THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Did you know that the bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki could have been averted if it was not for the folly of a translator? The notorious term was ‘Mokusatsu’, (‘Silence’ or ‘Withholding Comment’) which was the reply Japan gave to the US in response to their letter demanding surrender, refusal of which could lead to serious consequences. Unfortunately, the term also carried the meaning ‘not worthy of comment’ or an utter denial to surrender, and this was how the allied leaders translated it. Thus a mistranslated word finally lead to the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This was one of the interesting anecdotes given by Dr M R Thampan, director, Kerala Bhasha Institute, and the occasion was a literary workshop on translation, which was held as part of the international book fair and science festival at Kanakakkunnu Palace grounds in the city on Tuesday.
Continuing his speech, he added that literary translation is not a simple task as one small word can have lots of meanings. He also stated that a language needs to imbibe elements from other languages rather than choosing to stay original. Elaborating further, he gave the examples of both English and Sanskrit. He said, “While one has been influenced by elements from other languages, resulting in it becoming an official language, the latter which stayed original has eventually almost perished.”
Next to speak was Prof E Krishnan, Math professor, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research. Starting on a witty note, he spoke about the instances when he encountered funny and unlikely long Malayalam translations for geometrical shapes and symbols. Another anecdote which he shared was of the time when he discovered that the term locust also implied to a species of beans rather than the swarm of crop destroying pests.
He even added wittingly, “The phrase in the Bible which says ‘He partook of locusts and honey’ may have meant the beans, though we thought of it as the crop-destroying insects. Such is the power of translation.”
The workshop was conducted by the Kerala Bhasha Institute in collaboration with National Translation Mission, Mysure.
Jancy James, former Vice-Chancellor, Central University of Kerala, inaugurated the event. Professor V Saratchandran Nair, director, National Translation Mission, Mysure, delivered the keynote address. Also present were translators M P Sadasivan and Sunita Balakrishnan.
The International Book Fair and Science Festival which started on Saturday will be on till November 16. Professor A P J Abdul Kalam is scheduled to release 101 books on November 14 as part of the fair.