An Interview with Aarushi Nohria

Written by: Mia Yanosy

Aarushi Nohria is a fourth-semester English and human rights double major at the University of Connecticut. She enjoys translating poetry from Hindi, Roman Urdu, Roman Punjabi, and Spanish. Aarushi enjoys knitting, nature photography, and yoga. In the coming year, she is looking forward to writing her thesis and graduating.

Aarushi Nohria was the winner of the 2021 Aetna Translation Award and her translation of “Ruth’s Dream” will be published in the 2021 edition of Long River Review.

[This interview was conducted over email]

1. Congratulations on winning the Aetna Translation Award this year! How long have you been translating for? How did you first become interested in translation?

Aarushi Nohria: Thank you! The translation I did for the Aetna Translation Award was actually the first translation I’ve ever put on paper, but I’ve been interested in translation for a long time. I grew up with my mom translating song lyrics from Urdu and Punjabi (languages culturally important to my family) into Hindi or English (languages with which I was more intimately familiar). We would have a back-and-forth about the exact meaning of a word sometimes until we hit the most “correct” translated word or phrase, and I credit these experiences for instilling in me the value of precise and thoughtful translations. So, in a sense I’ve been translating for my whole life. My first written translation was of “A Strange Tale” by Javed Akhtar, and it was my attempt to internally recreate the dialogue I had with my mom to better understand his poem. From then on, translation for me has, in part, been the selfish endeavor of fully immersing myself in poetic works and, in part, a desire to share the genius and beauty in those works with everyone I can.

2. What is your connection to the source language of “Ruth’s Dream?”

AN: Hindi, the language in which “Ruth’s Dream” was written, is my first language. I learned to read the Devanagari script in Sunday school from second to fifth grade and from my grandmother and aunt when we visited them in India. It felt tedious at the time, but looking back, I am definitely really grateful that I had the opportunity to learn how to read Hindi in addition to understanding and speaking. 

3. What attracted you to Savita Singh’s works? What about “Ruth’s Dream” made you want to translate this poem in particular?

AN: Savita Singh is an Indian professor who studied at McGill, so a lot of her poetic works capture the feelings that come with being a part of the South Asian diaspora in Hindi, which I have never encountered before. The use of snow as [an indication] of isolation was a really fascinating and beautiful image that drew me to this poem, and my curiosity about the speaker and the beginning of her sort of enlightenment kept me engaged as I was translating. 

4. Do you solely translate poetry or have you worked with prose in the past as well? If you have worked with prose, do you find that there’s a difference between translating prose and verse?

AN: I solely translate in poetry right now, but I hope I can tackle prose one day. Prose is definitely a bit intimidating for me because it tends to be longer, so I feel like I wouldn’t be able to use the translating routine I’ve developed over the past few months. I actually reached out to Savita Singh for permission to translate and submit “Ruth’s Dream” for publication, and she graciously shared some of her other work with me, including her short stories. I plan to practice translating prose over the summer, so hopefully I will be able to tackle and share Singh’s prose with English-speakers soon.

5. Can you talk a little bit about your translation process? What is the first step you take when you begin a translation? What is your main goal when translating a piece?

AN: My translation routine from any non-Roman script begins first with transcribing everything to the Roman script. This is generally a quick process, though the era of the work definitely contributes a bit to how fast or slow it goes — the older the language, the slower I go. This also tends to be a great introduction to the poem and its defining themes and metaphors, so I know what exactly I want to preserve in my translation and where I may take more creative license. After that, I start with the first line, create a word-by-word translation, and then edit for syntax, etc. to make that line domesticated for English-speakers. I do this for every line, or for every couplet if I’m translating a ghazal, so I treat and edit each line almost as its own poem. I leave it alone for a few days, and then go back to look at the translated version as a whole poem; this is when I deviate most from the source text, occasionally shuffling lines from their original order, creating enjambment where there previously was none, and adding punctuation. In poetry translated from South Asian languages, this latter move is sort of the final domesticating flourish because there doesn’t tend to be any punctuation in the source text. My main goal for my translated works is definitely to preserve as much of the original wording and imagery as possible while making sure that it can also be read comfortably in English. 

6. Which lines or words in your translation of “Ruth’s Dream” are you the most proud of having written and why?

AN: I think my favorite lines from my translation are: “(A few lovers stumbled into her soul, somehow, / But left behind only their beds.)”

I definitely took a bit of creative license with these lines, as a word-by-word translation of the source text would be more along the lines of: “Occasionally, into it while walking came some lovers / Who left behind only their mattresses.” Aside from domesticating the syntax, I added the word “soul,” which was implied but never specified in the source text, and replaced “mattresses” with “beds,” which made more sense in English. The “somehow” and the parentheses reflected my interpretation of these lines within the stanza as a sort of afterthought to the speaker and to their main point. “Ruth’s Dream” was one of my first translations, when I was a lot more uncomfortable with adding such personal touches, but looking back, I think my alterations and additions definitely contributed to translating some of the implicit meaning of the source text.

7. There is a beautiful line in “Ruth’s Dream” that reads: “He told her that language is the world, / And that only within it can one find loneliness and love.” Can you elaborate on these lines and what they mean to you?

AN: Absolutely! I love those lines as well. 

I’ve long been interested in the theories and discourse about [the] power of language in larger scale social and political contexts (think: Orwell’s classic essay on “Politics and the English Language”). To see an adaptation of these ideas applied to the individual experience was definitely jarring and valuable to me because I have a tendency to over-intellectualize ideas that make me uncomfortable. I think these lines reflect a sense of how our mindset and perspective is shaped by the language we think and speak in. Of course this sentiment is complicated in practice by trauma, referenced in the poem, or mental illness, but I think the general idea is definitely true and reflects one way that an individual might be able to seize some control of a seemingly hopeless situation, like the one Ruth faces.

8. Do you enjoy writing your own creative pieces? If so, how does being a writer influence your approach to translation?

AN: I would actually say that my practice with translating has had more of an effect on my writing than the other way around; translating has helped me discover the importance of practice, of making mistakes, and of being bold — all things I have been scared to do with my own creative writing. I used to be far too [much of a] perfectionist with my ideas and language, to the point where putting anything on paper was an overwhelming task. Translating has definitely helped break down that barrier for me because by the time I get to it, the hard part has already been done by incredibly talented writers. The number of revisions my translations alone go through makes me imagine how many revisions the source text had to have gone through, all of which has helped me realize how unending the writing process is. 

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