By Sakshi Selvanathan
Chathurika Senevirathna is bilingual writer, poet and dubbing translator/artist in Sri Lanka. In addition to this, she is also passionate about research and teaching, and has been lecturing in universities and other academic institutes throughout the country.
A few of her works include poetry collections like ‘That Cold Touch’ and short story collections like ‘Bandhana’.
We would love it if you could tell us a little about yourself, your writings and interests.
I was born in Sri Lanka and have lived here ever since. Talking about the literary figure in me, as a child, I got exposed to literature because my parents are poets and also teachers of Sinhala literature. Afterwards, Devi Balika Vidyalaya offered me a promising platform to perform as a writer, dancer, announcer and debater. As a bilingual writer, I don’t limit myself to one genre. Yet, my love towards poetry often triumphs over the rest. So, out of the seven books that I have published, three are poetry collections; two books are in English, and one in Sinhala. It is the book ‘Glory of Resurrection (Poetic Prose)’ that was made available in Asia which gave me the real thrill of getting high reader feedback and acceptance. The second print of the latest book of poetry, ‘That Cold Touch’, published by Black Raven, took me to the international readership.
With the help of my only brother, I was able to publish a collection of short stories in 2016. I also published a collection of lyrics which includes some released songs of mine. Moving to my translations, I’m more into audiovisual translations. But, there’s one book of translation which includes inspirational quotes in which I employed a free, poetic diction. Another role that I really enjoy playing is that of the dubbing artist. Announcing and traditional Kandyan dancing are more like hobbies than freelance jobs for me. Career wise, I have been a lecturer for more than 15 years, but right now however, I am passing a transitional period. My passion for teaching would never leave me, even though I had to make a decision to leave the university that I had been working at for more than 10 years.
Where can we find your works and in which territories have they been showcased?
My first poetry collection was launched at the university and reached a limited local audience. The lyrics collection and the book of short stories will be available again in local book stores and online very soon. The second print of ‘That Cold Touch’ is currently available online. A few songs that I have composed are shared on YouTube. The translated dubbing programmes that I have scripted are broadcast by Rupavahini Corporation.
What fascinates you about the field of linguistics, and how did you make the decision to pursue the study of it further?
Well, the magic of languages has always fascinated me. Having been brought up in a family where Sinhala poetry was bountifully around, I wanted to make experiments with words. While working as a dubbing artist at the Film and Dubbing Unit of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation which I consider my first university, I tried several dubbing scripts too.
When I was exposed to the subject of Linguistics, particularly to the subject ‘Translation Methods’ formerly at the University of Kelaniya, I naturally experimented with more dubbing scripts at the Sri Lanka Red Cross. That intensified my interest towards Language Transfer further. With the guidance of lecturers like Prof. Daya Wickramasinghe, I decided to carry out my research further. That might be the reason why I’m more into Applied Linguistics and Translation Studies. The more I research the area however, the less I feel the identity of specific languages. Apart from Language Transfer, I’m also interested in Teaching English as a Second Language which could be the influence of my profession as a lecturer in English Studies.
What is your take on the importance of translations for books written by authors around the globe?
It’s a globally beneficial cultural exchange; an interesting literary transaction. An opportunity for many authors to connect with a larger audience. Similarly, for many readers, it’s a gateway to other socio-cultural settings. I also see its importance in terms of translation, as an independent discipline. To me, literary translations would never be their counterparts; and neither should they. They have their own footprint, their own personality. It’s another form of art altogether and it has entered the realm of literature now.
I see you have completed a thesis titled ‘Difficulties Encountered by a Translator Engaged in the Process of Dubbing Translation’. Could you briefly tell us about the challenges you encounter while translating in the literary and audiovisual mediums?
Well, in addition to creating Sinhala equivalents to certain words in the source material, finding the right word when lip-syncing is also at times challenging. Especially when the audio-visual piece is not directly from the source text, there could be too contrasting speaking patterns in the source language and the filter language. Doing justice to the text and catering to the Sri Lankan audience is also challenging, particularly when there are cultural disparities. I remember manipulating my words to focus more on the scenic atmosphere than on the people’s behavior in one act in the series of ‘Hotels’ which I translated from English to Sinhala which was French in origin. That was done not to highlight the behavioural act which would surely be ‘unethical’ to our audience. Regarding literary translations, it’s mostly the culture specific factors that I have found challenging.
In addition to translations, you have also authored collections of poetry in English and Sinhala. Could you tell us why you chose this art form and what inspired you to create such works?
Poetry indeed is my favourite mode of expression. In fact, I didn’t choose it intentionally; rather it emerged on its own. I feel it’s within me, it’s within all of us….It’s just an effortless call. Regarding the medium of writing, yes, I write both in English and Sinhala. But I wouldn’t say that I decide on the language or the form. To put it more accurately, according to the specific poetic experience, the poem ‘happens.’ It is the relevant experience that matters. The experience, of course, may come from anywhere.
Among the works you have contributed to, is there one that holds special significance to you?
Of course, every single piece of poetry is special for me as they’re quite spontaneous and thus either inspiring or liberating.
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?
In a context where we’re forced to encounter the reality of nature, literary arts do offer some space for ourselves in order to experience a sense of solace. I really don’t mean forgetting everything and creating a super frothy cocoon to hide in, but inviting ourselves to slow down a little and reflect on our entangled thoughts peacefully. Especially when many commercialized and opportunistic forces drag us to fight with the outer world only to aggravate the issue and add to the existing negativity, literary arts like poetry, for example, (I’m taking poetry as that is closer to me) can definitely call for inner world, inner peace and perhaps silence – where I believe true poetry itself stems from.
What can followers of your work expect in the near future?
Thank you for that Sakshi, I’m largely done with my next collection of poems in Sinhala. There are two more manuscripts being edited at the moment. So, I look forward to sharing some poetic visuals with my readers very soon.