This Wonderful Grace…

 

 

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When I was in school, we were taught an enchanting story in my mother tongue. I must have been eight or nine then.

I still remember the awe and wonder in me, as the teacher described in her melodious way, the cabbage soup that Martin the cobbler offered to an impoverished mother and baby. You see, Martin had been waiting for God to come to him that day. Instead of serving the Lord any food, he ended up giving whatever he had to three visitors. And then  in the end of the tale, he understands when he sees a vision, that the Lord himself had visited him…I can still feel the goosebumps of that absolutely marvellous story..

It was serendipity which ushered the story back to my life. Fascinated with Matthew 25:40,  I had requested the dear sisters to give me a photograph of the Lord. They gave me not one but two lovely framed ones.

(One, I keep at my working place and another in my living room. When life feels burdensome, all I have to do is to look up at Him. Grace flows so abundantly and kisses me with new life and vision whenever I lift my eyes to Him.)

And that very day, I happened to pick up  from the library, a collection of Tolstoy’s stories. I opened at one page randomly  which had a story : ‘Where Love is, God is..’

The first two lines made my memory buzz like a honey bee. Hey! What was this? My eight year old self screamed in joy…Martin! It is Martin and his cabbage soup! In an ecstatic five minutes, I re-read the wonderful classic, realising that it was Tolstoy’s magical story telling skills that had  been embedded in my memory all the while!

And at the end, when Martin waiting for Christ throughout the day in vain, understands that the Lord had been at his home in reality….he opens his Bible,  and he reads where it opened….

Matthew 25:40

‘In as much as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.’

It was written by Tolstoy in 1885.

It was a translation that we studied in Malayalam! The power of  the story- translated into a language  in a small land, so far away from Russia- was so enchanting that almost four decades later, I still remembered every nuance.

He watches and smiles….and does a  lovely magic at times, to show us the way! I can only bow in reverence before such wonderful grace!

 

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Poetry Translation From Malayalam : Spaces/Edangal by Sacchidanandan

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Edangal ( Spaces) by Sacchidanandan

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My moon rises in the hillside

Of Damascus,

Casting its beams on the Arabian tales.

My sun sets on the Atlantic:

Spreading darkness

From Lithuania to Liberia.

My stars make the Pacific Ocean shimmer,

Turning each island into gold.

My Thesaurus is filled with words

From the whole world:

Arabia, Iran, China, Portugal,

Rome, Netherlands.

Over the music of water emanating from Tamil,

The solid profoundness of Sanskrit.

Emerging from the Middle East,

A Himalaya.

My daily bread comes from Vidharbha

Where farmers kill themselves,

My drinking water from the Ganges

Where orphaned corpses float

My song is of the shrivelling river Nila,

My death is that of the pitch black Yamuna.

I sleep in solitude,

Remembering our Syrian driver Khalid,

In Aleppo.

( Would he be still alive?

What about his sweetheart, the girl who was

Our guide?)

Sometimes a  homeless Kurd

Steps into my dreams, and at other times

A Rohingyan refugee.

I cannot understand Gikuyu,

I haven’t even visited Palestine till now.

I burnt all the evidences of my having lived

In this world.

From the ashes, like a Phoenix

Which cannot fly,

A  single thought remained on the earth-

It still lays eggs.

One day, from one of those

A white sun might rise in my village.

Remembrances of my existence might be seen

As dark specks on it.

Only words fall into my begging bowl:

Compassion, Love, Sacrifice.

Words.

The black hole formed by words.

***

(All mistakes of translation are mine. It was too beautiful to let go!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.’

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Wonder and other short Poems : Prof Veeran Kutty (Translation from Malayalam)

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1. Wonder

With the same mouth and lips

That you used for a

Careless yawn

Which devastated me

A moment ago,

You now create a smile

Which fills me with wonder!

**

2. Nourishment

God knows

How to nurture friendship.

What starts as a piece of coal

Turns sparkling, and golden

When we  give and receive between us.

Why regret  bitterly,

If it is lost somewhere in the midst?

It would have turned into a

Diamond

By the time of its retrieval.

God knows

How to turn love into something hard.

**

3.  Beauty

God created

Only your body.

When He wiped the paint off,

The rest

Of the world

Came into being.

**

4. Between Us

When it reaches

Between us,

The breeze becomes

A watchful feline.

Perhaps

The perspiration of lovers

Is redolent of milk.

**

5. Intermingled

To separate the lamps

That we had once exchanged

Distinguishing them as Yours and Mine

Is difficult, but not impossible

As we part  our ways.

But

How can we segregate

Their intermingled light?

**

6. In Your Silence

There is a warning in your silence-

As if there is a hidden tempest

In the air whirring around me.

In your smile that kills,

Hides a tantalising promise:

Like a death by drowning

Waiting in the clear deep waters.

**

7. Request

I am a lamp

Lighted up by your smile.

It  is prone  to flicker

With every sigh of yours,

And likely to die out

With your tears.

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Marquez and Butterflies in March…

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Like many Malayalis, my introduction to world literature began with the weekly literary magazines in the mother tongue. M.Krishnan Nair’s Sahitya Varabhalam aka ‘Weekly predictions of literature’, a pun on the astrological  weekly chart,  introduced me to names like Umberto Eco, Fuentes, Toni Morrison and Marquez.

In an era when Internet was unknown and the foreign editions of literature in English/ translations cost high, here was an erudite professor, who purchased books and reviewed magazines ( Paris Review and TLS included) and in Malayalam, taught everyone from the fish seller to the auto driver to a school teacher and a college going girl, nuances of World literature through a weekly literary column. His pen was acerbic and acidic- often burning holes into the aspiring careers of budding writers; by comparing their novice like efforts to the effortless grace of an Eli Wiesel or of a brooding Virginia Woolf. “I lost my appetite after going through his short story…” Or something to that taste, would be his pithy take on some unfortunate  amateur writer.

Once in the capital of my home state, I remember standing dumbstruck in admiration, as this tall and charismatic critic in pristine white, slowly made his way to his favourite book seller. My father, one of the greatest readers I have ever seen in my life, commented: “Yes, it is he. Look at his dedication in reading the latest books of the world. But he sets too high a standard for our writers, sometimes…”

Bengali literature, Gujarati literature, Hindi literature- all travelled to Kerala homes through translations in Malayalam. We had many brilliant translators who brought Rajagopalachary , Tarashankar Bandopadhyay and AshaPoornaDebi alive to us, and this tradition started almost a hundred years ago. The first books released in Malayalam, were translations by foreigners, of books in Bengal and English as early as 1850s. The first Malayalam novel  that came out  in 1887, written by Appu Nedungady, called Kundalata was about the daughter of a Kalinga King. The  eponymous heroine of the next novel in Malayalam, Indulekha by Chandu Menon, was learned in both English and Sanskrit.

Anyway, these are asides. The vernacular magazine I spread out before me had an article on Marquez, as his ‘One hundred years of solitude’ reaches fifty years of enriching the world. There are unique photographs of Castro with Marquez,  of Carlos Fuentes with Marquez, of  Mario Vargas Llosa and Marquez with an interesting page dedicated to why Llosa hit Marquez! It is a translation of Paul Elie. It also shows the first cover of the Spanish original with the anecdotes of  the total number of cigars smoked during the writing of the classic. 30,000 , if you may like to believe it.

( Magical realism is coloured yellow like butterflies and cigarettes…)

On a warm March afternoon, leaning against my sofa, I indulge myself in the peccadilloes of Latin American publishing industry.  I read about Carmen Balcells, his Catalonian literary agent and a great woman known as ” La Mama Grande”… I am inspired by that story. As I smile at the photograph of the translator, Gregory Rabassa, the  Professor and translator of Marquez’s Classic, I am drawn again to another great life. How many spirits come together to spread the word of genius!  Apparently Marquez commented that Rabassa’s translation was greater than the Spanish original!!

I thank my parents who packed and sent the magazines in the North bound train along with red rice and papad and pickles. Love is translated as both food and books in my household. And I am the blessed one, undoubtedly. So much in this beautiful world- to learn, to appreciate and to be thankful about. First of all, my mother tongue.

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