Translating a dream

Last Monday, at the hospital, on many occasions we had to sit and wait outside a doctor’s cabin. There was no book to read, so I spent time looking around at the various things stuck on the wall. They were mostly sketches and paintings by children, and on one occasion I also found a poem:

Gedicht

Tür auf
Einer raus
Einer rein
Vierter sein

Tür auf
Einer raus
Einer rein
Dritter sein

Tür auf
Einer raus
Einer rein
Zweiter sein

Tür auf
Einer raus
Einer rein
Nächster sein

Tür auf
Einer raus
Selber rein
TagHerrDoktor!

Loosely translated, this is what the lines conveyed:

Poem

Door opens
Someone out
Someone in
Fourth in line

Door opens
Someone out
Someone in
Third in line

Door opens
Someone out
Someone in
Second in line

Door opens
Someone out
Someone in
Next in line

Door opens
Someone out
Myself in
GoodDay Doctor!

I kept staring at the poem for a long time. The kids could play a game along these lines, I thought. And as I tried to find an appropriate English translation I was reminded of a desire I’ve had for some time now – to translate some works of Indian literature into German.

Translation interests me for different reasons. The process of translating a work involves getting into the details of a work at a depth one would not normally reach while reading it. It demands intimacy with two languages, with two cultures. And it is important – transcribing elements of one culture into another through literature is a valuable means of cultural dissemination.

This dream has remained dormant for a while; perhaps the time has come to take it up seriously and work on it. It is clear where I must begin: with German (my knowledge of which is still rudimentary) – a channel for cultural immersion in a society where knowledge of the English language is limited and its use sparse.

It will be years before I attempt to write in German in a public journal, so you may gently cast aside all doubts about encountering – in this space, in the near future – sentences in a tongue you cannot decipher.

8 thoughts on “Translating a dream

  1. Patrix,
    You are way better than me. The only sentence that i have learned after being here for almost an year is

    das ist nicht mein hunde.
    that is not my dog! (from one of the TV ads)

    Pathetic is not the word…

    Parmanu.. translation? talk about complexes…

  2. Hi, came via Rash’s this time. Like reading your blog but I have on-going issues with URLs and typing 😦

    I think translation’s a brilliant idea. There’s a lot that different cultures can glean off each other.
    Also, second generation NRIs can be encouraged to know about their origins this way 🙂 I see an appalling lack of knowledge amongst most of them.

  3. Patrix and Aaar: Well, I aint much better; these days I use Google to translate.

    Joyee: The bit about second generation NRI’s learning from translated works is a novel point-of-view. And very valid. I’ve come across second generation Indians with a lot of curiosity about our culture (one I met recently learns Bharatanatyam) but language seems to be a barrier (she cannot read or write Malayalam). For someone like her the German version of “Legends of Khasak” (which exists, I’m pleasantly surprised) would be a nice starting point, surely.

    I didn’t get that part about “..on-going issues with URLs and typing “. Is there something I could do to help??

  4. so who will certify this stuff? How are we supposed to trust you? And where is my buddy Loosemuse? I traslated a Chineese song once for my boss and even made it rhyme.

  5. Sorry. To be fair, quite a few second-gen NRIs are indeed curious about their roots and your sort of work would be just the right step.

    And ongoing issues were about me getting ur URL right from memory :))) Unless you are an expert in brain transplant or memory infusion or something!

  6. Wish I could lend you my copy of the Granta book called Hidden Histories. It contains a story by someone who’s a translator who’s also ghostwritten a couple of books for someone else. I think you’d like it.

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