We are at the end of the inaugural edition of The Mozhi Prize, and we must say, we were astounded by the number and range of entries we received. We are thrilled that there are so many people interested in the art and craft of literary translation and we think all of this augurs very well for the future of translation from Tamil to English.
When we announced the competition in October, we were hoping for at least fifty entries. We ended up with 91 submissions, from translators based in India, Sri Lanka, the United States and the UK. The youngest participant was 13 years old (Jyotishaa Mahendrarajan Lavanya, who had teamed up with her father to submit an entry – their entry made the longlist). The oldest participant was 73 years old.
We received translations of works by a wide range of writers, including Vaasanthi, Chandra, Ambai, Uma Maheshwari; Su. Venugopal, Shoba Shakti, Perumal Murugan; Jeyakanthan, La. Sa. Ra, Prapanjan, Ki. Ra, Sujatha, A. Madhavan; Pa. Thiruchendhazhai, Senthil Jaganathan; A. Muttulingam, Vannadasan, Vannanilavan, Aadhavan, S. Ramakrishnan and Jeyamohan. We could not consider A. Muttulingam’s stories because he is a judge; this exclusion was mentioned in our rules.
In a bid to platform contemporary and emerging voices in translation, we had a rule that only stories published after 1972 would be considered for the contest. While it left out classic Tamil short stories by stalwarts like Pudhumaipithan and Ku. Alagirisamy, we were delighted to receive many translations of stories by younger writers like Senthil Jaganathan, whose Cotton Fever (மழைக்கண்) is incidentally a prize-winning entry. At the same time, we wished more writers could have been represented, for the world of the Tamil short story is a very rich one.
We, Priyamvada and Suchitra, read all the 91 submissions. In our readings, we made a few observations.
We found that the submissions could be divided into three categories. Some of the translators, we observed, are very well read in Tamil and had picked excellent stories to translate. However, their translation skills could have been better. If a story does not read smoothly in the target language, then despite all the merits of the story in the original language, it unfortunately falls flat. This was the case for many of the submissions.
Other translators had a good grasp of the English language, but we thought that the stories they had picked were relatively ordinary and unimaginative. Suggestiveness or dhvani is the hallmark of an artistic work. A good literary work doesn’t simply say what it intends to, it evokes feelings and emotions in the mind of the reader through its language and stirs their imagination. One of the challenges and rewards of literary translation is finding the right language to express those echoes and evocations with the same dhvani as in the original. Stories that are not rich in these tendencies to begin with don’t shine in translation. For our contest, as described in the rules, we weighed both the literary quality of the chosen story and the quality of the translation to arrive at our longlist.
That leaves the third category of translations: the translators had picked imaginative stories, and had engaged with them deeply to create translations that were evocative and stirring. They had a good grasp of fictional prose writing, and had made significant choices so as to evoke the time, landscape, characters, pacing and emotions of the original Tamil story. These stories made it to the longlist of 21.
A couple of general points of feedback to our contestants. One, we felt that many of the submissions could have improved significantly by revising the translation at least once. As with any kind of writing, a good translation needs multiple drafts before it reads well. Getting one’s translation peer reviewed by a friend who regularly reads fiction in English is another tip to improve one’s translation.
We also saw potential for translators to team up and produce good translations. A team of two, one of whom is steeped in the source language and another who can write good prose in the target language, can create excellent translations. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, a husband-and-wife team who have translated Russian authors, including Tolstoy and Dostoevesky from Russian into English, are a famous example. When we reviewed the competencies of many of the translators who had submitted entries to The Mozhi Prize, we felt that this could be a model worth exploring in Tamil too.
Our longlist was sent to the three judges, who used the criteria of literary quality and translation quality to arrive at a shortlist of 9 entries: Darun (Clarinet – Senthil Jaganathan), Megana (Beast – Jeyamohan), Vignesh (Resurrection – Su. Venugopal), Sherwin (Maadan Moksham – Jeyamohan), Anjana (Cotton Fever – Senthil Jaganathan), Mayuravarshini (A Brief Strain of Music – Vannadasan), Amruth (Filfilee – Jeyamohan), Padmaja (A House without Cats – Chandra) and Iswarya (Ammaiyappam – Jeyamohan). At this point of the competition, it was very close, with multiple stories appealing to each of the three judges. In the end, they have announced three Winners and three Special Mention prizes.
Congratulations everyone. We personally loved reading all the shortlisted entries and think all the shortlisted translators have great potential. We look forward to reading more of your translations in the years to come and collaborating with you. Yesterday, a friend messaged asking ‘I wonder where all these people were hiding all these years!’ There is a general perception that good translators are hard to find. However, as we discovered through this contest, they are all around us. On behalf of Mozhi, we are delighted to have found you. We hope that this is only a beginning and you’ll continue practicing ‘the little art’ of translation.
p.s. We will get in touch with those of you who had requested for feedback on your entries, soon.