2019 polls: At last, Rahul finds right translator in Jyothi

Jyothi Vijayakumar with Rahul Gandhi at a rally in Kerala.

Chennai: The Internet can be an unforgiving place for politicians and more so for translators who take the message of national leaders to regional masses.

Senior Congress leaders P J Kurien and K V Thangkabalu discovered it the hard way as trolls ruthlessly targetted their gaffes while translating Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s English speech during political rallies in the south.

Amidst the din of Internet trolls, Jyothi Vijayakumar, a former employee of News Today, won hearts and accolades from one and all for her accurate and emotionally charged Malayalam translations of Rahul and Priyanka’s speeches during election campaign in Kerala.

Speaking to this reporter, Jyothi says that the problems with the translations made by Kurien and Thangkabalu were not their own but arose due to technical issues.

“I heard Kurien sir’s speech. It was very clear that there was a feedback problem and there was an echo on the stage. It doesn’t matter how good a translator is, when you are not able to hear the words, we cannot translate. It’s simple.”

Jyothi adds that she herself faced similar issues in 2017 and made mistakes. “I told Rahulji that it was very difficult to translate. After that occasion, he double cross-checks whether the sound system is perfect before each meeting and in Kurien sir’s case it was not done.”

Though Jyothi’s wave of popularity only rose after Kurien and Thangkabalu’s translation troubles came to the fore, she has, in fact, been the go-to person for the Gandhi family whenever they visited Kerala since 2011.

Translating for Priyanka Gandhi

She says, “I was surprised my Malayalam translations became popular in Tamilnadu. I have been translating Rahul and Sonia Gandhi’s speeches since 2011. After watching a translation in Chennai in 2011, I told my dad – who is a Congress leader in Kerala – that I could help if the party needed a Malayalam translator. The Congress gave me the opportunity and I translated Rahulji’s speech live on-stage when he came to Kerala that year.”

“People tell me that when I translate Rahulji’s speeches, he seems more confident and relaxed on stage. I am delighted that he does not have any problems during his speech,” gushes Jyothi.

It helps that Jyothi is a great admirer of Rahul and Congress’ ideologies. “I feel that if you ask me to do some other party’s translation, I would not be as successful. Without the emotional connect to Congress it would be very difficult,” she admits.

On the secret behind her accurate translations, Jyothi says that she sticks to the original speech as much as possible. Preparation is key, she says. We can find Jyothi fervently taking notes during speeches, something that we don’t find other translators doing.

Jyothi explains, “I take notes to keep my concentration intact, even if sometimes I may not be able to read everything I write.”

Each person also has different ways of speaking that Jyothi has to keep in mind. “Rahul Gandhi, for instance, is more extempore and there are no prepared notes. While translating Priyanka Gandhi’s speech, the notes helped a lot as she lists out four or five things at once,” she explained.

“But nowadays, it’s easier, as previous speeches are on Facebook and you can go through the material to prepare and find the exact Malayalam words for certain English words and technical content, and be ready,” she says.

After seeing footage of her translations in Malayalam, this reporter asked if she could do Tamil translations, too – after all she has spent her learning years in the office of News Today in Chennai. Jyothi modestly replied, “Though I can manage speaking in Tamil, I’m not a pro when it comes to translations. This is something best left to experts.”


Selfie time for Jyothi when she visited NT office recently.

Jyothi Vijayakumar’s first paid job was in News Today. She was a sub-editor here and also handled Nungambakkam Talk, a weekly neighbourhood magazine that was part of Talk Media, a sister publication of News Today. Jyothi says she still enjoys an emotional connect with News Today and its journalists who taught her to create magic with words.


A Harsha Vardhan