My sojourn as a translator

Translators, according to Dryden, are like labourers who toiled in other men’s vineyards.My father, R. Ramachandran, recipient of both Kerala Sahithya Academy Award and Kendra SahithyaAcademy Award, had a very big personal library which contained books of almost all the renowned
writers of the world. During college vacations, he would give me a novel to read. Those were myformative years just after my school days. After reading the book I should write a small synopsis in  English about the book and show the same to him for scrutiny. Whether he went through it or not, I
cannot tell. But it certainly helped me to know about world literature and I slowly started loving it. That was how I got acquainted with writers like Leo Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Ivan Turgenev, Hemingway,
Herman Hesse, Ignatius Silone, Nikos Kazantzakis and the like. This is in addition to the books penned by Indian writers.

Before I took up my graduation course, I attempted translating a Spanish short story named “A letter to God” into Malayalam and sent it to a bi-monthly journal “Yuvabhavana” (sorry to say that the journal had a premature death) The editor of the journal, Balakrishna Kurup, a close friend of my father,
published it. I was on cloud nine then. One evening he paid a visit to my house and, in the midst of conversation, gave a copy of the journal to my father which contained my work. My father, who scanned it meticulously, just smiled which indicated that I had not destroyed the beauty of the original.
Years rolled by. While doing my BA second year course, I wrote a poem (I should not have ventured into such an act) and showed the same to my father. His reaction was not encouraging. He advised me to dispense with the idea of writing poems which made me believe that it was not my cup of tea. He
further advised me to concentrate more in the field of translation. After joining The Nedungadi Bank Ltd in 1975(the bank was merged with Punjab National Bank in 2003) I took his advice seriously and started translating poems and short stories from English to Malayalam and vice versa. I humbly say that with
the blessings and sincere support of my father, I could also translate into Malayalam some of the poems Cwritten by European and Latin American poets. Sri P.M. Narayanan, who has carved a niche for himself in Malayalam poetry, used to visit our house at regular intervals to have literary discussions with my father. On one such occasion, he gave me a copy of his book ‘P M Narayanante Kavithakal” .It would not be out of place to mention here that the
‘Preface’ to that book was written by none other than my father.

In 2005 my father breathed his last after a brief illness leaving in me a huge void that could not be filled. Before his death he showed the magnanimity of donating almost all his collection of books to Vallathol Vidhyapeedam at Sukapuram, near Edappal, in Malappuram district, Kerala. headed by Sri Chathanathu Achuthanunni, who needs no introduction.
Much water has flowed since then under the bridge.

After the demise of my father, one day, I went to the residence of PMN, which was not far off from my place, carrying a bunch of poems translated by me into Malayalam. He took his own time to go through those ones. After nearly a couple of months he called me over the phone asking to collect the materials.
Thus my first book “Marunadan Kavithakal” was released in 2015. Needless to say that I was extremely happy to see the publication, just like any other person whose maiden venture saw the light of the day.

After that I started translating some of the poems of PMN into English. The book,” Selected Poems of P M Narayanan” , containing 51 poems was published by Writers Workshop, Kolkata. The entire poems
contained in his latest book ‘Vakkinte Karakal’were also translated by me into English under the title “Shores of the Word” which was published by Authors Press, New Delhi. I feel honored when I mention that the ‘Prefaces’ to these books were written by the renowned writers Sri C. Radhakrishnan and Sri
K.Satchidanandan respectively.

When you get back the works sent to the source poet for his /her scrutiny, it is quite natural that your heart beat goes up, because you do not know the comments made by the author. Nevertheless I am happy to say that PMN was deeply impressed with my work. At the same time I do admit that there
were occasions where I had to toil hard to get the exact equivalents to some of the words contained in his books. I found it really hard going. I really realized the agonies of a translator!

Donald D Wash in his Introduction to ‘Residence on Earth’, a collection of poems written by Pablo Neruda, writes: “The translator’s double responsibility is to find out what the author has said in his language and then to say this in the translator’s own language with as much fidelity to the author’s
words and intent as is permitted by the difference between the two languages. He must, in short, make the language curtain as transparent as possible, letting the author speak for himself in a new language.”
I have, so far, published seven books, five in Malayalam and the remaining two in English. Nevertheless.

I do not make any tall claims by this act. If readers, like you, feel that I have done at least partial justice to the original poets/writers  and their works , I would be happy to say that it would help the ball rolling.


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