NWR Issue 96

Pippi Grows Up

In Cerys Matthews' R4 documentary on Pippi Longstocking, Swedes suggested that had the ill-disciplined Pippi grown up, she would have become Dragon Tattoo’s überfeisty Lisbeth Salander. I adored Astrid Lindgren, reading Pippi as well as tales of the Bullerby children in English, then sharing Lotta and Emil in Welsh translation with my own niece and kids in subsequent decades. So a new claim by Sioned Rowlands of the Wales Literature Exchange struck a chord. Sioned reports a decline in publishing children’s books in Welsh translationfrom non-Anglophone countries. Addressing the need to increase children’s access to world literature, Sioned led prominent international authors and translators this spring in a workshop and course under the Translators’ House umbrella. Alongside former Welsh Children’s Laureate Mererid Hopwood at T¥ Newydd was Sampurna Chattarji from Mumbai, Iceland’s Gerdur Kristny and the work of Finland’s Jyrki Kiiskinen.

I caught up with Sampurna Chattarji as the workshop ended, the course commenced, and the authors prepared to share with budding Welsh translators their experience of adapting each other’s traditional stories. Because not all authors’ knowledge of each other’s languages was on a par, the workshop made use of ‘bridge’ languages, a common ingredient in minority language translation workshops which acts as a quick yeast that in this case will multiply four stories into sixteen books.

Sampurna translated Mererid’s ‘Land of the Little Folk’ into Bengali using the Welsh author’s rough translation, while Sampurna’s story had been written originally in English, since this and Bengali are her main written languages. ‘For an Indian, at least three languages is a norm. While Bangla is my mother tongue by the fact of my birth into a Bengali family, English is equally so because of my multilingual upbringing. I think of these tongues as my two mothers.’ During translation of the Icelandic story, about the ‘Land of the Lost Socks’, Sampurna wrestled with technical matters such as whether to name a toy monkey after a sweet Indian banana. Working on the Finnish version, she pondered on how to include a raccoon character, as the animal doesn’t exist in India.

Sampurna’s text, Mulla Nasruddin, is aimed at 9-11-year-olds, stars a talking turban and combines Sufi oral tradition and humour with the life of ateenage boy who has lost his father in the Mumbai train explosions. In regard to her revision of classic Sanskrit text the Panchatantra in Three Brothers and the Flower of Gold, Sampurna was on a mission to restore the humour, scatology and irreverence that previous editions had sanitised, as well as restoring their ‘glorious, modern’ mix of prose and poetry.

Sampurna addressed this year’s London Book Fair on the subject of English as a bridge language in literary translation: ‘In India, English has always been a bridge language. It is what makes it possible for us to speak to each other.At a dinner party there may be often up to ten languages spoken. I am married to a South Indian whose mother’s native tongue is Kannada. Her father was a Tamilian who grew up in Sri Lanka. My in-laws could only ever speak to each other in English; if you add in a Bengali daughter-in-law, we have a real mix around the table. English brought us closer instead of separating us; it is not just bridge, but also glue!’

Sampurna Chattarji is a future contributor to New Welsh Review. In this issue our translation features include Pascale Petit’s version of Xiao Kaiyu’s poem, ‘Hillside’, and Richard Gwyn’s review of Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman, the Argentine headliner of Cardiff’s new spring translation festival, Fiction Fiesta. Our horizons remain broad with Grahame Davies’ ‘On Mohammed Farid Street’ and Sarah Howe on young US women poets. And on our relaunched website, Bob Walton reviews the mysterious Argentine author David Enrique Spellman’s Far South project. Heading further south still, Samatha Wynne-Rhydderch’s ‘magnetising’ poetry collection Banjo focuses on Scott’s two Antarctic expeditions, while John Harrison’s Forgotten Footprints defines that continent’s discoverers with a broader brush.

Next to the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay, ‘Antarctic 100’ commemorates Scott’s last departure in 1910. Seen from afar the sculpture signals agency, autonomy: Scott at the helm of the Terra Nova heading south. Close up, however, his colleagues appear: swaddled, trapped together in a tile whiteout. During the first expedition, Officer JGS Doorly’s relief ship played a key role in freeing Scott’s Discovery from her ice-bound anchorage. Like the memorial, Wynne-Rhydderch’s ‘Cable-knit’ captures interdependence: ‘[Doorly] was stitched up to the neck / / in the intricacies of his sweetheart’s cable-knit / by which she’d moored herself to him / / the day the Morning cast off.’


previous editorial: 'It's raining fish, Halleluja!' and other magic
next editorial: The Talk Slides North


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