The oldest memory of my grandmother – who happens to be my best friend as well – is her bending over our big wooden desk and writing in long hand. She would fill up page after page in her native language, which though quite similar to what we spoke at home, was really quite complex. She would tell me a bit about what she was writing and I used to think the stories were magical. These were my summer afternoons. As I grew up she explained that these were not her stories, but they were dear to her because of the impact it had in her lives. She would read a book in English and translate them, keeping the sentiments and thoughts alive, to Assamese. A few years back, she got one of those books published – Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, which she had translated more than 12 years back. It took her so many years to be confident of showing the world her writing, even if not her own stories.
My grandmother has a simple reason for translating. She says that every language has literature which is rich, full of ideas and memories of a person. And she, as someone who can speak in two or more languages, must make sure that the people who have no access to these literary classics gets to read them. And similarly, the books which are there is languages the majority of world citizens do not speak in, must be translated to give them a bigger audience. It is more than a hobby – it is a responsibility, she says.
I am not sure exactly who should be a good translator. Should that be someone who is equally conversant in both the languages? Is it someone who feels especially connected to a particular book? Or is it someone who best captures the essence of the author’s work and can give shape to it in another language?
I am learning Spanish right now. It will take me a few years less than an eternity to actually get a grip on the language. And then probably I can translate some of the classics to Indian languages. Not that hundreds of people haven’t already. But either way, the language should also help me read books written in their original script – so that I get exactly what Marquez felt or Zufon wanted or even Murakami tried to explain. No wait, scratch that. Even in Japanese I wouldn’t get the actual meaning of a Murakami novel.