Five years to acquire the rights for the Hindi versions, 24 hours to find the people who will translate it from French to Hindi, and another four years to get the first four albums out. You can get a fair idea of what we were attempting,” says Dipa Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, Om Books International, one of the two-member team who have worked to get a Hindi version of the famed Asterix comics. The other part of the duo is Puneet Gupta, who has earlier translated Tintin to Hindi. We caught up with the duo at the residence of French Ambassador to India, Alexandre Zigler, where the comics were launched recently.
The shenanigans of Asterix and his friend Obelix in their coastal village of Gaul, have shaped the popular culture of France and beyond. Created by Rene Goscinny and Albert Urdezo in 1959, the series has been translated in about 111 languages. Gaulwasi Asterix, Sone Ki Darati, Asterix Aur Gothwasi and Asterix Talwarbaaz are the four respective titles, priced at Rs 295 each, published by Om Books. “One needed to be completely immersed in the over-arching narrative of the series, and not simply translating it one album at a time. Something that happened to a particular character in the first one might resurface in the 17th one; one had to be a fan. And since they are the most widely read comics in the world, we couldn’t be trivial,” says Gupta.
In Hindi albums, we see an interesting mix of serious Hindi words such as yodha (warrior), bhojan (food) and vaegyanik (scientist) with colloquial words and phrases such as junglee (wild), kadahe (cooking wok) and dhool chataana (beat up). “The Romans spoke a higher form of the language, while the Gauls were tribals, who couldn’t speak the same purified form. The Germans spoke a much more guttural form, so we deliberately gave these different dialects of sorts,” shares Gupta. “Lets not forget the social context: Asterix and Obelisk would speak to each other differently as they were friends, but they won’t speak to Getafix, the village druid, the same way,” adds Chaudhuri.
Most of the humour in the series come from the caricatured names and word play. A lot of European stereotypes are also played up. The Gauls have the suffix of ‘ix’, the Romans, ‘us’, and the Goths, ‘ic’. Getafix became, Oshidhix, a Roman commander is named Ati Atmavishwasus and a Gothic character is called Langotdharic. “While, of course, getting the cultural context and word play was important, we needed to be careful with Hindi, as it is syntactically longer than French. We needed words that would fit in the designated speech bubble,” adds Chaudhuri, who holds a MPhil in French literature from Universite Paris Diderot.
Another thing the translators had a tough time dealing with was translating the sounds. “Each linguistic system has a different sound. So while we had different accents to factor in for Roman, Germanic and Egyptian, we also had to get the drunk accent right, as the Gauls were drunk half the time. We had to get the slur in place,” says Chaudhuri, 57.
Many Bollywood songs, with some tweaks have found their way into the albums. We see a rendition of Ore maajhi (Bandini) and Jeena yahan (Mera Naam Joker). “The bard, Cacofonix, in Talwarbaaz Asterix, sings Jeena yahan, marna yahan, iske siva, gaana kahan. He sings this is an arena, surrounded by the Romans, and the gladiators are getting killed around him. I think people will recall that this song was sung by Raj Kapoor standing in a circus arena,” says Gupta, 50.
The translation is yet another step into what is being seen as a resurgence of Hindi. “We wanted to create something using the material of the highest kind, something that will last for posterity,” says Gupta.