According to Australia-based Kumar Sivasubramanian, 37, the translator of Stupid Guy Goes to India, the book serves two purposes -- it presents an outsider's perspective about India, and also holds up a mirror to Indians to show them how their country treats foreigners. Excerpts from an interview with Sivasubramanian, who has been translating manga into English since 2002.
Kumar Sivasubramanian, the translator of the book
How did you come about translating this book?
The graphic novel was discovered by an acquaintance, Bharath Murthy, while on a trip to Japan. Bharath, who is deeply involved in the Indian comics scene, brought the book to Blaft Publications.
The book is so unique in terms of genre, content, approach and character that I leapt at the opportunity to work on it. I don't know if I'll get the chance to work on anything so unusual and funny again.
What makes this book unique?
The book is autobiographical, which makes it unique. Yamamatsu's approach is utterly honest. India seems unbelievable but so is his own behaviour at times. We're fortunate that he had the courage to share his own embarrassments and shortcomings so forthrightly.
How was the translation process?
Any translation job usually involves having to educate oneself about subjects that one is not familiar with. This was more than true with Stupid Guy... I had to teach myself a certain amount of Hindi, learn about horse betting in Japan and India both, and even local geography. Some parts were even quite emotional for me, as I remembered my own hardships on my last trip to India.
How different is the job of translating manga from a regular novel?
Translating manga is considerably easier, because the art (work) is already there to communicate the characters' emotions and interactions. The main problem is finding equivalent English expressions that can fit into tiny word balloons! Because of the way the Japanese language is written, it is easy to fit in a lot of information into a tiny space with a fraction of the letters needed in English. It's always a challenge not to lose any of that information.
How do you ensure that the comic punch is not lost while translating?
It depends on the type of humour, but the main problem, as always, is that people have different senses of humour. Because Japanese is not my first language, it is hard for me to gauge: 'How funny would a Japanese person find this?' It is the job of a good translator to be as invisible as possible, but in cases of humour I have to trust my own instincts about what is funny.
How much time did it take you to translate this book?
Typically, mangas take me about 20 minutes a page to translate. But because this book was so text heavy compared to other manga, it took almost double the time.
What is your favourite scene in the book?
There is a scene in which Suman, the wife of the man Yamamatsu is staying with, uses him to try to negotiate a cheaper price on some fabric. He fails but then she comes back having bought the fabric for an even cheaper deal than she initially wanted. How this happened is completely inexplicable, but I love that despite all the obstacles, Yamamatsu makes fundamental human connections with the people he meets.