The United Nations celebrates September 30th as International Translation Day to honor translators for their work, bringing people together and promoting friendship and understanding.
Translated books have always existed and are becoming more popular than ever. But that’s especially true of adult books. Children’s literature is still lagging behind. Too bad, because if you think about it, some of the most popular classic children’s books have made their way into English from other languages. Tintin by Herge, Asterix by Goscinny and Uderzo, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Heidi by Johanna Spyri, Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren and many more. Even fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen have all come to us through translation.
Credit goes to the translators – some well-known, some unknown – who have made it possible for us to enjoy stories from other cultures. Just think of the cleverness and mastery it takes translators Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge to translate the puns and puns in Asterix from one language to another!
But as you note, all the books I mentioned are European. It shows us how much of the world we have left to try. Forget the world – just think of India with its many languages, each representing several unique cultures! Imagine the kind of stories we miss because they’re in a language we don’t speak! Publishers like Pratham and Tulika are doing a good job of filling some of that gap by releasing the same books in multiple languages, but most are originally written in English and are then translated into other languages. There is definitely a lot of literature in regional languages that is not yet available to us.
Recently, I heard a lecture on YouTube by Kannada author and publisher Vasudhendra, who mentioned a custom – people who make pilgrimages to Kashi take a pot of Tunga water with them and pour it into the Ganges for Lord Vishwanatha to taste the sweetness of Tunga water. And then they bring back a pot of Ganga water and pour it into Tunga so that she can absolve herself of her sins. He likens translating to this custom – since we can’t bring the whole flow, we bring a sample, and so does translating. This comparison gets to the heart of the translation!
It is well known that children’s books do not get enough space in bookshops and media. And within that, books in English are gaining a wider presence. However, this ensures that stories from small villages and towns, stories that tell of an India that city children do not know, are lost. I hope that more and more publishers will encourage translation. This way, hopefully, more people will write in their native language, and through translation, children will be able to access stories and worlds that they otherwise would not be able to access.
The author has written 14 books for children and can be reached at www.shruthi-rao.com
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