Launched in 1959, the French comic classic 'Asterix' boasts having sold an unmatched 370 million copies in more than 100 languages. After capturing the global comics market, the series is now available for Hindi readers - after five years of painstaking translation.
The Hindi translation of the first four albums of the 'Asterix' series was released in New Delhi by French Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler, who called the comics' total of 33 albums "a monument of French pop culture" and "opportunity to learn not French, but about the French (people)."
The series follows the adventures of a group of Gallic villagers as they resist Roman occupation in 50 BCE. It was originally written by Rene Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo.
Published by Om Books International, the "albums", as they are called, were co-translated by Dipa Chaudhuri and Puneet Gupta beginning from 2014. Sharing that translating each album took at least 6-8 months, the task was "not merely a word-to-word translation".
"There are so many cultural references. You have to find equivalent Hindi words, terminology, proverbs, jokes, songs. There is Latin used as well," Gupta, who also translated 'The Adventures of Tintin', said.
Explained his French-speaking co-translator Chaudhuri: "There was a huge translator's block when we started. It wasn't just any translation. These were graphic novels and the graphic form imposes a lot of restrictions as to how you can translate.
"Besides finding the right word, we had to find the right length, because there were speech bubbles. The Hindi script practically is much longer than the French. There are mantras on the top, side and bottom, whereas in French they are only on top. We couldn't be waffling with the translation," Chaudhuri added.
What the translators also has to be mindful of is that each language has its own aural space and one size does not fit all.
"While you'd hit a person with a 'Paff' in French, it'll be 'Bang' in English and 'Thak' in Hindi," Gupta explained, adding that they identified a 100 sounds in four of the 33 albums.
The French equivalent of the India's iconic 'Chacha Chaudhary' comics or 'Amar Chitra Katha', 'Asterix' is a journey into French mindsets and is widely translated and adapted into animated films, video games, live action films, and even theme parks.
The translators shared an interesting anecdote while preparing the Hindi comic.
"They've used the (military) terms decurion and centurion. We couldn't have used 'major' or 'colonel'. So we had to come up with 'dashpati' and 'shatpati' for commanders of 10 and 100 soldiers," Gupta said.
"We called up people in the armed forces and asked them how they'd say this."
Asked if they came across similarities between the Indo-French cultures, Chaudhari said that while there are culturally distinct experiences, human experiences remain the same.
"We talk of warfare, historical hostilities, cultural chauvinism. The comic has strategies, cultural superiority and talking down to the Germanic tribes or Romans. This kind of a comic has a universal resonance.
Added Gupta: "Human emotions of fear, hatred, faith, satire and greed transcend time and culture. All these emotions are depicted here and one can correlate."
The translation rights were acquired by publisher Ajay Mago from the French Hachette Livre after over 5 years of negotiations.
The first four albums are priced at Rs 295 and are available online at Amazon and Flipkart, as also offline.