Many of you would have heard about the English translation of historian W.D. Shakabpa’s two-volume A Political History of Tibet (in Tibetan). It was published some months back and was titled One Hundred Thousand Moons (Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library), translated by Dr. Derek F. Maher of East Carolina University here in the United States.
However, not many may know that some of us had a hand in its “translation,” too. In the early 1990s, when we were working in Dharamsala, some of us were approached to see if we could do the first translation of the two volume by Shakabpa as there were plans to publish it in English. We did not have much background information then except knowing that John Avedon, who had written, In Exile from the Land of Snows, was involved in it. We took up the task, divided the two volume amongst ourselves (there were around six of us, if I recall). After our draft translation was sent and we were paid for it, we did not hear anything. Later on we were informed that the project got shelved.
Recently, while browsing through Dr. Maher’s introduction in the book, I came across the following reference:
“I had access to a very rough and incomplete translation that had been prepared by someone for whom English was apparently not a first language. This was provided to me by the agent handling the Library of Tibet series, Wylie Aitkin & Stone. Despite its limitations, I owe a debt to the person or people who created those pages because they served as a sort of Rosetta Stone for me, permitting me to understand difficult phrases and stylistic forms employed by Tsepon Shakabpa, many of which I could not find paradigms for in the few grammar books then available.”
So, indeed the “incomplete translation” that Dr. Maher refers to “by someone for whom English was apparently not a first language” would certainly be the draft that my colleagues and I were involved in. Dr. Maher is kind enough to “owe a debt to the person or people who created those pages…”
From his introduction, I also had a better understanding of the entire book project. Dr. Maher writes:
“Donald S. Lopez was then editing what was planned to be a significant new series of books about many aspects of Tibet called the Library of Tibet, for which, John F. Avedon was the general series editor. The plan was to have three books published each year for seven years, with His Holiness the Dalai Lama contributing one book each year and scholars providing translations of other classic Tibetan works for the other two. The books were to be published by a well-known American publisher. Years later, the publishing deal collapsed after only one book had been put out, the novel called The Tale of the Incomparable Prince, written by Tshe ring dbang rgyal and skillfully translated by Beth Newman.”
So when you happen to read Shakabpa’s One Hundred Thousand Moons, it could be that some of the words in English (or at least the inspiration for that) are the product of some Tibetans who had worked as commercial amateur Lotsawas.