It was with a clear intent that translator and filmmaker Daljit Ami began the creative process of translating Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness to Punjabi. Ami didn’t want Punjabi readers to be denied of the experience of reading Roy’s brilliant and layered work, once he had savoured the last page of the novel.
For more than 18 months, Ami conversed, played, experimented, fought and lived with words to bring Darbar-I-Khushiyan to life and gift his readers an ‘original’ piece of work. “My readers must feel where it is coming from, it is imperative that emotions get translated. Translation is my language and I translate to gain something more, for I have got an opportunity to narrate to you the politics of the language,” shares Ami, whose work was released last month.
The book has been translated in several languages, but Ami read the original in English, many paragraphs over and over again, for he believes the influence must be mediated only by him, and no one else. The fact that it is a novel, not a theoretical book or a recreation like Ami’s previous work, Roll of Honour, it had to be close to the original text and completely honest.
Language, says Ami, is a pool of words and we are practitioners, but at the same time, language is not just text, but its aesthetics are also important. As part of the translation, Ami played with words, created confusion with the verb itself, for he wanted readers to think about a segment where the gender is confused. “Some wondered if it was a typo, while others questioned the usage. The purpose of using language as a sight was achieved,” says Ami.
Roy, observes Ami, works with multiple adjectives, uses many nuances and her language knows no boundaries. Punjabi says Ami, is in the centre of Hindi and Urdu, as he also picked words from Persian and Arabic, for the pool of words is larger and played with words, including ones used in conversations to achieve varied responses.
“Translation is about contemplation and as I experiment with words, I am aware that they must be used to add beauty, lyricism and provide a perspective. I spend a lot of time talking to words to understand if they are working for the text, otherwise I send them back. The effort is to explore how porous the language is,” says Ami.
Roy says Ami, understands the tone of the language and he read out for others to know the tone. Translating the 528 pages, admits Ami, required that his total being was dedicated to the work, as he spent hours in old Delhi to understand the characters and so the book inhabits that place. At the end of the day, he reflects, translation is an incomplete process. “But I can say with utmost happiness that Darbar-I-Khushiyan is definitely my work, it is original, honest to the readers and ‘Darbar’ in the title, as readers will discover, is a word with unlimited meanings.”
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