The Mozhi Prize 2022: A note from Team Mozhi

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.

Team Mozhi

p.s. We will get in touch with those of you who had requested for feedback on your entries, soon.

The Mozhi Prize 2022: A note from the judges

N. Kalyan Raman

I was honoured to be a member of the jury for the inaugural edition of the Mozhi Prize. It was an enjoyable experience chiefly for two reasons. One, I got a chance to read a well curated collection of stories in Tamil, many of which I hadn’t read before. Two, I had the pleasure of experiencing, as a reader, the ethos, milieu and registers of a familiar culture ably transported into another language. My congratulations to all the participants, and especially the winners, for choosing to enter the domain of ‘this little art’ of literary translation. May you efforts flourish and grow in excellence in the coming years. 

I have a few suggestions to make to the particpants on making your mark as a literary translator. In literature, only the very best texts receive wide attention and stand the test of time. So it is with translations. Therefore, choose the texts you want to translate with great care. A good translator is also an expert curator of texts for readers in the target language.. Second, translation at its best is about the struggle to find that better word, phrase and sentence. Bear in mind that it’s a struggle without end. Never stop learning from every resource available to you. Finally, reading widely and well in both languages is foundational to becoming a competent translator. Wide reading can help you cultivate your sensibility and augment your capacity for literary expression. Both are indispensable for this little art. I hope you, too, will find translation as pleasurable and exciting a pursuit as it has been to many of us over the years. 

My best wishes to all participants.

A. Muttulingam

It was a pleasure to be a member of the jury for the inaugural edition of the Mozhi Prize, which in itself is an excellent initiative and needs to be encouraged. The competition was well put-together by the team and can be a model for others doing similar projects. 

I was happy to see that the competition garnered a wide variety of translations and the submissions included both classics from the oeuvre of Tamil short fiction as well as the works of new and upcoming writers. Many of the translations were excellent. Hearty congratulations to the participants, and especially the winners. I do hope you continue to practise the art of translation and contribute to taking Tamil literature to the world stage. I encourage you to read world literature widely in the target language and develop further, the ability to transport cultural contexts to a global audience. 

Best wishes.

Deepa Bhasthi

As a non-Tamil, it was firstly an immense privilege to be able to access the works of so many Tamil writers in translation. I was very impressed with the range of stories chosen and the brilliance of so many of the translations, and it was certainly an unenviable job to pare it down to the final winners list. While I am fairly fluent in spoken Tamil, I cannot read or write the language, yet. Thanks to this, however imperfect my coordinates in the language, I was able to ‘hear’ a lot of the translated words and sentiments in Tamil, which in my book counts as a good translation. 

The act of translation is both a privilege and a labour of love, and perhaps ever more urgent in the times we live in. I sincerely hope that at least a few of these translators continue practising this magical art of cross pollinating between languages and therefore, cultures. 

I also look forward to seeing the marvellous initiative that is Mozhi expand to include more languages and enriching the translation landscape in the coming years.

Announcement – The Mozhi Prize – Shortlist

We are very happy to share that we received an overwhelming response for the inaugural edition of the Mozhi Prize. We received 91 entries overall from India and other parts of the world, including Sri Lanka, Canada and the United States.  

We had opened the contest to anyone aged 15 or more; the youngest participant was 13, and the oldest was 73. We accepted entries from individuals as well as teams of two. 10 of our entries were from teams of two – either friends or colleagues who had paired up, or married couples, or parent and child. In a bid to encourage participants to translate younger, more contemporary authors, we had asked them to submit translations of stories written after 1972. 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 Jegannathan; A. Muttulingam, Vannadasan, Vannanilavan, Aadhavan, S. Ramakrishnan and Jeyamohan. We could not consider A. Muttulingam’s stories because he is a judge and this exclusion was mentioned in our rules. 

We have made a few exceptions to the rules stated in the competition announcement. 1. Word limit – We had asked that stories be a minimum of 2,000 and a maximum of 7,000 words. While we have rejected stories that have crossed the maximum word limit, we chose to consider the shorter stories since all such submissions were true to the short story form and none of them had a flash-fiction quality to them. 2. We had asked that the stories should not have been published before in translation. However, we have accepted stories for whom a previous translation was published in journals that had little / no English editorial. 

We thank all the participants who sent in their submissions. We were delighted to receive so many entries and we hope you continue your journey in translation.

The two of us (Priyamvada and Suchitra) read through the stack of 91 entries and longlisted 21 entries. These were sent to our panel of judges, who prepared the shortlist and decided on the prizes. We are deeply grateful to the judges, A Muttulingam, Deepa Bhasthi and N Kalyan Raman for their time and engagement with the competition. The submissions were judged on both the literary quality of the chosen story and the translation quality. At the end of the exercise, we are excited to announce the shortlist of 9 entries, viz., 

(in no particular order):

Clarinet (காகளம்)Senthil JegannathanDarun S
Beast (விலங்கு)B. JeyamohanMegana Kumar
Resurrection (புத்துயிர்ப்பு)Su. VenugopalVignesh Hariharan
Maadan Moksham (மாடன் மோட்சம்)B. JeyamohanSherwin Rodriguez
Cotton Fever (மழைக்கண்)Senthil JaganathanAnjana Shekar
A Brief Strain Of Music (ஒரு சிறு இசை)VannadhasanMayuravarshini.M
Filfilee (வெறும் முள்)B. JeyamohanAmruth Varshan
A House Without Cats (பூனைகள் இல்லாத வீடு)ChandraPadmaja Anant
Ammaiyappam (அம்மையப்பம்)B. JeyamohanV. Iswarya

The final results will be announced on Saturday, Dec 10 at 6.30pm IST over a virtual meet-up. 

Topic: The Mozhi Prize – Results
Time: Dec 10, 2022 06:30 PM Mumbai, Kolkata, New Delhi

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 850 6652 0230
Passcode: 992179

We would love to see you all there. 
Team Mozhi