On the 8th of February, the Women Writers Fest took place at The Saturday Club. An event geared specifically towards female writers voicing their opinions on a multitude of pertinent subjects, the stage saw several inspiring panel discussions on the day.

‘Lost or Found in Translation’ was one such invigorating session, with illustrious personalities like Poulami Chatterjee Bose, Ananya Chatterjee and Saheli Mitra as panellists, and Dr. Julie Mehta as the moderator.

Dr. Julie Mehta introduced and gave direction to the topic of discussion by evoking Milton, and how his magnum opus ‘Paradise Lost’ was a translation of the turbulent dreams he saw into literature. She also referred to Derek Walcott who famously said that languages are unappropriated by all ethnicities, especially the English tongue, as now it is the language of all people.

Poulami Chatterjee, renowned director, dancer and theatre personality spoke about her involvement in translating European plays into Bengali. Recalling the experience, she discussed how difficult it was to translate specific cultural facets of the works, but how rewarding the exercise was because certain human values and ethics are universal. In her attempts to translate Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, or Henrik Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’ into Bengali, the loss in translation was of the cultural milieu of the places of origin of the respective plays. However, there was better luck in creating adaptations of some works, like those of Turgenev, by adding Indian contexts and relevance to events, as that made the content more relatable. Poulami mentioned how even dance is a translation, as it gives music and words a physical form.

Upon being asked about her experience while working with the revered Utpal Dutta, she revealed how enriching it was to do so, as their projects together were very politically and socially charged, with themes that never get lost in translation.

Ananya Chatterjee, a software engineer turned bestselling author, discussed her current project, which was to translate an English manuscript based on Subhash Chandra Bose’s mysterious life into Bengali. After reading selected extracts to the audience, she addressed how challenging it was to keep the author’s intent and tone intact while translating. Poetry translation is an exercise of restraint, as the translator’s personal thoughts should not percolate into the work.

Dr. Julie Banerjee appropriately observed that the objective of translation should not be to retain the exact words used, but to capture the theme even when a local coloring is given to it.

Saheli Mitra, journalist and writer, spoke about the importance of thoroughly knowing the languages to be translated. While recounting her project of translating Bankim Chandra into English, she added to the insights of the previous speakers and agreed that keeping the essence of the original text is vital, but along with that, there should be no compromise in the flow of the reading. Noting that the Bengali language has a vocabulary vaster than that of English, she maintained that the writer’s focus and philosophy should always be preserved.

The panel took questions from the audience and elaborated on intriguing queries like the difference between translation and transcreation, and how one can and must stay true to the original author’s word.

The cooperation of all the speakers and their deep knowledge of the subject, and of what is gained and lost in translation, in accompaniment with Dr. Julie Mehta’s breezy steering of the conversation made the session truly illuminating for all audiences.