Monday, October 22, 2007

From Harry Potter to Hari Puttar

Harry Potter and the wizard of Bhopal by Priyanko Sarkar, The Times of India, 23 July, 2007.

In his youth, Sudhir Dixit hated English. As a tribute to his rebellious dislike for the language, he would even flunk in the subject at school. But the vagaries of life ensured that he would eventually read a book called Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone 35 times. And translate it into Hindi. The Hindi version of the first book of J K Rowling was called Harry Potter Aur Paaras Patthar and it sold 40,000 copies, spectacular by standards of Indian fiction. The most quoted, interviewed and artistically photographed Indian literary figures who write in English, sell less than 10,000 copies here.

Sudhir Dixit, whose translations of the first five parts of the Potter series have sold over a lakh copies, has been a subdued literary phenomenon for the last five years. His latest work is the translation of the fifth book, Harry Potter Aur Mayapanchhi Ka Samooh (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). It has sold 5,000 copies in the first three weeks of release. Predictably, he refuses to divulge how much he has earned from the translations. "Good enough," he says.

Forty-year-old Dixit was born in Indore and educated in Bhopal in a Hindi medium government school. Afflicted by a nationalistic fervour, he protested when his father put him in an English medium school. He was in the ninth standard then. His incompatibility with English made him fail in the subject. Then his father, a government servant, took matters in his own hands. He would mark passages in the newspaper everyday and Dixit junior had to look up the hard words. There would be impromptu tests. In time, Dixit would do his Masters in English and procure a doctorate status too. But, for ideological reasons, he also did his Masters in Hindi. Today, he works as an English literature professor in Narmada College, Hoshangabad, 75 kms from Bhopal.

Translation began as an experiment. In 2001, he translated Questions are the Answers by Allan Pease into Sawal Hi Jawab Hai. The translation sold over 1,00,000 copies. His next translation, Mera Cheese Kisne Hataya (Dr Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese) sold about 50,000 copies. The success of his first two translations made him look at the craft more seriously.

In 2002, when he was asked to translate the Harry Potter books, it was inevitable that he would accept the offer. He had to read Rowling's books many times, "to understand the various nuances". By the time he sat down to translate, the film version of the first two books were already out, dubbed in Hindi. "I decided to use the same words that the dubbed version used, to avoid confusion. So Muggle became Mugloo, phoenix became mayapanchhi, Daily Prophet became Dainik Jaadugar."

Dixit considers reading the first Harry Potter a very special experience. He has an enduring fascination for the first book of any author. "Everything an author has, he or she uses in the first book best."

Contrary to a general impression, he says that during the translation of Rowling's works, the most difficult part was not the spells. What bothered him more was the moral and literary dilemma within him. For instance, in Hindi, unlike in English, expression of respect is unambiguous. So, Dixit had to decide if the character of Snape had to be addressed with respect or with disdain. Dixit would take a long time to decide between kar raha tha and kar rahe the. He eventually decided to treat Snape with respect, "because, he is after all a professor".

Dixit says that most of J K Rowling's spells have Latin roots. Some have Greek. "I got help from her agents at times but mostly translation is a creative process. I had to dig into Sanskrit books for reference to her spells. I chose Sanskrit since it is the language of spells and curses, much like Latin." The process of translation has made Sudhir understand the special mind of Rowling better.

"I don't think she intended Harry Potter to be a children's series. It's much too advanced and dark. Children pick it up because she makes them feel like adults. The way she writes about love and death in her books is amazing."

1 comment:

Ayesha Hoda said...

That's interesting!