Transporting joy through translation

Updated - October 18, 2016 01:06 pm IST

Published - October 27, 2014 07:59 am IST - MADURAI:

Prof. N. Dharmarajan. Photo:R. Ashok

Prof. N. Dharmarajan. Photo:R. Ashok

For N. Dharmarajan, translation is more than transfer of content from a source language to a target language. It is transportation of the beauty of the original in the target language. It is an endeavour to make the reader experience the fulfilment and pleasure gained by reading the original.

Prof. Dharmarajan has accomplished this through translation of 120 books and 50 short stories over a span of 56 years.

“When a book made me restless and gave a sense of fulfilment, I felt that this pleasure and enjoyment should be available to all who don’t know English. As a young man and a reader, I thought this would be possible through translation,” recalled Prof. Dharmarajan during his recent visit to Gandhi Museum here.

The joy of reading Suddhananda Bharati’s translations of Victor Hugo, Dante, Moliere and Walt Whitman drove Prof. Dharmarajan in a quest for more reading. His visits to West Masi Street in the 1960s to meet S. Ramakrishnan and Raghunathan widened the vistas of knowledge.

His first translation of Irish playwright Sean O’ Casey’s The Worker Blows the Bugle appeared as ‘Uzhaippaliyin Sanganatham’ in Janasakthi in 1958.

The Odyssey of translation continues even today. The most eventful on this journey for the professor of English from Sivaganga were the works of Leo Tolstoy.

He is the only person to have translated all works of Tolstoy, except War and Peace , into Tamil. Translating Tolstoy was a special experience, as “his spirit visited me” while on a visit to his grave in Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy’s family estate in Russia. Perhaps, this “spirit” also inspired him to work as a full-time translator in Moscow from 1980.

The versatile translator, who has infused variety into the art, does not find it difficult to translate a work from an alien culture into Tamil. “Locale and characters may be different. But feelings and problems are universal. Even human behaviour is the same,” he says.

But there is some difficulty in finding exact words in the target language for the original. Here Prof. Dharmarajan has made a remarkable contribution by enriching Tamil vocabulary with new words. Some of the words introduced by him are natppu salugai for favouritism and aram saaramai for amorality.

Prof. Dharmarajan is worried that Tamil translations have come down now.

“In the 1940s, Bengal conquered Tamil Nadu with translations of Bengali writings. In later years, works of Marathi writers like V.S. Khandekar were available in Tamil. There were also Soviet publications. But people should read more translations.”

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