“No matter the subject. We ensure high quality translations of your precious material” (the Avitra website).
With a resident population of nearly 2000 individuals coming from more than 35 countries it isn't amazing that translations are part of Auroville's service package. “Avitra is Auroville's official language service provider,” says Michael proudly. This 45-year old former Dutch economist joined Auroville in 1998. But economics wasn't his true calling. His interest in languages led him to start Avitra in 1999.
Some Aurovilians were at the time involved in translations and language activities. “We wanted to do things more professionally,” says Michael. “In 1999, Lloyd and I ran into Chandresh Patel, a member of Auroville International USA, who convinced us that we could offer something unique. He loaned us the start-up capital and we got an office, purchased the necessary computer equipment and obtained access to advanced translation software. The next step was to find people in Auroville interested to join this experiment.”
It was more difficult than expected. “Auroville has many qualified people in many areas,” explains Michael. “However, translating is not everybody's job and we wanted to bring people together who share the necessary characteristics – competence, concentration, precision, a sense of perfection. If you add to that things like motivation and, particularly, availability at short notice, you'll have to search a lot harder. We managed to form a small team, and by trial and error we were able to build up a group of competent people.”
Auroville translators work freelance from their homes and are paid per ‘source-word'. For some, this is their main source of income, even if it is not always their main activity in Auroville. For others it is a part-time involvement to help pay for expenses they can't easily cover from their existing income. “Avitra is happy that it can offer people the chance to be engaged in challenging and rewarding work,” says Michael.
Does Avitra accept everything that comes for translation? “Certainly not,” responds Michael. “In the beginning we had a clear preference for texts dealing with spirituality, social sciences, organic farming, renewable energy and architecture, as they connect to the reference points of a lot of people in Auroville. That turned out to be hard going, and with hardly any work coming in, we widened out a bit. Now we are more pragmatic and accept most material unless the subject matter is beyond our grasp or in conflict with our ideals.” He gives the example of an enquiry from an Indian company for a translation of a text dealing with nuclear technology. “Apart from the fact that I was personally disinclined to get involved with something like this, we had to refuse the job as we did not have a qualified person to translate the highly technical engineering language.” At the other end of the spectrum, Avitra once translated a book for the Tibetan Government in Exile. “This concerned the entire political philosophy of His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama: a more rewarding subject and closer to our Auroville hearts.”
Though textual translations are Avitra's core business, there is more on offer. “We do translations of entire websites, and try to ensure that the end result will look and feel exactly like the original version of that site.” Avitra also provides subtitling and offers voice-overs for videos, slide shows and multi-media presentations. “This is a relatively new field for us. With a wide range of potential voice talent in Auroville, we can offer many voice qualities and accents.”
Avitra has another forte. “We can offer multi-lingual solutions – in other words, we can translate a text or a website or offer voice-overs in many languages. Few can match this.” An offspring of Avitra, Avipro, which is managed by Lloyd, offers text-editing.
Has Avitra developed into one of Auroville's more successful business ventures? “We can't complain,” says Michael. “We expected to break-even after four years, but we already managed this by the third year. In the last four years Avitra has run relatively well, although we still feel that it's nowhere near fulfilling its full potential. The challenge in the coming years is to rethink and reorganize our set-up, so that we're better able to provide more interesting work for so many talented people.”