Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In any language, you take certain words for granted, and the perfect pronunciation of the word is limited to the complete word minus, maybe, the last letter or the last couple of letters. So, actually, it's not perfect, but the utterance is close to perfection. I am one of those guys who can make simple things complicated, but never vice versa.

I often wonder how difficult it is to translate something verbatim from one language to another. The beauty of every Indian language lies in its enthralling ability to appease you with the perfect choice of word(s) for the perfect occasion. It is almost close to impossible to maintain the same diction and poise, as you work your way to the global medium. The same analogy applies when you want to say something in your local tongue from English. You get the feeling of being trapped, as you try to explain the phrase, and end up pleasing none.

Many a time, as I stand outside on the balcony at home, and as the first few drops of rain touch the ground, I can't help but loving the manvaasanai. Now, how in the world would you want to translate that word. I had a tough time to get the verb that goes with the word. I wasn't sure whether I had to go for noticing, observing, feeling or loving, but ultimately decided to love (loving the manvaasanai, I meant)! Let me see how well I can explain the word. Manvaasanai means the smell of the earthern soil as the first few drops of rain touch the ground. If there is a mistake in the translation, Tamilians feel free to slaughter me. That's like a one word explanation in Tamil. How many times have we loved the smell of the soil during the rainy days!

Similarly, every colony or street or agrahaaram (oh! forget it!) would be presided by a deity, whose existence merges easily with your life in no uncertain terms. So, as soon as you leave the house, your head involuntarily turns in that direction and you offer a silent prayer, forgetting for that exclusive moment, all the pain in life. My growing up days were spent in the presence of our Vaasal Pillaiyar, who adorned the apartment as the supreme guardian during all times (just the tough time alone would be too selfish to put here). Pillaiyar can be easily translated to the elephant God Ganesha or Ganeshji or Vinayagar or a thousand other names that he goes by. What about Vaasal? Vaasal means just outside (again this is not an accurate explanation), but the whole meaning of the phrase would be lost if you have to refer to it as just outside God! So, a typical sentence uttered by my mother would run like this, let alone on exam days, even on normal days

Dei, namba vaasa(l) Pillaiyarai parthiya? or namba vaasa(l) Anjanayer kovilla inniku prasadam kudukara! (Did you go meet vaasal Pillaiyar today? or Today there are temple offerings in the vaasal Anjaneya temple) None of us would miss a visit to the temple if we got the inking that there were temple offerings. One of the places where a small quantity of food tastes like heaven.

Close on the heels of the vaasal Pillaiyar, there is the ucchi Pillaiyar. A literal translation of hilltop Ganesha would do no justice to the original! This was just a small sample set from a single language. Just put together, the different languages of India, and you would have many untranslatable terms.

There was also a joke going around, during our school years. Indira Gandhi ethanaavudhu PM?
Only one of the four words in the previous question is in Tamil, but too tough to translate that to English.

In the chronological order of time, which position does Indira Gandhi take as the PM?
can do some justice, but I am not too sure whether others understand what kind of a question I am trying to frame here.

In Kannada, that is too easy. Indira Gandhi eshtne PM?

In the meanwhile, try translating Personification in your language.


  1. haha...nice 1 machi...mayb 'baddi maga' is another u can add from the kannada dictionary which aint easy to translate!!

  2. True, Mr. Praveen. Every language has it's own is often difficult to translate. So many words don't find meaning in English, and vice-versa too! Personification in Kannada eh?? Still cracking my head over sure i learnt it somewhere...

  3. Awesome writeup !!! the term Prasadam itself is difficult to translate, and no clue for personification

  4. Madhu,
    Aaman da...idhe velaiya pochu...Kadangaaara Paiyyale :-)

    Let me know if you figure out what personification in Kannada is :-) I don't know what the translation is in any Indian language :-(

    Thank you! Yup, nicely spotted, Prasadam in itself is difficult to translate.

    Who are you Santa? Get me gifts :-)

  5. Lovely post, Praveen. Some words are untranslateable or lose the sense with the translation.
    How about threshold for 'vaasal', though?

    And try translating anbu, aasai, kaadhal, paasam, - I only get love and maybe affection.

  6. Thanks, Raji mami, threshold for vaasal is close, but does not get the same effect, just like temple offerings for Prasadam :-)

    Let me try your words

    1. Anbu - Affection
    2. Aasai - Desire
    3. Kaadhal - Love
    4. Paasam = Anbu

    Do you agree? :-)

  7. Sir,

    personification == vyaktitvaarOpaNe

  8. Late-a vandhaalum latest answer..

  9. vaasal == entrance

    1. it doesn't give the same kind of effect like vaasal, isn't it?

  10. I miss you... I dont know how to translate that to Tamil. I could use some help... :P

    1. Good point Sakthipriyan. But, I have no idea :-) Let me know if you find out :-)