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When No Way is No Way

Sandhya Rao

Just when we were sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves about a monster deadline as we hopped between one translator and the next across eight languages and nine different texts, inclusive of idiosyncrasies, there arrived in the post a long-delayed CD with matter for the Chinese edition of a title.   The entire office collected around the computer as the pdfs began to play. Total silence. The youngest, possibly the coolest, quickly cut through the air saying, “It must be because they cannot write the word in Chinese. They use a pictorial system, don’t they?” Wherever there was supposed to be a proper name, the word appeared in Roman script, not Chinese. Even in the title. So Takdir the Tiger Cub1 was written as ‘the Tiger Cub (in Chinese script) Takdir (in English script)’. In other words, the word Takdir was not written in Chinese script at all. In that case, how would those who read only Chinese, read this word? Other proper names too, such as Choti, Badi, Bindi, were in English script. Does this mean, then, that there is no way to write non-Chinese words in Chinese, especially proper names? How then will Chinese children read other region-specific words? What about learning about other cultures in terms of those cultures themselves? Or, was it that this particular translator had a problem? We had no one to check with and no more time. Well, here was one more thing to worry about.   No, translation is “not an eassy joke”, even after ten years of hardcore, hands-on experience because Murphy’s Law always operates. It shows up glaringly in picture books with their relatively briefer texts because the margin for error here is non-existent. Marketing sees translation as positively unfunny, but let’s not get into that now except to observe that a couple of big publishers have stopped doing Indian languages. Possibly the first and most important mantra is this: Text is subservient to the reader. Does it follow that you can freely stray from the path of the original text? Of course not. Text is subservient to the reader, and translator is subservient to the text. Never mind what translation theorists might say, our experience with translating books for children is that all paths have to be trod, simultaneously — spirit, letter, meaning, aesthetics, everything. We do not have the luxury of indulgence because our reader is a child ...

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