The plot thickens | Daily News
The courageous task of translating :

The plot thickens

A scene from the film Vijayaba Kollaya.
A scene from the film Vijayaba Kollaya.

In our previous columns, we have emphasised the pressing role of translation and its significance in bridging the aesthetic gap between two particular languages and cultures. One of the exceptional translators we have come across is Jayatilleke de Silva, who has translated a complex and obscure English text into the Sinhala language. Although there are numerous translations from English to Sinhala available, de Silva's work stands out due to the immense difficulty involved in the translation process.

As we have discussed earlier, a translator should possess a good command of both languages and be proficient in the language into which they are translating. This explains why there are comparatively fewer English translations from Sinhala in comparison to the vast number of Sinhala translations from English. Most of the Sinhala translations are carried out by scholars who have a profound knowledge of Sinhala and a considerable command of English.

On the other hand, when it comes to English translations, the translator should have a thorough understanding of English and an excellent command of Sinhala. Unfortunately, due to the governmental changes that occurred in 1956, Sri Lanka has experienced a significant shortage of authors who can master both English and Sinhala. This dearth has led to a scarcity of quality translations in Sri Lanka, which is a cause for concern. In our neighbouring country India, it seems to be a comparatively effortless task to find writers who have successfully translated obscure original texts into English. In our own country, Sri Lanka, the situation is quite different. We face a severe shortage of authors who possess the necessary skills to undertake such translations.

Despite the fact that we have a considerable number of translators who have translated from English to Sinhala, including noteworthy names such as AP Gunaratne, Cyril C Perera, and KG Karunatilaka, the same cannot be said for translators who have translated from Sinhala into English. The number of such translators is quite limited, and only a few names come to mind, such as Vijitha Perera, Lakshmi de Silva, Aditha Disanayaka, and a handful of others. In fact, only a few classical texts have been translated into English, let alone contemporary fiction.

Translation courage

It is in light of this challenging landscape that I find myself admiring Janaka Perera, for his sheer courage and tenacity in translating WA Silva’s Sinhala novel ‘Vijayaba Kollaya’ into English. To take up such a task is no mean feat, given the complexity and linguistic richness of Silva’s celebrated work. It requires a deep understanding of both languages, an appreciation of cultural nuances, and the ability to convey them effectively in the target language.

I hold no authority on the subjects of English or Sinhalese literature, but I do consider myself an avid reader who has come to greatly enjoy the writing style of Perera. I have never had the opportunity to meet him in person, but I do recall coming across his writing style years ago in a religion-centred Yahoo group discussion. What struck me about Perera's writing was his ability to remain poised and articulate even amidst a group of individuals, including yours truly, who often conveyed their thoughts with a tad dearth of clarity and patience. Amidst all of that chaos, Perera stood out for his composed and poised writing style. I felt compelled to reach out to him personally and convey my admiration for his writing.

In 1521, an event known as the Vijayaba Kollaya or the Sack of Vijayabahu occurred in the Kingdom of Kotte. The reigning king, Vijayabahu VI, was killed by his three sons who rebelled against him and then divided the Kingdom among themselves. These sons, Bhuvanekabahu (later Bhuvanekabãhu VII of Kotte), Pararajasingha (later Raigam Bandara), and Mayadunne (later Mayadunne of Sitawaka), were from the king's first marriage. The king's second marriage was to Queen Kiravella, who had a son named Deva Rajasinghe from her previous marriage. It is said that the princes became hostile towards their father when they overheard that he intended to make Devaraja the heir to the throne at the request of his second queen. They hired a foreigner to murder the king in the palace, and that's how the tragic event came to pass. The novel was made into a film by Professor Sunil Ariyaratne in 2019.

Master storyteller

WA Silva was a master of storytelling, renowned for his ability to spin intricate plots that kept readers on the edge of their seats. His stories were known to take unexpected turns, leaving readers surprised and impressed. However, Silva's focus was primarily on the plot, and he did not pay much attention to describing the environment or setting (this assessment is based on personal opinion and not intended to undermine the legendary novelist). While he did include descriptions, they were brief and factual, with a focus on advancing the story. When compared to his contemporaries, Silva's writing lacked the poetic and descriptive language that was more commonly employed at the time. This may have been a deliberate choice on his part, as he prioritised the plot and the twists and turns that made his stories so compelling.

The dialogues in Silva's works, on the other hand, reflect the vernacular of the early 21st Century and 16th Century. This presents a unique challenge for modern-day readers, as the language used in his stories may not be immediately accessible. This is something that has posed a particular challenge for Perera, who is tasked with making the translation presentable for contemporary readers.

Translator’s style

Janaka Perera's writing style appears to have been influenced by Western saga authors, particularly Thomas Hardy and Ken Follett. However, Perera's approach to these influences is unique, as he incorporates them into his writing in a plainer, more straightforward manner. Hardy was known for his use of structured paragraphs, which helped solidify his ideas and make his writing more cohesive. In contrast, Ken Follett and other modern authors often employ one-liner paragraphs to make their writing more accessible to readers.

Perera has developed his own writing style, which I experienced through his participation in Yahoo group discussions. His approach is characterised by a professional tone and a focus on the subject-verb-object agreement. This style allows Perera to convey his ideas clearly and concisely, making his writing easy to understand and follow.

Perera's writing style, a reflection of his own unique voice and approach to storytelling, does justice to WA Silva’s historic novel.

Janaka Perera's translation of WA Silva's Vijayaba Kollaya is a notable contribution to Sinhalese literature. Published by Sarasavi Bookshop, the translation showcases Perera's skill as a translator and his ability to convey the nuances of Silva's original text to a modern audience. Vijayaba Kollaya is a complex and multi-layered novel, and Perera's translation captures the richness of Silva's storytelling, while also making it accessible to contemporary readers. The novel explores themes of power, corruption, and betrayal, and Perera's translation provides a valuable window into the socio-political context of early 16th-Century Sri Lanka. The translation of Vijayaba Kollaya is a must-read for anyone interested in Sinhalese literature or the works of WA Silva.

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