In the middle of the interview as Zhao Jiang’s iPhone rang, she picked it up, said “vanakkam” and broke into Tamil. It was a Beijing-based Tamilian friend who had called her to say sorry that he couldn’t attend last week’s celebrations to mark 50 years of China Radio International’s (CRI) Tamil service broadcast in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and the US.
Zhao is celebrating the occasion with her own unique achievements; in June, she led a team of five — all CRI colleagues — to bring out the first Chinese to Tamil dictionary, a compilation of 27,000 words.
It wasn’t an easy task.
“My five colleagues translated 4,000 words each. I did 7,000 words. We referred to over 10 Tamil dictionaries. After the translation was over, each word — both the Chinese and its Tamil translation — was discussed and checked at least three times to ensure that the meanings were correct,” Zhao in her diminutive 30s told HT over coffee at a Beijing mall.
The result was the compilation titled “Chinese-Tamil Dictionary by Category”.
Earlier, the government-owned publishing house, Commercial Press (CP), had handed her collection of 30,000 words in Mandarin to translate into Tamil. “The CP gave me a model for a dictionary. But I edited around 3,000 words as I thought they were not relevant. The categories under which I chose the words were broadly under social, politics, economics, history, Chinese customs, military and the Communist Party of China (CPC),” Zhao — whose Tamil name is Kalaimagal — said.
Zhao became Kalaimagal while studying at the Communication University of China in Beijing where she did a four-year course in Tamil. Her choice of Tamil as her subject for an university major came out of a broad interest in India and love for ancient languages.
After joining CRI she visited Tamil Nadu twice where she interacted with listeners of CRI’s Tamil service.
The dictionary was Zhao’s second work in Tamil. In January, she published her first book in the Indian language about her experiences in Beijing, Shanghai and Tibet as also about the history and culture of the three places.
“It wasn’t only a travelogue; it had my opinions too. It was a kind of an introduction to China with few tips for tourists given as well,” she said, adding that initially she wasn’t aware that it was the first book in Tamil written by a Chinese.
Published in India and titled (translated in English), “Charming Tours in China”, the book — according to the author — has sold some 6000 copies.
Next in line is a Tamil to Chinese dictionary that will emphasise on categories like Tamil culture, history and economics.
Like in her earlier attempts, Zhao’s effort to bridge the gap between two very different and ancient languages is unlikely to be lost in translation.