How would Harry Potter have pronounced शहिवाख़्‍ का दर्पण, anyway?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/01/27 08:31 -05:00, original URI:

If you are a regular reader, you may recall the recent SiaO @ B.NET blog discussing a speaking engagement in Bangalore set up by regular reader Pavanaja U B.

Now this had to happen without the scooter, because of the adventures I just pointed out in Bangalore Sans Scooter. But I figured I'd be sitting anyway, so no worries at all. :-)

I was a little worried about how the venue changed three times (I pointed how at Microsoft if you move the meeting three times then sometimes people decide to skip it, out of fear that people will go to all three rooms and the actual meeting won't happen!). But we had a nice crowd and people kept trickling in even as the presentation went on....

The talk was a ton of fun, even more than I expected -- in some part because of how fascinating it is to watch people respond to the same talk but find different points amusing due to different cultural contexts. In particular I had taken the time to add a bit of Kannada to some of the samples, which I think also went well. :-)

The real proof was in the Q&A -- the geek presentation version of the singer/songwriter's encore. We blew the house out, with a time that threatened to be longer than the original presentation if you include some questions that happened during, too. We covered everything from sorting to fonts to keyboards to Unicode to not using Unicode and LIPs and more -- many points raised are going to find their way into future blog posts, particularly some of the font issues.

The whole thing was really amazing, and I had a ton of fun (I hope they did too!).

After the meeting, I was presented with a gift -- two books, that were the Hindi translations of two Harry Potter books (Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets).

Very cool!

I was shown one extremely cool part that they knew I'd love to see -- the way that the translator handled the chapter that in English was entitled Mirror of Erised. I decided I was going to look into this a bit deeper. :-)

So that night when I probably ought to be sleeping I am looking through the chapter and slowly deciphering it -- slowly since I don't know much Hindi but I do know the script a bit and know the original book and have resources to translate words (including people at the front desk of the 37th Crescent Hotel  -- including several Harry Potter fans -- who were happy and I think quite amused to help me on this odd quest!).

Now from the original book:

Harry thought. Then he said slowly, "It shows us what we want... whatever we want..."

"Yes and no," said Dumbledore quietly. "It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts."

Of course Erised is "desire" spelled backward.

This is an interesting translation issue, for Hindi. The translator of course knew that spelling a word backward is a bit more involved, so to be true to the intent of the original he took the Hindi word



(which in my humble opinion was a reasonable choice as it means wish/desire) and reverses it to


(that ZWJ required to look most like the book's printed text for reasons I discussed in the very talk I gave earlier and in that blog Why my IUC31 talks were presented on Vista (even though running on a MacBook Pro) so that the chapter title becomes

शहिवाख़्‍ का दर्पण

which is basically backward as ordered though it creates a kind of awkward word in Hindi for all sorts of reasons, including the ending half form that is not represented perfectly for what is in the book in Unicode (and is not comfortably pronounceable in Hindi, either).

It is a fair bet that the book was not typeset in Unicode (which is yet another issue we talked about in the Q&A that I will blog about some time soon -- Adobe beware!)

I wondered whether I should be writing a proposal for the UTC to cover what this word brings up, since it appears in a published work? :-)

I kept reading, out of curiosity I think -- plus I really wanted to be comfortable with my conclusions (I feel like I did not listen closely enough when they were explaining meanings and felt properly self conscious that I may have missed something). I was reminded of an old BtVS bit of dialog:

Dawn: I've been reading this old Turkish spell book. There's an old conjuration that the ancient Turks used to communicate with the dying.
Willow: Oh, yeah. I think I've read a translation of that.
Dawn: There's a translation of it?
[Dawn makes a frustrated sound]
Dawn: I'm over it.

I mean, maybe it is funny for me to be trying to read the book, but then as Cathy (back in Redmond from Thailand, shocked to find out I was in India, but still only an IM away) put it when I feared she'd be laughing about this:

You gotta remember that I took at least 6 dead language courses + German + French + Mandarin in college.

Fair enough. :-)

Eventually, I felt comfortable that I had properly reverse engineered the translator's intent here, but still imagining I would keep cracking these two books from time to time as I truly enjoyed the experience of this one chapter and found myself curious about what the translator did with things like the Halloween references (do they even have Halloween in India?).

In any case, a truly enjoyable presentation, a wonderful crowd, a delightful gift, and a pretty half-decent blog post about it all. What more could one ask for? :-)


This post brought to you by(U+0916, aka DEVANAGARI LETTER KHA)

agarwalmk@"garam" on 27 Jan 2008 11:57 AM:

Thanks for all the posts about your India trip.

BTW, ख़्वाहिश and दर्पण are Urdu words written in Hindi.

Deepak on 27 Jan 2008 12:44 PM:

Hi Michael,

Thanks for making it to the user group! We all had a great time.

Here is a review that I had written when I had first come across the Hindi translation: I cover some interesting points - including what they did with Halloween ;-).

Hope you'll find book 2 interesting too. They seem to have finished translating till Order Of Phoenix:

They tried hard to localize quite a few things to local contexts. The title of the book for instance is पारस पत्थर (Paaras Patthar), which is a mythical stone that turns anything brought in contact with it into gold.

The original title in US was Philosopher's Stone and I don't think a literal translation would've made sense here :).

They still haven't done a thorough enough job. Halloween is mostly unheard of here (things are changing in big cities though) but they retained it. And at some places, things are really quite bad - "piece of cake" has been literally translated to, well केक का टुकङा, which means piece of cake :).

They did translate the Hogwarts house names and I found them quite funny.



Michael S. Kaplan on 27 Jan 2008 3:52 PM:

You mean there was a review that would have made it easier for me?


Ok, I'm over it. :-)

Very cool, and very cool that you do have lots of the issues I was curious about. I'll have to compare to see how well I did on the issue I did cover!

It was a great visit there, a lot of fun.....

Pavanaja U B on 28 Jan 2008 1:24 AM:

Have you seen a localized Ferrari - ?


Pavanaja U B on 28 Jan 2008 1:28 AM:

Thanks Michael Kaplan, for a wonderful and knowledge imparting session. Everyone enjoyed the seesion. That was evident how people flocked with with questions even after 2 hours! They stayed back and asked questions, and had firendly informal discussions. What is more appreciated is your knowledge of the subject.


Anonymous on 28 Jan 2008 7:02 AM:

Wonder how they'll translate Half Blood Prince (अर्ध रक्त शहजादा?)

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referenced by

2010/03/23 Learning to spell in Bengali (when one has a cool input method)

2008/02/07 Taking Lufthansa's Ark across the universe in search of my own Kobayashi Maru: The Sandalwood Bunny, aka Much ado about scooter

2008/02/01 It is not always a conjunct; there are some letters, too!

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