‘Lost or Found in Translation’ was one among the many enriching panel discussions at this year’s Women Writer’s Fest Kolkata. The panel was being moderated by Dr Julie Mehta and the speakers were Poulami Bose, Ananya Chatterjee and Saheli Mitra.

On challenges in translation

Poulami Bose confesses even though she is not a writer per se, but as a theatre director, she has to work with translated texts. She says, “While working with a translated text I have to reach the thought to the audience. And that is a very tough task. It is also easy because human values such as empathy for fellow beings remain the same throughout the world. The basic condition of human beings around the world is the same. So as a director it is my job to take it from the pages of a book give it a form and bring it to the audience.”

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She recollects working on a direct translation of the play A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and how the American way of life or the social milieu is lost during the translation. However, when they adapted the play to the Bengali milieu it was much easier to reach the audience and connect with them.

Further, the Bharatnatyam dancer said, “As an actor or a dancer, I am also translating words and music into a physical form and with that, I am connecting with the audience. I am basically a performer. Even when I am acting, I am translating the director’s vision.”

As an actor or a dancer, I am also translating words and music into a physical form and with that, I am connecting with the audience.

Dr Julie Mehta, agreed to Bose saying that the dancer becomes the dance when you actually become the piece that you are translating.

Challenges of Translating Poetry

Ananya Chatterjee who is a Software engineer and a gold medallist in computer science and a bilingual poet talks about the challenges of translating poetry to prose. How it is difficult to translate idioms and colloquial expressions and sometimes you have to stick to the theme and not just the correct word. She has written a book The Poet And His Valentine.

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Importance of knowing both languages equally well

Saheli Mitra who is a poet and works on translations from Bengali to English spoke about the challenges and the anxieties of getting it right. How you have to be precise with the theme and cannot overwhelm the work with your feeling.

Unless and until you know the two languages, the language from which you are translating, and the language to which you are translating it is very difficult to get hold of the vocabulary.

The once student of environmental biology began by saying, “For any person who is doing a translation it is important to understand and know the language.” She recollects how it was a coincidence that got her writing for a Bengali magazine Desh. She alludes the credit of being a bilingual writer to her initial grooming at school.

She says, “Unless and until you know the two languages, the language from which you are translating, and the language to which you are translating it is very difficult to get hold of the vocabulary. Especially Bengali being extremely rich in its literature. It is extremely difficult to find in English the exact words for certain Bengali terms.” She emphasises that you need to be precise with the theme of a book you are translating because the person who is reading the English translation has not read the original work. For the English reader, the book also has to have a flow. That person is only looking at the book as reading an English book.

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