Source : The Hindu-LiteraryReview
A good enough introduction to Kakanadan’s universe for English readers
In George Varghese Kakanadan’s world, the complex often becomes the simple. One of the pioneers of modernism in Malayalam literature, Kakanadan revelled in building characters who negotiate absurdly complicated, Kafkaesque lives. And they were not restricted to Kerala. Kakanadan found his characters in alien geographies, capital Delhi, buzzing metropolises of Europe, dingy lanes of third-world small towns and they spoke the language of flesh, blood and toil, which the vagabond littérateur mapped and reproduced dexterously in his native tongue.
On that cue, Kakanadan is not a vernacular writer. He is uniquely universal. His language was simple yet powerful and his philosophies transcended borders, like that of his modernist peers. And that’s why translating his work from Malayalam into English becomes a difficult task. It runs the risk of losing the exotic sheen the characters easily exudein Malayalam. Most of them came from geographies unfamiliar to most Malayalees, straddling experiences that were appealingly alien. But in English, they may not necessarily look charming or can even lose their graceful complexity if not handled carefully.
The first story of this collection, ‘Harkishanlal Sood’, written in 1964, is a good example. The protagonist lives in Delhi and leads a life that would strike most readers as strange even today. Still, Kakanadan’s ability to make the unfamiliar familiar comes through — we get a glimpse of the bizarre and tragic life of a common man and the varied philosophies that take control of his life, and in a matter of seconds, one becomes a part of Sood’s seemingly surreal experiences.
The stories in ‘Blue Eclipse’, an anthology that is disappointingly short for a writer of Kakanadan’s calibre, are good enough to introduce English readers to the writer’s universe. The stories have a wide spectrum of subjects, from the very mundane (‘Hashish Peddler of Yusuf Sarai’) to the exotic (‘Madness’) and the surreal (‘Blue Eclipse’).
Rishi Kakanadan’s translation is simple and straight and he has carefully maintained the universality of the original narratives. That said, in stories such as ‘Sri Chakram and Seventeen’, the translation looks a tad malnourished. Maybe a better edited version could fix the blemishes.
Blue Eclipse and Other Stories; Kakanadan, trs Rishi Kakanadan, HarperPerennial, ₹399