Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Me No Speaky Rubbish Translations

So I've been on this Amrita Pritam kick for the last few days (NO? Really?!) and have been wandering through Delhi's bookshelves di galiyan in search of her like a lost-and-found lover (What? Stalker, you say? Huh? I. Can't. Hear. You.)
I will tell you this: the quest for Amrita is not for the faint-hearted, especially if you're faint-hearted and linguistically challenged like me. Because I don't just want Amrita. I want her in a language I understand. I know this is a travesty - after all, we're talking about poetry, where meanings can shift with every little sentence restructure and certain words, well they just might not exist in the language of your choosing.
I'm willing to make a compromise, though. I'll forgo English. Just give me Hindi, ok? I'll figure out the rest. After all, how far can the leap from Punjabi to Hindi/Urdu be?

Oh God. Huge leap. Huge, huge leap. The kind that makes you stretch so far out you split your inner seams. The kind that hurts so bad, there'd better be a baby at the end of it all. In short, I never thought words would pain me so.

To my uneducated ears, Punjabi has always seemed like a dance between Hindi & Urdu. As Urdu leans in, Hindi sashays out and when Hindi takes the lead, Urdu gracefully accompanies. The two are never out of step & together create something fresh and evocative.
The translation I eventually found was more like those drunken Unclejis who storm dance floors at Delhi weddings. The Hindi is hard and pushy (and strangely reminds me of L.K.Advani's screechy speeches at public rallies). The Urdu pops in and out most jarringly. The musicality & emotional impact of the original is totally lost in the mayhem. 

Now I'm left here like a spurned lover (stalker/ weirdo) with this useless translation filled with cold words. I'm pissed off. I might even commit arson. Create mayhem of my own. Conflagrations of fancy words, jostling with ridiculous college-level humour and needless parentheses (just say 'brackets' will you?). Hell, I'll also throw in some random images because who doesn't like a story with pictures?

This is my ode to Amrita's translator. Take that, bitch.

"I want world peace" ~ L.K. Advani


  1. It is frustrating that we do not have good translations between our own languages. What about a transliterated version? Thats what I use for Urdu, my Urdu reading skills being at level 1.

    Point to note, is that Punjabi developed as a language in its own right, currently scholars trace it back to about 1000 BC, one of the oldest on the subcontinent, directly from Vedic language compared to the Sanskrit-Prakrit-Hindi route. Of course there is much likeness, but also a greater than expected difference when encountering pure Punjabi, for instance written by Amrita Pritam. Also it is almost the only Indo-European language to be tonal.

  2. Who is the translator?

  3. @bawa: Thank you for reading and contributing to this blogpost. Yes, I think transliteration is the next best thing...even though I'm at level 1 of understanding Punjabi.

    @Rina Sen: It doesn't say who, in the book (which in hindsight should have been a good indicator of how bad the translation was going to end up being.)