Another Dawn of Translation Glory in Sarpay Beikman


19th of March 2016, the time was about 9:00 am and the place, at the corner of the 37th Street and the Merchant road, downtown Yangon. The day opened up with a silvery grey van turned left into the 37th street and pulled up to a screeching halt right in front of an old building. The building bore the look of an old sage. It towered over the busy traffic down there on the roads, juxtaposing with sophisticated complexes across from the Merchant road. Dismounted from the van was a group of people decently dressed for an occasion. There to greet them at the entrance were three of four gentlemen in Myanmar traditional jacket. They ushered them to a well-lighted and ventilated hall on the third floor. The hall had seating for over 100 guests with its rows of wooden chairs and plastic ones with aisles in-between, creating an impression of a mixture of old and modern ages. The front wall of the hall was pinned with a beautifully designed vinyl reading “Prize-giving Ceremony for Translation Competition, co-organized by Sarpay Beikman, Printing and Publishing Department, Ministry of Information and Shanti Volunteer Association, Japan, funded by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan”. Bunches of contestants and invited guests were coming in to capture the moment. For, the day would mark an important event in the history of Myanmar Translation World. And Sarpay Beikman would host it.
In fact, Sarpay Beikman (literally “Abode or Palace of Literature) emerged as Myanmar Translation Society. Its first President was PM U Nu who initiated a Burmese Translation Job at Judson College. It was based at Sorrento Villa at the corner of Pyay road and Hanthawady road. The purpose was to translate world culture, literature, and education for the Myanmar public. The society decided that independent Burma (Myanmar) would need a Burmese Encyclopaedia. Accordingly, it started to launch the project in May, 1948. Initially, Sir John Hamilton’s encyclopaedia was selected to be translated into 10 volumes. Shortly afterwards, they changed their minds and stopped direct translation. Instead, they managed to complete the project with articles relating to Myanmar and those on the arts and sciences. Volume1 was printed in 1954; the last volume (15) in 1976. The first five volumes were printed in England. Afterwards, the society started to use its own press in Yangon. Then, yearly volumes of updates were published. In 1951, a pictorial translation of a history between 1900 and 1950 was printed in the Netherlands. Then came Ludu Theikpan in 1957 comprising 30 volumes for science technologies to be initiated for publishing. It also facilitated the publication of textbooks for schools. In addition to its encouragement of translation, the society supported many other forms of Myanmar cultures and literature activities. It also established a free library in Yangon in 1956.
In 1963, the society was absorbed into the Ministry of Information’s Printing and Publishing Enterprise as Sarpay Beikman Literature House with its mandate also extended to encourage local writers to print and publish books of all types. Since then, the society presents the annual Sarpay Beikman Manuscript Awards and Myanmar National Literature Awards for excellent, new, unpublished and published writing in various categories. In accordance with its mandate-“To improve and enrich the general knowledge of all Myanmar nationals, the management board decided to compile outstanding works of foreign literature and other branches of knowledge for translation into Myanmar or other indigenous languages. It also tried to print and publish these works at its lowest possible price. Sarpay Beikman, like before, awards prizes for good fiction and research in Myanmar literature and fine arts along with its sponsorship of seminars, courses on writing, book production, journalism and librarianism. Furthermore, it also published English language magazine-“Open Mind”, renamed to “Spectrum” after 1962.  With declining numbers of English readers, it was later decided to launch a Myanmar version, however with articles geared to the interests of Myanmar readers. Sarpay Beikman started to render the Sarpay Beikman Award (K.1000) in 1949. In 1955, Saya Zawgyi won it under the category of literature with his book “Thakhin Kodaw Hmine tika”. The name changed over to the Literary Fine Art Awards in 1962 and the National Literary Awards in 1965. The prizes were awarded annually and the manuscripts published. From 1970, a new system was initiated by which unpublished works were to be submitted in competition for the Sarpay Beikman Manuscript Awards. However, the National Literary Awards, one per category, were selected from the books published in the previous year.
In recent years, Sarpay Beikman co-operated with Shanti Volunteer Association of Japan and decided to hold a translation competition in order to initiate the development of juvenile literature and enhancement of the translation skill of the young translators. As a result, Sarpay Beikman had the book titled “The Sun” translated into Myanmar by its members of Translation Department and published in the year 2015 in compensation for not having been able to hold the translation competition. “The Sun” was themed as the rudiments of ecosystem for the young children.
For the year-2016 competition, the book entitled “The earth” was chosen as prescribed text for translation. It highlighted the importance of preservation of our environment and thus, was considered suitable for bringing into notice the ABC of environmentalism among the youths. In scrutinizing the manuscripts submitted by the candidates, the selection committee adhered to the criteria such as terminology, flow of writing, distinctive writing, translation skill and choice or appropriate or powerful words After three phases of scrutiny, five candidates came out as winners of first, second, third and two consolation prizes, namely, Khin Pyae Pyae Phyo, Sai Wira Lin Khant, Dr Khin Lin Naing, Su Su Myint and Wai Yan Oo.
The ceremony was opened with a welcoming speech made by U Aung Than, Editor-in-Chief of Sarpay Beikman. In his speech, he recalled the background of Sarpay Beikman, pinpointed the importance of consulting the English-Myanmar Dictionary for the contestants especially in their attempts towards translating of an English word for which there already is a fixed term in Myanmar, expressed his concern about the seeming dearth of new-generation translators and at the same time concluded saying he was delighted to see such a horde of young translators who came up for the competition. Then came Ms. Aki Nakahara of Shanti Volunteer Association to make another speech in which she disclosed her heart-felt thanks towards all the contestants and encouraged all of them to keep on participating in the forthcoming competitions. And then, prizes were awarded to the winners by U Tin Hlaing (Ledwinthar Saw Chit), Dr. Khin Aye (Maung Khin Min (Danubyu)), Ms. Aki Nakahara and U Aung Than respectively. After that, presents were given as tokens of thanks to Ms. Aki Nakahara and U Win Tun (Maung Wint Thu), a member of the selection committee. The ceremony was successfully brought to an end with words of thanks given on behalf of all the contestants by first-prize winner, Khin Pyae Pyae Phyo.
In the past, Sarpay Beikman had shined in the Myanmar translation community with its historic publications. Now this translation competition will mark an auspicious start to revive its days of glory as the name “Sarpay Beikman” connotes its grandiose implication. It will also signify the indispensability of the younger generation in bridging the gaps in the world of Myanmar literature especially under the category of translation literature.

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