Lost and found in translation

Lost and found in translation

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Lost and found in translation

The Tamil Story Author- Dilip Kumar, Subashree Krishnaswamy Publisher- Westland, Rs799 This book is a window to Tamil Nadu and its literature and contains some delightful stories, although the translation falters, writes KUMAR CHELLAPPAN Short story, in whichever language it may be, is the most popular literary medium in the world. The story could be told with the help of small canvas and minimum number of words, characters and events. The reader gets to know details of the culture, tradition, and kind of people belonging to an alien land if he continues to read short stories from that particular country. Events, whether they be big or small, could be told as a short story. No wonder, some of the best short stories in world literature are more interesting than some of the best novels ever written. I do remember how one of my Tamil friends burst out weeping when I read out the Malayalam short story Veedu Nashtappetta Kutti (The child who lost his home) authored by T Padmanabhan. That’s the power of a short story! It is capable of transcending the barriers of language provided the subject and characters have a commonality. The Tamil Story: Through The Times, Through The Tides (Edited by Dilip Kumar and Translated by Subashree Krishnaswamy) is trying to present the  non-Tamil readers an anthology of some of the best short stories written in Tamil since the last century. It has 88 beautiful stories authored by some of the all time greats in Tamil languages. One need not be a novelist or poet to create a classical work. There are so many short story writers whose works continue to entertain and enthrall readers decades after the authors bade farewell to this world. The likes of Somerset Maugham, O Henry, Maupassant, Roald Dahl stay fresh and ever green in our hearts thanks to the scintillating short stories born out of their pens. Way back in the 1980s, Doordarshan, the country’s public broadcaster, had aired a series named Darpan, telefilms made out of short stories published in different languages in the country. The series, I remember, was widely watched like the epicsRamayana and Mahabharata. Some of the short stories were made into successful feature films. Appunni, a Malayalam movie directed by Sathyan Anthikkadu, was based on a short story with the same title authored by VKN, Kerala’s master story-teller. It turned out to be a big hit thanks to the content and presentation. In this collection, a story authored by Tiruchi-born Va Ve Su Iyer, described as a revolutionary nationalist and close associate of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, sets the tone of the collection of stories. Peepul Tree by the Tank written by Iyer in 1915 tells the readers about influence of wealth in human relations. The theme of the story remains fresh even today. There are stories by Kalki, CN Annadurai (former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu), Subramania Bharati, Ashokamithran, Jayakanthan, Neela Padmanabhan, Sivasankari, Vasanthi, Jeyamohan, and of course Perumal Murugan. These stories are the readers’ window to Tamil Nadu. Taking a digression from the book, I would like to lead the readers to an incident which happened in Kollam recently. There was a Puttingal fire mishap in Kerala in April 2016 which saw 111 people getting charred to death during a competitive fireworks display. The charred body of one of the victims was handed over to his relations who performed the last rites as per the Hindu custom. After four or five days, the grieving relations of the victim were summoned to the police station where they were shocked to see the live person whom they had cremated the other day. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. Now it is for the readers to read Subbayyar, the 1921 short story authored by Selvakesavarayar! The characters and locations may differ. But what was written in 1921 has come true in 2016. A mind-boggling coincidence. As far as this book is concerned, it would have emerged as a ‘Festival of Short Stories’. However, one could argue that the translation could have been better to justify the project. Had the translator been more incisive about the authors and their works, the output would have been different. Though I am not competent to tell about the quality of the translation, please go through the passages ofSubbayyar, one of the stories:   “To take you to the flower pots and beds, small pathways two to three spans wide lead from the main paths. For the morning and evening visitors to sit on so that they can enjoy the breeze and the scenery are benches and planks here and there under the shade of the trees… “Within shouting distance of that place is the bandstand on a platform. Around the platform is a pathway, one foot in height. Surrounding the pathway, an iron fence. To enter, on four sides are six-feet-wide gates with iron railings. On which grow creepers of Rangoon jasmine, champaka flowers and kaakkanam, forming a canopy. Around them, a big pathway. “In the year of Dhathu (1876) and before, how the people in the province of Chennai suffered without rains, many don’t know today. “People from out of town could only visit the zoo during the day with their families. Because other than that nothing special would happen in the northern half… Plenty came to admire the natural good looks of many.” The same is the case with Police Feast by Kalki: “Kandasami was usually never in such dire straits. His smart brain always looked for other ways to earn money if something failed. How our  finance ministers get into a tizzy, worrying about how they will balance the accounts if the remove the taxes. “If you asked for his advice after he downed a cup of coffee, his brain could solve any fiscal problem, however tricky it might be. But if there was no cup of coffee, his brain would go on strike.” What has happened is that, amidst the carefully selected stories, an amateurish translation has affected the coherence of some of the great literary treasures in Tamil literature. In spite of Shashi Tharoor describing in his blurb that the book is a meticulously crafted, skillfully translated collection, one may still not be sure of whether it can live up to expectations.Source

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