|Dr Nazry Bahrawi, Singapore University of Technology & Design|
What aroused your interest in translation, and what was the first piece you ever translated?
My journey to literary translation began as an academic interest. As a doctoral student reading comparative literature at the University of Warwick, I was supervised by Susan Bassnett, a household name in translation theory. So, while my thesis wasn’t directly about translation, I began to explore this field of study first through conversations with her. Today, I continue to research into translation to unveil its multifaceted role at shaping what scholars call ‘world literature’. As an indication of just how complicated translation can get, I’ve published a comparative analysis of the Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia versions of Syed Hussein Alatas’ seminal book The Myth of the Lazy Native and found that the former sharpens the ethnic divide between Malays and Chinese in line with the Malaysian ruling party’s (UMNO) ideology of ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy). This affirms the proposal that translation is mired in practices of patronage and power as the translation theorist André Lefevere had pointed out in his book Translation, Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame. This was one of my earliest academic essays. It’d convinced me to dive deeper into translation research.
After my studies in 2013, I returned to Singapore. This was when my first foray into literary translation as practice began. Then, literary translation was starting to gain traction in my multilingual city-island, though there'd been attempts in the past. I was invited to deliver a public lecture about translation, and I was excited to share what I’ve learnt with others. After the lecture, I was approached by the playwright Nadiputra, a Cultural Medallion winner in Singapore, to translate a musical that he was writing from Bahasa to English. I said yes, and the result was a bilingual publication titled Muzika Lorong Buang Kok (Lorong Buang Kok: The Musical), a play about the last kampong (village) in urban Singapore. I’ve found the process to be nothing short of cathartic. Embodying first-hand some of the challenges I’ve read about made the practice of translation even more complex than I've imagined, and this made it alluring – an enigma that’s inviting me to explore its depths. Today, I’ve translated short stories and poems, surtitles for a theatrical adaptation of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, subtitles for a 1960 black-and-white Malay movie as well as judged a translation contest. Most recently, I partook in a performance-lecture about my process as a literary translator.