CHENNAI: How does one translate Tamil phrases like Katrulla podhe thootrikol? Does one make a literal translation or replace it with the suitable English adage ‘Make hay while the sun shines?’ This is often the conundrum that Tamil to English translators are stuck with. What if it’s a phrase privy only to the Tamil language like Oththa kaal la nikkiran?
It automatically falls into the multitude of other words, retaining a sense of Je ne sais quoi or something that just can’t be pinned down easily in a phrase. Such is the quality of Tamil as was revealed on Sunday where translation as a whole was discussed at length by translators and writers Padma Narayanan and Kalyan Raman.
They were speaking on the theme ‘Transporting the nuances of Tamil words to an English-speaking world’ organised by Madras Mag and Luz House.
“The first draft is only a faithful copy to the original. But by the third draft it automatically becomes a third language, a language of the translator, when you start looking for nuances and start embellishing it,” said Padma, who has translated many works including ‘The seventh world’ by Jeya Mohan and ‘Poison roots’ by Indira Parthasarathy.
According to her, some original words can be retained, while some can be explained by the translator. There is no hard and fast rule as the decision to do so comes after poring through and assaying the context deeply.
In essence, what both translators revealed was the fact that translation is a language by itself. “I have learnt as many languages as the number of books I’ve read. Every translated work is unique and speaks its own language,” added Padma.
“Every time we translate, we make it conform to the present tongue. Mahabharata for example, is being translated through the ages right up till now,” said Kalyan Ram, who in his arsenal of translated works has worked on over 250 works of Tamil poetry.