most accurate and heart-pounding choice of words, sentence structure and overall presentation of the stories from the autobiography into Nepali version took Nepali book translation literature into a whole new point above.

In modern translation literature, Sangroula developed a strong foundation and Giri built a treasure out of it. Sangroula and Giri’s work presented Nepali people with a hope, and most importantly scope of translation literature. They proved that translation, in no terms, can be less effective than the original texts. Translated literature can be as sweet and smooth as the original texts, all you need to do is push yourself beyond ordinary.

Works of Sangroula and Giri presented what can be found in translation to Nepali people. The journey of finding in the translation has continued ever since. Many local theaters in Kathmandu are doing excellent jobs these days translating and adopting the world famous plays, which are very well received by the audience and critics alike. While there is more such work to come and heat the readers up, I foresee a bright future for Nepali translation literature, and for Nepali translators!

– Nikunja Bhandari

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