A View From Within

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It started with a birthday gift. A book of poetry in my mother tongue. Today, I am part of another journey because of it.An anthology – a collection of selected writings that have been translated into English- is now taking form. I hope it gives joy and serenity to the readers when published.

Another wonderful translation project of a novel is taking off. The title and blurb are being discussed. The excitement of another intellectual adventure is giving me wings! The edits will begin soon. The searching for words : which will capture nuances, accommodate different reading sensibilities, transcend language barriers, convey scalpel sharp emotions, and yet remain unique!

Answering the intelligent questions of multiple editors, defending the choice of phrase or giving way gracefully, listening to the concerns of the author as her beloved child enters into a different world( Will she stumble? Will she float? Will she walk and run at ease into the readers’ heart?)….these are the challenges known only to a translator. Sometimes I reflect that being mother to two daughters- strong, self willed, opposite as chalk and cheese- has prepared me for this role. You should have no ego when it comes to this assignment. You just let the words flow through you, with a silent prayer.

My friends often ask me about how I find time to do my  translation assignments.  My answer is simple. It gives me joy, so I find the time. It energises me, so I often run to it. It is incredibly fulfilling, so it is worth the effort.

Actually, if you sit before a 200 paged novel and dream of translating it at one go, it will never happen. But if you decide to take one paragraph at a time, and one page at a time….then the mind becomes confident. It is all about our perception after all.

‘So, why don’t you write your own books?’  I grin and say that I translate better than I write! Believe me, I have tried both. The  reviews and the award long/shortlists came faster with the former!

Besides, have you ever tried to get inside another’s head? It is akin to a Psychologist’s job! And so, I translate! 😀

***

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Poems of Pain : Prof VeeranKutty ( Translation from Malayalam)

  1.  Your Life

The plant that has grown

Over your burial site,

Is resplendent with flowers!

I cannot believe

That you went back

With so many love- secrets.

**

2. Forgetfulness

The Secret which I kept

For your ears

Was lifted away by the breeze.

Wonder on which branch

It has kept it dangling!

In what fire has it got scorched?

Where is the earth,

Which has buried it deep?

What was the secret

That I had kept for

Your ears?

Well, now it seems

You will have to remind me

Of it

Yourself.

**

3. Confrontation

I cannot bear to look

At that emptiness

That was left behind,

When you went away.

How am I supposed

To confront

The void

Which is growing

To your proportions

Over there?

**

4. Unspoken

I might die

In the contraction and dilation

Caused

By the word

That you left unspoken-

Even when  life

Was  being snuffed out of you.

**

5. Loveless

Without love,

The body becomes

The most unyielding tree

Ever.

Though the lips may struggle to sculpt,

It simply does not oblige:

Refuses to transform into an idol.

**

 

 

 

Poems of Sagacity : Prof Veerankutty,(Translation from Malayalam)

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1. For You

**

It is good,

That God  has kept

My mind

In an unseen place.

Even you  won’t be able to discern,

The love I have,

( For you, dearest)

Which is hidden inside it.

**

2. On Aging

**

On aging,

My words shall not

Regret painfully-

That they have to

Recline forever

Inside

A dictionary.

After all,

The memory of having spent

Their youth

Indulging in poems

( About you, dearest)

Is constantly with them.

**

3. Till The World Ends

**

Language was drawing

Its very last life- breath.

Then

Someone whispered,

‘ I love you.’

And  the heart beat

Started again.

The heels pulsed with

Energy,

To leap

Till the world’s end.

**

4. Dying

**

Dying

Is like the parting of ways

After a  lover’s tiff:

Shall never disclose

Where it is headed for.

**

5.  The Secret

**

What the Rain was shy to reveal,

Was written  down by the Lightning.

But Thunder turned out

To be a tactless confidante!

Blurted it all,

Noisily

To everyone.

**

6.  With God

No lightning flash,

Or any lit lamp,

Hereabouts.

Then from where

Has this light arisen?

Look-

When no one is around,

An infant in the cradle

Is gleefully playing

With God!

**

7. The Fence

**

Behold!

The thorny fence

Has sprouted flowers:

Much loftier

Than all the  hate-filled sounds

We made

Over that border!

**

8.  Love-Grape

How bitterly

You rued

The day when you

Got a pimple

On your face!

I longingly looked on,

As sweetness welled within,

At that

Love- grape

Ripened by God.

**

9. Visit

**

Like sunshine  falling on water

You entered my life.

Like the dew drop on a leaf

You left me behind too.

Yet I am grateful to you-

For those few moments of togetherness:

When you made our embrace,

Look like pure crystal.

**

10. Corrigendum

**

What I had perceived

While staring at the darkness

Turned to be all lies.

The light

Revealed the truth.

**

 

 

 

Virunninu Munpu : Before the Dinner ( Story by Madhavi Kutty, Translation from Malayalam)

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Before the Dinner: Virunninu Munpu

Madhavi Kutty, 1961

That day too, they were getting ready for a dinner party. He felt that in their lives, the posturing before the mirror, and the careful checking of the face, were like the oft repeated chorus of a song. These occurred frequently and never changed their nature. The way she sat,  the way she combed her hair, the way she would ask stupid questions without turning to look at him…

She pinned up her hair and went to the bathroom to wash her hands.

“Which sari should I wear ?” She asked,  “Mohan, just decide finally and tell me…Blue or white?”

“White,” he muttered.

“But I have worn it for Mitra’s party last month. And we cannot rule out the same crowd from being there tonight… “, she said.

He straightened the knot of his tie and pulled on his white coat. Pursing his lips together, he walked away to the verandah.

“Oh, have you finished dressing so fast? I am just about to start…”, she called out.

Pulling a chair near the iron bars of the  balcony , he seated himself. The gardener was trimming the henna shrubs of their neighbour’s garden patch using huge scissors.

“Mohan!” The young woman called from inside the house.

“What is it?”

“I have a  feeling that those people would be there too for the party tonight.”

“What people?”

“Those people staying above us…”

“Hmm..”

“I heard the sound of the stitching machine in the morning! She must have been stitching her blouse for the party! What is the need for such miserliness? As if there are no good tailors in Calcutta!”

“Hmm…”

“Yet she goes out wearing such ugly blouses! I feel such pity for her husband…Mohan, are you listening?”

“Yes…”

She appeared in the verandah momentarily , looked at him, and then vanished immediately. Her face was caked with rouge and face powder. He felt that it was the face of a cheap doll. He lighted a cigarette.

“She is so proud about the fact that she writes poetry! ‘ I am a poetess, why do I need beauty? ‘ That is her attitude! Now that infuriates me!  Even if she is not fair, if she carefully works on her  make up, she might escape being utterly plain…But..”

“Even if  she does not carefully work on her makeup, I find her beautiful,” he replied.

She appeared outside yet again; this time with a smile.

“Oh, Mohan! Now you are trying to vex me, aren’t you dear? No one can ever think that she is beautiful! Beauty indeed! Haha…”

He stared  for a few moments ,emotionless, at his wife’s  face and thin frame wrapped in white silk. Then for  some reason, he too started laughing.

“I am looking fine, right? There isn’t too much face powder on my face, is it?” She asked.

He made agreeable movements of his head.

“I get mad when I see her vanity,” She waxed on.

“Vanity? Where did she show off her vanity?” He queried.

“Imagine! You have never seen that? Lord, men are such fools! Haven’t you seen her walk?  The way she holds her head high, never looking down at the ground for  a moment?  Then that lopsided smile!  Her various  conceited  affectations…I feel so…”

“It is seven thirty now,” He said, getting up from his chair, “We have not yet attained the stature  for reaching late at cocktail parties.”

She trilled with fake laughter. Then turning on her heels, she went inside their bedroom.

He heard the  tremulous sound of a top whirling from the flat above theirs. It was followed by children’s laughter. He raised his eyes upwards. He wished that she was standing there- leaning against the iron bars of her verandah. What would happen? She might smile at him once. She might query whether his wife was hearty. Were these of any significance?

With a fury that had no obvious cause, he stamped at a flower pot with his shoe clad foot. All the flower pots on their verandah were full of thorny plants.

“I am ready!” His wife announced. She held a vanity bag of silvery satin in her hand.

“What happened to you ?” She asked,”You look so pale!”

He sat down heavily in the chair and looked down; his forehead was ensconced in his hands.

“What happened Mohan?” She asked again. He was extremely irritated by the thick fumes of her heavy perfume.

Without lifting his head he replied, “Please let me sit here   for a while. I don’t feel like going anywhere today.”

“What do you mean?” Her voice became sharp, “Not going to the party after committing? You have forgotten all basic manners! You are absolutely fine!  I know that. Get up now! Let us leave- it is quarter to eight now.”

The children staying in the flat above them, were still playing with the top: pulling at the thread. That sound rose like a sliver of excruciating pain and then thrummed within his heart.

“I am not going anywhere,” he announced.

“How childish you are, dearest!” She was sweet- talking him now. “It is your boss’s party! As if you have a choice! Can you afford to aggravate him?”

Yet, he continued to look down. He muttered, “I will not go.”

She caressed his hair, and then dropped kisses on his fingers.

“Get up darling!” She whispered softly , “We cannot have him vexed at us…”

He got up and then without glancing at her, crossed over the drawing room and reached the main door. She accompanied him with a smile.

“We have not yet attained the stature of reaching late…”, she teased. As they descended the stairs, she inspected his face. A smile? An angry, brooding silence ? She saw nothing. Consequently, she tried to change the topic of discussion.

“I wish it will not rain tonight! If it rains, even if I take extreme care, my sari will get dirty! The hems will get wet, by the time one gets inside the car! That is what scares me!”

When he started driving, a sudden rain fell all over the lane.

“I told you, did I not!” She trilled, “I knew it! My poor white sari! Oh my poor white sari!”

He thought that if she mentioned that sari one more time, he would most definitely strangle  her. His hands started shaking.

“Mohan! What happened to you today? Are you feverish? Your hands are shaking dear!”

“Fever?!” He burst into laughter. Praying that the unwanted laughter would cease soon, she sat there quietly. The rain drops kept dashing against the glass panes.

He kept on laughing for a long time. She realised that he did not love her. ‘Has he ever loved her?’ She wondered to herself. There was no answer to that question.

During the dinner, the host accosted her: “I think that you have become more beautiful…!”

Her eyes overflowed for some reason at that moment.

**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pakshiyude Manam: The Scent of a Bird (Translation from Malayalam) Part 2

The Scent of a Bird : Madhavi Kutty, Pakshiyude Manam, 1961

‘…. Once upon a winter, a bird got trapped in my bedroom. It had pale yellow and rusty hues. Something like your sari’s shades. It pecked against the glass windows desperately; then flapped frantically trying to break down the glass. All in vain. Finally it collapsed on the ground. I crushed it underfoot, of course.’

After a few moments, he asked her , ‘ Do you know the scent of death?’

She raised her eyes to meet his own; but could not even whimper out a word. She knew the answer. Who knew about the scent of death, indeed the various scents of death better than her? It smelt of festering wounds,  of sweet orchards,  of sandal wood agarbatis…

Inside a small, dark room, her mother lay on a cot on the plain ground. ‘ I am not well my child…I am not in pain…but I am not feeling well…’ White maggots  had wriggled from within the wounds on her  mother’s leg. Yet, her mother said, ‘ I am not feeling any pain…’

Her father. When her diabetic father had collapsed one day, she had felt that a breeze  had blown in from  the orchards…The scent of sweetness had been so prominent…It was the scent of death too.

She wanted to say all that; but her tongue had weakened by then.

The young man seated in the middle of the room was muttering even then.

‘You don’t know that, do you? Death smells like the feathers of a bird….You will learn that shortly enough. Do you want it now? Is there a time that you prefer most? This world lies shamelessly naked beneath the stare of the sun : would that time suffice? Or do you prefer twilight? What sort of a woman are you? Courageous or prone to timidity?’

He got up from his chair and moved towards her. He was a very tall man.

She said, ‘ Please let me go. I never intended to come here.’

‘ You are lying! How many times have you wished to reach here! You have wanted an easy end for such  a long time, have you not?  Are you not like a languidly flowing river which wants to  simply merge with a deeply sighing sea that is filled with gentle waves? Tell me darling, don’t you yearn for that endless caress?’

‘ Who are you?’ She struggle to sit up. The man’s fingers- she felt a loathing pull towards those.

‘ So you have never seen me before?’

‘ No…’

‘ I have come to you many times. You were hardly eleven the first time around. You had jaundice and was exhausted. When your mother opened the windows, you said, ‘ Amma, I see yellow flowers every where.’ Do you remember that?’

She nodded in agreement.

‘ Only your eyes saw those yellow flowers. I was standing amidst them. I was waiting to take you away…But you did not come with me that day…You did not know about my love for you. You did not recognise that I am your guide- not just yours, every single person’s guide and philosopher…’

‘ Love? Is this love?’ She asked querulously.

‘ Yes. Only I am capable of revealing the perfection of love. You will offer to me every single part of yours: your red lips, your dancing eyes, your seductive body…all of that…every cell shall be offered to me… As a reward for your sacrifice, I shall grant you freedom. You will turn into emptiness, but you will become everything.

You will be in the  hum of the seas, and you will move in the old trees when they sprout new lives in the rains. When the seeds cry in birthing pangs beneath the sodden earth, your cry shall arise along with theirs. You will turn into wind, into rain drops, into specks of sand…You shall become the beauty of this world…’

She rose and stood still. All her tiredness had vanished. With a newly acquired strength, she said, ‘ Perhaps you are right. But you have got the wrong person. I am too young to die. I am only twenty seven. I am married. I am a mother. My time has not yet come. I came in search of a job. It must be around twelve thirty now. Let me get back home.’

He said nothing. Opening the door for her, he gave her permission to leave. She hurried forward, searching for the lift. Her footsteps echoed balefully all around- or so she felt.

She stopped near the lift. The peon who operated it was not to be seen. She got inside and closed the shutter, before pressing the button. With the initial rumblings of a break down, it jerked to a start and then shot upwards. She felt that she was in the sky and that it was thundering loudly somewhere. It was then that she saw the board dangling inside the lift: ‘ Lift is under repair. Danger.’

It became dark all around. It was a darkness which made sounds, and growled ferociously. She never had to get out of the lift again.

**

 

 

 

The Scent of a Bird- Part 1 – ( Pakshiyude Manam by Madhavi Kutty ; Translation from Malayalam)

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Pakshiyude Manam : Madhavi Kutty, Short Story, 1961.

The Scent of a Bird

**

It was after one week of their return from Calcutta that she had seen the advertisement in the newspaper.

‘Needed:  A smart, intelligent woman to be Incharge of our wholesale business. She should have basic knowledge about the designs and colours of clothes in vogue. Visit our office with  a self written application.’

The office building was situated on a bustling street. It was eleven in the morning when she reached the place. She was dressed in a pale yellow silk sari and was holding a white vanity bag. The building was monstrous: it had around seven storeys, innumerable verandahs and more than two hundred rooms. It had four lifts. Before each lift, there was a throng of fat business men, and executives holding leather suitcases. She could see no woman in the vicinity. Her confidence started waning. She regretted that she had ignored her husband’s objections to try for the job.

There was a peon standing near-by. She queried, ‘..Textile Industries. Do you know on which floor it is located?’

‘ I think it is on the first floor,’ he answered.

She felt that all eyes were focussed on her. She was mortified. Why was she standing amidst this milling crowd of sweaty men? Even if they paid a thousand rupees, would she like to  come and work in that building on a daily basis? Yet, she could not easily go back from there.

It was her turn. Trying assiduously not to touch another body, she cowered in a corner.When she emerged at the first floor, she took a look around. The verandah seemed to spread out in all four directions and had huge doors opening into different rooms. ‘ Export and Import’, ‘Wine Business’ and such were written on these boards. However, even after checking multiple name boards, she failed to trace the one she was seeking.

Her palms had started sweating profusely by then. A person came out from a room nearby, and she stopped him with a question.

‘..Textile company…where is it located?’

He looked her all over with his shrewd, narrow, red tinged eyes. Then he said, ‘ I do not know. But if you come with me, I will check with the peon and guide you.’

He was a rather short, middle aged man. His finger nails were filthy. Perhaps due to that, she decided against following him.

She said, ‘ Thank you. I shall find out myself.’

Hurriedly she walked away and turned a corner. There was a new verandah with  many closed doors. Over one  closed door was written, ‘Dying.’

She smirked on seeing the wrong spelling. Instead of colouring the clothes, did they manufacture death over there? She pushed open the door, determined to get some clarification about her destination. Inside was a huge, vacant space akin to an inner courtyard; a glass topped table  and a few chairs could be seen. There was no one around.

She called out, ‘ Is anyone in here ?’

The curtains hanging over the entrance of the inner room swayed a bit. Nothing else. Gathering courage, she moved towards the chair at  the centre of the room and seated herself. She felt that unless she rested, she would not be able to move an inch further. A fan twirled above her in a desultory manner.

‘ What sort of an office is this?’ She  was left wondering. Leaving the door unlocked, switching the fan on, where had all the inmates gone? Since they were in the dyeing business, they would surely know the company that she was searching for.

Opening her vanity bag, she retrieved her hand mirror and checked her face. She reassured herself that she was well qualified for the job. Should she demand eight hundred rupees? They would be lucky to hire  someone like her. She was educated, came from a privileged background, had travelled the world…

She woke up on hearing the popping sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle. What sort of a fool was she! She had dozed off in a strange place! Rubbing her eyes, she stared around. A young man was busy pouring whiskey into a glass  containing soda. He was seated in a chair right opposite to her. His shirt was made of white terelene. Thick bristles of hair grew over the upper portions of his fingers. Seeing those strong fingers, a tremor of fear ran through her. Why had she come to this devil’s home?

He lifted his head and looked at her. He had a long face, it was reminiscent of a horse. He asked, ‘ Did you sleep well?’ Without waiting for her response, he lifted the glass and gulped down the drink.

‘ Are you thirsty?’ He asked.

She shook her head in negation. ‘ Do you know  where the Textile company is situated? After all, you are into dyeing business,’ she said, with a polite smile.

He did not smile back; instead poured himself another drink. His demeanour was as if there was infinite time for casual conversations.

‘ Don’t you know?’ She asked impatiently. If only she could get out of that place and go back home!

Suddenly he broke into a grin. He had very thin lips. That made his smile ugly.

‘ What is your hurry? The time is only eleven fourth five now,’ he said.

She got up and walked towards the door. ‘ I hoped that you would know. You are familiar with the cloth business.’

‘What familiarity? We are not into dyeing clothes. Did you not read the board? It is written Dying…’

‘ That means…?’

‘ What is written. Haven’t you heard of death? We arrange for easy dying.’ He leaned back into his chair lazily and winked at her. He was grinning broadly. She felt that the white smile had  completely enveloped  her eyes. Her feet became unsteady. She raced to the door. But her sweaty hands could not open the door knob. Helpless tears filled her eyes.

‘Please open the door for me. I have to go home. My children are waiting for me!’ She hoped that on hearing her plea, he would discard his cruel intentions and help her out. ‘ Please, please…open the door,’ she begged yet again. He continued to drink his whiskey and kept on grinning at her.

She started knocking desperately at the door. ‘ Don’t you dare harm me! What have I ever done to you?’ After some time, her sobs subsided. Exhausted, she collapsed near the unopened door.

He was murmuring in a soft voice. She could make out a few words…

***

To continue…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thenmavu: Basheer’s classic short story (Translation from Malayalam)

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Thenmavu : The Honey Mango Tree

‘ What you have heard is all nonsense. I adore no tree; neither do I worship nature. But I have a special affinity for this mango tree. My wife Asma has it too. This tree is a token of an exceptionally great endeavour. I shall elaborate..’

We were seated beneath that mango tree. It was resplendent with mangoes. There was white sand spread out in a big circle all around it. Roses of various hues were planted on the outlying fringes, protected by stone and cement sentinels.

His name was Rashid. He lived with his wife and son in the house nearby. The couple were teachers in the neighbourhood school. His wife sent over mango pieces- peeled and cut exquisitely- on a plate carried by their teenage son. We relished the fare : it was sweet as honey.

‘How does the mango taste?’

‘ The tree is undoubtedly Thenmavu!’

‘ That we are able to savour this mango fruit… I am awed when I reflect on it!’

‘Who planted this mango tree?’

‘ Asma and I,  we planted it at this place. I shall narrate the story of this tree. I have told it to many. But they forgot the incident, and propagated it as tree worship! There is no worship involved, just the memory of a great deed.

My younger brother is a Police Inspector. He was working in a town almost seventy five miles away from this place. I had gone to visit him. I was out strolling one day. It was the peak of summer. Even the wind that blew was hot.There was a scarcity of water at that time. It was then that I saw an old man, lying exhausted, underneath a tree, on a by-road.

He had overgrown hair and beard, and seemed around eighty years of age. He was extremely fatigued and was on the verge of death.

As soon as he saw me, he said, ‘ Alhamdulillah! Son, please give me some water.’

(*Alhamdulillah: Praise be to Allah!)

I immediately stepped into a near by house and seeing a woman reading a newspaper, requested her for some water. The beautiful woman got some water in a brass tumbler. Seeing me walk away with it, she enquired about my destination. I told her that someone had fallen by the way side, and I was taking the water for quenching his thirst. She accompanied me. I gave the water to the old man.

The old man got up slowly. Then he did something astounding!  He staggered to a dry mango sapling- drooping in the heat-on the  road side, and reciting Bismi, poured half of the water from the vessel over it.

( *Bismi: Bismillah or Basmala means ‘ In the name of God’. Usually invoked before any action soliciting the Lord’s grace)

Someone had eaten a mango and thrown away the seed carelessly on that roadside. The sapling had emerged. Most of the root was visible above the ground. The old man dragged himself back to the tree shade. He recited Bismi and drank the rest of the water. He praised the  Lord again : ‘Alhamdulillah.’

Then he said: ‘ My name is Yusuf Siddique. I am more than eighty years old. I have no relative. I was wandering the world as a fakir. I am going to die. What are your names?’

I replied, ‘My name is Rashid. I am a school teacher.’  The woman said,’ I am Asma. I am a school teacher.’

‘May Allah bless us all,’ said the old man and he lay down on the ground. Yusuf Siddique died in front of our eyes. Asma stood guard while I fetched my brother. We hired a van to carry the dead body to the mosque. After bathing the corpse, we enshrouded it with a new cloth and conducted the burial as per norm.

There was six  rupees in the old man’s bag. Asma and I pitched in with another five each. Asma was entrusted with the task of purchasing sweets for all that money and distributing those among  the school children.

In the course of time, I married Asma. She kept watering the plant. Before we shifted our residence to this house, we uprooted the mango plant carefully and shifted it into a mud filled sack. For two or three days it stayed like that- leaning against the wall- in Asma’s bed room. Then we brought it here and transplanted it; adding dry cow dung and ashes. On regular watering, it sprouted new leaves ; then we added bone meal and green compost. Thus the mango sapling turned into this tree.’

‘Absolutely marvellous! The old man,  before dying , gave water to a mango sapling  which could not voice its thirst! I shall remember that.’

I had just said good bye and started walking, when I was hailed from behind. I turned to look.

Rashid’s son was approaching me. He wrapped four ripe mangoes on a paper and offered it to me.

‘For your wife and children.’

‘ Are you a student?’

‘ Yes, in a college.’

‘ What is your name?’

‘ Yusuf Siddique.’

‘ Yusuf Siddique?’

‘Yes, Yusuf Siddique.’

***