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K.S.Sivakumaran's columns!

Connecting through translations !

by K.S. Sivakumaran 

Ian Goonethileke: Sri Lankan intellectuIn a multi-language, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, country like ours, if we were to have a common identity as Sri Lankans, it is absolutely essential that all of us feel that way without any fear of one dominating the other and that all are equals as citizens. But this had not been so for more than five decades plus.This was due to partly ignorance of the other, partly communal political policies devoid of national interests, partly resting purely on the glories of the past, partly fear of the other, partly distance, partly not knowing thoroughly the language of the other.Rabid and ultra-nationalism, insurrections, suppression by Armed Forces, militancy, and now belated realisation of reality had been the pattern. If things go well, a lot of thinking and execution of the right ideals should be hastened. 

One of the ways a rapprochement could be achieved is understanding each of us. Despite commonality even in the languages we speak, there seems to be an alienation of each other. If language and religion are the basics of culture in a broader sense, then we could modify our definitions to accommodate the other. That's not difficult. It is possible, because the humans are the same anywhere. 

The blood is the same. The lungs are the same (as one Army officer in a Bosnian film says). So it is our attitudes that matter. 

Our mindset should be made flexible. Rigidity, conservatism, tradition, individuality, extremism - these have been subject to changes in almost all parts of the world over a period of time and that was for the better. Nations, states, governments, electors, people at large - all become dynamic. What is important is the concern for the humankind. 

Having let out my steam, may I now focus on translations. In the absence of direct communication between and among people of different entities, an attempt to connect with each other could be made through translations. 

To do this we need trained translators of different subjects and specialists in the particular fields. We don't have sufficient number of people proficient in all languages like Sinhala, Thamil, English, Arabic and so on. 

We have a few bilingual translators (English/Sinhala, Sinhala/English, English/Thamil, Thamil/English, Sinhala/Thamil, Thamil/Sinhala, Arabic/Thamil, Thamil/Arabic, Arabic/Sinhala, Sinhala/Arabic - and a few of other foreign languages). 

Most of these translators are not professionals but who have been working in government institutions. I started my career as a Thamil translator for the then department of Local Government Service Commission, and later for the News Room of the then Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation. 

But such translators perform only official translations. There is no creativity involved. However, a few people were engaged in translations of creative works too. But this was far and far between. 

Creative writing like fiction, poetry, drama and even nonfictional writing in one language could be made available to the other in that language they understand. Writing is universal. Writers as sensitive people speak the same language of the human condition as understood by the common people. If literature is the mirror of life in any quarter of the world, then translations of such writing could be a communicating link. 

Gratiaen Trust 

It is in this context, a matter of great relief, has drawn my attention. May I speak about this a little? We learn that the Gratiaen Trust instituted by Lanka born Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje inaugurated the H.A.I. Goonethileke Prize for Translation on May 8. This coincided with the first anniversary of the death of the great librarian and intellectual, Ian Goonethileke. 

There are three features that should be recorded: The first, the publication of A Lankan Mosaic I by the Three-Wheeler Press of the Gratiaen Trust - a volume of translations of Sinhala and Thamil short stories edited by Ashley Halpe, M.A. Nuhman and Ranjini Obeysekere, the second on Translations and the third on Ian Goonetileke. 

In her foreword to this volume referred to above, Ranjini Obeysekere makes fine observations on the art of translation. Some excerpts: "These stories which reflect the lives and emotions, the daily realities of each of those worlds are in a small way an attempt to build connections between those desperate groups many of whom neither know nor can understand the other. 

I believe that literary works, more than sociological documents sensitize us to the lives thoughts and emotions of others - in an intensely personal way...." She adds: "Translation may be a very different activity from creative writing but I believe that to do a good translation requires both a sound knowledge of two languages and a certain kind of creativity. It is perhaps even more difficult because one has to transfer or recreate the nuances of another's text. 

"One interesting usage now is transcreation". Ranjini informs that "Robert Lowell called translation an act of 'transcreation' i.e., both a 'transference' and a 'creation', which it is. "And she also rightly adds that". Today, on our world of expanding global communications, translations have become the currency of exchange in the transference of knowledge." 

The volume of translated short stories of Lankan Sinhala and Thamilian writers has excellent introductions. One, by a respected scholar in English, who is also a creative writer, translator and dramatist among other notable achievements - Ashley Halpe'. 

The critic Halpe' is as informed as any other scholar in Sinhala (K.N.O. Dharmadasa for instance) when he discerns the characteristics of the Sinhala story writers. The other introduction is by a sensitive poet, translator and literary historian in Thamil, M. A. Nuhman. 

He briefly traces the trends in Thamil short story writing in Sri Lanka in almost an acceptable way. However, I do not know why he allowed wrong spelling in English of the Thamil titles of some short stories translated into English. 

Examples: Mannoodu Pooy (Mannoadu Poey), Muunru (Moontru), Koolarupathikam (Koalaru Pathikam), Vadikkal (Vadihal), Ja du Thoodai (Kaadu th Thoadai), Neeyam (Neayam). And why did he conveniently ignore a note on one of the Thamil translators, whose two translations appear in such an important collection? I do not know why. 

Writers of importance in contemporary Lankan literature have done a good job in translating some of the difficult stories into English. I particularly appreciated the translation of Ranjini Obeysekere, Carmen Wickramagamage, Gamini Haththotuwegama, Kumari Goonesekere, A. T. Dharmapriya, A. J. Canagaratna, S. Pathamanathan and S. Sivasegeram. 

Creative translations

As one of the three panel members of the H. A. I. Goonetileke prize for translation 2003, the academic from the University of Peradeniya, Carmen Wickramagamage made a pertinent speech in her address at the function on May 8. 

She said "translation is not just about opening the proverbial window to worlds unlike our own, but also about expanding the boundaries of socio-cultural universes that we ourselves inhabit because we learn of, and even learn from people, who may be unlike us in the way they think, feel, and have their being." 

Wickramagamage pointed out that the maintenance of the operative word equivalence (as stated by Roman Jackobson in his dictum: translation involves two equivalent messages in two different codes) - namely - equivalence in difference is the cardinal problem for all translators. 

Perfect literal translation is not possible, she said. Bringing in the idiomatic flavour that is characteristic to the original should be rendered and not mere word to word and she gave examples. The judges were looking at the translation as an exercise in comparative creativity. 

According to the speaker, in the translation of creative works for an educated adult readership, the translator is freer to experiment because he is not catering to the needs of a special audience. 

She explained the criteria for judgement: (1) The translator should have a good idea about the extent to which the writer of the original work deployed the resources of the source language and culture. 

(2) The translator should demonstrate his competence in locating equivalent resources in the target language. (She added that in other words, we wanted to see if the translator had created the best possible home for the source text in the target langauge and culture). 

(3) The degree to which the translators were able to balance the demands and requirements of the source text and target language. 

(4) A good test for translator competence was the way the translators tackled fixed expressions, idioms and proverbs. 

(5) A translator's feel for the texture of the language must include an understanding of the way language works - where an expression has lost its purely referential function and has taken on figurative dimensions the speaker also referred to creative transportation. 

(6) The function of the translator is to minimise loss in translation. (I am reminded of a popular film title Lost in Translation). 

Carmen's underlying point was that "The home that the translator creates for the source text in the host language should not be identical to the other homes of the host culture, but, instead, stand out to some extent. But on the other hand, it should not be so faithful to the original or source text, that it could only be understood through reference to the original." 

She reminded that a translation, especially into a language like English, puts the text into circulation among a culturally diverse community of readers dispersed globally and united only on the basis of their competence in English. 

Finally she wrapped her address indicating that the decision-making role of the translator was not limited to the text, and that he also has to decide to what extent one must retain the foreignness of the foreign (Andre Berman) when it comes to translation and to what extent one must let go of the alien and foreign in the interest of producing a readable text. 

Tissa's tribute to Ian 

Academic, critic and fine prose writer, Tissa Jayatillaka focused on H. A. I. Goonetileke's standing in Lankan intellectual climate in his speech at the inauguration of the Prize for Translation in honour of Ian Goonetileke under the aegis of the Gratiaen Trust. 

The prize, however, was not granted for 2003. I wish to highlight some aspects of Ian through the perspective of Tissa. Before I do that may I recall a pleasant moment I enjoyed sometimes in 1975. 

This was in regard to my meeting Ian for the first time. In 1974, I published a little booklet titled Tamil Writing in Sri Lanka, a collection of critical comments on Lankan writing in Thamil with a foreword by the late Mervyn de Silva and the late K. Kailasapathy. 

Both encouraged my writing and most of the articles in the book were originally published in the Daily News, when he was the editor in the 1970s. I was not sure whether that little book could find a place in Peradeniya's great library. 

So, one day, I walked into Ian's portals, introduced myself and smiled. He sprang from his seat and reach for the bibliography showed me the entry on my book and then greeted me formally. He was so knowledgeable even on small contributions is an understatement. 

The following is a collection of bullet points from Tissa Jayatileke's address: "Ian Goonetileke (1922-2003) was one of the finest 20th century Sri Lankan intellectuals and one of the most productive members of the academic community. Moral courage independent judgement and single-minded pursuit of the ideal were his human and humane qualities that exemplified his personality. 

He was a fine cricketer and graduated in early 1940s... A. C. G. (Ikey) Abeywardene and Herbert Keuneman influenced him deeply... E. F. C. (Lyn) Ludowyk had a significant impact on him... Ian held that both Keuneman and Ludowyk drank deep of the 'Sinhala-Buddhist' culture and tradition in the best manner available... Thoreau's Walden, Scott and Helen Nearings' The Good Life were also a seminal influence. 

Between 1953 and 1966 he worked in the University of Peradeniya's Library and obtained his FLA. He published five volumes of Bibliography of Ceylon... Ian was a very close personal friend of the '43 Group... Portrait of Ian by foremost living painter Stanley Kirinde hangs in the Library of Peradeniya... Thanks to Ian's labours, the Peradeniya Library yet remains intact as the premier repository of knowledge and distilled wisdom in our island. Ian was invited in 1982 help rebuild the Jaffna Public Library... 

K.S.SivakumaranHe resigned prematurely in July 1979 from his post of Librarian... On his 75th birthday in 1997, Ian formerly bequeathed to Peradeniya his priceless 60 year collection of books, journals, pamphlets, off prints and other documents of an academic nature, paintings and other art objects such as metal and wood and as well as some replicas in plaster... and his personal letters... He was disillusioned with the then university administration...". "It was his conquest of himself, to me his finest hour," concluded Tissa Jayatileke in his fine speech. 

To me bibliographies, translations, creative writing all have connections with each other to connect with the 'other' 

Contact: kssivan316@hotmail.com
Courtesy: Daily News(SriLanka)

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