Asking For More

Why are vernacular languages treated as second cousins, springing from a particularly  impoverished wing of the extended family of languages? The ones, who  if one were to use a phrase of the Dickensian era, would be found snuffling around in  workhouses, “asking for more!”

There are  volumes of screenplays being compiled in Malayalam, which delight as gems of literature. But when you search for English equivalents  from other vernaculars, apparently, no publisher commissions  such a translation.

In the Literary festival recently, a speaker quoted figures. Of the four crore Hindi speaking populace, 0.01%  is the target audience- namely, 40,000. Of these around 4000 reads books, and the literary space is dominated by them. I wonder on the figures for English literature. How many of the best sellers sell more than 4000 copies in India? I can bet that vernacular best sellers, at least in Malayalam, sell in multiples of those numbers. And the ordinary readers decide what/who/how to read.

How do we empower a powerful reading milieu? By indulging in safety zones of comfort literature-  like absolute potboilers on love, more love, more and more love? Or, give voice to themes that question our very way of existence? Who decides popularity?

Unless you introduce the readers to literature in various life enhancing hues,( for which always, they had been readers)and unless that culture becomes deep- will not mediocrity, small cliques of publishers, small close circles of critics and intellectuals decide the way we read?

What will come first- chicken or the egg? Will it start with a vision in publishing industry or will they depend on what sells currently to determine the way for future too?

I remember an anecdote  told by a teacher who was teaching about Rammohan Roy’s and William Bentick’s efforts on banning Sati. When the protectors of the Sati rite shouted that “this is our way of handling death…,” a nonchalant Bentick apparently erected a gallows next to the burning site and said, “Sure. Go ahead and push the widow into the pyre- then get ready to hang for murder. This is our way of handling death…”. Suffice to say, no woman was burnt that day.

If “our way of life” gets repeated without debate, many life enhancing views will get burnt by the fire of indifference and lack of attention. We need visionary leaders who will also lay down new pathways.

Ultimately, whether in policy making or literature, giving a voice to the voiceless, has always been a hallmark of greatness. Let Oliver Twists in many human languages get his/her due without having to beg for it. The world will be a better place due to that generosity of vision based on equality.


Seeing Through The Maze

Recently, I got an opportunity to address prosecuting officers on Gender Sensitization. Since I am currently translating a novel, based on sight or rather lack of it, I found myself connecting the two concepts and explaining what my perspective was, on the topic, to the alert, erudite group.

Since I was using a mix of languages to communicate, one in which I am fluent and another, which often trips me up by its intricate grammar, I often paused to get the correct word. Towards the end of the session, the audience and I , came to the conclusion that all “words ” do not mean the same thing. The word which I used in Hindi hardly meant the same as the one in English. Neither did one person’s perspective match another’s on the same topic.

I acknowledged the brilliance of the author of the book, who very intuitively had pointed out that blindness often meant things far deeper than a darkness of vision. If you cannot “see” the way I do, you are “blind” to what I am trying to show you. Same with my inability to appreciate what you are struggling to tell me.

Finally, we all agreed,(or so I hoped!) that any sensitization relied on the word “respect”. With that fundamental building block, one could at least move ahead with hope. Without that word, without feeling deep inside, another’s right to be happy and joyous; there wasn’t much chance to becoming a sensitized human being.

Someone quoted Ghalib then:
” I kept cleaning up the mirror all my life
The dust, actually, had been in my own eyes.”

” Nazariya, drishtikon, nazar, sight, perspective, feeling, thinking, view point, outlook, my way…” said the participants when we debated on how they defined their own vision. In a room of 75, we had so many perspectives. How can we focus all of them through the converging lens of “respect” and make all realise the value of not trying to degrade another human being? That, we can win cases without robbing another of her dignity; without telling her that she is “bad ” or “fallen” in the eyes of x, y,, society, culture…? For a second, in one’s inner eye, to put one’s own daughter, sister,loved one in the place of that disturbed person before you, requiring just a bit of decency in speech and tone and behaviour? Irrespective of whether he/she is guilty or innocent?

Perhaps, one of them, somewhere years hence, would face a situation when tear filled eyes would look up at her/him from the opposite stand. The pressure would be on the speaker to ” go all out” after the jugular. Can she/he desist the tendency and speak with respect?
I rest my case, I said.

When they gave me tea, they said they were calling me back again:)


Obscene Words( Poem)/ Teri Vakkukal( Translation)

It is very intriguing to see subversive writing: as in iconoclastic thoughts, sometimes, brilliant writers take an ignored concept and turn it on its head, revealing the world within.

Dr.Clarissa Estes had, in her iconic book, Women Who Run With The Wolves, analysed the etymology of the so called obscene words.

Obscene- from old Hebrew,Ob, meaning a wizard, sorceress.

Dirt: Middle English, drit, probably from Icelandic- excrement. Now extended to obscenity.

To quote Dr.Estes, “…the obscene is not vulgar at all, but rather seems more like some fantastic nature creature that you dearly wish would visit you and be one of your best friends.”

Ahhhhh, serendipity, I murmured when I encountered this poem. Some thoughts, resonate across countries, across genders, across languages and cultures…

The contribution of  ‘Obscene Words’ in a human life, as examined by the Malayali poet Veeran Kutty.



I was trying

to make a


of beautiful words,

Melting them in the heat


Unexpectedly, from somewhere

A word came in:

Copper hair all unruly

Nose dripping

The shirt wrongly buttoned

Seeming  a traveller of many lands, trembling…

Told me, it was an abusive word, driven away by someone

Never invited to a home,

Never allowed entry into writing

I felt like showing it affection,unseen by others.

Abusive word, dear one,

In how many fights, did you make

your presence felt-

Boiling within us?

When you danced on the tongue

The murderous knife,

Turned into one used for filing the nails;

The hand that was about to strike,

Embraced the other instead!

For secrets, which other mother tongue than you?

You unstripped the soul, and laying it down

Lit the fire of lust.

Though I berate you with a thousand tongues

Have prayed often that you will grace me from within.

‘ Enough,..enough…’ it said, as it struggled to get away

‘ You merely praise me thus,

Even you have never given me a space

In your poetry, till now.

The monuments that you build with

Beautiful similes, multi storeyed ones

Will get swallowed by the seas one day

But in hidden places of refuge, my huts shall remain, even then…’

Shouting thus,

With the steps of an ancient creature

It went down into the Forest of Language,

As I stood, watching.




Return Gift



I was gifted a poetry collection of Veeran Kutty on my birthday. Some gifts have to be returned; albeit in another form. So I thought, I will translate a few lines that lighted up my way, and say thank you, to the loving hands that offered the lamp to me.

Expectation( Prateeksha)

I am grateful

For the expectations you had for me,

Till now.


Only God knows

The difficulty, I have had

In keeping them shiny

Till now.

Now those expectations have

Become a mountain

Leaving no space within;

If you could come and take back each

It would  be rather nice.


I have to start


Expecting ,

A few things

Of my  very own.


Friend ( Changathy)


don’t come as rain

to make me sprout life

If tomorrow

you intend to dry me up

turning  into sunshine


Without any reason ( Veruthe)

Do not think

the game of

the shadow

is silly-






it is trying to get over

the suffering


always being

under the same



About You ( Ninne Patti)



a  worm,





woke up







with so much






( All mistakes of translation are mine…😊)







Tongue in Cheek, Finger on a Thesaurus..

It was in an interview with Gulzar, that I read the comment. ” Translation, is like a mistress. If she is beautiful, perhaps, she is not faithful…”

As I sit with many words in my mother tongue, having no equivalent in the English language, I recollect that quote. When I encounter a description of winter in English, say, and try to convert it to Malayalam, I discover the same conundrum.

We have one word for a snowy mist- after all, Kerala has not seen different forms of ice and snow and smog and fog like the North. Like food habits being determined by geography, words too have a reason to exist. I struggle then, with various permutations of Mannj- moodal Mannj, kodum Mannj, Mannj…maram kochunna Mannj literally becomes a tree bark freezing phenomenon…still one cannot do away with that mannj!

Blind does not mean the same as sightless.When someone is obstinate and acting with intransigence, you can howl out, ” You are blind!” So, when you translate, one wonders…what is the right word…blind, sightless, unseeing, what?

Vengeance has various degrees in my mother tongue. I wonder about the fertile ground of that particular thriving word family!

Kudi-paka is like the Sicilian God father sort of deep, unforgiving nemesis. Or is it? It will run through the clan, across generations. A mere vengeance, or retribution, or nemesis, actually cannot catch that dormant rage. Huh! The translator sits googling away synonyms, picking and choosing, trying and discarding, and then again writing with a sigh…for ages hence!

Till now, I have been flummoxed most by  the word Mambazhapulissery! Finally bowing before the sheer uniqueness of that inimitable dish, that causes taste buds of every Malayali to crave mangoes and curd, I retain it in all its flavour. I grin to myself, imagining a stranger to our cuisine,  trying to understand how a pregnant lady can yearn for that one!  Hardly had I sighed my way , coward like, not daring to face it and leaving it in its pristine beauty, I encountered ‘ Chakka erissery’ in the next page. The auto correction furiously told me, it ought to be an emissary: but I declined it firmly, trusting the emissary of our unique tongue and its beloved connotations, to provoke the minds of strangers too. With the hope of a few kind smiles arising.

Even at the risk of quoting  in the most unsuitable context, yes, as Blanche said in the Street Car called Desire- ‘ I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.’

I have crossed mirage and mould  in multiple languages now, and am now ready to take on more. Thank God for the Tower of Babel. And for beautiful mistresses. 😊

Light a Lamp, Quietly…

lamp images2

When life seems difficult, reach out to help others. It teaches you gratitude, reverence and opens the doors to great joy. All great philosophers have spoken about it. All religious texts swear by that dictum.

Do you love the written word? Do you love the feeling of sharing what you read with others? Do you care about those not so fortunate?

A great effort to bring literature to the blind, is the Talking Books Project of the National Blind Association of India.

If you know to read, and can volunteer your time, you can make a difference! Either you can walk into their recording studios and volunteer or you can use technology available freely in your smartphones.

All you have to do is to pick up your favorite book, Malayalam or Telugu or Kannada or English ..whichever language you read, and see if you can volunteer your voice for a cause. It could be a story, a poem, a screenplay, a novel…record audibly, clearly, and email to the association.

Yes, you might have to check if there are any copy right issues. Fortunately, so much of literature in multiple languages is available, which is free  and unencumbered with copy right issues.

If your whole effort can be organised in one email, and forwarded  to Talking Books Project, you will be lighting a lamp, quietly.

Only, this time, someone without sight, will listen to the light, instead of seeing it.

I would like to thank K.R.Meera, the brilliant and caring author, who without any hesitation gave us her support.

And gratitude to Mr.Robinson, Assistant Director, National Association of the Blind, Talking Book Centre, Mumbai.

Together, let us light a million lamps.

Happy Diwali!


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