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Harry Potter in Hindi!
I was pleasantly surprised when I recently came across a translation of the first Harry Potter Book (Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone) in Hindi (हैरी पॉटर और पारस पत्थर). Surprised because I was standing at a posh bookstore here in Bangalore, where the abundance of Hindi books at the shelf dedicated to the language, is usually marginally more than sum total of life destroying meteor collisions Earth has witnessed till date. Given my interest in languages in general and in Indian languages in particular, I picked it up.

The translation at first seemed thorough. The Times Literary Supplement quote found on the back-cover of the English version had been translated:

“The Harry Potter stories will join that small group of children’s books which are read and re-read into adulthood.”

“हैरी पॉटर की कहानियाँ चुनिंदा बाल साहित्य का हिस्सा बन गई हैं, जिने बचपन से लेकर बुढ़ापे तक बार-बार मज़े लेकर पढ़ा जा सकता है।”

Rowling’s dedication had been translated:

for Jessica, who loves stories,
for Anne, who loved them too,
and for Di, who heard this one first.

जेसिका को, जिसे कहानियाँ पसंद हैं,
एन को, जिसे भी कहानियाँ पसंद हैं,
और डी को, जिसने यह सबसे पहले सुनी।

My expectations from the Hindi translation therefore, were high. I am probably 1% of those readers who are reading the book for pure academic reasons and by no means represent the intended audience. The Hindi Translation, if it is being attempted for sound financial gains through staggering sales - which no doubt it is – needs to go beyond just literal translation of words from one language into the other. And this is precisely where it flounders.

Names of characters in the English version have an etymology which tells a lot about the general disposition of the character. Some name-character correlations might be more obvious than others, but in general they hold true. Take for instance Malfoy - the Mal here tells us a thing or two about Malfoy (the foy could be coming from foe but I am guessing here) even before the authoress attempts a character sketch. Hermione could be an allusion to the Greek god of cunning and invention, Hermes, which again is in line with what we discover about Hermione. Snape somehow feels like a play on Snake. And yes, the most obvious ones of them all – a person named Sprout could only be teaching Herbology just like a ghost named Peeves shouldn’t be expected to demonstrate congenial conduct.

Consider names an aid to character sketching. (Shakespeare does this often too – I am reminded of Andrew Agueface (from Twelfth Night), Agueface gives enough clues about Andrew being a craven!)

Now when you transliterate (or translate too literally) these names verbatim in Hindi, you lose this very aid. Worse, a lot of these names would appear tongue twisters to the intended, predominantly Hindi speaking, audience. Initially even I had trouble reading some names in their devnagri avatars; मैक्गॉनेगल for instance.

Harry Potter, despite the universality of its good versus evil theme, is set in a culture, a lot of whose aspects would appear alien to quite a few Indians. As far as I can tell, I don’t remember celebrating Halloween as a child. The title of chapter ten in the book – Halloween – wouldn’t have carried much meaning for me and I doubt if it would for children in Hindi speaking belt of Rajasthan, Haryana, UP, MP and Bihar. I don’t know if Halloween has an exact equivalent in India but Dushera might have come close. Many more such examples come to my mind where the translation has been a mere literal one, at times so literal that it is laughable:

Pg. 113 (UK edition): Ron had a piece of steak-and-kidney pie halfway to his mouth, but he’d forgotten all about it.

Pg. 142 (Hindi translation): रॉन के हाथ में स्टीक-और-किडनी भरी कचौङी का टुकङा था, जिसे वह मुँह की तरफ़ आधी दूरी तक तो ले गया था, परंतु वह उसके बारे में भूल चुका था।

(दीपक: भई आपने कभी भारत में स्टीक-और-किडनी भरी कचौङी खाई हो तो मुझे अवश्य सूचित करें)

A little work on making the book relevant to the Indian cultural context would have gone a long way in making the book more accessible to its intended audience.

That said, this one takes the cake:

Pg. 194 (UK edition): So I told him, Fluffy’s a piece o’ cake if yeh know how to calm him down

Pg. 244 (Hindi Translation): इसलिये हमने उसे बताया, फ़्लफ़ी केक का टुकङा है, बशर्ते आप उसे शांत करने का तरीक़ा जानते हों।

There are a few disjoint, weak attempts to throw in some cultural relevance. The names of the four Hogwarts houses have been translated/substituted to what might be more palatable to the Hindi readers. So Gryffindor becomes गरुङद्वार, Hufflepuff becomes मेहनतकश, Ravelclaw becomes चीलघात while Slytherin becomes नागशक्ति (Pop quiz: was Salazar Slytherin our very own नागराज?). Attempts like these are very inconsistent which makes them a little annoying – for instance, while Quidditch stays क्विडिच, Chasers become धावक, Quaffle becomes तूफ़ान, Keeper becomes रक्षक, Bludgers become पहलवान (LOL), Seeker becomes खोजी and Snitch becomes सुनहरी गेंद. The Mirror of Erised (etymology: desire written backwards) also became शहिवाख़् (which is basically ख़्वाहिश written backwards and thus honors authoress’ original intentions even if it is awkward to end a word in devnagri with “half” a ख).

I wouldn’t cast aspersions on the translator’s abilities here. I do however suspect that it was Warner Bros. or Rowling herself who in their/her zeal to retain the original essence of the book did not allow the translator any room to “localize”.

As a reader who has read the original English title, I found it enjoyable despite these shortcomings. I suspect though, that the same might not hold true for the target readership. Still, if I spot book two in Hindi (रहस्यमयी तहख़ाना - which came out recently), there is a good chance that I'll pick it up!

An honest confession here – this is the first time since Class X (close to 15 years!) that I was reading a Hindi book back to back. Something I hope I can do more of.
posted: 20.8.05


Academic interest-wise, really cool!

Else - no way!

By Blogger Manjusha, at 20.8.05  

Hey man U got a good cam
which one is it.
I will be using ur pix :P w/out asking u for permission.
and howdid U type hindi in ur blog.
good blog

By Blogger Kumar Chetan, at 20.8.05  

Hi Deepak,
Very interesting review, and indeed the etymologies of the names in the Harry Potter series and a few names in the Asterix series especially (now make that many...) interest me a lot. Perhaps I will give it a read sometime, despite my poor Hindi. :-)

I have the same question as Kumar here - how did you type out in Hindi?


By Blogger jhgasuhvkjahklnsdlksnlknmlwvlckn, at 21.8.05  

The effort that went into this post is commendable... Hindi type et al. Very interesting read.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 22.8.05  

Apparently I can't leave a signed comment on your blog anymore?! (Doesn't give me the option to mention my name.) Anyways, the last comment was mine. :)

- Avis

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 22.8.05  

Hey Manjusha, wondering, why no way!?

Hi Kumar - I use a Canon EOS 350. Do whatever with the pics, but be kind to link back to my blog :-). As far as Hindi typing goes, I used the builtin Windows XP (also Windows 2000) support.

A look at BhashaIndia.com should help.

Thanks Rajesh! Hope the link above answers Hindi typing question. If it does not, drop me a comment and I can point you somewhere else.

Thanks Avis! I've been typing Hindi (and Tamizh, and Bangla and Kannada) for over two years now. I am so used to the keyboard layouts that I would hardly count this as "effort" :-) [such a blatant show-off I am!]

Oh, I didn't change any blogger settings. Sometimes, when the page is not fully loaded, you won't see the username/password text boxes. Refreshing fixes it.

By Blogger Deepak, at 22.8.05  

ನಮಸ್ಕಾರ ದೀಪಕ್,

I fully agree with you about translating into Indian languages. I wish you could read my article at http://www.bhashaindia.com/Patrons/Kannada/WritingAboutITinKannada.htm?lang=kn. Even though this is specific to IT, many aspects are applicable to general English to Indian languages as well.

Other day I was telling to my children that I will translate Harry Potter into Kannada (no, I have not read it and not planning to read). My son immediately told exactly what you have observed -most names and concepts will not make any sense if translated into Kannada. Good observation.


By Blogger Dr U B Pavanaja, at 22.8.05  


You were right - it was fun reading this particular post! It's the same case with the dubbing of American/Japanese cartoons into Hindi. I remember following the Hindi subtitles for "Die-hard" back in the days when Star movies was trying to attract Indian viewers by offering Hindi sub-titles...they were hilarious!

I must admit I was amused when ppl pointed out the effort you took to type in Hindi...:-)

By Blogger Geetanjali, at 22.8.05  

Hi Geetanjali,

Why did you put a question mark in front of Authoress?

Pavanaja ಪವನಜ पवनज

By Blogger Dr U B Pavanaja, at 22.8.05  

Hi Deepak,

Very interesting stuff.
I am reading Baburnama these days
where a different translation came into being - from Changaytid (i.e. Genghis Khan's) Turkish to English. Since this language in which Baburnama was written is not widely understood, people have done a transliteration, leading to all sorts of misinterpretations and maing the translation boring. Recently, a semantic translation, instead of a syntactic one was done which is really interesting.

By Anonymous Tarun Anand, at 23.8.05  

Because I object to the feminisation of the term - and because I just dont see why we have to differentiate bet the male and female titles when we are striving so hard to bring in equality of the sexes in every domain!

By Blogger Geetanjali, at 23.8.05  

Hey Deepak, thanks for that link. I managed to get these fonts up and running for Sanskrit, but I found that the translation falls way short in terms of quality since Hindi and Sanskrit are different languages though similar. What do you recommend?

By Blogger jhgasuhvkjahklnsdlksnlknmlwvlckn, at 27.8.05  

Not sure about translation.. it is still an area which needs lot of improvement! Try any translation engine - key in a phrase in English, translate it to French and then re-translate it back into Englishl you'd be surprised :-) (and amused as the case might be)

By Blogger Deepak, at 2.9.05  

(दीपक: भई आपने कभी भारत में स्टीक-और-किडनी भरी कचौङी खाई हो तो मुझे अवश्य सूचित करें)

abhi tak tho nahi khaaya :))

What the heck, I think I will pick a copy too....though I kinda wish I had picked it before reading any reviews about it. It would have been fun then to compare reviews.

I read hindi after a long time too, thanks to you blogging in hindi. It requires some effort now, isn't it?

By Blogger Pooja, at 6.9.05  

Hey...I stumbled across your blog when looking up stuff on the HP books in Hindi.I'm planning on attempting it as soon as i get my hands on a copy. I haven't ever read a book in Hindi cover-to-cover, and I haven't read much Hindi in years, but I think it'll be an interesting experience =]

By Blogger gorakagaz, at 12.10.07  

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