This month Mahatma Gandhi’s story will be told in a range of tribal languages from the Northeast — in Adi, Apatani, Miju-Mishmi, Nocte and Nishi spoken in Arunachal Pradesh, and Bodo from Assam. Six translators took it upon themselves to translate Picture Gandhi, a 2007 biography of Gandhi for kids, published by independent multilingual Chennai-based publishing house, Tulika Books. On October 2, the books were released by CM Pema Khandu at Itanagar’s IG Park on the occassion of the Mahatma’s 150th birth anniversary.
“It’s a picture book, with text, on Gandhiji’s life by author Sandhya Rao. It’s honest, simple and non-preachy,” says Lisa Lomdak, Assistant Professor at the Rajiv Gandhi University in Itanagar. Lomdak, who along with Yameek Bini Lomdak, translated the book into Nyishi-Kamle, says that while these book are crucial because of the subject, they also mark the beginnings of a tradition of translation in Arunachal Pradesh, one of India’s most linguistically diverse states. Five out of six languages Picture Gandhi has been translated to are from Arunachal Pradesh, while one is from Assam (Bodo).
“Of late, there is an increased encouragement to promote mother tongue in the state. While the government and the local community-based organisations are working towards mother tongue-based education in the school systems, there is still a long way to go,” says Lomdak, “Especially for kids, we do not have literature in their own languages. Most local writers are writing for older readers.” At this juncture, a translation of a book like Picture Gandhi helps, and will even be beneficial to linguistic scholars, according to Lomdak.
The mover behind the project is Sathyanaran Mundayoor, who is famous in Arunchal Pradesh as Uncle ‘Moosa’, for establishing a chain of libraries in the state as part of the Lohit Youth Library Network. “The idea was to promote kids reading in their mother tongues and bring Mahatma Gandhi’s life to the children of different communities of Arunachal Pradesh, in their own languages,” says Mundayoor, who has been working in Arunachal Pradesh for more than three decades. “And while even among different tribal languages, scripts, language patterns differ, the translators hailed from the respective tribes and it was done with support from the local community.”
The languages includes: Miju Mishmi (translated by Sokhep Kri, Director, State Gazetteers, Itanagar), Nyishi (translated by Lisa Lomdak, Professor and Yameek bini Lomdak), Apatani (translated by Dr Ngilang Taley, RBTB Hospital), Adi (translated by Tayom Dai) and Nocte (translated by Dr Pakha Tesia, Psychiatrist and Dr Chatoan Tesia) and Bodo (translated by Dr Genuine Narzary).
The translators had to finish the work in two months. It was quite a task since they were translating some words for the first time. “For example, non-violence. And we had to very cautiuous since in Arunchal Pradesh, each tribe feels very passionately about their own language,” says Lomdak.
Tulika Books made their first foray into the Northeast when in 2014 they published two books in Khasi and Miju Mishmi.