It was in an interview with Gulzar, that I read the comment. ” Translation, is like a mistress. If she is beautiful, perhaps, she is not faithful…”
As I sit with many words in my mother tongue, having no equivalent in the English language, I recollect that quote. When I encounter a description of winter in English, say, and try to convert it to Malayalam, I discover the same conundrum.
We have one word for a snowy mist- after all, Kerala has not seen different forms of ice and snow and smog and fog like the North. Like food habits being determined by geography, words too have a reason to exist. I struggle then, with various permutations of Mannj- moodal Mannj, kodum Mannj, Mannj…maram kochunna Mannj literally becomes a tree bark freezing phenomenon…still one cannot do away with that mannj!
Blind does not mean the same as sightless.When someone is obstinate and acting with intransigence, you can howl out, ” You are blind!” So, when you translate, one wonders…what is the right word…blind, sightless, unseeing, what?
Vengeance has various degrees in my mother tongue. I wonder about the fertile ground of that particular thriving word family!
Kudi-paka is like the Sicilian God father sort of deep, unforgiving nemesis. Or is it? It will run through the clan, across generations. A mere vengeance, or retribution, or nemesis, actually cannot catch that dormant rage. Huh! The translator sits googling away synonyms, picking and choosing, trying and discarding, and then again writing with a sigh…for ages hence!
Till now, I have been flummoxed most by the word Mambazhapulissery! Finally bowing before the sheer uniqueness of that inimitable dish, that causes taste buds of every Malayali to crave mangoes and curd, I retain it in all its flavour. I grin to myself, imagining a stranger to our cuisine, trying to understand how a pregnant lady can yearn for that one! Hardly had I sighed my way , coward like, not daring to face it and leaving it in its pristine beauty, I encountered ‘ Chakka erissery’ in the next page. The auto correction furiously told me, it ought to be an emissary: but I declined it firmly, trusting the emissary of our unique tongue and its beloved connotations, to provoke the minds of strangers too. With the hope of a few kind smiles arising.
Even at the risk of quoting in the most unsuitable context, yes, as Blanche said in the Street Car called Desire- ‘ I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.’
I have crossed mirage and mould in multiple languages now, and am now ready to take on more. Thank God for the Tower of Babel. And for beautiful mistresses. 😊