6 times 6 translates into 180, all children’s stories
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A group of writers and translators from four Northeastern states are working on the project, supported by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and possibly the first ever initiative of this kind. The books are in Assamese and five tribal languages — Bodo (spoken in Assam), Khasi (Meghlaya), Garo (mainly Meghalaya), Manipuri and Mizo.
"This has not only brought to focus the rich treasure-house of folktales for children across the region, but also brought people from the six communities closer through their stories," said project coordinator Paresh Malakar, president of Anwesha, a Guwahati-based publishing NGO.
For the INGCA, too, it is a project to showcase. "It is a massive initiative to promote inter-cultural and literary exchanges among the six languages. An effort of such a magnitude has never taken place in the country," said Prof A C Bhagabati, a former vice-chancellor of Arunachal University who is currently regional head of the IGNCA.
The stories in each language were first translated into English, following which they were translated into the other five languages by a team comprising scholars in each language. "It was an experience I will never forget. And, believe me, though we live so close to the Assamese people, we hardly had the opportunity to read the beautiful Assamese folktales until I got involved in this project," said Daphinda War, a Khasi writer who teaches English at St Edmund's College in Shillong. Meghalaya and Mizoram, incidentally, were districts of Assam till 1972, with Shillong also having been Assam's capital for 98 years.
One of Assam's books is Burhi Aair Sadhu, legendary in the state. The first collection of Assamese folktales by Lakshminath Bezbaroa completed 100 years last November. "It is just a coincidence that the centenary of Burhi Aair Sadhu came by. But then this project can be also called an accidental tribute to the pioneering collection," said Bhagabati.
It was also an occasion for writers from these communities to meet and work together. "I did not know that there were so many wonderful folktales in the Bodo language spoken by our Bodo brethren within Assam itself until I became part of this project," said octogenerian author Tultul Barua.
"There are very few collections of stories in Manipuri especially intended for children," said Tyanjam Bijoykumar Singh of Imphal. Singh is looking forward to what children will get access to once the books are translated. "It will open up a new world for them... most of us do not understand each other's languages in the Northeast," said Singh.
A specialist member in the initiative is Arup Kumar Dutta, one of India's most prolific children's writers, and who was once described as "India's own Enid Blyton" by Khuswant Singh after his series of adventure stories beginning with Kaziranga Trail had earned global acclaim in the early 1980s.
"The whole process, right from selecting stories from the six languages to translating them, was like a rediscovery of the colourful multi-ethnic heritage of the Northeastern region. And once these books are brought out in English (which is not included in the current project), the rest of the world will also get an interesting insight into the world of children literature in the region," he said.
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