Full moon of the teacher

The Year: 1995
The Place: A leading publishing firm in Bombay

The copyeditor let out a sigh of frustration. She had been copyediting an English translation of an autobiography originally written in Marathi, for the past two weeks. Progress was slow, painfully slow, largely due to the poor translation, and the list of queries for the translator and/or author was growing by the hour.

“This is not translation, this is torture!” grumbled the copyeditor for what was probably the millionth time.

Then, the copyeditor came across a sentence that stumped her completely and she knew that she could go no further till this had been understood. The sentence in the manuscript read:

It was the full moon of the teacher.

“Full moon of the teacher? Full moon of the teacher? What on earth is that? asked the copy-editor aloud.

The copyeditor felt a headache coming on. She decided to walk around the office and see if her colleagues could help her figure out what “full moon of the teacher” was.

And this is what they had to say:

  • The Computer Executive’s explanation was very colourful and very graphic (but cannot be posted on this blog for obvious reasons).
  • The Sales Manager thought that it was a translation of a Chinese phrase or a Chinese film. He called his sales team to discuss the options and soon, they went into a huddle.
  • The PR Executive thought it to be a “wonderfully poignant and mysterious phrase” and asked if it could be used for publicity of the book.
  • The Production Head loved challenges, but only where production of books was concerned. He didn’t see any challenge in the phrase, and shooed the copy-editor away.
  • The receptionist, whose husband and brothers were working in the Middle East, felt that the answer lay there. She offered to ask them about it.
  • The Regional Manager thought that the phrase had “interesting possibilities” and apologised that he could not help any further.

By now, the copyeditor had a full-blown headache and she almost regretted asking her colleagues for suggestions. As she made her way back to her cubicle, she decided to take one last chance at decoding “full moon of the teacher” with the Senior Accounts Executive, a woman with an acid tongue.

True to form, she told the copyeditor, “You have been wasting time asking around like an idiot. Just try translating it back into Marathi and you’ll have your answer. It’s that simple.”

And it was that simple.

Full Moon = Purnima
Teacher = Guru
Therefore, “full moon of the teacher” = Guru Purnima


Guru Purnima is an auspicious day for Hindus, where they worship their spiritual guru. For many believers, Guru Purnima is a solemn occasion, and you can read more about it here and here. This year, Guru Purnima is on Sunday, 25 July, and newspapers are full of information about activities and events on that auspicious day. A couple of my friends are even travelling out of Mumbai to meet their gurus.

As for me, I can never think of the “full moon of the teacher” or Guru Purnima without at least a smile on my face. This is just one of the vagaries of translation that I have come across. And, in case you have not guessed already, I was the copyeditor. 😉

14 thoughts on “Full moon of the teacher

  1. Superb..!! The flavor of the occasion is felt so vividly..despite the years gone past. Thanks for a wonderful new addition to our colorful vocabulary..
    Greetings on the Full Moon of the Teacher…which is just around the corner..!!


  2. So now, I am enlightened.
    This reminds me of my old Hindi class teacher – Chandmukhi by name. We used to call her Miss Moonface and also ‘cratered moonface’. Needless to say, we got into trouble and had to stand in the hot sun as punishment for a week.


    1. Glad to be of service in your path to enlightenment, Neena.

      Did the punishment ever stop you from being creative with translations? I’m curious to know. 🙂


    1. Thanks, Manju. Most of the times the translations are not so bad. They are actually worse. 😀 But at the end of the day I do remember that it gives me the opportunity to have a good laugh.


  3. This narration of yours made me to go back to my childhood, one of my child hood friends wrote “ammavin nakku” and you know what she intended to communicate, “mother tongue” 🙂


    1. Haha 😀 I can laugh about it today, but at that time I wasn’t so amused. The manuscript was full of such gems of literal translations, but this was the one that troubled me the most !


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