Nivedha is a Physics graduate currently working in the field of education. She enjoys taking science to kids through stories. She has translated many stories to Tamil for Pratham Books including 'Talking in Twos' and 'This is How You Count Eggs'. You can read her stories The Girl Who Thinks in Numbers: Data Warrior Prukalpa Sankar and The Scavenger Hunt on StoryWeaver.
Q: Can you tell us anything about yourself and your job that would surprise us :) ?
I am a mildly mischievous person with good observation skills. No wonder I chose to study science and became a physics graduate eventually. Now I work in an education-based organisation where I develop content for school kids. While designing language lessons, I try to include storytelling elements to it. It’s quite interesting!
Q: What is your personal relationship to language and/or translation?
Being a single child to my parents, books have been the biggest companion to me since childhood. I remember reading books even when I couldn’t understand the meaning of most parts of the text. Language feels like a cosy and comfortable space that my mind loves going to!
Q: When you’ve been given a story to translate, what’s your process, and how long does it generally take?
First, I read the story three to four times. During the initial reads, I consciously ignore the fact that I am reading it for the purpose of translation. It helps to grasp how a particular story might feel/appeal to a reader.
In the next step, I read about the region/culture where the story happens. For STEM stories I make sure that I revise/read the science concepts that are dealt with. This process I stretch across a few days to a week and when I sit to write it down it doesn’t take more than a few hours.
Q: In your opinion, what do stories in translation bring to young readers?
Children love exploring new things. These stories provide an exposure to other cultures and people. I believe it helps the kids to know about the differences existing among us or feel that it is okay to be different.
Q: How did you cultivate the skills needed to translate books for children?
Translation is relatively a new thing to me and I have a lot to learn. I read children stories and translated stories. Reading translation related discussions on digital platforms also help me. I also watch child centred cartoons like ‘Peppa Pig’ where an episode is like a visual short story of 5 minutes and then imagine how we can give similar experience through the text .
Q: What was the experience of translating a children’s book like, compared to translating for adults?
The exposure and worldview that a child has is very different from what an adult would have. So this has to be kept in mind too. Also, while translating for adults I feel there is a liberty to use slang, but for children had to go back to the basic words. During this process, I also learnt(had to learn) new words whose usage is not very common in spoken language.
Q: You are also a Physics graduate who loves the subject. How is the experience of translating STEM based stories? Are there any particular experiences/opinions from this experience?
I believe children grasp things quickly when it’s told as a story spun around their world and experiences. In that way, translating STEM based stories make me happy as it helps in taking science to kids in an interesting way.
Especially, while translating the story “The Scavenger Hunt”, I was delighted at how the basic concept of filtration was taken and woven into the story. When Lajjo (the main character) goes in search of tools, we could see that how a tool/object is accessed/placed varies for each culture. It gave me an insight that our interaction with the material world is not the same and thus teaching science in the same way to everyone may not work in all cases.
Q: What is the hardest thing about translating from English to Tamil? How do you navigate words or phrases that are tricky to translate?
I find translating the technical words/jargons to Tamil the hardest. Most times people would be familiar with the actual English terms than Tamil. In that case I refer to dictionaries, other tests and try to use an easier, relatable Tamil equivalent. I also cross check with my friends if they can understand that word/phrase.
Q: How else do you think we can join hands to take more stories to more children in more languages?
Book fairs are a great way to reach Children. The publications concentrating on children and young adult literature can collaborate and come up with a dedicated stall for them. (This from my experience in Chennai book fair. Though many kids come, availability of books in regional languages is not sufficient.)
This platform can also be used to attract talent who are interested in children’s literature.
Q: What type of person do you think makes the best translator for children stories?
Anyone who has a love for language and is open to learn from everyone and everything can make a good translator.
Q: Do you have any advice for anyone interested in becoming a translator?
I think I still am in a place to receive a lot of it? 😊 Anyways, I would say to be open to learning and observe the language of people around you. It helps a lot.
Q. A book you would recommend to other translators?
Eriyum panikkaadu (எரியும் பனிக்காடு) by R. Murugavel (Originally written in English by P.H.Daniel). I didn’t even have the slightest thought that ‘Eriyum panikkaadu’ could be a translated book when I first read it. Such was the flow of text in the translation. Isn’t that an aim of every translator!