Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Accidental Translator

30th September is celebrated as International Translation Day. It was launched as an idea to show solidarity of the worldwide translation community in an effort to promote the translation profession in different countries. This is an opportunity to display pride in a profession that is becoming increasingly essential in the era of progressing globalisation. Pratham Books' language editors and translators are celebrating this day through a series of blog posts.

(This post was written by Madhu B. Joshi prefers to be known as a communication practitioner. She sees a great need for demystification in daily life and has been trying to work towards it. She has taught translation and a short, self-designed course of Indian Culture; mentored content teams of major education NGOs and designed educational audio-video programmes for CIET, NCERT. Joshi is a translator of Hindi poetry and short fiction in English and has presented major black feminist writers in Hindi. She is also a prolific and visionary collaborator of StoryWeaver. All of this, and we also know and love the other मधु बी. जोशी (in her own words)... जो खाना पकाना, इलाज करना, पौधे और कुत्ते पालना, राय देना.. जैसे बहुत से मुफ़्त काम करती हैं। उन्हें सब से ज़्यादा मज़ा बच्चों के लिए काम करने में आता है और वह इसका कोई मौका नहीं चूकतीं।)

My interest in translation is the result of two socio-political accidents. A very courageous father and a supportive family allowed me to turn crisis into opportunities; I shudder at the thought of my contemporaries who suffered what I did.

I was in school in Delhi. Teaching science in Hindi in Government run schools was high on the agenda of the government at that time. In 1969, when I needed to choose the medium of instruction as a science student, coming from the hardcore Hindi-Hindustani following family, I chose Hindi over English. I had been educated in Hindi Medium government schools, most of my English came from my father, an ex-Royal Navy man in rough circumstances he had never expected to be in.

In earnest I (and hundreds of thousands other Delhi students) began to study science subjects in Hindi. The catch was, except for about three volumes of Biology books published by the NCERT, there were few CBSE syllabus compatible science textbooks available in Hindi. I remember our maths, chemistry and physics teachers who had studied in UP and Madhya Pradesh recommending some books that were compatible with the Intermediate/Secondary Board syllabi of those states; we supplemented that list with available books in English. As a result, we ended up reading in English and writing our answers in Hindi.

I had a good command of written and spoken English and Hindi, still my grades fell. I passed my Higher Secondary exam with not exactly flying colours. But I had unwittingly acquired translation skills and a deep respect for, and interest in facilitating communication.



Years earlier, seeing my interest in singing, my closet music-lover father sent me to the neighbourhood aunties who taught music and dance to about a dozen Bengali girls. The aunties were shocked to see a Garhwali girl wishing to be their student. In that gormint clony of Dilli, whoever had heard of a Garhwali girl wishing to sing? They refused point blank, “we only teach Bengali girls.” That was the end of my music dream. In school, the dumbest of children chose music and art as subjects. There was no other music education available in the vicinity. I followed the only course available to me - AIR was giving so much music for free, I learnt my music from Manna Dey, Mohammad Rafi, Malika Pukhraj, Begum Akhtar, Asa Singh Mastana, Salil Chowdhury, Madanmohan......

Much later I guessed the good aunties had not been able to communicate that they only taught Raubeendro Shaungeet which no one else in our clony showed the least interest in. I am sure they would have taught me just as well as they taught the rest of their students had they only known I wished to learn music irrespective of the brand.

These two incidents made sure I did a certain amount of translation besides other things.

Illustration courtesy : Priya Kuriyan

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