Two months ago, I happened to read a piece of news in the Kyemon, a public newspaper, saying that a translation contest was jointly to be held by the Sarpay Beikman under the Ministry of Information and the Shanti Volunteer Foundation of Japan, that the first, the second and the third winners were to be awarded a handsome money and that the work of the first winner was to be published. I was reminded by that news of the Gantaloka Translation Contest held in Myanmar about 90 years ago and its outshining product Thakin Ba Thaung, who was later reputed to be one of the best translators in Myanmar.
In fact, the Gantaloka was the name of the Myanmar Section of the book titled “The World of Books”, a monthly periodical published by the Burma Book Club found by Mr. Furnivall in 1924 with the aims of translating the books written in various languages into Myanmar, opening libraries which could provide easy access to the reading population of Myanmar and encouraging literary scholars to lecture on their literary works. It first opened its book stall in the compound of an old university on Commissioner Road (which is today in the compound of State High School No.(1), Latha Township) and then shifted it to the corner of Pansodan Street in April 1932. This club published “The World of Books” monthly, which carried the review of the books which were on sale at the stall. Although it originally consisted of 12 pages written only in English, a Myanmar section was added to it two years later, bringing the number of the pages to 16. When the Burma Book Club was reorganized as the Burma Education Extension Association, the page number of the World of Books was increased to 48 and the English and the Myanmar sections were made equal in volume. Since May 1929, the book was renamed “ The Globe Journal”(ကမာၻလုံးဂ်ာနယ္). The name continued to be in use till January 1930. But since February that year, the Myanmar section was called “Gantaloka” in Pali which means “ The World of Books” which was the original name of the book.
The Gantaloka Translation Contest was held for 54 times up to December 1941 from February 1927. The first winner was to be awarded 15 Rupees. In No.(1) Contest, the contestants were to translate the essay titled” On Studies” written by Bacon into Myanmar. In the contest, the first prize was jointly won by U Maung Hla, Deputy District Administrative Officer, Minbu and Maung Nyunt from Bagan Hostel, Yangon College. The award of 15 Rupees was equally divided between them. When it came to No.(3) Contest, it was expanded into two categories: Section (A) and Section (B). The first winner of each section was to be awarded 10 Rupees each. When it came to No.(3) Contest, Maung Ba Thaung who lived at No. (1) (B), 63th Street, Yangon, alone won the first prize by translating the article titled, `To Lucasta Going to War´by Richard Lovelace into Myanmar as`လကတ္စတားေပးစစ္ထြက္ဘဲြ႔မွာတမ္း´ in Section (B). He won then four consecutive first prizes by translating`There is a Lady Sweet and kind’ into Myanmar as `ကညာတစ္ဦး ရွိခဲ့ဖူးသည္မွာ´ in No.(4) Contest, Section (B), ` The Structure of Matter”, written by Professor Andrade into Myanmar as `ပထ၀ီဖဲြ႔စည္းပုံအေၾကာင္း´ in No.(5) Contest, Section (A), “Policemen in China” into Myanmar as`တရုတ္ျပည္ပုလိပ္သားတို႔ အေၾကာင္း in No. (6) Contest, Section (A) and “Encouragement to a Lover´ into Myanmar as `အပူသယ္အားေပးလကၤာ´ in No. (6) Contest, Section (B). When the editorial board of the Gantaloka Translation Contest found that their prizes went to the same competitor month after month, they became afraid that their competition would be a farce. Coincidently, an editor for the Myanmar Section of the Globe Journal was then in urgent need. They, therefore, appointed Maung Ba Thaung on the editorial board in August 1928.
In 1928, Maung Ba Thaung translated “ The Doctor Perforce “ written by French Dramatist Moliere into Myanmar as
“ ဆ၇ာ၀န္ပါဘဲ” . It was acknowledged as the first western drama ever translated by a Myanmar. In 1929, he was also awarded of Prince of Wales Translating Prize for his rendering the book titled `Outlines of General History´ written by Professor Renouf into Myanmar as `ကမာၻ႔ရာဇ၀င္ေပါင္းခ်ဴပ္´. Mr. Sloss, the then Principal of Yangon College, was highly impressed with his elusive translation caliber. So he, though not matriculated, was appointed a tutor at the translation branch of the Myanmarsar Department in on 15 June 1930. But like many other like Myanmar young men working at the university, he combined his teaching with nationalist propaganda. He composed the song titled “ Doe-ba-hmar” with the aid of Y.M.B. Saya Tin and sang it at Thaton Hostel on 19 July at the permission of warden U Pe Maung Tin and sang it again in public at the platform of the Shwedagon Pagoda the next day and then published the manifesto of the Doe-ba-hmar Asiayone. When orders were passed forbidding nationalist propaganda, Maung Ba Thaung resigned from his prestigious position of university teacher. Regarding his resignation, Principal Sloss commented that he was the only one to sacrifice his job rather than his consciousness.
“I was reminded by that news of the Gantaloka Translation Contest held in Myanmar about 90 years ago and its outshining product Thakin Ba Thaung, who was later reputed to be one of the best translators in Myanmar.”
He resigned from the editorial board of the Myanmar Section of the Gantaloka Magazine in July 1931 and entered into the politics. Then he branded himself as Thakin , together with Thakin Hla Baw, Thakin Thein Maung, Thakin Thein Han, Thakin Tun Shwe, Thakin Ba Tin, etc , undertook nationalist propaganda. When Myanmar regained her independence, he resumed his literary tasks. In 1953, he, in conjunction with Saya Tet Toe, published the” Commentator”, an English Newspaper. In 1959, he served as an editor of the Myanmar and World Journal published by the Ministry of Defence. After 1962, he was appointed a translation tutor at the head-office of the Myanmar Socialist Lazin Party. While doing so, he contributed English articles to the Working People’s Daily.
Thakin Ba Thaung wrote about 50 books in total. Most of them were translated ones. Out of them, ပန္းသာမစာဥ (Tess of Durbbervilles by Thomas Hardy) and ဆ၇ာ၀န္ပါဘဲ (The Doctor Perforce by Moliere) were most well known to the people of that time. The UNESCO Translation Prize was conferred on him in 1960 in recognition of his translation talent. In fact, translators can help the reading population of our country imbibe the knowledge of the best brains of the world, thus bringing about the human resource development. Today, the senior generation of translators like Thakin Ba Thaung, Sayagyi Shwe U Daung, Dagon Shwemyar, P. Moe Hnin, Saya Mya Than Tint, Saya Tet Toe, etc has gone by. A new generation of competent Myanmar translators is, therefore, badly in need of Myanmar which is now on course to democracy. Therefore, it is hoped by the author that the translation contest being jointly organized by the Sarpay Beikman and the Shanti Volunteer Foundation can produce some promising young Myanmar translators.