Thursday, June 13, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

The unique experience of summer school at BCLT

Update : 14 Sep 2017, 07:16 PM
I spent a rapt week, July 23 to 29, at the University of East Anglia, attending the 2017 International Literary Translation and Creative Writing Summer School. Run by the British Centre for Literary Translation in partnership with Writer’s Centre Norwich, the intensive one-week workshop brought together writers and translators from around the world. It took two hours’ train journey from London to Norwich, and a thirty-minute taxi drive to reach the university. In ten minutes or so, I found myself a bit blocked. It was summer here, though much cooler than our winter. Moreover, it was windy and the whole campus looked like a forsaken place where I stood inadequately dressed in a deshi summer outfit with two large suitcases. One hour of frantic search around the campus resulted in both acquiring the lodge key and the knowledge that due to summer vacation most of the students had left the dorm. Since it was a weekend afternoon, there would be no official attending the reception either. There were two shops, one café, one campus kitchen in view but all of them were closed. In the quiet, secluded area, the only residents found to be grazing on the lawns were the rabbits. They remained the most active and consistent occupants frisking all over the campus throughout my brief stay. On July 23, the summer school commenced with an afternoon campus tour. Anne-Sophie, an intern , guided the participants through the labyrinth of University of East Anglia (UEA), introducing us to the campus kitchen, Lecture Theatres, library, Enterprise Centre, Sports Park and a few other buildings. Approaching the library, we were taken aback at the sight of a man about to jump off. No, not a real person though. It was a life-sized sculpture placed on top of the UEA library. I was a bit puzzled at what seemed a strange sense of art choice but the university seemed to take pride in it. Anne informed us there were two more sculptures by the renowned sculptor Anthony Gormley, part of a project called ”3X ANOTHER TIME,” with further plans to create a renowned sculpture park at the university. We wished them good luck. Later in the evening a reception was held, followed by dinner where the participants met with their group members. It turned out that the Bengali to English group had the smallest number of participants. I knew our workshop leader, Arunava Sinha, who had conducted translation workshops in Dhaka organised by the Dhaka Translation Centre. He translates into English classic, modern and contemporary Bengali fiction, non-fiction and poetry from India and Bangladesh.
I am no stranger to group translation, but every time I find the process fascinating. It was more so at the summer school -- meeting new writers and translators from across the globe, making new friends, presenting pitches to publishers—the experience was illuminating
Arunava introduced me to the writer, Sirsho Bandopadhyay, a Kolkata-based writer-journalist. The other two participants of my group were Suchetana Ghosh, a master’s student of literature from Jadavpur University in Kolkata, and Amy Parsons who’s doing her master’s in Bengali Language and Culture at SOAS University, London. Amy is working on her dissertation on the presentation of women in Banaphul’s short stories. I had a strong feeling that the workshop would be nothing short of excitement and very different from my previous experiences. On July 24, we all headed to Enterprise Centre. After the introductory speech by Academic Director Duncan Large and Associate Programme Director of Writer’s Centre Norwich Kate Griffin, there was a short reading by the writers in their original languages. Days before the workshop, an information pack consisting of programmes, summer school faculty, creative writing sessions, timetable, and campus map was sent through email that helped me to get a prior understanding. I already knew that the core activity of the week would be a literary translation workshop with three creative writing sessions and a few plenary discussions. The workshop would be led by experienced literary translators and the writer (whose work we were to translate) would be in attendance. Besides the five language based workshops -- Bengali, Spanish, German, Lithuanian and Korean -- there would be two multilingual groups, one for poetry led by Fiona Sampson and the other for prose led by Daniel Hahn. Bengali and Lithuanian were the two new languages added this year.Bengali to English workshop teamSometimes we worked as a group on consensus translation and other times we approached the text individually. We were assigned to translate some parts of Sirsho Bandopadhyay’s novel, Shardulshundori. We literally pored over every word, working on each sentence, bouncing a new idea or approach and then slowly, gradually coming to some kind of consensus. The pace was excruciatingly slow and often one paragraph took more than an hour. As it happened, quite a few untranslatable words, idioms and phrases leapt up, making us spend hours plumping for their appropriate equivalents in English. In Shardulshundori, a few words posed serious difficulty. One such word was “shongshar khaki magi,” which we explained to Amy and she confirmed there is no equivalent word or expression for it in her entire English vocabulary. The problem with such words or phrases is that if rendered literally, they’d not do justice to the original text, nor would they convey the exact meaning to the English-language audience. The solution was to apply the most suitable English word or words that would retain the meaning while being faithful to the source text as much as possible. But the focus, Arunava stressed, should be to maintain the same pulse as the original has. The author’s presence in translation workshop was a blessing. The insight Sirsho brought to our understanding of his story and subsequently to the translation decisions this understanding involved was unique. When we tended to interpret too much of the text, he very gently mentioned that that was not what he meant in the story. One particular challenge we faced in translating Shardulshundori was to find a suitable language for the story which is set in 1882. We could neither use modern English words nor medieval ones as the novel is written in up-to-date Bengali language. To maintain the balance was a daunting task and that’s where Arunava came in with his thoughtful suggestions. He advised us to make choices about which elements of a text to preserve and foreground, and which to sacrifice. To work with him and watch him handle the difficulty of translation, teasing out the perfect changes and transforming the original Bengali with the greatest precision and artistry was a lesson worth remembering. The Bengali to English workshop was unique on many levels. It was the smallest group and the three participants came from three different countries. Suchetana and I are bilingual and Amy, who was a native English speaker, often came forward to help us find the exact English word or expression while we reciprocated by helping her to understand the source language. Creative writing sessions were held from July 25 to 27. The 70 participants of all eight groups were divided into three groups and over the three days they had a session of one hour with each of the tutors: Sarah Bower, Andrea Holland and Iain Robinson. These sessions actually broke the monotony of translation tasks. Taking a step back, we focused on ourselves as creative writers. The workshop schedule included plenary discussions as well. On Tuesday July 25, the Starling Bureau was invited to run a session on how to pitch ideas of books and authors to English language publishers. On Wednesday we enjoyed a drinks reception and a book launch event for the new Han Yujoo novel (The Impossible Fairy Tales) published by Titled Axis Press and translated by Janet Hong. On Thursday (July 27), we got a chance to present our pitches to the visiting publishers at the start of a plenary session. The Bengali pitch was much applauded and appreciated. Later, the publishers talked about publishing translated works, about how they selected titles for translation, the challenges of editing and how they worked with translators. The week was rounded off Friday afternoon with a presentation programme. After lunch, we headed towards the Norwich Cathedral, one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe, but little time was there to marvel at the beauty as each group had to give a 15-minute presentation of the text they worked during the week. After the German group, the Bengali group went on stage accompanied by Arunava Sinha who presented the audience with an image of what India looked like back in the 1880s. After reading the Bangla version, the three of us read out parts of our translated work and concluded by discussing the challenges and difficulties that we had faced during translation. The other groups also read out from the original text and parts of their English translations and discussed the difficulties they encountered during the process. The poetry group presented their translated poems while the prose group read only the first sentences in the original language and then the translated ones. They also talked about what they’d learned from the programme. The Lithuanian group took a different approach. Their presentation was actually a stage show as guided by their writer, Alvydas Slepikas who is also a screenwriter, actor and director. The programme ended with Duncan Large delivering a speech and us receiving certificates from him. Later there was a farewell dinner. I am no stranger to group translation, but every time I find the process fascinating. It was more so at the summer school -- meeting new writers and translators from across the globe, making new friends, presenting pitches to publishers—the experience was illuminating.
Marzia Rahman is a writer and translator based in Dhaka. In 2017, her translated story “Helal was on his way to meet Reshma” has been featured in the anthology called The Book of Dhaka, co-published by Comma Press UK and Bengal Lights, Dhaka. Currently she is working on a novel.
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