Gandhi’s story, translated in tribal languages

Picture Gandhi, a children’s picture book, has been translated into multiple languages and dialects of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam

October 02, 2019 04:39 pm | Updated 04:42 pm IST

“The language of Miju-Mishmis has been an oral one all this time; the script for it was actually developed in February 2018. Now, children can read in it, too — it might be introduced in school syllabi next year,” says Sokhep Kri over phone from Itanagar. A language with a new script requires both old and new stories to be printed into books. To that end, Kri has translated Sandhya Rao’s Picture Gandhi , a children’s book on Gandhi by Tulika Publications, into the language spoken by many in Arunachal Pradesh.

The translations, set to be released today, are part of Tulika’s attempt to make the book available in five languages endemic to one of India’s most linguistically diverse states, as well as one language of Assam. All the translations — Adi, Apatani, Miju-Mishmi, Nocte, Nyishi and Bodo (Assam) — are set to be unveiled on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary today. “It is mainly a picture book with photos from his life, with speech bubbles containing very simple words. So the translation, as such, was simple. It took me a week or so,” says Kri.

Lisa Lomdak, on the other hand, faced a few obstacles when translating the book into Nyishi — an ethno-liguistic term that denotes both a tribe, and a language which has many variations, some as distinct from each other as Hindi and Bhojpuri would be. “Some concepts in the book, also, are not culturally present here, we do not have words for them,” she points out, “For example, we don’t have a word for ‘prince’, so in a little line that says he was a prince in the eyes of his mother, we retained that one word in English, because children these days are aware of it.” The term ‘non-violence’, on the other hand, took longer discussions. “We have a word for peace, but not for non-violence. So we had to substitute it with a slightly long phrase instead.”

Challenges of those sort, however, are low, since author Sandhya Rao’s original intent for the book is not to delve into Gandhi’s vast and complicated politics, but instead to just familiarise the children of today with the man himself. The idea, says Rao, “is to try to give children a sense of identification with him, by focussing on his years as a child, and laying down concepts like how he was supported by his family, how he gained knowledge, and how he applied it.” After all, she says, “He was the spoilt son of a rich man, but he read and started to learn, and everything he learnt, he tried and applied to himself.” That, she stresses, is the real takeaway.

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