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‘If reading translations in Indian languages can spark curiosity, we can help undo so much of our postcolonial baggage’

Initiated during the lockdown, writer-translator Mohini Gupta’s series of conversations -- ‘Translation Thursdays’ -- has found listeners from across the world

Written by Surbhi Gupta | New Delhi |
October 22, 2020 5:59:51 pm
Season two has seen two conversations till now.

When life moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, conversations accompanied it, and writers and editors spent days engaging with each other and fielding an array of questions from readers over live sessions on Instagram, Facebook and Zoom. Among the many discussions that were initiated, one that found popularity and is still continuing is the series, ‘Translation Thursdays’, hosted and conceptualised by writer-translator Mohini Gupta. It has been renewed for a second season on popular demand. What started as a weekly series under lockdown, now takes place every month.

Today, Gupta will be in conversation with translators Dipa Chaudhuri and Puneet Gupta on translating the Asterix comics directly from French into Indian languages. One could register to view it on Zoom or find it on the Facebook page Mother Tongue Twisters, a multilingual digital collective that Gupta launched. With the aim to reach out to young readers around the country, Gupta curates conversations on languages, literature and translation on the platform.

“Conversations on language and translation lie at the heart of this initiative, along with the idea of sharing curated content in the Indian languages. It was a natural next step to devote a day every week to talking translations. The idea was to draw out literary translators from various languages, from India and other parts of the world, and spread awareness about the process of translation — the joys and challenges of it,” says Gupta, who is currently pursuing a DPhil in Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford.

Today, Gupta will be in conversation with translators Dipa Chaudhuri and Puneet Gupta on translating the Asterix comics directly from French into Indian languages. 

A Charles Wallace India Trust Translator-Writer Fellow in 2017 for writing and translation at Aberystwyth University, she is an alumna of SOAS University of London, Young India Fellowship at Ashoka University and Lady Shri Ram College for Women.

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Meant to be a weekly meeting, where people interested in the subject of translation came together for a discussion, ‘Translation Thursdays’ soon catapulted into a talk series with hundreds of people from different parts of the world signing up for each session. “I never imagined it would garner such widespread interest,” she says.

Season one covered a range of languages from Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali and Manipuri to Welsh, Catalan, French, Spanish, Basque and Kurdish, with noted translators including Jerry Pinto, Rita Kothari, Arshia Sattar, Arunava Sinha, Sampurna Chattarji and Ros Schwartz, among others. “We talked about transcreating across cultures; translating poetry, short stories and novels; translating for young readers; feminist texts in translation; history, memory and oral folk literature in different languages; and translation as activism,” she says. The series started with a group of 12 attendees, soon grew into hundreds of live attendees. This included emerging translators, students, research scholars, professors, publishers, literary professionals, theatre artists and writers from India and other countries like Brazil, UK, Canada, Spain, France, USA and Bangladesh.

As more people started discovering the sessions, a European literary radio channel started featuring their episodes, and an academic wrote about Mother Tongue Twisters as a case study for an academic paper, says Gupta. “But the most rewarding outcome, however, was when some attendees were motivated to translate their first book and have bagged projects through connections from this community,” she said.


With each session, Gupta realised how there is a dearth of initiatives that make literary translation accessible to people. “Publishers are increasingly bringing out and promoting translations, incentivised by awards that are starting to recognise translated literature,” she said.

On why one should read translations, Gupta says, “If reading translations of literature written in Indian languages can spark a curiosity in young people to go back to their own language(s) and engage with it, we can help undo so much of our postcolonial baggage.” However, the first step is “unshackling language hierarchies in our own minds”, she says, and developing a curiosity about other languages and cultures is the next. “In an increasingly polarised and divisive world especially, cross-cultural understanding can be a blessing,” she adds.

Season two has seen two conversations till now — one with Orhan Pamuk’s translator Maureen Freely, who spoke about the Turkish literary landscape; and with N Kalyan Raman, who translated Tamil writer Perumal Murugan’s Poonachi: Or The Story Of A Black Goat. Upcoming sessions include a discussion with Astri Ghosh, who translated iconic playwright Henrik Ibsen from Norwegian into Hindi, on translating theatre.

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First published on: 22-10-2020 at 05:59:51 pm

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