StoryWeaver Spotlight: Priya Muthukumar

Posted by Amna Singh on September 28, 2018

StoryWeaver Spotlight turns the light on Priya Muthukumar. Priya always dreamt of flying on her very own magic carpet!  Yes, today she flies to several distant lands along with different people through her stories. Priya is a storyteller and educationist  who connects with people across age-groups through her storytelling initiative (Storipur in Bangalore). She continues to dream, this time.. about a greener tomorrow! She has translated many stories to Tamil for Pratham Books including 'Goodnight Tinku' and 'What Did Priya Eat'. You can read her stories  The Louse's New House and A Perfect Match on StoryWeaver. 

Q: What is your personal relationship with language and/or translation?

 I strongly believe that languages bring people together. Even though I am not a quick learner when it comes to different languages, I can really pause and admire the beauty in languages. As a translator, I make sure I have fun, reading the story out, singing it aloud, enacting it out...imagining how the story would appeal to different readers!

Q: When you have been given a story to translate what is the process , how long does it take ?

There is no strict process or pattern that I follow. Generally, when I receive a story, I read it a couple of times in an attempt to grasp the essence of the story. As I work with children, I narrate the story to them and I get thrilled, seeing their immediate reaction. After all these immersive experiences, I start my translation, keeping the emotions  which the author had tried to express through the story. And I am a complete last-minute-person! I just can't start the task before the nth minute.

Q: What do stories bring through translation?

As a strong believer in the power of stories, I believe that we all need to read, tell and listen to more stories. The whole process becomes even more beautiful, when we use different languages. It could be foreign languages, regional languages or it could one's own mother tongue. Languages are windows to another culture. And through translation, stories and languages subconsciously take the reader to another world where things are similar yet, are different !

Q: How did you cultivate the skills needed to translate books for children?

Well, this is something which I am learning, book by book. As a translator, I am very much on the learning curve. Being a Tamizh translator, reading Tamizh newspapers and books (translated and original ones) also help me. My conversations with my father in Tamizh on history, archaeology,literature, politics, almost everything under the sky also enables me to hone my skills. 

Q: Does being a storyteller help your translation process?

Emotions, however subtly expressed are the 'pulse' of stories, according to me. This is a valuable lesson which I've learnt from my storytelling experiences, so far. Hence, I make sure while translating, to convey the same emotion into my work from the original story. Intonation/ voice modulation are essential aspects of storytelling, hence stories with varying 'sounds' delight me. I make sure that these sounds are more 'realistic' in the translated versions. Besides, once I translate, I read it aloud or narrate the story to different groups of listeners, to check if my translation has kept the original essence alive.

Q: What was the experience of translating a children's book like?

My first translation was for 'The Missing Bat'. I found it challenging and I remember calling up my father, asking people, cross-checking if my Tamizh equivalents for the English words were right. After working on few translations, now, I feel more confident and I am keen on learning the nitty-gritties involved in translating and also writing for chilldren.

Q: What is the toughest thing about translating from English to TAMIL? How do you navigate through words or phrases to translate?

Some words are unique to certain languages. The English language is no exception. To find exact equivalents for certain words has been challenging. In such cases, finding a word in translation close to the original is one of the options. Sarcastic overtones, jokes while translating need that extra attention. Pronunciation of names is also something I check before translating.

Q: How do you feel when your translation reaches a child?

Absolutely thrilled!

Q: How else do you think we can join hands to take more stories to more children in more languages ?

Simply by continuing to do the good work which Pratham Books and StoryWeaver is already doing. Probably, we could add more stories from History and mythology too.

Q: What type of person do you think makes a good translator for children's books?

Besides the language skills, as in any field of work, a willingness to learn and an open-mindedness would help. And anyone who has the spark, the sense-of-wonder children are born with, can always work magic with children's literature including translation!

Q: Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to become a translator?

Hmm...continue to be passionate! Read more, listen more and write more.