Translations that Tantalise


I read JeyaMohan’s ” Aram”, in a Malayalam literary magazine, a few years ago. ” Aram”, is a word we use in Malayalam and Tamil both; it connotes the truth of the spoken word. The absolute truth of a word spoken at the star crossed time in the Universe- beware, that thy speech may create thy reality!

In English, that phrase is there: “gobsmacked”. I was absolutely astounded by the intensity of his writing. The story was a mesmerising piece of writing. Then I read whatever I could find of this writer’s works in vernacular. His memoirs, especially the saga of his parents, left me shaken. I discovered that he is greatly prolific in Tamil and Malayalam, and that this genius’s gifts to the world are not available in English.

During a desperate search in Google, I ended up reading a translation of his story , ” Dwiatmaas”, literally, ” Two-souls”, a historical and fictional take on Schizophrenic personalities. You do not know if you are reading truth or fiction, something like Umberto Eco’s grand ” The name of the rose”. There is a letting go of your own beliefs and then the subtle taking over of the story’s reality. A master story teller leaves you in his thrall- you are dazed, scared, enthralled and lost to the world. How come, I found myself wondering, that India’s English publishers have not commissioned a translation of JeyaMohan’s works? Trust me, I will stand in a midnight queue for that compilation and take leave from work to finish it off!

It is deeply frustrating to know that a secret, beautiful world of writing lies before you, unreachable because of the language barrier! I want to read , “The grandmother’s feet”, about ” The kitchen ledger”, all those tantalising gems written by him in Tamil. Readers have left comments in English here and there, praising his works, and I search for his website. He writes in Tamil again! Oh please- someone make that site bilingual in English too!

Sometimes when I read K.R.Meera and marvel at her skilful, poignant understanding of the pathos of life, I wish each of her brilliant stories were available to non-Malayali readers too. Luckily, this river of fascinating knowledge I can swim comfortably, because I know the language. I know that Dr.Devika has translated many into English. We should thank her for that great effort.

True, as Frost wrote, ” Poetry is what is lost out of prose and verse in translation” . But any day, give me a translation  of a great prose or poem that makes me awed of another language, respect another culture, wonder on the sweet nuances of meaning lost to me due to one layer of tantalising mystery of speech, than shut me out totally from its beauty by a barrier.

I wonder on how one can capture the nuances of Meera’s ” Ave Maria”, or ” Hridayam Namme Akramikkunnu” / The Heart Attacks Us , to perfection: one cannot do justice to the grace of a language which conveys two meanings in one word. When she writes, ” Ekanthathayude Noor Varshangal, ” and puns beautifully on Noor which means a hundred and light both, and it connects to Marquez’s “One hundred years of solitude”,  a book which is intrinsically  and literally the heart of the beautiful love story, the reader is bemused, shaking the head at a joy which is so very personal. It is in certain words, colloquial twist of the language, different strokes of wit, laughter, humour-that makes you laugh out loud and  wonder on how to explain that to your quizzical friend who has no clue at all! A typical example would be Swavarga Sangatangal/ Some Same-gender Sorrows, ripe with every challenge a translator could face!

Still, the more lovely a piece of writing, JeyaMohan or Meera, Marquez or Pamuk, Saramago or Llosa, Ashapoorna Debi or Faiz Ahmad Faiz….across the world, the human heart beats the same tune, pumped by the same coloured blood, rises in tempo when in love, beats faster in fear, terror….translations of feeling into bodily reactions are universal. If only, in this world where hatred , intolerance, differences are being toasted as very groovy and cool, sanity raise her no-nonsense head, ( If you can keep your head when all about you/ are losing theirs and blaming it on you…Kipling be praised) and keep doing her job of translating the truth that human spirit reigns supreme across cultures and languages; if only more and more writers join hands to appreciate and translate one another’s work into the common human knowledge reservoir, then perhaps a tired soul in Eritrea might perk up a bit on reading  a story from Estonia. A dispirited mind in USA might cry over the truth in a Ukranian writer’s story. The permutations and combinations are endless.

Meanwhile I am requesting someone to translate JeyaMohan’s Aram collection to English from Tamil.


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