In October, Writers’ Centre Norwich partnered with Cove Park, Scotland’s International Artist Residency Centre, to offer a one-week residency to twelve literary translators.
They came from Denmark, England, India, Ireland, and Scotland and between them translate from 13 languages – Bangla, Canadian French, Danish, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Irish, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. The residency combined time to translate in spectacular scenery with evening discussions about many aspects of life as a literary translator.
This programme was supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.
Professor, researcher and translator Somrita Urni Ganguly was one of the literary translators who took part in the week-long residency. She is also a former mentee of the Emerging Translator Mentorships. Below, she details the notes she wrote during her flight back from Scotland to Calcutta.
Gather twelve translators, let them loose in a fifty acre lush, virginal estate, and watch them at work for seven days.
Where they were sent to:
The Rosneath Peninsula region of Scotland, where life knows no luxury, yet makes no complaints,
Where the roaring winds rise from the lochs and knock at shut doors and windows to make your acquaintance,
Where mountains reign supreme: black, brown, charcoal, cloud grey, sunshine mountains,
Where the sky changes colour from lemon tart to strawberry to vermilion to blue ink every instant.
What they were working on:
From translating the Bible to translating a young adults’ novel on the Russian Revolution, and everything in between.
- Translators are mostly harmless
- They consider translation to be a real job
- Some even consider translation to be a form of activism
- They make no claims about being either cool or hot, which is quite in contradiction to what the world thinks of them
- They exchange frequent notes on a special breed of people that is apparently artless, tactless, and ruthless (aka editors)
- They are often unhappy with the terms and conditions of the contracts that they sometimes have to sign, and with the exploitative tendencies of certain big conglomerates called publishing houses
- A translator gets paid peanuts for her efforts (the size of the nuts might vary marginally depending on exact geographical locations)
- Yet, these people keep translating because, for most of them, translation is a vocation, a calling
- A constant supply of tea and wine from some invisible infinity pool keeps them lubricated and functional
- Everyone seems to know everyone via someone in their ever growing, but arguably close knit, community
- On certain evenings, they discuss a “fun game” called “translation slam” with a level enthusiasm comparable to that of an engineer drawing the blueprint of a new flyover in Dubai
- When not working (or, furiously typing away at their computers, at any rate) a translator’s hands are also capable of lifting large, unwieldy insulators and carrying them down steep mountain slopes
- This particular group of translators found yet another way to keep their hands employed during their weeklong togetherness. They cooked/ baked — from chickpeas and couscous, to risottos and quinoa salads; instant noodles and popcorn, to flapjacks and gluten free tea cakes; pasta and cookies, to laddoos and waffles; the whole range.
Highlights of the experiment:
- The translators discovered a unique use for their feet, and danced the Highland dance in bonnie Scotland on their last night together.
- The twelve people read verses and prose passages in thirteen languages — Bangla, Canadian French, Danish, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Irish, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portugese, Russian, and Spanish — creating a poetry of sounds in a dimly lit studio overlooking the Loch Long.
Quotable Quotes from ‘The Cove Park Collective’ (or, some such):
- “Those aren’t Highland Cows. In Scotland, they become, and behave as Heeland Coos.”
- “Let us prepone tomorrow’s dinner plans from 9pm to 7pm.”
- “There was once a prostitute, who also wrote.”
- “How do you translate Adam knew Eve in this day and age?”
– “Er, Adam knew Eve in the Biblical sense, perhaps? Should be very post-mod.”
- “Whiskey in Korean sounds a little French, a little English. Like oui-ski.”
- “Could the Cove Park Collective touch base at Penis Park in South Korea some day?”
Translators are human (quite unlike Google) and have their share of human insecurities and dreams, hopes and fears, desires and aspirations.
(The writer is grateful to Writers’ Centre Norwich and Cove Park for the week long Translation Residency at Cove Park in October 2017, and to friends, colleagues, and fellow translators, Anna Aslanyan, Annie McDermott, Atar J Hadari, Barbara Haveland, Deborah Smith, Deirdre McMahon, Kari Dickson, Melissa Bull, Rebecca DeWald, Ruth Clarke, Sophie Hughes, Kate Griffin, Polly Clark, Julian Forrester, Vanessa Paynton and Alexia Holt, for the memories.)