The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 | ‘Translation is like a journey which has many stages’

U.S.-based Hindi-Urdu translator Daisy Rockwell, who won the Booker Prize in 2022 for her translation of Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand, interacts with K. Srilata at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024

Updated - January 28, 2024 09:41 am IST

Published - January 27, 2024 07:07 pm IST - CHENNAI

Doubled Distilled Fiction Daisy Rockwell in conversation with K. Srilata  at The Hindu Lit for Life 2024 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Saturday.

Doubled Distilled Fiction Daisy Rockwell in conversation with K. Srilata at The Hindu Lit for Life 2024 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Saturday. | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

During the Lit For Life session on “Double Distilled Fiction” at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 on January 27, U.S.-based Hindi-Urdu translator Daisy Rockwell, who won the Booker Prize in 2022 for her translation of Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand from Hindi to English, said a translation is successful when it stands on its own.

To be able to engage deeply with another text and create the translated literature as a delightful and evocative read set in the milieu of the original text is a challenge. A Ph.D. in South Asian literature, after Ms. Rockwell strayed into Hindi in college, she never left it and has created greater awareness about the richness of Hindi literature by translating classic literary works such as Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas and Krishna Sobti’s A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There. Conversing with K. Srilata, Ms. Rockwell, a linguaphile who has also studied French, Latin, ancient Greek, and German, said when she started translating Hindi novels, she knew nothing about India. “Translation is like a journey with many stages. My magic number is usually 10 drafts when I reach the stage of the original text becoming a good English text,” she said.

Asked how she selects the books for translating, she said the text often chooses her. “The language has to interest me and the power of the narrative has to be simple and draw me,” she said and added, “Translation is a process and I analyse it like a scientist.”

Read our live updates of The Hindu Lit Fest 2024, Day 2

Translating Tomb of Sand was like unravelling a sweater using different yarn for Ms. Rockwell. When you have the comfort of knowing the author, it helps. “I had to play along Geetanjali’s word play, her style of writing; she breaks grammar and conventional story telling and English is a global language with vast readership and I have to bring in the diversity,” she said.

“To be able to retain the authentic flavour of the Hindi text comes with responsibility,” added Ms. Rockwell, who took 10 years to understand and feel comfortable in Hindi, and finds contemporary writing more difficult.

Describing translation as a lonely business, Ms. Rockwell expressed happiness that translated works and translators are becoming more visible now.

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