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Carried forward in translation

By January 15, 2019No Comments

Source : The New Indian Express

For those unable to dip into the reservoir of literature written in our regional languages, here’s this slim but powerful selection.


For those unable to dip into the reservoir of literature written in our regional languages, here’s this slim but powerful selection. Consider this book a forerunner—it will definitely leave you thirsting for more. There is Punjai, for instance, which is, in a way, just another ordinary village except that in this little corner, everything reminds one of the extraordinary. You meet a boy, who can hardly wait for the two bullocks to be broken in so that he can jump astride them.

Then there’s a widow who surfaces from the village pond after a dip like a ghost every day. Of course you bump into a dreamy old man whose entire planet is circumscribed by the Age of the Cholas. You will find him at the local tea stall, reliving those ancient times as if they had just flitted by a few days ago. Then you come across Panchali, the devdasi, who chooses to portray Draupadi’s ritual disrobing. Na Muthuswamy takes the most ordinary and turns it deftly into the extraordinary to give it a new depth and a newer meaning.

The book comes to a close with his iconic play England and the lines: ‘She merely wanted to say that this yarn was spun in England before August 15, 1947, before India got its independence, and it was a fine yarn.’ There is, after all, a great difference between freedom and the struggle for freedom. And he sets out to examine the very nature of our struggle against the British Raj. ‘All of them say this. They move, entangled in the yarn. The woman cuts the yarn from everyone. It is like cutting the umbilical cord. She cuts the knots.’ He revisits the inequality that came after independence; after all, freedom did come but it was not for all. If you want to know what it must feel like to be ‘possessed’ you should read Panchali to find that a thousand years later, little has changed in a place where ‘…the streets around the temple always face the temple wall. The houses face the wall.

The people who live there face the wall. On the other side of the wall is the god. They’re not conscious of this. Isn’t there always a wall separating them from the god?’ Muthuswamy’s lyrical prose creates a multi-layered narrative, peopled with unforgettable characters, in a world where dream and reality merge into each other. Presently, this is perhaps the best that contemporary Tamil fiction has to offer in our times. Luckily for the reader, none of the poetry of the original is lost in translation.

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