By Sakshi Selvanathan
Ashani is an accomplished translator in Sri Lanka, translating German and English books to Sinhala and vice versa. She is also actively involved as a German lecturer in language institutes and universities in the country and has received many awards for her work in linguistics.
A few of her translated works include: ‘Das Parfum’ by Patrick Süsskind, ‘Sarahs Schlüssel’ by Tatiana de Rosney, ‘Emma und Ich’ by Sheila Hocken, ‘Wonder’ by R.J.Palacio, and ‘Die Welt im Rücken‘ by Thomas Melle.
We would love it if you could tell us a little about yourself, your writings and interests.
I would rather introduce myself as a German lecturer and a freelance translator. Other than that, I am a bit into innovations too. Translating is a passion and started 15 years ago with Wolfgang Borchert’s short story collection. With “Emma und Ich” I moved into novel translation, mainly German novels and then English novels into Sinhala. So far I have translated 10 novels, 6 from German and the rest was from English.
Where can we find your works and in which territories have they been showcased?
All of my translations were published by the mainstream publishers like, Surasa, Susara, Godage and Sandakada. The 10 translations are different from each other and carry different themes, but always represent some kind of a human behavior.
Could you tell us more about the awards/scholarships you received in recognition of your work?
I was awarded 4 scholarships, which were more connected to Teaching German as a foreign language. But I was invited to launch one of my translations at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2018, and it was very unique and unforgettable. As far as I know, that was the first Sinhala book launched at the Frankfurt book fair.
What fascinates you about the German language and how did you make the decision to pursue the study of it further?
Choosing German for as a main subject for my degree was totally a coincidence. It was not in my plans. When I was filling the application for the university entrance, I didn’t have a third choice. I just kept it blank and later my mother filled it for me. So she was the one who chose German. I studied German, Japanese language and Fine arts at the university. But at the university I learnt that a language is not just words or a tool of communication. Language is more than that. It expresses the culture, society and beliefs. And each language has its own characteristics. Sometimes you see similarities, but as well as differences.
What is your take on the importance of translations for books written by authors around the globe?
Translations bring the world closer. And it helps readers to enjoy the diversity of cultures and societies without getting there physically, it helps the reader to understand the other side of the world and through that it builds bridges between cultures. I would say, translation is not just a fight with words, but transforming ideas and creativity to another language. Different languages highlight different aspects. So the easiest way to understand these differences is translation. Therefore, you can enjoy classics as well as masterpieces of world literature without any difficulty. You don’t have to learn or speak each and every language around the globe if there are translators who are capable of plastering the gap between the globe and the home. It allows us to discover what happens around the world through our own language.
What are the challenges you encounter while translating books?
I would say translating is an art, yet a very difficult and challenging task. Translating means not just finding suitable word or phrase, it has feelings, tears, and all the seen and unseen feelings and expressions. Dealing with cultural aspects and beliefs is also challenging and as well as threatening. With the wrong word or even with a wrong comma or full stop, the originality will be devastated. A translator writes the script again in his or her words. It must be a perfect reproduction of the original. The author allows making mistakes, but not the translator. So translating from German was a huge task, as its culture is bit far for us, yet some aspects are well known. If the languages are not very closely related, translation becomes difficult.
How far is it actually feasible of capturing everything an author writes about in another language?
It is a huge challenge that has to be overcome. Yet there are some instances that we cannot capture everything that an author writes. For instance the German word “Schadenfreude” which means finding happiness in someone else’s misfortune cannot be translated into Sinhala using one word. I think there is no similar word in English too. But the translator must do the justice and respect the original text. Therefore, even though the translator cannot grasp each and every bit of the original text, must at least try to stick to the mainstream.
Among the works you have contributed to, is there one that holds special significance to you?
Yes, I would name “Melodie des Winters”. The German translation of the Pramudith Rupasinghe’s “Bayan”. For 15 years I was translating novels from German and English into Sinhala. This was a huge turning point in that path. For the first time I was translating from English to German. Even though it was a difficult and time-taking task, I really enjoyed it and I am thankful to the author, Pramudith for giving me the opportunity. It paved a path to another direction, which was never in my plans.
What is your opinion on the need for people to engage in the creation (or consumption) of the literary arts amidst the ongoing, and rather stressful, COVID-19 pandemic?
For more than a year we are living under pressure and restrictions which we never had before. But life must go on. But like any other crisis, COVID 19 also has potential to bring new opportunities to the table. Especially experts or amateurs who are engaging in language related fields have the responsibility to minimize the stress and mental instability of fellow citizens. Reading and writing bring creativity to the limelight. If we can encourage the people to read more and at least to scribble something, it will soothe their heavy heart and minds, because it is kind of a therapy, that we call bibliotherapy or literature therapy. Most probably at the end of the day you will come out, not only with a light mind but, with a masterpiece.
What can followers of your work expect in the near future?
Last year, I finished one more translation, a biography – the Sinhala translation of “Dein bestes Leben” by Janis MacDavid, a differently abled motivational speaker from Germany. The translation will be published by Vapa University Press this year. It was a story of a person with a mountain of positive energy.
Other than that, I am translating the second book by Pramudith, “Behind the Eclipse” into German. That will take some time to come out, but will definitely be on the racks.